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Learn more about the Swedish language
Swedish is a North Germanic language spoken by about 10 million people in Sweden (Sverige). In 2007 there were 290,000 native speakers of Swedish in Finland, and 2.4 million speakers as a second language. It is estimated that in 2010 there are about 300,000 speakers of Swedish in countries other than Sweden or Finland. Many of them live in the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, and also in other Scandinavian countries, France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia.
Finland was governed by Sweden from the 12th century until 1809. During that period, Swedish was the main language of government and education. Today, Finnish and Swedish are official languages in Finland.
There used to be Swedish-speaking communities in Estonia (Estland). About a thousand of these Swedes emigrated to southern Ukraine after Estonia became part of the Russian Empire in the 18th century. There they built a population known as Gammölsvänskbi (Old Swedish Town), which is now part of Zmiivka (Зміївка). Very few people still speak Swedish in this area. During World War II, other Swedish speakers fled from Estonia to Sweden. Only very few people in Estonia still speak Swedish today.
Between 800 and 1100 AD, an ancient northeastern dialect known as Runic Swedish was spoken in Sweden. It was written in the runic alphabet. It differed only slightly from the ancient Nordic dialect of Denmark, or runic Danish.
The two languages began to separate during the 12th century.
Swedish first appeared in the Latin alphabet in 1225 in the Westrogoda (Äldre Västgötalagen), the legal code used in the province of West Gothland (Västergötland). The language of this text is known as Early Old Swedish (klassisk fornsvenska or äldre fornsvenska), which was used until about 1375. Grammatically it was much more complex than modern Swedish.
Between 1375 and 1526, the language of Sweden was known as Late Old Swedish (yngre fornsvenska). It had undergone a grammatical simplification and a change of vowels, and by the 16th century it had more in common with modern Swedish. During this time, the Swede borrowed many words from Latin, Low German and Dutch.
The translation of the Bible into Swedish in 1526 is considered the beginning of modern Swedish. It helped to establish a consistent spelling for Swedish, although the spelling used in the translation was not entirely consistent. For example, the letters ä and ö were used instead of “æ” and “ø”, and “å” replaced “o” in many words.
The modern rules of Swedish spelling were created by the author Carl Gustaf af Leopold, on behalf of the Swedish Academy (Svenska Akademien). His proposal was published in 1801, and finally adopted by the Academy in 1874. The spelling was reformed in 1906, and the reform was only fully endorsed by the Swedish Academy in 1950.