Rinkeby, a Swedish suburb on the outskirts of Stockholm, has been in the news several times over the past year, but hasn’t always been portrayed in the best light. With nearly 90 percent of the population consisting of first and second-generation immigrants, Rinkeby is a locale with its own identity, and this has also placed a distinct mark on the language spoken there.
Rinkebysvenska (or Shobresvenska, as the Swedish Language Council has recommended, from the phrase “Sho bre!“, meaning “Hey bro!”) is a multi-ethnolect spoken mainly in Rinkeby and other urban districts with a high concentration of immigrant residents. It’s a variation of Swedish that draws inspiration from many other languages, namely: Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Kurdish, Pashto, Urdu, Serbo-Croatian, Latin American Spanish, and even some English, and is flexible with traditional Swedish grammar rules — including word order and intonation. Other big cities in Sweden, such as Malmö and Gothenburg, have their own regional varieties, too.
While purists lamented the potential death of standard Swedish, Rinkebysvenska went on to acquire cult status among young people, who saw it as part of a subculture that spoke against the establishment. Rinkebysvenska, having been around for 30 years already, took on an entire life and identity of its own. It gained prominence in the ’90s, when Swedish hip-hop bands like The Latin Kings, whose members originated from Latin America, started rapping in it. Today, Rinkebysvenska has infiltrated Swedish youth slang and is used by Swedes of many backgrounds.
So, what are some examples a speaker might use?
Yalla is an abbreviation of the Arabic Ya Allah, literally meaning “Oh God,” but colloquially used as “come on/hurry up.” Aina is “cop” from the Turkish aynasiz and flos is “money” from the Arabic filous (فلوس ). Guzz and çok are “girl” and “very much” from the Turkish kiz and çok respectively, and sho means “hello” or “goodbye” from the Arabic sho (شو), meaning “what.” Loco (Spanish for “crazy”) and chilla (from the English “chill”) have also made it into the ethnolect.
- Example sentence: “Yalla bre, aina kommer, çok loco!“
- Translation: “Come on bro, the cops are coming, they’re completely crazy!”
Similar to Rinkebysvenska, Kebabnorsk is a multi-ethnolect variety of Norwegian that is spoken in the eastern parts of Oslo, where there is a high concentration of immigrant communities. Named originally after the stereotypical association between kebabs and Middle Eastern immigrants, it caught on quickly in urban, multi-ethnic societies in Norway. In 2005, the first Kebabnorsk-Bokmål dictionary was published and in 2007, a Kebabnorsk version of Romeo and Juliet was staged in an Oslo theater.
Kebabnorsk, as with Rinkebysvenska, is evolving very quickly as a language with new words coming in or dying out all the time. It is also often used as a kind of lingua franca between immigrants with different mother tongues in Norway.
So, when someone says: “Wolla, den kæba var schpaa ass!”, what they actually mean, in a mixture of Norwegian, Arabic, Berber and Urdu is simply, “I swear that girl was nice.” Particularly, wolla, from wallah in Arabic, means “I swear by Allah.”
Gadesprog, or literally “street language” in Danish, is another multi-ethnolect spoken in certain areas of Copenhagen and Aarhus. Gadesprog is also commonly referred to as Perkerdansk, but originates from the term perker, a derogatory term for individuals of an immigrant background. This multi-ethnolect is a mixture of Danish with Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and English. Like Kebabnorsk, it is also useful for communication across immigrant groups.
Picture this — two 16-year-old boys are having a conversation in Copenhagen. Although they both speak different languages at home with their parents, they can speak a Gadesprog to each other.
- Here’s an example: “Wallah jeg siger min storebror han skylder mig 700 kroner jeg skal have 350 i dag og 350 om to uger. I got paras. Skal du til den der fest på fredag?“
- Translation: “I swear my older brother owes me 700 crowns, I am getting 350 today and 350 in two weeks. I’ve got money. Are you coming to the party on Friday?”
Here, paras comes from the Turkish para for “money,” and wallah carries the same meaning from the original Arabic.
While older generations and language purists complain that Rinkebysvenska, Kebabnorsk and Gadesprog don’t follow the traditional grammatical rules, simplify syntax and constantly borrow words from other languages, younger generations see them for what language really is — a living, breathing, ever-evolving organism. They embrace ethnolects both linguistically and culturally, and are open to experimentation. Rather than reducing them to inferior pidgin languages, these individuals consider them as one of many dialects their countries have, and especially as a means to assert an identity.