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Norrland dialects

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Norrland dialects

North Swedish dialects

North Swedish (Swedish: norrländska mål) is one of the six major dialect groupings of the Swedish language. It comprises the dialects in most of Norrland, except those of Gästrikland and southern Hälsingland, where Svealand Swedish is spoken. Local dialects from Härjedalen and northwest Jämtland (specifically Frostviken in Strömsund Municipality), which traditionally are counted as variants of the Norwegian dialect of Trøndersk, are also excluded, while Jamtlandic and other dialects of the region are considered to be true North Swedish.[1][2]

The border between North Swedish and Svealand Swedish runs through Hälsingland, such that the northern Hälsingland dialects are regarded as North Swedish dialects and the southern ones as Svealand Swedish; an alternative delineation follows the southern border of Medelpad.[2]

The old northern border of the Swedish language in coastal Norrbotten largely followed the eastern and northern borders of Lower and Upper Kalix parishes in modern Kalix Municipality. From there, an vaguely defined linguistic border ran through Lappmarken from the northernmost point of Upper Kalix parish in an arc to the south of Porjus, then followed the Lule River to the border with Norway.[3]

The North Swedish dialects should not be confused with various Uralic languages (specifically, the Northern and Southern Sami languages as well as the Meänkieli dialect) which have been spoken for much longer in at least some parts of Norrland.

Historical origins

North Swedish arose from the combined influence of the Old West Norse spoken in Trøndelag to the west and the Old East Norse spoken to the south. The westerly influences were notably strong in the centuries leading up to the Viking Era. The shift to East Norse progressed through the Middle Ages. As Norrland gradually came to be more and more under Central Swedish influence in the Modern Era, many of the older West Norse characteristics disappeared.[4] The strong West Norse influences can still be seen today in the toponymy of Norrland in placenames ending in -ånger (Swedish: vik, "harbour"). Parish names such Skön and Indal (both in Sundsvall Municipality) have West Nordic origins. The dialect of Norrbotten displays less West Nordic influence than other more westerly dialects.[5] The greatest West Nordic/Norwegian—or, perhaps, least East Nordic/Swedish—influence is found in Jamtlandic.[6]


As with other regiolects, it is difficult to clearly define a unique set of characteristics for the North Swedish dialects. The distribution of different features of the dialect have differing boundaries (called isoglosses), which are described in the following summary of phenomena regarded as typical of North Swedish.[3]

