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Tags linguistics , swedish

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Old 8th November 2007, 03:11 PM   #1
Kotatsu
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Attention speakers of Swedish!

Hello,

I was at a friend's place yesterday, and his Japanese girlfriend was doing her Swedish homework (both my friend and I are Swedish, by the way). She became a bit frustrated at what she perceived as a random switch between prepositions. We found nothing in their large Swedish grammar book that addressed this issue (1). We thought about it for a while, and I was able to formulate a tentative rule of thumb about how it works. I have tested this rule on about 50-75 different contexts, and so far it has always worked. However, I was hoping other speakers of Swedish (or other people, of course) could perhaps help me test if this is a good rule or not.

The rule concerns "to go to (a place of some sort)", which can be translated in at least three ways:
1. "gå till" (gå till banken, gå till affären, gå till skolan)
2. "gå i" (gå i skolan is the only example I have been able to come up with)
3. "gå på" (gå på utställning, gå på bio, gå på stan)

To my friend's girlfriend, it seemed more or less random which preposition to use. However, the rule of thumb I am thinking of is this (notice first, please, that it is still less than 24 hours since I formulated the rule, so it may be totally wrong):

1. You use "till" when you're going to a *location* and where the location itself is more important than what you are actually going to do there.
2. You use "i" when it is a *process* rather than a destination (though as I only have one data point, this could be something entirely else).
3. You use "på" when you're going to an *event*, where the activity you will perform there is more important than the actual location.

Consider the following sentence pair:
"Jag går på bio" vs. "Jag går till bion"
Let us for the moment ignore that "-n" at the end, and concentrate on what the sentences actually say. To me (and to both of my Swedish friend I have talked about this with), the first sentence means that you are going to the cinema, actually going inside, and actually seeing a movie. The second sentence, however, only means that you're going as far as the cinema, but doesn't mean that you're going there to watch a movie. You could as well just meet a friend or have a cup of coffee in the foyer or something.

Thus in the first sentence, the *event* of watching a movie is the important fact, whereas in the second sentence, the *location* is more important than what you are actually going to do there. The same difference occurred in all the examples I could come up with since yesterday.

However, we're not so sure about the "gå i" part, as you'd say "gå på universitet", "gå på mellanstadiet", "gå på dagis" and so on, all of which implies some sort of process (at least to the same extent that "gå i skolan" is a process) rather than an event.

So, what do you think? I invite all kinds of comments and criticism. I have studied linguistics for a year, but it's certainly not my field, so I am perfectly aware that I may be totally wrong on any or all counts. However, having her ask questions yesterday really got me thinking. I'd appreciate all kinds of help I could get in this, and you'll also get the added bonus of helping a cute Japanese girl with her studies!

---
(1) I have forgotten the name of the book, but it looked really good, so I could find out if anyone's interested. I think the reason it didn't have an answer for us was that they tried to formulate rules which were too inclusive: rules that would work regardless of the verb. This makes it much more complicated, of course, which is my the rule of thumb we devised only applies to a small subset.
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Old 8th November 2007, 03:21 PM   #2
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Old 8th November 2007, 03:34 PM   #3
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Indeed. But it is very often possible to find good rules for how things work nonetheless. I'm mostly just curious if the explanation I provided yesterday holds any water when scrutinized by those who know these things better than I do.
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Old 8th November 2007, 04:00 PM   #4
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"To go to" translates into "Till gå till" when using the Intertran website.

Can you tell me what "Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue / Orn desh, dee born desh, de umn børk! børk! børk!" means in English? Intertran can't handle it.

Especially that "børk!" part!

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Old 8th November 2007, 04:16 PM   #5
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I don't think there are any good rules for which to use in different situations. In many of those cases (such as "gå i skolan", "gå i kloster", "gå i pension", "gå i terapi"), you simply have to treat them as figures of speech and memorise them. And when in doubt, use "på"

"Gå" literally means "walk", but in pretty much all of your examples except for the "gå till" ones, no actual walking is implied. Note that both "gå i" and "gå på" both have literal meanings as well: "gå i skogen", "gå på bron". Also note that if you're not actually walking on foot, you should use "åka" instead.
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Old 8th November 2007, 04:18 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Fnord View Post
"To go to" translates into "Till gå till" when using the Intertran website.

Can you tell me what "Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue / Orn desh, dee born desh, de umn børk! børk! børk!" means in English? Intertran can't handle it.

Especially that "børk!" part!

