Språkkänsla – hans eller sin?

A grammatical issue in Swedish that many beginners, especially English speakers, find difficult is how to use the reflexive possessive pronouns sin, sitt and sina.

I personally think that the Swedish language is pretty neat in this way, that we can easily distinguish between:

  • Han talade med grannen om hans bil (He spoke to the neighbour about the neighbour’s car)
  • Han talade med grannen om sin bil (He spoke to the neighbour about his own car)

Isn’t it pretty cool to be able to clarify that with the uses of hans and sin? This distinction does not exist in English, which can give rise to confusion (and require clarification about who you are actually referring to).

You use this reflexive possessive pronoun when you say that the noun belongs to the subject in the sentence. “Han talade om sin bil” – He talks about his (own) car. The word sin links back to the subject (han), and means that the car belongs to the subject.

You use sin in this example, because sin is the en-word version – and the word bil is an en-word. If it was an ett-word instead, let’s say hus, then the sentence would look like this:

  • Han talade om sitt hus

We would use sitt, because this is the ett-word version of this reflexive possessive pronoun. Sin and sitt are used when the noun is singular, just 1 thing.

If the noun is in plural, you would use the plural-version (regardless of whether the noun is en or ett in singular) – sina – like this:

  • Han talade om sina bilar (He spoke about his own cars)

But if he was talking to the neighbour about the neighbour’s house, or cars, the sentences would look like this:

  • Han talade med grannen om hans hus
  • Han talade med grannen om hans bilar

So the important thing is that the noun belongs to the subject of the sentence, then you use sin, sitt, or sina.

Sin, sitt, sina are only used in this way for the third person – both singular and plural. So, in other words, this only kicks in when you talk about someone else (not jag or du). It could be han or hon, or de. It could also be when you use people’s names when you talk about them in third person.

Interestingly, according to research, this distinction is become more blurred – especially among young people who do not have Swedish as their mother tongue. They are less likely to use sin, sitt, sina and would instead use hans, hennes or deras.  They are also particularly likely to use hans, hennes or deras after a preposition, such as på or av. So for example: “Vem är han arg på?” “På hans mamma.” Whereas those who have Swedish as a mother tongue are more likely to say “På sin mamma”, in this case.

But does this mean that this grammatical rule is slowly changing? Researchers are divided, but it seems that this kind of use of the reflexive possessive pronoun does not influence “mother tongue speakers”, so it seems unlikely that the rule will change within a near future, even though examples of alternative uses may become more common in the future.

Jultider

Hej!

I am just about to set off to Sweden for Christmas and will be back 29th. In the meantime, I will be posting on Facebook during the Christmas period.

You can find me in there as Swedish Teacher Anneli Haake. Hope to see you in there!

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Christmas gift – Swedish Lesson

Want to give someone a Swedish Lesson as a Christmas Gift?

No problems!

Email me on swedishmadeeasy@gmail.com and let me know the person’s name, and I will send you payment details. You pay for the lesson (£25 GBP), tell them to contact me to book the lesson themselves. I’ll give you a pdf voucher that you can print out and wrap up.

Lätt som en plätt! Easy peasy!

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Lucia – classic Swedish tradition, or sexist popularity contest?

Today, many Swedish schools will celebrate Lucia. Well-known as a a very typical tradition in Sweden, the day (which is actually the 13th of Dec) commemorates Saint Lucy – a Christian martyr who died during the Diocletianic Persecution. But as the date is also close to winter solstice it has become a festival of light.

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However, lately the tradition has frequently become a matter of debate. Traditionally, lucia has always been a girl and only girls have been allowed to take part in the lucia election process, but in several Swedish schools in recent years this has been challenged. This year, several boys have been allowed to be lucia.

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There has also been debates around the lucia election process itself. Lucias are chosen on school level, county level and national level. Traditionally, a lucia would be chosen through voting. In my old high school, each class would present two candidates and photos of all the girls would be put up in a communal school area for everyone to vote.

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This often turned into a very fierce popularity contest, with very narrowly defined criteria for what lucia should look like. This also often meant that girls who were perceived as not fitting the “lucia stereotype” look were ridiculed. I remember girls who were chosen deliberately by their class because they did not fit the stereotype, and so became bullied and ridiculed when their photo was published. I also remember girls who did have the classic “lucia look” but were not particularly popular in class, and how upset they were not to be chosen as candidates.

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Above is my first Lucia at nursery – yep, that’s shorty me to the right. At nursery, all girls were allowed to be lucia if they wanted. It was only later on (around the age of 12-13), that the voting element was introduced where I went to school. 

More recently, several students and other activists have started to criticise the popularity element in the lucia election process, and have pointed out that it seems old fashioned. Perhaps the lucia tradition is falling out of fashion? A bit like the Miss Universe contests in recent years, something harking back to a different era where beauty contents for women were common.

Some schools have responded by changing the election to a draw, thereby trying to remove the element of popularity contest. There are also reports that some counties in Sweden struggle to even find candidates who are interested in participating.

In November, Svenska Dagbladet debated this issue online, and some of the opinions were:

- “Skip Lucia in schools but keep the tradition on national level”

- “Introduce draws instead of voting for candidates”

- “Lucia is a classic tradition, which we should not simply remove because to the “Politically Correct Mafia” have issues with it”

- “Typically Swedish to remove good old traditions”

- “I don’t understand what criteria I should use to vote? I don’t know the girls so I can only go on their looks. Feels very old fashioned”

- “Can’t really see the connection between a cute blonde Swedish girl and an Italian Christian martyr”

- “The tradition contributes to several sexist structures – boys are excluded and girls are selected based on their looks” 

What do you think? Is Lucia an old tradition worth keeping, or should it be a thing of the past? Or should some elements of the tradition be updated and modified?

The Lucia song, English translation:

The night stalks with heavy treads
around the homestead and cottage
Around the earth forsaken by the sun
the shadows brood
Then, in[to] our dark house
strides with candles lit
Saint Lucy, Saint Lucy

The night was large and silent
Now, listen, it’s swishing
in all the quiet rooms
soughing as if by wings
See, at our doorstep stands
clad in white with lights in [her] hair
Saint Lucy, Saint Lucy

The dark shall soon flee
from the dells of the earth
So she a wonderful
word to us speaks
The day shall again, new made
rise from a rosy sky
Saint Lucy, Saint Lucy

Svenska:

Natten går tunga fjät
runt gård och stuva
Kring jord som soln förlät
skuggorna ruva
Då i vårt mörka hus
stiger med tända ljus
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia

Natten var stor och stum.
Nu, hör, det svingar
i alla tysta rum
sus som av vingar
Se, på vår tröskel står
vitklädd med ljus i hår
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia

Mörkret skall flykta snart
ur jordens dalar
Så hon ett underbart
ord till oss talar
Dagen skall åter ny
stiga ur rosig sky
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia