• Sweden, England and the letter Y

    There’s a lot that’s funny about the Swedish language. To English ears, the sound of it is probably the funniest part. Why else does the Swedish chef exist? (The Swedish chef exists?)

    But surely the funniest single letter in the Swedish alphabet (and there’s some stiff competition, in the form of Å, Ä and Ö) is undoubtedly Y. What’s so strange about Y, I hear you ask? The pronunciation is what’s so strange.

    Disclaimer: This is the first time in the history of the Internet that a blog has combined the Grey Friars of London, English national football chants and Swedish pronunciation.

    Clear your throat

    Clear your throat

    The Swedish Y starts way back in the throat. It then proceeds to clear the throat of all phlegm. It’s the sound (probably) made by an Olympic weightlifting champion just as he begins to lift the weight.

    It’s not a clear, high-pitched ‘eeeeeee’, and it’s not a quick, solitary ‘ya’. In fact, the closest approximation in the English language is the sound English football fans make when they begin the chant of “England!”

    As all English football fans know, they don’t chant “England” at all. Because the English don’t say “England”, they say “Ingland”. But they don’t chant “Ingland” either. They chant something that football writers have endlessly tried to replicate in written form as “Iiiiiiiingerland” or “Errrrrrngland” or similar.

    That sound they first utter is uncannily close to the Swedish Y. Which brings me to the Grey Friars of London. Thanks to the indispensible History Today magazine, I learnt that the Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London wrote of their country using the spelling “Yngland”.

    Dripping in the Danelaw

    Could it be that this is a distant echoing memory of an “Yngland” pronounced as they would have done under the Danelaw? An “Yngland” whose pronunciation had travelled down the centuries to the English football terrace in the mouths of the nation’s commoners?

    If it wasn’t for the throaty chant of “Yyyyyyyyngland” that I know so well, and my discovery of the peculiar Swedish pronunciation of the letter Y, I might not have paused on the Grey Friars and their “Yngland” more than a moment. I would have dismissed it as just another silly peculiarity of pre-standardisation English.

    More links between English and Swedish? Well, Pardon my Swedish!

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