’All languages need to be extended as the surrounding world changes. When new objects, products and phenomena are transferred from another country, there is a need for new words, and then it’s common to simply transfer the vocabulary. Political terminology in Swedish such as parlament, överhus and votera are some examples of this from the 1600s,’ says Stålhammar.
Words borrowed from English do not only fill voids and add new nuances to Swedish, they also stimulate language innovation. After all, the borrowing of words is not limited to easily recognisable English words such asaerobics, it also includes so-called loan translations such as användarnamn (user name) and ‘Swedishised’ English words such as strejk (strike).
Stålhammar’s book describes in detail the history of almost 2,000 loan words and how they ended up in Swedish, divided into ten different subject areas. The book explains in chronological order how English loan words reflect the historical development and the contacts between Sweden and England. People’s interest in anything American increased after World War II, and this affected the borrowing of words.
’In the 1950s and 1960s, we imported enormous amounts of products from the U.S. We started to consume products that were new to us such as hamburgers, popcorn, bubble gum, jeans and T-shirts.
The American influence remains strong, especially in the area of entertainment.
’The rapid development in entertainment implies an increased import of loan words, and these words tend to become rooted in Swedish before anybody manages to establish a good translation. The Internet enables adolescents to quickly absorb new English words and expressions, and they tend to include the new terminology in their Swedish,’ Stålhammar explains.
In her book, she also addresses the debate on how the influence of English may affect Swedish. She points to the risk of Swedish experiencing so-called domain losses, which occur when English becomes the dominant language in a certain subject area. At present, English is the language of choice in international research, and this may lead to Swedish becoming depleted in important areas such as the natural sciences. Yet overall, Swedish is not a threatened language.
’It is my hope that the book will make the criticism of English loan words a little more balanced, and that it will show that English in many ways in fact has enriched Swedish, not least via loan translations. One good example is the productive word trädkramare (tree hugger), which has led to words such as vargkramare (wolf hugger), skattekramare (tax hugger) and motorvägskramare (motorway hugger) – the opportunities are unlimited,’ says Stålhammar.
‘Engelskan i svenskan – Åttahundra år av lånade ord och språkliga influenser’ is published by Norstedts. The author Mall Stålhammar will talk about the book at the Göteborg Book Fair today Friday at 11.45 am – 12.05 pm. Location: Grafiska Torget, G02:22, Sc8909.