Any Swedes out there?

According to “Wikipedia’s”: perfectly fascinating article on Finnishisms in Swedish, both _Semla,_ (a sort of bun) and _dyna_ (a cushion) are Finnishisms in place of more common and “proper” Swedish terms. Yet both words were in everyday use in my Swedish family, who lived about as far from Finland (and Finns) as it is possible to get without ending up in the North Sea. It never for a moment occurred out me that they were anything other than standard Swedish words. Can it be that wikipedia is in error? Or are there any Swedish readers who can cast light on this?

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14 Responses to Any Swedes out there?

  1. Greger says:

    My understanding is that the words you mention are used differently in Swedish speaking parts of Finland than they are in Sweden. In Sweden _semla_ is (as you might have found out) a special kind of pastry, while in Finland it would mean a roll or any kind of small bun. Likewise for _dyna_, which in Sweden would normally mean a thinner cushion that is used to sit on (such as a removable cushion for a chair) but in Finland would mean any cushion.

  2. acb says:

    Yes — that would work, of course. _Stoldyna_ or _sittdyna_ both make sense and must be checkable in the IKEA catalogue. But they would also have _Kudde_ for sofa cushion. And a _semla_ is absolutely a bun — one rather like a small, sweet _kudde_ in fact, if cushions were stuffed with marzipan.


  3. Rupert says:

    From conversations with Swedes, I get the impression that Swedish changed quite a lot over the course of the 20th century – I asked for a translation of something in a book from around 1910, and they struggled with quite a few words. It seemed harder for them than it would have been for me when reading an English book from 1810. You’ll know whether this is true far better than me, Andrew! Language that’s changing is perhaps more sensitive to loan words: if these words are relatively recent, I wonder if they could be related to the diaspora of Finnish war children throughout Sweden in WWII.

    (That’s still being felt. A Swedish pal is the daughter of one of those children, and she feels excluded when she goes to Finland for family reunions and can’t understand the language.)


  4. David Weman says:

    The main problem would be the spelling. English, famously, has never had a spelling reform.

  5. Mrs Tilton says:

    I am no Swede, and I suppose that Sw. _semla_ might truly be a fennicism and hence an example of, emm, convergent evolution or something. But _Semmel_ is a German dialect term for bread-roll and not, SFAIK, of Finnish origin.

    As it happens, those dialects are Bavarian and Franconian (which is in found in Bavaria but is linguistically distinct). IOW, about as far from Sweden as you can get in Germany without invading Austria. Still, there are other examples of far southern German dialects having words cognate with English words but unknown in the intervening German territories: _olwai_ for (among other things) “always”; _luage_ for “look”.

    I’d imagine, then, that Wiki is here in error; unless perhaps the Swedes borrowed a Finnish word that itself had been borrowed from German. Unlikely, I suppose, but not _a priori_ impossible.

    On _dyna_ I can’t help you at all, I’m afraid.

  6. acb says:

    Mrs T: I would point out that there was a hell of a lot of interaction between Fenno-Swedish speakers and the inhabitants of Bavaria and Franconia between 1628 and 1648 — also, between Swedes and the scarcely more fortunate inhabitants of Saxony, Brandenburg, Bohemia, the Rhineland, Poland, Lithuania, etc. But most Swedish borrowings from German (and there are many) are from an earlier period.

    In any case, the argument is that _semla_ as a general term for all sorts of buns is now Finnish, whereas in Sweden it refers to only one sort. I can’t be sure, but I thought _Semmel_ was the soft, flattish round roll one eats for breakfast in Vienna. The thing that has a cross-cut on top, so that you open it in quarters.

    David: I don’t think it’s the spelling reform alone. More the turn away from German as the second language to English.

  7. Mrs Tilton says:


    that’s certainly the commonest kind of _Semmel_ (or _Weckle,_ or _Rundstuck,_ or _Schrippe_). The standard German word is simply _Brötchen,_ though I don’t believe any Germany has ever said it.

  8. Mrs Tilton says:

    _”Brötchen”_, of course; a pox upon Textile.

  9. acb says:

    It’s not actually Textile, but MT which does that.

    Textile has a little-known setup for dipslaying accented letters — eg {“o} _should_ work. I will test, and then comment further

    If you know any perl hackers who could fix the plugin I use to deal with

  10. acb says:

    Yup. It does work. Now all I have to do is to work out the character macros for the characters in the character macros … Enclose them in two sets of equals signs.

    So — to produce {“o} you type == {“o}. ==

    Whether this is actually easier than the character entities method I don’t know. That depends on which your fingers are most used to.

  11. acb says:

    oh shit.
    It looked great in the rushes

    == == ==


  12. As far as I’ve heard Semla derives from the Latin word for flour (semila or something like that). It was probably borrowed in from German in Catholic times and originally used for a bun made from white flour. This type of bun was eaten before the fast in spring ( compare with Mardi Gras, Carneval). In Sweden it is only this bun that has kept the name, whereas the orginal general meaning is used in Finland. In Norway there is a product called Semulegryn, which is a bit like Couscous and used for porridge and also made from white flour.

    Dyna refers to the filling of down (dun) and originally meant any stuffed household item, such as a mattress or a pillow and has developed in different directions in different areas of Scandinavia.

    Åsa, teacher of Swedish

  13. acb says:

    Åsa, welcome. I’ll fix your name, too, where it has been mangled in the comment … This is all adding good information. The trouble with Finland Swedish, at least for a casual visitor, is that there is nowhere in Finland where it is actually spoken. (I know this isn’t strictly true, but outside the Gulf of Bothnia, I have had about as much luck with Swedish as I would have speaking Gaelic in Ireland).

    Nor have I come across _Semulegryn_ in Norway. If it doesn’t have any connection to fish, I wouldn’t have done, anyway. But it sounds like the English “Semolina”, which is, I think, _mannagrynsgröt._

    The FWB is doing a Latin A Level, so we ought to have a dictionary somewhere in the house with which to check this out.

  14. Halina Semla says:

    Can anybody suggest where my last name Semla come from?

    I was born in Poland and my ancestors were German
    Thank you
    H Semla

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