Bork bork bork means kill kill kill, and as you often saw with the Swedish Chef, he was quite unsuccessful in killing his food, but ever hopeful!
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Old 9th November 2007, 12:51 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by skoob View Post
I don't think there are any good rules for which to use in different situations. In many of those cases (such as "gå i skolan", "gå i kloster", "gå i pension", "gå i terapi"), you simply have to treat them as figures of speech and memorise them. And when in doubt, use "på"

"Gå" literally means "walk", but in pretty much all of your examples except for the "gå till" ones, no actual walking is implied. Note that both "gå i" and "gå på" both have literal meanings as well: "gå i skogen", "gå på bron". Also note that if you're not actually walking on foot, you should use "åka" instead.
Certainly, but as I said, this rule would apply to only a very limited subset of the cases where "gp till/i/på" translates into "go to" in English. I realise this is pretty useless rule because of its limited application, but it does cut away a lot of your examples (gå i pension, gå i kloster, gå i skogen, gå på bron). The situation is a Japanese girl who's learning Swedish via English, and is bewildered by the apparent randomness in choice of preposition. Your post, if you'll excuse my bluntness, seems to make the same "mistake" as the grammar book we consulted, in trying to find a too inclusive rule.

But indeed, perhaps "gå i skolan" should be treated as a figure of speech rather than as "go to process". It would make everything much easier. However, the distinction between "till" and "på" remains.

I also would like to point out that "gå" can have a more general meaning than actual walking, such as "går den här bussen förbi Vasaplatsen?", "gå i kvav", "gå i bitar" and so on. When I first read your post, I thought maybe that would be the key, though. Actual walking = till, no actual walking = på. However, "gå på Liseberg" implies actual walking, and you have to get to the movie somehow.

I don't know, maybe I'm mixing up too much semantics after all?
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Old 9th November 2007, 01:00 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Fnord View Post
"To go to" translates into "Till gå till" when using the Intertran website.
That's because there are too few words in English. The first "to" means "att" in Swedish. Clearly, Swedish is a superior language to English.

Originally Posted by Fnord View Post
Can you tell me what "Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue / Orn desh, dee born desh, de umn børk! børk! børk!" means in English? Intertran can't handle it.

Especially that "børk!" part!

Apart from the "børk!", which -Fran- translated (and which you'd have found out the meaning of in a few years when Sweden reinvades the world anyway), the rest must remain a secret until you become a Swedish citizen. It is part of the inauguration rite, and must not be explained or talked about in a public place where just about any kind of foreigner could stumble over a translation. It would ruin the whole point of being Swedish if everyone knew our secret code words and our secret handshake (which, by the way, is wicked cool).

Sorry.

To make it up to you, consider the following set of facts my sister told me a long time ago:
"A kiss" is "en puss" in Swedish.
"En kisse[katt]" is "a pussy[cat]" in English.

Is this a coincidence or God's way of telling us we should behave in a more friendly manner towards kittens?
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Last edited by Kotatsu; 9th November 2007 at 01:01 AM.
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Old 9th November 2007, 01:26 AM   #9
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Prepositions are tricky. Much of the time they are rather straightforward. In, to, before etc. etc. But sometimes they don't make sense. For instance the Norwegian preposition "i" which corresponds to the English "in" usually signifies being inside som kind of enclosure. However when a Norwegian says "Jeg er glad i deg" he (or she) means "I'm fond of you" or even "I love you".
I think prepositions are among the hardest things to learn in a new language if you base your learning on general rules, but they are quite easy if you just memorises the deifferent usages.
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Old 9th November 2007, 09:21 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Kotatsu View Post
Is this a coincidence or God's way of telling us we should behave in a more friendly manner towards kittens?

My late, sainted grandmother once told me, "God couldn't put angels everywhere, so He created cats."

Then again, gramma used to use that saying to justify the existance of grammas, police, firefighters, and her .357 magnum.
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Old 9th November 2007, 01:33 PM   #11
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Oh, this brings back memories...When I was an innocent schoolgirl (back when birds had tails and feathers) the Powers That Be decided that grammar wasn't necessary when learning languages.(Lgr 69)You were supposed to pick it up somehow anyway when learning a foreign language.

