Sunday, November 20, 2011


Last year when we were in Copenhagen, we nipped across to Sweden for the afternoon because Thomas wanted to buy the Stieg Larsson trilogy in Swedish. Thomas never reads translations... if he fancies a book, he'd rather learn enough of the language to read it than read it in translation! (Yes, I know he's eccentric, but you have got to admire his madness!) That left me with a dilemma... I don't read translations when I speak the language, but I haven't read anything in Swedish for twenty years, and I noticed that even after one afternoon in Sweden, my Swedish was interfering with my Danish. On return to Copenhagen I noticed I was reading the 'K's on shop signs in my head as if they were written 'SH' and I could hear a ridiculous singing intonation creeping into my head as I read station names and the likes on the Copenhagen metro. Had I spoken the sounds out loud Thomas would have fallen over laughing at me. Danish is so much more macho sounding than Swedish! I learned Swedish at uni but given in its written form Danish is about 80% understandable to someone with Swedish, I never officially needed to learn to read Danish. Then I moved in with Thomas and after many years of hearing Danish every day, I now understand that better but in its spoken form it is very different sounding to Swedish. If a foreigner has only learned Swedish and hears Danish they are clueless as to what is being said unless the Danish comes with subtitles in Danish. Swedish is fairly simple phonetically - it looks like the words you hear. Danish is unfortunately like English - full of words like 'light' or 'write' with silent bits and bits that aren't pronounced like you expect if you haven't learned it! To sum it up - I understand spoken Danish easier than Swedish, but written Swedish as well as written Danish.

Having watched the nine hour television series of the Larsson trilogy in Swedish, I am now tuned back into that but if I spend the rest of the year reading Larsson in Swedish will my Danish become laughable? So do I break my own no-translation rule? (I happily read translations when I don't speak the language by the way!) Do I do the ridiculous and buy it in Danish (given the price of books in Denmark) or do I take Swedish to bed every night and start singing my Danish to the point where I start to sound like the muppet chef?

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