[DWJ] In which I satisfy the curious (I hope!)

Colin Fine colin at kindness.demon.co.uk
Sat Sep 23 04:56:36 EDT 2006

Katarina Hjärpe wrote:
>> I have a memory of reading somewhere that though standard Swedish is 
>> like the rest of >Scandinavia in distinguishing only common and 
>> neuter gender,s there are rural dialects which still >retain some 
>> vestiges of masculine/feminine? and isn't  -a a characteristic 
>> feminine ending in these >dialects? (I'm talking of >common nouns, 
>> not names).
>> Am I remembering right, or is this nonsense?
>> Colin
> I have absolutely no idea, but it sounds likely enough. Although, my 
> inner anal-retentive gal feels forced to point out that Swedish *does* 
> distinguish masculine and feminine, we just don't use them about items 
> anymore. People and animals are still one or another for the most 
> part. And some items can be referred to in masculine or feminine 
> without anyone raising any eyebrows: the clock is often called "she", 
> for example, even if "it" is even more common.
> So I have no problem believing that there are dialects where he and 
> she are used about all kinds of inanimate objects, but I don't know it 
> for certain.
> Katta
I'm not talking about whether you use 'han' or 'hon' with them. I'm 
talking about the difference between 'en' and 'ett', '-en' and '-et'. 
Icelandic, for example, retains the three genders of Indo-European 
(-inn, -in, -ið), and I think some Swedish dialects retain a three-way 
distinction. (I don't think this is visible in the definite article: 
it's still -en for both masculine and feminine. But I've a feeling that 
there are adjectives that have a distinct feminine form in -a in some 

I can't find a reference for this, however. All I can find on Wikipedia is
"Old Swedish formerly had masculine and feminine genders in place of 
common; some old phrases and ceremonial uses preserve these archaic 
forms." This might be what I'm thinking of, but I don't think so.


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