If you suspect that Swedish is sort of a niche language, you are correct. There are approximately 10.5 million speakers of Swedish around the world, and more than 90 percent of them live in Sweden. The question of “how many people speak Swedish” overlaps a lot with the question of “how many people live in Sweden.”
To put that in perspective, more than 780 million customers worldwide visit IKEA stores every year, and there are 8.5 million people living in New York City. The total amount of Swedish speakers in the world could easily fit within the New York metro area, and IKEA’s annual foot-traffic population dwarfs this little nation more than 74 times over. That’s a lot of people who have no idea what their furniture names mean.
A Brief History Of Swedish
Swedish is one of the Indo-European languages that descended from Old Norse, which was spoken by the Germanic peoples during the Viking Era. Viking merchants spread the language across Europe (and even into present-day Russia).
From Old Norse came the family of North Germanic languages in the 14th or 15th century. Prior to that, Swedes, Icelanders, Danes and Norwegians spoke the same language. Even today, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish continue to be mutually intelligible (depending on the dialect).
The common standardized language that Swedes speak today became firmly established by the Swedish government’s spelling reform of 1906.
Where In The World Is Swedish Spoken?
Swedish is the official language of Sweden, as well as one of two national languages in Finland.
Estonia was actually once part of the Swedish Empire, and until World War II, there were quite a few speakers in Estonia and Latvia. But many Swedish-speaking people fled to Sweden due to a combination of Soviet and Nazi activity in the area. Estonia’s remaining Swedish minority enacted its own cultural administration in 2007, however.
There’s also a small Swedish-speaking minority in Ukraine, owing to those who settled there after they were forced out of Estonia in the 18th century, which was scooped up by the Russian Empire at that time.
Other somewhat significant concentrations of Swedish speakers can be found in the other Scandinavian countries (Denmark and Norway), as well as the United States, the U.K., Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia.
How Many People Speak Swedish In Sweden?
There are approximately 9.2 million inhabitants of Sweden who speak Swedish as a mother tongue, and nearly everyone in Sweden speaks the language.
This is out of 9.9 million total inhabitants (as of 2016). Sweden also has five officially recognized minority languages: Sami, Meänkieli, Finnish, Romani Chib and Yiddish.
How Many People Speak Swedish In The Rest Of The World?
Of all the North Germanic languages spoken today, Swedish has the most speakers.
In Finland, the only other country where it has official status, there are approximately 291,000 people who speak Swedish (5.4 percent of the total population). Among this demographic, approximately 25,000 live in the Åland Islands, which is an autonomous province that counts Swedish as its official language.
There is another cluster of Swedish speakers in Northwest Estonia, and though there are no official figures, it’s believed that most of the 8,000 previously existing Swedish-speaking Estonians fled to Sweden during World War II. Today, approximately 1,000 of them remain in Estonia.
Over in North America, there are about 76,000 Swedish speakers in the United States, and about 17,000 in Canada.
Why Learn Swedish?
For one, Swedish is one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn. But that in itself does not constitute a good reason to learn a language. Essentially, Swedish is a practical choice for anyone interested in learning Scandinavian languages in general. It’s the most widely spoken one, and it’ll open the door to the rest of them, too. It’s basically like getting multiple languages for the price of one.
Beyond that? Swedish culture is pretty cool, and you’ll probably have fun with it.