Well, you don't. Luckily we had an English teacher who didn't care about the latest trends, she made sure we had at least a rudimentary understanding. It ought to have been the Swedish teachers job, but he was so incompetent it isn't even funny. Which she knew.
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Old 9th November 2007, 02:57 PM   #12
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For pity's sake, people. Why can't you all learn Spanish like all of us in the US will be speaking soon?
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Old 10th November 2007, 08:49 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by eir_de_scania View Post
Oh, this brings back memories...When I was an innocent schoolgirl (back when birds had tails and feathers) the Powers That Be decided that grammar wasn't necessary when learning languages.(Lgr 69)You were supposed to pick it up somehow anyway when learning a foreign language.

Well, you don't. Luckily we had an English teacher who didn't care about the latest trends, she made sure we had at least a rudimentary understanding. It ought to have been the Swedish teachers job, but he was so incompetent it isn't even funny. Which she knew.
I recognize this! My early school years were during the 70s and I can't recall that they placed much importance on grammar, ever... I am still today very bad at grammar as a subject. That my Swedish is good and my English at least readable, is more due to a "sense of language" and having learnt a lot by heart, and by using the languages frequently. But I make a lot of mistakes that are probably unnecessary, and could have been avoided if we had been properly taught from the beginning!

ETA
That's also why I refrain from speaking on the subject of the OP
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Last edited by -Fran-; 10th November 2007 at 09:04 AM.
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Old 10th November 2007, 09:57 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Garrette View Post
For pity's sake, people. Why can't you all learn Spanish like all of us in the US will be speaking soon?
Besides, it's much easier - hardly any umlauts and NONE of those back-slash thingies.
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Old 10th November 2007, 10:05 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Elizabeth I View Post
and NONE of those back-slash thingies.
Blame the danes and the norwegians for those (I don't know how to make them on the keyboard) we swedes use the ---> Ö
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Old 13th November 2007, 07:05 AM   #16
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I love to translate English to Swedish, especially for cute Japanese girls. Here is the OP translated into Swedish...