  • Vowel balance
Words that were "long-spelled" (i.e., where the syllable contained a long vowel and consonant or a short vowel followed by a long consonant or consonant cluster) in Old Swedish developed weakened or dropped end-vowels. Examples of words with weakened end-vowels are kastä (Standard Swedish: kasta, "to throw") and backä (Standard Swedish: backe, "sloping ground"). In dialects such as those of Jämtland and Västerbotten, where the end-vowels are dropped, these words become kaast and baack. Words that were "short-spelled" (i.e., where the syllable consisted of a short vowel and short consonant) have, however, conserved the original end-vowel length. Examples include tala ("to speak") and komma ("to come"). Vowel balance is also an important distinctive feature in the East Norwegian dialects.[3]
End-vowel development in words has been dependent on the stem-syllable length since the time of Old Swedish. This characteristic is known as "vowel balance". The dialect of Medelpad is the southernmost of the coastal dialects which has vowel balance. In the Hälsing dialect, the endings are as in Standard Swedish: kasta, springa etc. Vowel balance is particularly evident in the definite plural of nouns: Standard Swedish hästarna ("the horses") is in certain northern dialects hästa, while dagarna ("the days") is dagana.[3]
All of the Sami languages, particularly East Sami, have had similar systems of vowel balance since long before any Nordic languages were spoken in north Scandinavia. One theory that it put forward is that vowel balance emerged in the northern Nordic dialects as a result of the scandinavisation of the Sami people in the area—particularly the South Sami—from about 1300 to 1600.[7]
  • Smoothing
Words that were originally "short-spelled" have often undergone a process of assimilation of the stem-vowel and ending. Examples include färä (Standard Swedish: fara, either "to travel" or "danger") and vuku (Standard Swedish: vecka, "week") (Jamtlandic), firi (Standard Swedish: farit, "have travelled") and skyri (Standard Swedish: skurit, "have cut") (Västerbotten). This phenomenon, known as "smoothing", is found predominantly in the dialects from upper Dalarna and Trøndelag northward.[3]
  • A and "thick L"
The Old Swedish a before the consonant cluster has been preserved, while itself became a retroflex flap, often referred to as a "thick L". This is sometimes represented as a capital "L", to differentiate it from the Standard Swedish rd cluster. Examples of this "thick L" include svaL (Standard Swedish: grässvål, "sod") and aL (Standard Swedish: årder, "plough"). This phenomenon is shared with the Dalecarlian dialects and Norwegian, as well as the Swedish dialects in Ostrobothnia.[3]
  • Fronted sj-sound
In northern Norrland, the "sj-sound" is pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge (located between the upper front teeth and the hard palate). This is a postalveolar consonant, represented variously as [ʂ] or [ʃ]. This sound is sometimes merged with the "tj-sound" ([ɕ]), a voiceless alveolo-palatal sibilant. In Central Sweden and southern Norrland, the "middle sj-sound" is commonly used, described as a voiceless coarticulated palatoalveolar and velar[8] fricative with rounded lips and a relatively closed mouth, represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet as [ɧf].[9] The broad "rs-sound" (e.g., as in rsöka or ursäkta), a voiceless retroflex sibilant, is used by many speakers in Central Sweden and southern Norrland for the fronted sj-sound, with considerable variation between individuals. The "back sj-sound" ([ɧx]) is used in southern Sweden.[9] In Finland Swedish and in English, where the distinction between the "sj-sound" and "tj-sound" is either lost or nonexistent, the fronted sj-sound is used. Examples of this sound in English include the hushing "sh" ([ʃ]) in she, and the cluster [tʃ], as in chicken.
  • Articles preceding proper nouns
Proper nouns in the argument position are preceded by an article, just like the weak forms of personal pronouns. For example: ja tala me a Lisa/n Erik igår. This is found in dialects such as those of Medelpad, Ångermanland, and Västerbotten. This pattern is uncharacteristic for Germanic languages, but similar to that of Romance languages, among others.[10]
  • Palatalisation
The consonants ⟨g⟩, ⟨k⟩, and ⟨sk⟩ are pronounced as Standard Swedish ⟨j⟩, ⟨tj⟩, and ⟨sj⟩ before front vowels. For example: skojin (Standard Swedish: skogen, "the forest") and ryddjin (Standard Swedish: ryggen, "the back"). This is known as palatalisation. The southern limit of this phenomenon runs through Uppland, Västmanland, and Värmland. It is also found in Ostrobothnia and in a number of dialects in Norway.[3]
  • Loss of -er ending
In the present tense of strong verbs, the ending -er is lost. North Swedish speakers would say han bit as opposed to the standard han biter ("he bites") and han spring as opposed to han springer ("he runs"). This is another characteristic shared with the Dalecarlian dialects as well as a number of Norwegian dialects.[3]
  • End stress
The primary stress of compound words is often placed on the ending. For example: näverták and kaffepánna. This is characteristic of most North Swedish dialects, and is also found in Uppland and Södertörn.[3]
  • Adjective-noun compounds
Compound words with adjectival prefixes are more common in North Swedish than in Standard Swedish. For instance, a North Swedish speaker may say långhåre (literally, "long-hair") as opposed to the Standard det långa håret (literally, "the long hair") and grannväre ("nice-weather") as opposed to det granna vädret ("the nice weather"). This is also found in colloquial Svealand Swedish as well as in Finland Swedish.[3]


Just as it is difficult to precisely define unique linguistic traits for North Swedish, it is also difficult to split the group geographically into various subdialects; different traits are found in different areas. Nevertheless, the mediaeval Upper Kalix parish and Burträsk parish, have strong dialectal features.

The Swedish language came to Lappmark in the 18th and 19th centuries as ethnic Swedes began to settle the area. They came from many different regions, and some even spoke Finnish or a Sami language natively. This resulted in a blending of both dialects and languages. Most of the Lappmark dialects thus lack such archaic features as the dative case and diphthongs that the dialects of the coastal parishes have retained. Nevertheless, the differences between the various Lappmark dialects can be considerable, depending on the heritage of those who settled in a given area. A notable amount of Sami loanwords have found their way into the dialects of Lappmark and the areas just to the south. For instance, the Siberian Jay is locally called koxik as opposed to the Standard Swedish lavskrika.[11]

Below is a list of common subdialectal divisions of North Swedish.[2][4]

Kalix dialects

These dialects, known in Swedish as kalixmål, are spoken in the mediaeval Kalix parishes (present-day Kalix and Överkalix municipalities).[11] Like other dialects in Norrbotten, the Kalix dialects retain numerous archaic features. Many Old Norse diphthongs have been preserved, as well as archaic consonant clusters such as sj, stj and lj. The dative case is also retained, including following a preposition. Additionally, verbs at least partially retain their old plural forms.

