Hur säger man ... på svenska?

This common Swedish phrase means: How do you say ... in Swedish? As a student learning Russian, I instantly saw a striking similarity with the Russian language. Russians will end the same phrase with по-шведски (po-shvedski), pronouncing the preposition exactly the same.

Curious, I had a look at the Swedish numerals and was left speechless. Two is två in Swedish and два (dva) in Russian. Why is the Swedish two closer to the Russian two than to the English two? Likewise, null/zero is noll in Swedish and ноль (nol) in Russian.

Curious, I made a cursory Google search and instantly found some other surprising similarities. When a Swede says björntjänst, literally a bear service, he means exactly the same as what a Russian means by literally saying a bear service in Russian (медвежья услуга), namely a disservice. A doctor is läkare in Swedish and лекарь (lekar) in Russian. A lamp is lampa in Swedish and лампа (lampa) in Russian. A plate is tallrik in Swedish and тарелка (tarelka) in Russian. The list goes on and on.

I'm very much surprised by such similarities, given that Russian is a Slavic language and that Swedish is a North Germanic language. I'm not aware of any considerable past interactions between Russians and Swedes, except for some skirmishes for control of the swampy East shores of the Gulf of Finland.

So how are such similarities explained? Are they mere coincidences, or is there any reason behind them?

  • 7
    The downvote is not mine but I agree that the question is not of a high quality. They are not mere coincidences and you could easily trace this through online etimological resources. However, these similarities are not specific to Swedish/Russian, one can find loads of such similarities in Russian vs other Indo-European languages. Note that Germanic and Slavic Languages are related. – tum_ Jul 7 at 10:12
  • 6
    While all this seems very obvious to an educated Standard Average European speaker, I think we should go easy on an (appearently) Japanese native for being surprised by it. Even I was surprised at finding лекар in Bulgarian, a word I only knew from Finnish lääkäri (being a German native speaker). – phipsgabler Jul 9 at 14:16
  • 1
    @phipsgabler That’s a Germanic word (possibly of ultimately Celtic origin, but definitely Germanic in the first instance), borrowed into Finnish from Swedish läkare and into Common Slavic from some Germanic form as well (not sure precisely which) in pre-written times. It’s died out in German in favour of Arzt (and in Dutch), but still exists in the other Germanic languages. English leech ‘doctor’ (not the animal) is cognate, but archaic. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 8 at 17:52

You've mixed a bunch of words of very different origin with a bunch of quite weak and poorly defined assumptions (like no considerable interactions between Russians and Swedes).

It comes as no surprise that Swedish två and Russian two both have PIE origin deriving from dwóh root. If you think about it, English two looks pretty much similar to "два" as well - and saying that Swedish word is closer to the Russian one is just not correct - in which sense closer? Phonetically? Well, may be for Russian speaker "тво" will sound more similar than "ту", but that just a coincidence - in English w lost its phonetical features.

The word "тарелка" in Russian is a borrowing from German, most likely through Polish. From the same root with a diminutive postfix came into existence the Swedish counterpart.

The word "лекарь" is surprisingly also a borrowing from some Germanic language, to the same proto-Germanic root can be traced the Swedish word.

"Лампа" is also a borrowing through Polish, ending with "a" for words originally with "-e" in is very typical for Polish words, in Swedish the evolution of this ending can be traced as "lampe" -> "lampi" -> "lampa".

