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Ett skepp kommer lastat

Magazine article
Authors Anna Helga Hannesdottir
Published in Idun
Volume 21
Pages 67-76
ISSN 0287-9042
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Swedish
Pages 67-76
Language sv
Keywords språkkontakt, lexikografi, språkhistoria, kulturkontakt
Subject categories Languages and Literature, Swedish language, Japanology


My first acquaintance with the Japanese language was physical. It was forty years ago, and I was practicing karate. Although the martial arts were then – and still are – very popular in Sweden, their contributions to the Swedish lexicon has indeed been very modest. Not many of the terms one associates with the various budo disciplines have made their way out of the dojo. The first time the Swedes got into contact with the Japanese language was in the midst of the 17th century, when Swedish seafarers started to join the Dutch East India Company’s trading expeditions to the Far East. One of them was Olof Eriksson Willman. His travelogue from one of these expeditions was published in 1667. There he describes how he in 1652 arrives at Nagasaki and then travels to Jedo, the capital of the country. In his text, there are scattered remarks on the Japanese language. Those are mostly in the form of terms for specific Japanese phenomena or notions, to which he added Swedish equivalents or explanations. Just one of these Japanese words made its way into the Swedish lexicon to such a degree that it is listed in the comprehensive historical dictionary published by The Swedish Academy (SAOB) and attributed to Willman’s travelogue: the word saké. The second Swede to keep a travelogue of his journey to Japan was one of the disciples of the eminent Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus: Carl Peter Thunberg. With the accuracy of a scientist Thunberg describes his contact with the Japanese people and their language as well as the country itself and its nature. In spite of the severe restrictions to which at that time foreigners were subjects, Thunberg managed to learn and write down some 1 500 Japanese words and phrases, which he included in his travelogue. Hardly a single one of all of these words were incorporated into the Swedish language: only two words of Japanese origin in SAOB occur for the first time in Thunberg’s travelogue, viz samurai and Sinto. However important to the Swedish society in terms of wealth and knowledge, these long and often hazardous voyages did not contribute equally to the Swedish lexicon. Today, at the early 21st century, the martial arts are practiced by an ever-increasing number of Swedes. Also influences from modern Japanese popular culture are quite significant in the Swedish society and some of the Japanese concepts bring with them their original names. The youngsters who used to play with their Pokémon, later read manga magazines and watched animé, and now, as grown ups, struggle solving their Sudoku puzzles enjoying sushi. These popular Japanese elements in the everyday life of the Swedes were certainly not carried all the way from Japan to Sweden on board a ship.

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