The Kalix dialect is further subdivided into

  • Upper Kalix dialect (Överkalixmål)
  • Lower Kalix dialect (Nederkalixmål)

One difference between these two local variants is that the old consonant clusters mb, nd, and ng have been retained in Upper Kalix, but not in Lower Kalix. For example, the Standard Swedish kam ("comb" or "crest") is kemb in Upper Kalix, but kap in Lower Kalix. Furthermore, the Upper Kalix dialect has more influences from Sami languages and Meänkieli than other dialects of North Swedish.[12][13]

Luleå dialects

The Luleå dialects (Swedish: lulemål) are spoken in and around the mediaeval parish of Luleå (present-day Boden and Luleå municipalities). They are also spoken in the easternmost parts of Lule lappmark up to near Vuollerim.[11]

These dialects may be further subdivided as follows

The Luleå dialects are known for, among other things, a rich inventory of diphthongs. The Old Norse ai, au, and öy are preserved, as well as ei (e.g., stein for Standard Swedish sten, meaning "stone"), eo (e.g., heok for Standard Swedish hök, meaning hawk), and oi (e.g., hoi for Standard Swedish , meaning "hay"). These dialects also have a number of vowels that differ from Standard Swedish. For example, Standard Swedish i becomes öi (röis instead of Standard ris, meaning "rice"), while Standard u becomes eo or eu (heos instead of Standard hus, meaning "house").[4]

Piteå dialects

The Piteå dialects (Swedish: pitemål) are spoken in the area of the mediaeval Piteå parish (present-day Piteå and Älvsbyn municipalities) as well as in the southernmost parts of Jokkmokk Municipality and in northern Arvidsjaur Municipality in Pite lappmark.[11] These dialects also preserve a number of archaic features, such as conserved diphthongs in words like göuk (Standard Swedish: gök, "cuckoo bird") and stein (Standard Swedish: sten, "stone"). The consonant clusters mb, nd, and ng are often retained, for example in kamb (Standard Swedish: kam, "comb"). Unique to the Piteå dialects is that Old Swedish long "a" (modern "å") has become short "a" before "n", but nowhere else. Thus, lan (Standard Swedish: lån", "loan"), but båt (Standard Swedish: båt, "boat").[14]

Settler dialects

The so-called "settler dialects" (Swedish: nybyggarmål) comprise all the Swedish dialects in Lappland; Karl-Hampus Dahlstedt geographically defines this dialect to those inland parts of Norrbotten where the Swedish dialects do not fit in with any of the relatively more clearly defined dialects of the coastal regions, due to the patchwork ancestry of the Swedish-speaking settlers that populated the area. One typical "settler dialect" is found in Arjeplog, which arose from a blending of Standard Swedish with the Piteå and Umeå dialects. There is also Sami influence on these dialects, such as the absence of the "thick L", which is generally typical of North Swedish dialects.[11] Another area in which a "settler dialect" is spoken is Malmfälten.

North Westrobothnian

North Westrobothnian (Swedish: nordvästerbottniska mål) is spoken in the northern parts of Västerbotten, primarily the mediaeval Skellefteå parish (including Norsjö), together with a part of Pite lappmark (Malå and Arvidsjaur).[11] Just like the coastal dialects of Norrbotten, North Westrobothnian preserves numerous archaic features. The dative case is still used, not only after prepositions but also after certain adjectives and verbs. Old Norse diphthongs have been preserved in many local dialects, but have developed in different, unique ways. For instance, Standard Swedish öra ("ear") can be ööyr, ääyr, or aajr in various local dialects of North Westrobothnian.[15]

South Westrobothnian

South Westrobothnian (Swedish: sydvästerbottniska mål) is spoken along the Ume River from Umeå to Tärna and Sorsele, including Bygdeå and Holmön. A dialect is spoken in Lycksele lappmark which is highly reminiscent of dialects spoken in Umeå, Vännäs, and Degerfors (Vindeln). These influences become less apparent approaching the Norwegian border, but are still strong as far as Tärna, where an old Umeå substratum is evident. The local dialect of Sorsele is influenced by North Westrobothnian as well.[11] South Westrobothnian also preserves archaic diphthongs, for instance in bein (Standard Swedish: ben, "leg") and ööys (Standard Swedish: ösa, "to scoop"). This is a characteristic that distinguishes South Westrobothnian from the Nordmaling and Bjurholm variants of the Ångermanland dialect to the south as well as a shared feature with North Westrobothnian. One difference between South and North Westrobothnian is that in South Westrobothnian, a "g" is often inserted between the old diphthong "au" and a following an "r" or "thick L". For example, South Westrobothnian öger is aur in North Westrobothnian (Standard Swedish: ör, "gravelly ground").[15]

