Swedish linguists lecture on conversations with Swedish Americans

Nidia Cavazos

At a lecture Tuesday, linguists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden discussed their research on the existence of Swedes and the Swedish language in the United States.

Swedish professor Benjamin Lyngfelt and doctoral student Henrietta Adamsson Eryd, both from the University of Gothenburg, discussed their current project in the United States, which consists of recording interviews with present day American Swedes to capture the different types of Swedish dialects within the U.S.  

According to Lyngfelt and Eryd, more than a million Swedes immigrated to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While this meant there once was a large population of Swedish-speaking individuals in America, there are currently only a few Swedish-speaking communities left. 

“It was shocking to find out that the majority of those who speak Swedish live in rural areas, and it makes sense,” Lyngfelt said. “If you live in the city, you interact with more Americans and adapt to them — you’re more likely to speak English.”

Collecting data is important because it has to be done before there are no more native Swedish speakers within the United States descending from the migrating generations, according to Eryd. Interviews are conducted in Swedish, and then data is collected on the speaker’s background and its relation to the manner in which he or she speaks.

Eryd said the process of searching for a word and asking questions such as, “What’s it called?” are all clear indicators that Swedish is no longer their dominant language. 

Eryd and Lyngfelt have been able to collect data within Texas during the current U.S. trip.

“We’ve made some interviews already, and we’re very glad to be in Texas,” Eryd said. “We met with more people than we thought we would and found that Swedish is alive in Texas. The visits will be used in my studies.”

Economics junior Rachel Iwanicki said hearing about the Swedish language and its attributes is different and more helpful when it is from a native Swede.

“Having Swedish native speakers helps us learn about an outside culture aside from learning it from just the American perspective,” Iwanicki said. “For example, my Swedish professor is an American grad student and he studied abroad, so, while he informed us about everything, it is not the same as hearing it from a native speaker.”