Apart from that, Russian and Swedish are actually related. These languages are supposedly closer to each other than, for instance, any Iranian language to any Slavic language. Of course they are mutually unintelligible but still genetically they have something to do with each other.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Good answer apart from the last paragraph. Iranian and Slavic languages are both satem languages, sharing a lot of common sound shifts that aren't shared by the Germanic languages like Swedish. – jk - Reinstate Monica Jul 7 at 13:23
  • 5
    @jk-ReinstateMonica well, I agree and disagree - the centum/satem dichotomy does not necessarily implies per se that languages in one of given domains are closer - it's a strong indicator though, nobody argues- still I think that common understanding is that German and Balto-Slavic were closedly related or have intensive contacts. – shabunc Jul 7 at 13:57
  • I agree there is a lot of contact between Balto-Slavic and Germanic languages for a long time (almost 2 millennia), but I don't think that Germanic is closer to Balto-Slavic than other branches of the Indogermanic lanugages. – jk - Reinstate Monica Jul 7 at 14:38
  • 2
    The lampe stage of the Swedish word is a red herring on Wiktionary – ON lampi is cognate with MG lampe, but doesn’t come from it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 7 at 20:14
  • 3
    I'm pretty sure the idea that either the centum or satem languages form a valid phylogenetic node has long-since been abandoned with it now generally being suggested that it was an areal shift that affected some of the already-distinct branches. From a quick search, it looks like most people consider Balto-Slavic more closely related to Germanic than to Indo-Iranian, but this is definitely not universal and likely depends substantially on methodology (i.e. lexicostatistics, genetic evidence, phonological evidence) – Tristan Jul 14 at 16:10

@shabunc has treated the other examples already, so I will say something about the bear's service: The same idiom is also present in German Bärendienst and it is traced to a fable by La Fontaine titled 'The bear and the garden lover' (my translation of the title) where the bear accidentally kills the garden lover when trying to chase off a fly.

| improve this answer | |

"I'm very much surprised by such similarities, given that Russian is a Slavic language and that Swedish is a North Germanic language."

  • this is a very strange, why you was surpised...

"the Swedish two closer to the Russian two than to the English two..."

the English and Russian have a lot of p.i.e. and anc.germans-slavic word's cognates, f.e. : mother - матерь, мать sister - сестра son - cын daughter - дочь,дщерь,дочерь brother - брат brow - бровь nose - нос mouse - мышь goose - гусь swine - cвин, свинья cat - кот thou - ты you - вы the/seo/se/thaet - cей, сия, сие, се, тот, этот a/an/any/one - один two - два three - три cow - гов-ядина wolf - волк tree - древо, дерево will - воля, из-волю, велю https://youtu.be/UfG9ml1xlNQ have - хапать grab - грабить milk - молоко apple - яблоко salt - соль red - рдеть,за-рдеться white - светлый weather - ветер dream - дремать, дрёма left - левый ask - искать sit - сидеть stand - стоять may, might - мочь be - быть ...

and et cetera... :) this isn't about a much later greek-latin loanwords for both languages. and a "cognate" doesn't mean here - the "exact translation". In ~80% it is, but not for others... f.e. weather - ветер (but tr. is погода, and ветер is a wind), white - светлый (белый), to ask - искать (спрашивать)... a dream - дрёма (мечта,сон), red - зардеться(but- красный), have (more often translated as "иметь", of course, but the meaning of "хапать" is similar and this is a cognate of origin:>) :)

cow - гов-ядина - it's canonical example :> ; this word means not a cow (now in Russian cow is a celtic "carve" - "корова"), but it "говядина" is means a meat of cow. in Ancient Rus' the "cow" named the "говяда".

"i'm not aware of any considerable past interactions between Russians and Swedes, except for some skirmishes"

Well, find out by studying history - and this is not about one point at all ..:

  1. Common Indo-European origin

  2. General the most ancient Slavic-"Germanic" relations (and since the very appearance of the Slavs as Slavs) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandals , ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Свевы ,

etc... and things like the Gothic kingdoms like the Oyum (Aujom),(the Chernyakhov archeological culture)... and WHERE they were :>

  1. The famous issue with the Rurik and his gang of vikings in the Ancient Rus:> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rurik , https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Рюрик

  2. Further a famous historical numerous connections and relations... :> like this: ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Олав_I_Трюггвасон#Новгородский_период , en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingegerd_Olofsdotter_of_Sweden , etc.. A really, really lot of them... :)))

the good movie "Viking", i recommend : https://youtu.be/IoqiDOivUCo

P.S. " två, two,два, Proto-Germanic *twa, Old Norse tveir, tvau, Old Church Slavonic duva, PIE *duwo,*dwo- " https://www.etymonline.com/word/two

| improve this answer | |

There are excellent answers above, just one more thing:

the suffix -ska in svenska and Russian -ski in швед-ски are of course related. The same suffix is in English Swed-ish, etc.


If you dig deeper, you'll find many parallels between Slavic and Germanic languages.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.