Swedish Language Blog

Why do we speak differently? Different Swedish dialects Posted by on Jan 5, 2014 in Swedish Language

There are some areas of Sweden where the Swedish language hasn’t really been affected very much by the standard language and which still can be traced back to what is often referred to as Old Norse. In Swedish these dialects are usually called sockenmål or bygdemål.

This is a documentary made quite a few years ago, judging by the clothes, fashion and the quality of the filming. It is also in Swedish, which won’t be any problem for those of you who understand a faster tempo, and might be good practice for those of you almost there. The documentary is about different Swedish dialects and possible reasons for them. All in all a very interesting perspective on language.


The Swedish dialects have been divided into six or seven main groups. These groups don’t have strict geographical borders, they are mainly divided into groups for pedagogic reasons.

  • Norrländska mål
  • Sveamål
  • Gotländska mål or Gutamål
  • Östsvenska mål
  • Götamål
  • Sydsvenska mål
  • and then what is called Gnällbältet.


1000 years ago the Swedish language didn’t exist. Everybody in Scandinaiva, from Iceland in the west to Gotland in the east spoke what is in Swedish called Fornnordiska, in English Old Norse. Big natural obstacles like lakes, seas, forests or mountains prevented people from traveling very far and so just like the whispering game, where one person starts off saying a word, and their neighbour whispers what they heard to their neighbour the original word gradually changes. The exact thing can be said for the language in different areas around Scandinavia. This was sort of reinforced by the fact that different villages and areas had different laws. There were no boundaries, official leaders or languages which meant that dialects were just different, there wasn’t a right or a wrong.

However, when Sweden was united to one country people started feeling slightly more belonging to their country instead of their village as was the case before. It was also at this time that something called Rikssvenska started coming about. Rikssvenska literally means Rikets Svenska, the kingdom’s Swedish. And was spoken where the leader ruled from. Many years of differentiating between “correct” Swedish meaning Rikssvenska and “incorrect” Swedish (many of the dialects) and during some periods even forbidding anything but what was spoken in Stockholm.

If you are interested in hearing the differences between dialects and their speakers then you should definitively check out this site. Recordings of 4 different people speaking the same dialect have been made as a part of a research/conservation project. Recordings in over 100 different dialects all recorded with an older woman, older man, younger woman and younger man speaking.

 Go for it people!

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  1. Eric Swanson:

    I hope to see all of these programs! I found the first one very interesting.

  2. Mike:

    My wife and her friends always refer to their sydsvenska mål of Skåne as “Skånska.”

  3. Mikael:

    @Mike. In Skåne they indeed speak a dialect called Skånska. Though if you refer to that this would represent what in the map is called Sydsvenska Dialekter it is not entirely correct since the area that is covered by this category also includes for instance Blekinge (blekingska) and parts of Småland (småländska).

  4. victor:

    What is the dialect that was said to be recently discovered in a Swedish village that other people in Sweden found very hard to understand?It used words like old norse.I read about it within about the last 9 months on a Swedish publication such as “The Local”.Was it a joke?