Quote:
Hellu,

I ves et a freeend's plece-a yesterdey, und hees Jepunese-a gurlffreeend ves dueeng her Svedeesh humoourk (but my freeend und I ere-a Svedeesh, by zee vey). She-a beceme-a a beet froostreted et vhet she-a perceeefed es a rundum sveetch betveee prepuseeshuns. Um gesh dee bork, bork! Ve-a fuoond nutheeng in zeeur lerge-a Svedeesh gremmer buuk thet eddressed thees issooe-a (1). Ve-a thuooght ebuoot it fur a vheele-a, und I ves eble-a tu furmoolete-a a tenteteefe-a roole-a ooff thoomb ebuoot hoo it vurks. Um gesh dee bork, bork! I hefe-a tested thees roole-a oon ebuoot 50-75 deefffferent cuntexts, und su fer it hes elveys vurked. Bork bork bork! Hooefer, I ves hupeeng oozeer speekers ooff Svedeesh (oor oozeer peuple-a, ooff cuoorse-a) cuoold perheps help me-a test iff thees is a guud roole-a oor nut. Um de hur de hur de hur. Zee roole-a cuncerns "tu gu tu (a plece-a ooff sume-a surt)", vheech cun be-a trunsleted in et leest three-a veys: 1. "gå teell" (gå teell bunkee, gå teell effffäree, gå teell skulun) 2. "gå i" (gå i skulun is zee oonly ixemple-a I hefe-a beee eble-a tu cume-a up veet) 3. "gå på" (gå på utställneeng, gå på beeu, gå på stun) Tu my freeend's gurlffreeend, it seemed mure-a oor less rundum vheech prepuseeshun tu use-a. Hooefer, zee roole-a ooff thoomb I em theenking ooff is thees (nuteece-a furst, pleese-a, thet it is steell less thun 24 huoors seence-a I furmooleted zee roole-a, su it mey be-a tutelly vrung): 1. Yuoo use-a "teell" vhee yuoo're-a gueeng tu a *luceshun* und vhere-a zee luceshun itselff is mure-a impurtunt thun vhet yuoo ere-a ectooelly gueeng tu du zeere-a. 2. Yuoo use-a "i" vhee it is a *prucess* rezeer thun a desteeneshun (thuoogh es I oonly hefe-a oone-a deta pueent, thees cuoold be-a sumetheeng inturely ilse-a). 3. Yuoo use-a "på" vhee yuoo're-a gueeng tu un *ifent*, vhere-a zee ecteefity yuoo veell perffurm zeere-a is mure-a impurtunt thun zee ectooel luceshun. Cunseeder zee fullooeeng sentence-a peur: "Jeg går på beeu" fs. Um gesh dee bork, bork! "Jeg går teell beeun" Let us fur zee mument ignure-a thet "-n" et zee ind, und cuncentrete-a oon vhet zee sentences ectooelly sey. Bork bork bork! Tu me-a (und tu but ooff my Svedeesh freeend I hefe-a telked ebuoot thees veet), zee furst sentence-a meuns thet yuoo ere-a gueeng tu zee ceenema, ectooelly gueeng inseede-a, und ectooelly seeeeng a mufeee-a. Zee secund sentence-a, hooefer, oonly meuns thet yuoo're-a gueeng es fer es zee ceenema, boot duesn't meun thet yuoo're-a gueeng zeere-a tu vetch a mufeee-a. Yuoo cuoold es vell joost meet a freeend oor hefe-a a coop ooff cuffffee-a in zee fuyer oor sumetheeng. Thoos in zee furst sentence-a, zee *ifent* ooff vetcheeng a mufeee-a is zee impurtunt fect, vherees in zee secund sentence-a, zee *luceshun* is mure-a impurtunt thun vhet yuoo ere-a ectooelly gueeng tu du zeere-a. Zee seme-a deefffference-a ooccoorred in ell zee ixemples I cuoold cume-a up veet seence-a yesterdey. Bork bork bork! Hooefer, ve're-a nut su soore-a ebuoot zee "gå i" pert, es yuoo'd sey "gå på uneefersitet", "gå på mellunstedeeet", "gå på degees" und su oon, ell ooff vheech impleees sume-a surt ooff prucess (et leest tu zee seme-a ixtent thet "gå i skulun" is a prucess) rezeer thun un ifent. Um de hur de hur de hur. Su, vhet du yuoo theenk? I infeete-a ell keends ooff cumments und creeticism. I hefe-a stoodeeed leengooistics fur a yeer, boot it's certeeenly nut my feeeld, su I em perffectly evere-a thet I mey be-a tutelly vrung oon uny oor ell cuoonts. Um gesh dee bork, bork! Hooefer, hefeeng her esk qooesshuns yesterdey reelly gut me-a theenking. I'd eppreceeete-a ell keends ooff help I cuoold get in thees, und yuoo'll elsu get zee edded bunoos ooff helpeeng a coote-a Jepunese-a gurl veet her stoodeees! --- (1) I hefe-a furguttee zee neme-a ooff zee buuk, boot it luuked reelly guud, su I cuoold feend oooot iff unyune's interested. Bork bork bork! I theenk zee reesun it deedn't hefe-a un unsver fur us ves thet zeey treeed tu furmoolete-a rooles vheech vere-a tuu inclooseefe-a: rooles thet vuoold vurk regerdless ooff zee ferb. Thees mekes it mooch mure-a cumpleeceted, ooff cuoorse-a, vheech is my zee roole-a ooff thoomb ve-a defeesed oonly eppleees tu a smell soobset. Um de hur de hur de hur.
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Old 13th November 2007, 12:01 PM   #17
aries
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I don't know if this also applies to Swedish, but in Danish to 'at gå i biografen' (to go see a movie in the cinema) means you're going to a private owned place while 'studere' på universitet' (study at university) means that you're going to a public place. You're also going 'på arbejde' (going to work) in Danish, since work places at least in older times were public places.

However, if you're going to a baker's house, it will be 'at købe noget hos bageren' ('to buy something at the baker's').

I can see I have just the o with a stroke in, also called ø in Danish. The funny thing is that in the word høne in Danish we pronounce it like ö, but write it like ö.

I have gone to school in the early and late seventies, too. And we did learn grammar rules, and it was drilled it into us at an early age. I've remembered it so much that I could use it when I tried to learn English grammar a while ago.

I have taught Danish to immigrants and I can safely say that the learning and knowledge of the use of preposition is something that falls in its place --- very late in the learning of a new language. So tell the Japanese girlfriend not to worry too much. Learning prepostions is the hardest thing...

in any language...
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Old 14th November 2007, 02:49 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by aries View Post
I don't know if this also applies to Swedish, but in Danish to 'at gå i biografen' (to go see a movie in the cinema) means you're going to a private owned place while 'studere' på universitet' (study at university) means that you're going to a public place. You're also going 'på arbejde' (going to work) in Danish, since work places at least in older times were public places.
Hmmm. I would spontaneously say that I don't think this is applicable, but I haven't given it any thought yet. If it is applicable, it's not universally so, as "gå i skolan" and "gå på universitet" ought to have the same preposition, as both schools and universities here are public places. There's also the complication of "till", which could then mean either (see next part below).