Transitional dialects between Ångermanland and Västerbotten

These dialects, intermediate between South Westrobothnian and the Ångermanland dialect, are spoken in Nordmaling and Bjurholm as well as Örträsk.[11] These dialects are similar to the dialect of nolaskogs, such as in the change of Old Norse hv- to gv- (gvit as opposed to Standard Swedish vit, meaning "white").[16]

Ångermanländ dialects

The Ångermanland dialects (Standard Swedish: ångermanländska mål) are spoken in Ångermanland (with the exception of Nordmaling and Bjurholm) and Åsele lappmark. The dialects of Åsele and Vilhelmina have largely retained their Ångermanland character while still developing into their own. One exception is Fredrika parish, which developed a speech closer to Standard Swedish as a result of lying near major immigration routes from Ångermanland. The dialect of Dikanäs in Vilhelmina municipality is a transitional dialect between Ångermanland and the dialects of Lycksele lappmark.[11]

The Ångermanland dialects may be further subdivided as follows:

Medelpad dialects

The Medelpad dialects (Swedish: medelpadsmål) are spoken in Torp, y is pronounced as i, while ö is pronounced closer to e. This trait is also found in the Hälsing dialects and in parts of Härjedalen. Other traits are shared with the Ångermanländ dialects, like the "thick n" sound after long vowels in words such as van ("experienced", "habituated to") and måne ("moon"). In the northernmost pars of Medelpad, the dialects show notable Jamtlandic influence.[17] A characteristic typical for dialects of coastal Medelpad is short u in place of standard ö.

Jamtlandic dialects

The Jamtlandic dialects (Swedish: jämtmål, jämtska) comprise the dialects of Jämtland, with the exception of upper Frostviken, where the so-called Lid dialect (Lidmålet) is spoken.[11] These dialects are to a greater extent than other North Swedish dialects caught between easterly (i.e., Swedish) and westerly (i.e., Norwegian) linguistic influences. Centuries-old cultural and linguistic (and later political) ties to Norway mean that many westerly linguistic traits that have long since disappeared in the coastal dialects are preserved in Jamtlandic. For example, the vowel u in words such as bu (Standard Swedish: bod, "hut"; cf. Norwegian: bu) and ku (Standard Swedish: ko, "cow"; cf. Norwegian: ku).[6] Jamtlandic, like other North Swedish dialects, also retains the archaic diphthongs of Old Norse.[6]

Hogdal dialects

These dialects are spoken in Haverö and Ytterhogdal.[11]

Hälsing dialects

The commonly accepted isogloss between North Swedish and Svealand Swedish runs through Hälsingland. This area, however, is a typical transition region. From A Svealand standpoint, there are reasons to define the isogloss as coinciding with the southern border of Hälsingland (through Ödmården). From a Norrland standpoint, there are alternative reasons to define it as coinciding with the southern border of Medelpad, which would fit with the southern limit of vowel balance.[11]

Included in the Hälsing dialects are the Hassela dialect (Swedish: hasselamål) and the Forsa dialect (Swedish: forsamål).

North Swedish dialects today

As modern society has grown increasingly more fluid and interconnected, genuine local dialects are on the decline, in North Sweden as in many other parts of the world. Nevertheless, there often remains an unmistakable local character of the language, both among those who speak the pure dialect and among those who speak the regional standardised language. But aside from characteristic peculiarities in intonation, there are certain grammatical traits that seem likely to survive: e.g., the infinitive måsta (Standard Swedish: måste), present tense forms such as han gå (Standard Swedish: han går, "he goes") and han ropa (Standard Swedish: han ropar, "he calls"), and the uninflected predicative in a statement such as dom ä trött (Standard Swedish: de är trötta, "they are tired").[4]

Documentation and preservation

Nearly every small community has traditionally has its own distinct dialect, while the larger towns have had, for obvious reasons, greater linguistic influence. How well-documented various dialects are these days is largely dependent on the work of a host of local enthusiasts, as well as some academic research in the area of Nordic languages, such as the series "Svenska Landsmål och svenskt folkliv" ("Swedish Dialects and Folk Traditions"), by professor J. A. Lundell at Uppsala universitet, where the Swedish Dialect Alphabet was used beginning in 1910 for the writing of various local dialects of Swedish. In many areas, the genuine dialects are nearly extinct, but a few others have achieved near-official status. One such example is Jamtlandic, which is taught in a relatively well developed written language to schoolchildren as has a wide variety of literature both in written and audio format.


