Package Managers #lca2017


These are some other relevant talks from lca2017.


Swedes and swearing

In the beginning of the talk I mention that swedes don’t understand swearing, but I didn’t do a great job of explaining what I meant. Here’s a (hopefully) more understandable version.

First of all, what are swear words? I’m not a linguist, but I would call them amplifiers. A swear word expresses an amplified emotion.

  • Good
  • Very Good
  • Really Good
  • Damn Good
  • Really Fucking Good

In this sense, the swedish language does have swear words, as in words that are used as emotional amplifiers. But the amplifiers in swedish are just that. They are largely meaningless words that reference devils or hell that don’t have any other connotations that might offend someone. So in swedish, you’d say

  • Bra (Good)
  • Jättebra (Really Good /Giant Good/)
  • Skitbra (Damn Good /Shit Good/)
  • Jävligt Bra (Really Fucking Good /Devilishly Good/)

As you can see, that last one doesn’t quite match the english variant. Due to this, swearing in swedish isn’t really all that frowned upon. You may have heard someone say “Oh, in Sweden they are so enlightened and liberal, they don’t bleep words on TV” or something similar, or maybe you’ve even heard a swede say this and not understanding why you’d bleep words in other countries.

Well, this non-understanding carries over when learning a second language. As it seems to me, my brain still basically forms sentences in Swedish, selecting words from categories like verb, noun and amplifier. So when building sentences, my brain will insert swedish “swears” here and there - as we do.

It then starts translating the sentence to english, first by replacing words in each category with the closest matching word in english. Well, having largely learned to speak english by watching films by Quentin Tarantino, the sentences tend to end up containing quite a bit of fucking, and possibly one or two motherfuckers. The next step is to rearrange and throw away words that don’t make sense, and adding words where needed. And the step after that is to look at the whole sentence, go “hmm, this sounds a bit too rude doesn’t it” and strip out much of the fucking and the motherfuckers.

Well, when in a high pressure situation, having to both think and speak quickly, such as when speaking at a conference, the brain is apt to start dropping frames. And it does this by dropping stages of the internal translation process. So maybe I’ll start getting word order wrong, or some word might not get translated properly and come out in swedish. Or, the cleanup phase that tries to get the sentence back to the intended level of swearyness drops off and I start sounding like an angry sailor.

Again, not a linguist, not an expert. This is likely to be a grossly oversimplified version of the real mechanism. But it seems somewhat accurate.