Swedish: Läser boken gjörde han.

brian

Senior Member
AmE (New Orleans)
Hello Nordic forum,

I don't know very much Swedish, but on a recent assignment for a course in morphology, I was asked to analyze some data from Swedish and compare it with English (based on certain theories of morphology). In particular, the assignment dealt with English vs. Swedish V-fronting, whereby a verb is 'fronted' to the beginning of the sentence.

To take an example from English: John wanted to eat cookies, and [eat cookies] he did. The verb phrase eat cookies is 'fronted' before the subject he. However, in English, the verb (eat) is kept in the infinitive, as it is syntactically tied to did --> did eat, not *did ate, so *[ate cookies] he did is wrong.

However, according to my data, Swedish works differently (and we were asked to explain why). But a friend of mine who grew up speaking Swedish (from her mother), but who hardly ever writes it, said she thinks the data is wrong! But she's not 100% sure because she rarely writes Swedish, and she said it's difficult to know, for example, whether she is pronouncing -er or -a at the end of a verb. So I've come to ask for your help.

Here is my data, along with the English gloss and English translation:

[Läser boken] gjörde han.
read.PAST book.DEF do.PAST he
'Read the book, he did.'


NB: Here, 'read.PAST' refers to the past tense of read as in /rɛd/, not /ri:d/; that is, läser is in the past tense(!). And 'DEF' means 'definite', so 'the book', not 'a book'.

The difference between English & Swedish here is pretty clear - English uses the infinitive in V-fronting, while Swedish does not (it uses the inflected past-tense form, according to the data) - but my friend said that actually läser is not past, but in fact present - 'he reads'. (Also, gjörde should be gjorde with no umlaut.)

Is she correct? Is the data correct? Or is there a better way to explain what's going on here, perhaps using a better gloss?

Thanks!

Brian
 
  • blackspire

    Member
    Swedish
    Hmm...

    Well first, "läser" (reading) is the verb "läsa" (to read) in present tense. So your friend is correct about that part.

    I would however write,

    Läste boken, det gjorde han.

    Which is translated to:

    Read the book, that he did.

    Note: "Läste" is the verb "läsa" (to read) in it's past tense.
    I don't think you can say:

    "Läser boken, gjorde han."
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Ah, so then the English gloss is correct - it's the Swedish sentence that's wrong! Thank you so much. It all makes sense now. :)
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    According to my data (which, as we saw, could be faulty), *Läsa boken, (det) gjorde han is impossible in Swedish, hence the point of the exercise: to show that Swedish verb-fronting does not work like English (which does use the infinitive).

    But let's wait for confirmation.

    P.S. Interesting that Danish can do both!
     

    blackspire

    Member
    Swedish
    So how about
    "Läsa boken, det gjorde han"
    would that be incorrect, or is that correct too?
    (trying to compare to Danish, and I think we can say it both ways)

    Hmm, I'm unsure. You can for example say:

    "Att vara eller inte vara, det är frågan."

    ("To be or not to be, that is the question.") So you can start with infintive ("att vara"). Not sure if you can apply that to the above sentence. Anyhow it's not idiomatic, unless you are Yoda ;)
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I would say that that is a bit different. It's not a case of "verb-fronting" because the infinitive is actually more substantive (like a noun) than verbal. For example, when you rearrange it (and remove det/that), you get: The question is [to be or not to be]. Here, you are equating question with a noun-ish thing, to be or not to be. It is similar to The purpose is to help relieve stress. = To help relieve stress is the purpose.

    Read the book, he did is different because when you rearrange it, you get He did read the book (= He read the book), where read the book is then tied to an auxiliary did. So it's clearly a verb.

    So basically, if you tried to equate those two types of sentences, you would get something like: To read the book, that he did. = He did [to read the book]. :confused: You can't do to <verb> anything in English, just like I imagine you can't gör <verb> anything in Swedish. Or better, you can't say Han gjorde läsa boken.
     

    Södertjej

    Senior Member
    Spanish ES/Swedish (utlandssvensk)
    On a side note I think the problem is "read", as infinitive and past look the same in English. Why didn't they take a different verb where you can clearly see the differences?
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Because 1) when considering the English translation, an English speaker already knows that the read in Read the book, he did is the infinitive /ri:d/ and not the past tense /rεd/, and 2) when considering the Swedish sentence and its English gloss, an observer of the data knows that read is the past tense and not the infinitive because it is labeled 'read.PAST' instead of 'read.INF'.

    In other words, when analyzing data like this, the gloss is a literal, word-by-word translation that tries to capture everything in the foreign language sentence, while the actual translation is in standard, idiomatic English - and thus often hides certain features of the original language sentence.

    The translation is only there so that you understand the meaning of the original sentence; the gloss is there so that you can actually analyze the structure of the original sentence.

    In any case, you're right that it would've been clearer if they had used a word like eat instead of read, but I can't argue with the prof! :)
     

    lindsten

    New Member
    The Swedish translation of "Read the book, he did." would be "Läste boken, det gjorde han." (as suggested by blackspire).

    You can also say "Läste boken, gjorde han." (which looks like a direct translation of the English sentence), but that would have a slightly different meaning, as in "Read the book, that's what he did.".
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    The Swedish translation of "Read the book, he did." would be "Läste boken, det gjorde han." (as suggested by blackspire).
    Agree.

    You can also say "Läste boken, gjorde han." (which looks like a direct translation of the English sentence), but that would have a slightly different meaning, as in "Read the book, that's what he did.".
    As in emphasizing for example that he read the book, and didn't throw it away.
     

    lindsten

    New Member
    You can also say "Läste boken, gjorde han." (which looks like a direct translation of the English sentence), but that would have a slightly different meaning, as in "Read the book, that's what he did.".

    Actually, giving it another thought, it can have the same meaning as the direct English translation, at least if put in a dependent clause (and without the comma):

    "De sa till honom att läsa boken, och läste boken gjorde han."
    "They told him to read the book, and read the book he did."
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Actually, giving it another thought, it can have the same meaning as the direct English translation, at least if put in a dependent clause (and without the comma):

    "De sa till honom att läsa boken, och läste boken gjorde han."
    "They told him to read the book, and read the book he did."

    So then something like He wanted to read the book, and read the book he did would also be ...och läste boken gjorde han?
     
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