Originally Posted by aries View Post
However, if you're going to a baker's house, it will be 'at købe noget hos bageren' ('to buy something at the baker's').
And it would be "gå till bageriet" in Swedish. To fit this in, we'd have to assume that "till" corresponds to Danish "i", and is used for private places, whereas "på" is the same, public places. "I" would then be an anomaly (which it seems to be in any case, as it's not widely used).

However, that still doesn't explain why we can say both "gå på bio" and "gå till bion" --- the cinema doesn't suddenly turn public just because we go in. Maybe it's just an idiom?

Originally Posted by aries View Post
I have taught Danish to immigrants and I can safely say that the learning and knowledge of the use of preposition is something that falls in its place --- very late in the learning of a new language. So tell the Japanese girlfriend not to worry too much. Learning prepostions is the hardest thing...

in any language...
Yeah, I think so, too, tough based only on a handful of languages and no real experience with teaching languages... Luckily, it seems to be easier to learn them for me in Japanese than it is for her to lean them in Swedish...
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Old 14th November 2007, 02:51 AM   #19
Kotatsu
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Originally Posted by Elizabeth I View Post
Besides, it's much easier - hardly any umlauts and NONE of those back-slash thingies.
But umlauts adds charm and character to any language. Just look at those wonderful Eastern European languages and their peculiar little rings and dashes and whatnots.
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"It is not supposed to be funny or annoying or insightful, because it is neither; nor to convey or express any emotion or wit, because it doesn't; nor to be any kind of art, because it isn't; but merely to be repetitive. It is repetition for the sake of repetition; mindless, relentless, remorseless and -- ultimately -- redundant." K. Krishnamurthi, "The Seven Forms of Repetition", 1972.
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Old 14th November 2007, 04:15 AM   #20
timhau
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Originally Posted by Elizabeth I View Post
Besides, it's much easier - hardly any umlauts and NONE of those back-slash thingies.
¡But Spanish has those ¡'s and ¿'s! ¿Aren't those a pain?
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Old 14th November 2007, 05:19 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by timhau View Post
¡But Spanish has those ¡'s and ¿'s! ¿Aren't those a pain?

Or you could plan to escape to Madagascar and live with the lemurs. Only a few accents, circumflexes, and cedillas required.
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Old 14th November 2007, 05:36 AM   #22
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Mana Mana. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mah_N%C3%A0_Mah_N%C3%A0

Quote:

"Mah Nà Mah Nà" debuted as part of Umiliani's soundtrack for the Italian softcore pornography movie Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso (Sweden, Heaven and Hell) (1968), a pseudo-documentary film about wild sexual activity and other behavior in Sweden ("Mah Nà Mah Nà" accompanied a scene set in a sauna). A soundtrack album, "Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso" was released in 1968. The movie was also released under the English title Sweden Heaven and Hell.
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Old 16th November 2007, 08:50 PM   #23
Elizabeth I
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Originally Posted by timhau View Post
¡But Spanish has those ¡'s and ¿'s! ¿Aren't those a pain?
Nope! Alt+0161 = ¡
Alt+0191 = ¿

Simplicity itself!
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Old 16th November 2007, 09:49 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Kotatsu View Post
Hmmm. I would spontaneously say that I don't think this is applicable, but I haven't given it any thought yet. If it is applicable, it's not universally so, as "gå i skolan" and "gå på universitet" ought to have the same preposition, as both schools and universities here are public places. There's also the complication of "till", which could then mean either (see next part below).
To confuse matters further, in Norwegian it's "å gå på skule" (note the undetermined form) which means to be in school while "å gå på skulen" means the act of going to school for the day ("No må du gå på skulen" / "you have to go to school now"), but not neccessarily to the school building. That is "å gå til skulen" which anyone can do (while only students can be said to "gå på skulen".) Finally, "å gå i skule" is a general expression for being taught something (over some time) that can apply to apprenticeships, mentorships and other informal forms of being taught (but not self study, there has to be a teacher of some kind involved.)

The use of prepositions is very much idiomatic, and one of the clearest examples of just how idiomatic it is in Norwegian, is whether it's "i" such-and-such placename or "på" such-and-such placename. Both have the same meaning, "in such-and-such place", but same placenames only take "i" and some only take "på". It's "i Oslo", "i Finnmark" but "på Otta", "på Sunnmøre" and the only way to know which is right is to ask the people who live in that particular place.
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