A Swedish Cheferizor?
Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 4:48AM
Emily Breunig in #language, #muppets, #swedish, Curiosities

One thing I've discovered since moving to Stockholm is that this guy actually mimics the funnier parts of the Swedish language pretty accurately! (Also, yes, everyone here is aware of him, and actually pretty proud.) I think I need to spend a little bit more time studying exactly how the Swedish Chef does it, because it's amazing to me how quickly I can get an accent stuck in my head these days. Two episodes of True Blood and I have to stop myself from slipping into the Louisiana rhythms that Anna Paquin does so well, at least to my Yankee ear. I can manage, most of the time, to keep it from my voice, but my thoughts for the next hour or so are as twanging as they come.

When I lived in China, I lost my ability to spell, something I can only attribute to the lack of letters. Mandarin, despite what the BBC may have said during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony broadcast, does not have an alphabet of any sort, and the pictographs sucked the phonics right out of me. Here in Stockholm, I wonder if the reason I'm so susceptible to an American English accent that differs from my own in pronunciation, granted, but mostly in rhythm, has to do with Swedish itself. 

Kiruna is a place in the far north of the country. It's well-known here, if only because there are so few places up there with any significant amount of people. If you read this word out loud, however, and you are not Swedish (or Danish or Norwegian, but I digress), odds are a Swedish person would have no idea where you were talking about. The problem wouldn't be the way you said the consonants or vowels, however. No tricks like that in that word, unlike some others. The problem would be the emphasis. To an American, Ki-RU-na would be a perfectly reasonable rendition. Not so much in Swedish: say KI-RU-NA, hitting each syllable as hard as you can, and Swedish eyes will light up in recognition and relief, grateful that they don't have to deal with the embarrassment of talking to a idiot and appearing impolite. They're really not big on embarrassment here.

So, as is probably clear, I've been spending a lot of time listening to the rhythm of this language and keeping my mind and ears open to those nuances. It's not really surprising, then, that I'd accidentally pick up on a few others. It's something that is distinctly harder for me to manage than accurate Chinese tones. (I may be one of the few people in the world who is like this, I'm well aware.) Next experiment: start speaking the Swedish I do know while doing my best Sookie Stackhouse imitation. It might actually get me closer.



Article originally appeared on Notes from a Writing Life (http://www.emilybreunig.com/).
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