Why are some Russian and Swedish words so strikingly similar? Два - två, по-шведски - på svenska, etc

Linguistics Asked on October 23, 2021

Hur säger man … på svenska?

This common Swedish phrase means: How do you say … in Swedish? As a student learning Russian, I instantly saw a striking similarity with the Russian language. Russians will end the same phrase with по-шведски (po-shvedski), pronouncing the preposition exactly the same.

Curious, I had a look at the Swedish numerals and was left speechless. Two is två in Swedish and два (dva) in Russian. Why is the Swedish two closer to the Russian two than to the English two? Likewise, null/zero is noll in Swedish and ноль (nol) in Russian.

Curious, I made a cursory Google search and instantly found some other surprising similarities. When a Swede says björntjänst, literally a bear service, he means exactly the same as what a Russian means by literally saying a bear service in Russian (медвежья услуга), namely a disservice. A doctor is läkare in Swedish and лекарь (lekar) in Russian. A lamp is lampa in Swedish and лампа (lampa) in Russian. A plate is tallrik in Swedish and тарелка (tarelka) in Russian. The list goes on and on.

I’m very much surprised by such similarities, given that Russian is a Slavic language and that Swedish is a North Germanic language.
I’m not aware of any considerable past interactions between Russians and Swedes, except for some skirmishes for control of the swampy East shores of the Gulf of Finland.

So how are such similarities explained? Are they mere coincidences, or is there any reason behind them?

6 Answers

I learn Swedish now and I see a lot of similarities to Polish language as well. But I’m not surprised. I am aware of common roots of the Slavic and Germanic languages. I’m also aware that being close neighbours we borrowed some words in both directions. Maybe more from Germanic to Slavic but in opposite direction it worked as well. I like the name of the organisation Lekarze bez granic, läkare Utan gränser. The word lekarze is a loan from Germanic to Slavic and gränser is a loan from Slavic (Polish) to Germanic. Really without borders :) Anyway, Sweden and Poland or even Scandinavia and Slaves are quite close neighbours just across the lake ;)

Answered by Wrad on October 23, 2021

The same goes with Of-Peter versus Petr-ov (masc) or Petr-ova (fem.)

The east part of the future europeans went thrue the satemisation process, later in the east Europe their development went in parallel (future slavs and goths versus Celts and Latin languages in the south). On the other hand the Balts were in between the Slavs and Iranian languages, many Lat/Lith. words are still close to Sanskrit.

Also don't forget that One in Russian is Odin, like the old viking god, bud Odnoj/Jediny means"the only one" in many slavic languages.

The slavic sound is older, one example:

10 = desať = des/das in IndoIranian (Deka in greek, Dieci in italian)

Conclusion: German was more impacted by Celtic/Latin and BaltoSlavic by Iranian languages (Skythians, Sabirs etc.)


Eat/essen - jesť Wasser - voda But in slavic it makes sense: voda vedie = the watter is leading And vediet vs vidiet = to know vs to see. Write = vryť Read = rátať Stay = stoj Aug = Oko Friend = Priat(el) F goes to P, which is common Pray = Priať Berg = Breg/Breh Leute = Ľud Sun = Sunce/Slnko Salt = Sol Blue = Belasá Step = (v)stup/stúpiť Thick = Tuk/tučný Thin = Tenký Share = šíri(ť) Many = mnogo/mnoho Big=Velk(a/i) Widow = Vdova And many more, in Slovak language, which has the central slavic position, you can see much more similarities with Germanic and Italic than in Russian. Russian is very distinct, has many Karvelian, Finish, Avar/Tatar/Turkik loan words already (not indoeuropean). Even the Russian accent is no more European, but more Uralic.

And slavic has a lot in common with Italian too:

Ja som = Io Sono Ty si = Tu sei Sme = Siamo Essere = Jest Vedere = vidieť (ť is infinitive like ere) Capire - Chápať Sogno = sen Morto = mrtvo "Da" Milano = Od "Milana" Piace = Páči (this is thanks to Wallachian colonization) Qando - Kedy (here slavic has kentum K sound, not č) Quado (ked/kedy - again kentum K) Chi (ki) = kto (who) but in Che (read ke) in Italian sounds "Čo/Što" in Slavic, here the sound is Satem (not Ko)

In these cases German has "H"

Chi - Kto - Who.

The missing peaces are the old forgotten languages, but the same root is still visible.

