Which family does Swedish belong to?
Svenska is a North Germanic language. Together with Danish, it forms therein the Eastern branch. It is spoken in Sweden and in some coastal areas of Finland, in the Åland Islands and in some parts of Estonia, where it was spread by the Swedish colonization during the Middle Ages; in Finland it is recognized as a national language alongside Finnish.
Where does Swedish come from?
The prehistory and protohistory of Swedish are closely related to those of the other Germanic languages of the Northern group; the first documents that can be regarded as evidence of an independent Swedish language are a series of Runic inscriptions dating from the IX century AC, and a collection of laws from the XIII century.
In order to find the starting point of the Swedish literature, one needs to go back to the XIII century. The first legal texts date from this period (Västgötalagh, about 1250, Ostgötalagh, also XIII century) and a literary production in Latin culminating with the Revelations of St. Bridget (about 1303 – 1373). The first profane production dates back to the XIV century, with some patriotic Chronicles. Another key date is 1541, when the translation of the Bible by Olaus Petri (1493-1552) and Laurentius Andreae (about 1470 - 1552) was completed.
What are the main linguistic features of Swedish?
The introduction of Christianity led to the influence of Latin. This can be seen not only in the penetration of lexical items, but also in the progressive replacement of the Runic alphabet by the Latin alphabet. After the Runic period (about 600-1225), the evolution of Swedish is traditionally divided as follows: a Classic or Ancient period (1225-1375), a Medium phase (1375-1525), a Recent period (1525-1730) and a Modern period (after 1730).
In the Runic period, Swedish started to differentiate from the other Nordic languages, especially in phonetics, for instance with the reduction of diphthongs; the second period is characterized by the penetration of Latin, by the borrowing of many words from Low German and, in phonetics, by the development of several cases of vowel harmony; in the third period Danish has a significant influence on Swedish and, in phonetics, noteworthy is the passage of ā to ō (written å), of ō to ū (written o), of ū to ü (written u), of f to t .
With the Protestant Reformation a new phase began, characterized by the tendency to unify the written language, taking as a model the translation of the Bible called "of Gustav Vasa" (1540-41); in the last period there has been the expansion of the literary language in everyday spoken use, progressively replacing the dialects. These can be grouped in two main varieties: a North Central, which includes the dialects spoken in Finland and Estonia, and a Southern, closer to Danish.
Despite the influence of Danish, German, even French (XVII and XVIII centuries) and English (from the late XIX century), Swedish has generally preserved a more archaic character than the other languages of its group.