Comparing the Types of Swedish Dialects
Swedish has several categories of dialects that are not mutually intelligible, requiring dialect speakers to also know Standard Swedish.
However, what’s interesting is that to speakers of mainstream, ‘standard’ Swedish, that’s probably what some of the dialects spoken in Sweden sound like. There are a large number of dialects in Sweden, and most of them are nearly incomprehensible to speakers of Standard Swedish – so thank goodness most of the dialect speakers also speak standard, or the country would be a lot more difficult to manage!
The dialects of Swedish are organised into six general categories: South Swedish, Götaland, Svealand, Norrland, Finland Swedish, and Gotland. In these general categories are large numbers of local dialects, some with very small, tightly focused speaking populations. Charmingly (at least to me) these dialects are often referred to as “Parish Dialects” because they are frequently restricted to a single parish in rural Sweden.
This means you can literally enter a town in Sweden and not understand a word people are saying despite being very fluent in Standard Swedish – although once the difficulty is realised they will more than likely switch to Standard Swedish for your benefit. For someone like me in America, this is a strange situation – I may sometimes have to deal with very thick accents or local phrasings I’m unfamiliar with, but there really isn’t a variety of English in this country that I can’t understand at all!
The six general categories combine dialects with similar features, unsurprisingly usually found in general geographical proximity. A very short sample of features found in each differ in consistent ways:
Dipthongs. In South Swedish, these are mostly secondary, while they are primary in the Norrland, Finland, and Gotland dialects (though they can also be secondary in Norrland and Gotland dialects you come across). They aren’t found at all in the Götaland or Svealand dialects.
Dropped Letters. The ending vowel -a, for example, is still present in the South Swedish and Svealand dialects, is weakened by present in many Götaland and Gotland dialects, and has achieved vowel balance in Norrland and Finland dialects. The dropping of -n can be found in Götaland, Norrland, and Gotland dialects as well as a small portion of Svealand dialects, but not in the others. The dropping of -t, however, is universal in these dialects with the exception of the South Swedish dialects, which shows more of the difficulty in understanding each other.
Supradentals. Found consistently in the Götaland, Norrland, and Svealand dialects, never seen in South Swedish or Gotland, and found only in the western area of Finland Swedish.
And that’s just the beginning! The list of features goes on and on, clearly demonstrating why it’s so difficult for Swedish people to understand each other despite officially speaking the same language.