Copyright © Hans Högman 2020-07-16
(Spelling) Reform of
1906 – Sweden
If you know some Swedish and are doing
genealogy research of Swedish parish records and
military rolls you might now and then wish to look
for a Swedish word in a Swedish/English
dictionary to find out what it means.
However, if you enter a word as it is spelled in the
old records there is a risk that you will not get a
match in the dictionary. The reason for this is that
the spelling of many words was changed in 1906
and dictionaries of today only contain modern
If you know the basics of the spelling reform it is
easy to change the spelling of the old word into
modern spelling. It is only a few simple rules that
you have to follow which is described below.
The orthography norm of 1801
The rules of Swedish orthography were from early
times very free but began to stabilize with the first
translation of the Bible into Swedish in 1526. Prior
to 1526 the Bible was in Latin.
However, the first norm for Swedish orthography
wasn’t adopted until 1801. The initiator of this
norm was the member of the Swedish Academy
Carl Gustaf af Leopold with his work “Afhandling
om svenska stafsättet” (Thesis of Swedish
After the Swedish reform of the elementary
school in 1842 (Folkskolestadgan) it became
obvious that teaching of reading and writing
would be made easier if the spellings of Swedish
words were reformed. The Swedish
schoolteachers were pushing for an orthography
reform during the second half of the 19th century.
Also, the Old Norse term ”idrott” was reintroduced
as an alternative to the English/German/French
term ”sport”. The ambition was also to remove old
medieval German influences of the Swedish
language by abolishing first elements such as “be-“
and “ge-“ in verbs.
An opposite force to all these sometimes radical
demands of orthographic reforms was the Swedish
Academy. The Academy wanted to keep the
language as it was and didn’t want to see any
When the first edition of the Swedish Academy’s
Word List of the Swedish Language (Svenska
Akademins Ordlista, SAOL) was published in 1874 it
contained no orthographic reforms. They kept the
spelling as they were in the norm of 1801.
The sixth edition of SAOL was published in 1898
and contained some changes of Swedish
orthography. For example, the letters “qv” was
changed to “kv” in spelling many words. The word
“Qvart” (quarter) became “Kvart”. Another
example is the word “Qvinna” (Woman) which
The letter "E" was also changed to the letter ”Ä” in
words such as människa, järn, gärna, där and älg.
“W” was changed to “V” and “Swerige” (Sweden)
Another alternation was that “th” was changed to
just “t” and for example Götheburg (Gothenburg)
The Swedish language is indeed a phonetic
language and words are most often pronounced
as the combined sound of the individual letters in
the words. The changes mentioned above of the
spelling of words didn’t change the way the words
were pronounced. For example, “Qvinna” and
“Kvinna”, “Jern” and “Järn”, “Swerige” and “Sverige”
etc are pronounced in the same way.
Unlike in English, the letters “V” and “W” are
pronounced the same way in Swedish words and
the way they are pronounced is rather like the way
letter “W” is pronounced in English.
The Orthography Reform of 1906
An orthography reform of the Swedish language
was introduced in 1906. The initiator was the
Minister of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs
Fridtjuv Berg in the Government led by the Prime
Minister Staaf. The reform was called
”stafningsukasen” and it provoked a large
number of protests in many circles.
The reform became the end to the old way of
spelling words which today are known as
“gammalstavning” (the old spelling).
The reason for the reform was a proposal from
the Teachers of the Swedish Elementary Schools
who in 1903 handed in an orthographic study to
A Royal decree about the new way of spelling was
issued on April 7, 1906, which contained a
direction for a gradual introduction of the new
orthography reform in schools.
The reform was finally enacted by the Swedish
Parliament in 1907.
Above all, it was the spelling of the “v” and the “t”
sounds that was simplified. Prior to 1906 the “v”
sound was spelled with an “f” and the “t” sound
So if you, for example, see a noble name such as
Carl Gustaf af Leopold’s name is pronounced as if
it was spelled “Carl Gustaf av Leopold.”
The orthography reform of 1906 was part of a
changeover from younger new Swedish to present
day Swedish. Swedish orthography has with a few
exceptions been rather static since 1906.
The orthography reform made Swedish spelling a
bit more differentiated from Norwegian and
Danish spellings. The Danes and the Norwegians
had in 1906 already begun to spell the “v”-sound
with a “v” (instead of “f”) but the other changes in
the Swedish reform made the Swedish spelling
unique compared to our Scandinavian neighbors.
The orthography reform was introduced in
schools in 1906. However, authorities didn’t follow
with the new spelling in public communications
The new spelling wasn’t introduced in SAOL until
the eighth edition published in 1923.
The encyclopedia Nordisk Familjebok used the old
spelling until 1926.
The reform didn’t change the spelling of personal
names that much but affected the names of
However, during the 1920’s some words spelled
with “Ä” did go back to “E”.
The City of Helsingborg, for example, changed
their name to Hälsingborg in 1912 but went back
to the old spelling Helsingborg in 1971.
Simplifications in 1898
The Orthography Reform of 1906
The mute ”h” was kept in front of ”j” in words such
as”hjort”, ”hjul”, ”hjälp”, ”hjälte”, ”hjärna” and
The old spellings have been kept for nostalgic
reasons in many personal names. For example
Gustaf Löfqvist remained as such instead of Gustav
Lövkvist for many people with these and similar
Many names of noble families contain either “af”
or “von”. Both words means “from” in English.
“von” is an German word and “v” in “von” is
pronounced like “f”. So if you, for example, see a
noble name such as “Carl von Linné” it is
pronounced as if it were spelled “Carl fon Linné”.
Also, the above mentioned Carl Gustaf af
Leopold’s name is pronounced as if it was spelled
“Carl Gustaf av Leopold.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s there was another
change, this time regarding linguistic usage of the
Swedish language. Now, the plural form of verbs
such as gingo (gick), voro (var), äro (är) was
Article in the Swedish daily newpaper Dagens
Nyheter, DN on 2014-04-02
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