  1. ^ Nationalencyklopedin, Norrländska mål
  2. ^ a b c Dahlstedt, Karl-Hampus (1971). Norrländska och nusvenska: tre studier i nutida svenska (in Swedish). Lund: Studentlitt.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wessén, Elias (1967). Våra folkmål (in Swedish) (8. uppl. ed.). Stockholm: Fritze.  
  4. ^ a b c d Edlund Lars-Erik, Frängsmyr Tore, ed. (1995). Norrländsk uppslagsbok: ett uppslagsverk på vetenskaplig grund om den norrländska regionen. Bd 3, [Lapp-Reens] (in Swedish). Umeå: Norrlands univ.-förl. pp. 319–320.  
  5. ^ Holm, Gösta (1987). "Språkgrupper i forntidens Norrland.". Bebyggelsehistorisk tidskrift (Uppsala : Swedish Science Press, 1981-). 1987:14: 57–60.  
  6. ^ a b c Edlund Lars-Erik, Frängsmyr Tore, ed. (1994). Norrländsk uppslagsbok: ett uppslagsverk på vetenskaplig grund om den norrländska regionen. Bd 2, [Gästr-Lantz] (in Swedish). Umeå: Norrlands univ.-förl. pp. 274–276.  
  7. ^ Jurij Kuzmenko, "Den nordiska vokalbalansens härkomst", Svenska språkets historia
  8. ^ IPA-publikationen The international phonetic alphabet (2005)
  9. ^ a b Rosenquist (2007), p. 33
  10. ^ Anders Holmberg och Görel Sandström, Vad är det för särskilt med nordsvenska nominalfraser, Dialektsyntaktiska studier av den nordiska nominalfrasen, 2003
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Dahlstedt Karl-Hampus, Ågren Per-Uno, ed. (1954). Övre Norrlands bygdemål: berättelser på bygdemål med förklaringar och en dialektöversikt = Les parlers du Norrland septentrional (Suède): textes en patois avec des commentaires et un aperçu dialectologique. Skrifter / utg. av Vetenskapliga biblioteket i Umeå, 0501-0799 ; 1 (in Swedish). Umeå: Vetenskapliga bibl.  
  12. ^ Edlund Lars-Erik, Frängsmyr Tore, ed. (1995). Norrländsk uppslagsbok: ett uppslagsverk på vetenskaplig grund om den norrländska regionen. Bd 3, [Lapp-Reens] (in Swedish). Umeå: Norrlands univ.-förl. pp. 187–188.  
  13. ^ Edlund Lars-Erik, Frängsmyr Tore, ed. (1996). Norrländsk uppslagsbok: ett uppslagsverk på vetenskaplig grund om den norrländska regionen. Bd 4, [Regio-Övre] (in Swedish). Umeå: Norrlands univ.-förl. p. 409.  
  14. ^ Edlund Lars-Erik, Frängsmyr Tore, ed. (1995). Norrländsk uppslagsbok: ett uppslagsverk på vetenskaplig grund om den norrländska regionen. Bd 3, [Lapp-Reens] (in Swedish). Umeå: Norrlands univ.-förl. p. 390.  
  15. ^ a b Edlund Lars-Erik, Frängsmyr Tore, ed. (1996). Norrländsk uppslagsbok: ett uppslagsverk på vetenskaplig grund om den norrländska regionen. Bd 4, [Regio-Övre] (in Swedish). Umeå: Norrlands univ.-förl. pp. 331–333.  
  16. ^ Edlund Lars-Erik, Frängsmyr Tore, ed. (1996). Norrländsk uppslagsbok: ett uppslagsverk på vetenskaplig grund om den norrländska regionen. Bd 4, [Regio-Övre] (in Swedish). Umeå: Norrlands univ.-förl. p. 370.  
  17. ^ Edlund Lars-Erik, Frängsmyr Tore, ed. (1995). Norrländsk uppslagsbok: ett uppslagsverk på vetenskaplig grund om den norrländska regionen. Bd 3, [Lapp-Reens] (in Swedish). Umeå: Norrlands univ.-förl. pp. 138–139.  

Further reading

External links

  • Dahl, Östen (2007). Grammaticalization in the North: Noun Phrase Morphosyntax in Scandinavian Vernaculars (English)
  • Listen to some North Swedish dialects (Swedish)
  • Listen to dialects from Norrbotten and Västerbotten (Swedish)
  • KalixmålListen to and learn (English)
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