Answered by Pressburger on October 23, 2021

There are excellent answers above, just one more thing:

the suffix -ska in svenska and Russian -ski in швед-ски are of course related. The same suffix is in English Swed-ish, etc.


If you dig deeper, you'll find many parallels between Slavic and Germanic languages.

Answered by Daniel N. on October 23, 2021

"I'm very much surprised by such similarities, given that Russian is a Slavic language and that Swedish is a North Germanic language."

  • this is a very strange, why you was surpised...

"the Swedish two closer to the Russian two than to the English two..."

the English and Russian have a lot of p.i.e. and anc.germans-slavic word's cognates, f.e. : mother - матерь, мать sister - сестра son - cын daughter - дочь,дщерь,дочерь brother - брат brow - бровь nose - нос mouse - мышь goose - гусь swine - cвин, свинья cat - кот thou - ты you - вы the/seo/se/thaet - cей, сия, сие, сё, тот, этот a/an/any/one - один two - два three - три cow - гов-ядина wolf - волк tree - древо, дерево will - воля, из-волю, велю have - хапать grab - грабить milk - молоко apple - яблоко salt - соль red - рдеть,за-рдеться white - светлый weather - ветер dream - дремать, дрёма left - левый ask - искать sit - сидеть stand - стоять may, might - мочь be - быть ...

and et cetera... :) this isn't about a much later greek-latin loanwords for both languages. and a "cognate" doesn't mean here - the "exact translation". In ~80% it is, but not for others... f.e. weather - ветер (but tr. is погода, and ветер is a wind), white - светлый (белый), to ask - искать (спрашивать)... a dream - дрёма (мечта,сон), red - зардеться(but- красный), have (more often translated as "иметь", of course, but the meaning of "хапать" is similar and this is a cognate of origin:>) :)

cow - гов-ядина - it's canonical example :> ; this word means not a cow (now in Russian cow is a celtic "carve" - "корова"), but it "говядина" is means a meat of cow. in Ancient Rus' the "cow" named the "говяда".

"i'm not aware of any considerable past interactions between Russians and Swedes, except for some skirmishes"

Well, find out by studying history - and this is not about one point at all ..:

  1. Common Indo-European origin

  2. General the most ancient Slavic-"Germanic" relations (and since the very appearance of the Slavs as Slavs) ,Свевы ,Славяне#Происхождение_славян

etc... and things like the Gothic kingdoms like the Oyum (Aujom),(the Chernyakhov archeological culture)... and WHERE they were :>

  1. The famous issue with the Rurik and his gang of vikings in the Ancient Rus:> ,Рюрик

  2. Further a famous historical numerous connections and relations... :> like this:Олав_I_Трюггвасон#Новгородский_период , , etc.. A really, really lot of them... :)))

the good movie "Viking", i recommend :

P.S. " två, two,два, Proto-Germanic *twa, Old Norse tveir, tvau, Old Church Slavonic duva, PIE *duwo,*dwo- "

Answered by Пилум on October 23, 2021

@shabunc has treated the other examples already, so I will say something about the bear's service: The same idiom is also present in German Bärendienst and it is traced to a fable by La Fontaine titled 'The bear and the garden lover' (my translation of the title) where the bear accidentally kills the garden lover when trying to chase off a fly.

Answered by jk - Reinstate Monica on October 23, 2021

You've mixed a bunch of words of very different origin with a bunch of quite weak and poorly defined assumptions (like no considerable interactions between Russians and Swedes).

It comes as no surprise that Swedish två and Russian two both have PIE origin deriving from dwóh root. If you think about it, English two looks pretty much similar to "два" as well - and saying that Swedish word is closer to the Russian one is just not correct - in which sense closer? Phonetically? Well, may be for Russian speaker "тво" will sound more similar than "ту", but that just a coincidence - in English w lost its phonetical features.

The word "тарелка" in Russian is a borrowing from German, most likely through Polish. From the same root with a diminutive postfix came into existence the Swedish counterpart.

The word "лекарь" is surprisingly also a borrowing from some Germanic language, to the same proto-Germanic root can be traced the Swedish word.

"Лампа" is also a borrowing through Polish, ending with "a" for words originally with "-e" in is very typical for Polish words, in Swedish the evolution of this ending can be traced as "lampe" -> "lampi" -> "lampa".

Apart from that, Russian and Swedish are actually related. These languages are supposedly closer to each other than, for instance, any Iranian language to any Slavic language. Of course they are mutually unintelligible but still genetically they have something to do with each other.

Answered by shabunc on October 23, 2021

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