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Completion of 140-Year-Old Swedish Dictionary Project

An End of An Era: Sweden’s 140-year Dictionary Project Hits The Finish Line

Have you ever liked a project so much that you worked on it for 140 years? That’s exactly what happened with the Swedish Academy Dictionary (SAOB). After 14 decades of tireless diligence, it’s finally complete, comprising of a whopping 33,111 pages across 39 volumes.

Decoding the Swedish Language

Born from the intellect of the Swedish Academy, the great mind that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature, the SAOB is Sweden’s answer to the Oxford English Dictionary. Christian Mattsson, the dictionary’s editor, recently revealed to AFP that 137 full-time employees have poured their hearts into this project since its start in 1883.

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“We’re done,” Mattsson said, “Over these years, 137 full-time employees have worked on making it a reality.”

But hold on! The fascinating journey of the Swedish language isn’t over yet. Old volumes from A to R now need to be updated with modern language-terms, meaning the team’s work isn’t quite finished.

“Allergy,” for example, was a term that emerged in Swedish in the 1920s, but it doesn’t feature in the ‘A’ volume as it was published in 1893. Over the next seven years, “allergy” and approximately 10,000 other words such as “Barbie doll”, “app”, and “computer” will join the dictionary clan.

Serving as a Linguistic Time Capsule

What sets the SAOB apart is that it’s not just a dictionary—it’s a historical record of Swedish from 1521 to the present day. While its physical presence only counts around 200 copies, primarily for researchers and linguists, it’s readily available online for all language enthusiasts.

But this isn’t the only linguistic undertaking by the Academy—they also maintain a regularly updated dictionary for contemporary Swedish.

A Journey that Started 235 Years Ago

The Swedish Academy isn’t a new kid on the block. The Academy was established in 1786 by the visionary King Gustav III. His aim? To promote the nation’s language and literature, while preserving the ‘purity, vigor, and majesty’ of the Swedish language. It’s safe to say that over the years, the Swedish Academy has done a spectacular job in accomplishing that objective.

From the Expat’s Perspective

For the expat community in Sweden, dictionaries like the SAOB play a crucial role in understanding the narrative of their adopted home. Grappling with a new language is never easy—but it’s also an exciting journey into new sounds, words, and ways of expressing oneself.

The conclusion? Knowing Swedish is not just about getting by—it’s about embracing the rich history and evolving culture of Sweden. And hey, even if your proficiency level isn’t Nobel-worthy yet, at least you’ll know your “app” from your “allergy”.

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