Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Thursday, July 15, 2010

For The Case Of Å, Ä and Ö

I do not like when people dwell on things, but I cannot help bringing up something that I was discussing in my previous entry, the use of the Swedish letters ‘å’, ‘ä’ and ‘ö’.

Being busy for weeks, it is just now that I have had the time to go through a pile of magazines that has arrived during the two last months. Flipping through the pages and reading here and there, in The New Yorker, July 5, 2010, I came across a piece by Nora Ephron. She is an American journalist, novelist, and screenwriter (etc.), and in this issue she is trying to be a humorist, too, as she is writing under the vignette ‘Shouts & Murmurs’, which is the magazine’s ‘fun page’. What Ephron is paraphrasing and joking about is the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s popular crime novels about Kalle Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Now, I do not mind anyone making fun about Larsson’s books (and, no, I have not read any of them); I think his relatives will laugh or cry all the way to the bank. But what I do object to is Nora Ephron’s teasing, even mocking, way of the Swedish language’s use of the letters ‘å’, ‘ä’ and ‘ö’. Or, what Ephron thinks are ‘a’s and an ‘o’ with umlauts.

Nora Ephron’s “The Girl Who Fixed The Umlaut” is not only a good example of bad taste, it shows arrogance and a typical big-nation's superior attitude towards a smaller nation and something you do not understand, or even try to comprehend (this phenomenon has often previously been seen in American foreign policy). None of the Swedish words Ephron mentions in her article has an umlaut; instead they are geographical places, names of streets and roads, or surnames.

Of course, the whole idea of ‘the girl who fixed the umlaut’ falls apart when you know that all computers’ keyboards in Sweden already have three keys with ‘å’, ‘ä’ and ‘ö’; you do not have to look for them or press the Alt key and other keys to have these letters to appear on the screen. (On my American keyboard I have to press five keys to get the ‘ö’ in my first name…)

So, sorry Nöra Ephrön, your article is not funny, it is only snobbish!

I apologise to my readers, this is not an entry on rowing, and in the future I will really try to stay away from non-rowing related subjects!


  1. Forgive my ignorance, but the map I am looking at spells all the places mentioned with umlauts - what am I missing?
    The English have always had a thing about accents (more accurately, diacritics). Umlauts were replaced by changing the vowels to show the different sound, which is how we got odd plurals like goose/geese and mouse/mice.
    Yes, the article is a bit snooty but I rather like a character in a book being unable to go where the Author directs because his keyboard is on the frizz. Even if she is ignorant about Swedish keyboards.

  2. Don't worry Göran ! It's not a rowing related subject but... Nora Ephron could get into a row ;-)

  3. Your accurate use of the apostrophe should put most native English speakers to shame and gives you every right to criticise monoglot Americans who do not understand the subtleties of other languages!

  4. Chris - perhaps I should have mentioned that the Swedish alphabet has 29 letters. In Swedish, the letters å, ä, and ö are not, as in German, an a or o with an umlaut to indicate the vowel has a different sound (there are some exceptions, though). Instead, they are distinct letters in their own right. Of course, German is a much more widely studied language so people are familiar with the word and concept of an umlaut. The correct question should have been, how do I make the letter å (or ä or ö) on my American keyboard?

    Thanks to Hélène and Jacqueline for your support!