The linguistic definition of a Swedish traditional dialect, in the literature merely called dialect, is a local variant that has not been heavily influenced by Standard Swedish and that can trace a separate development all the way back to Old Norse. Many of the genuine rural dialects have very distinct phonetic and grammatical features, such as plural forms of verbs or archaic case inflections. These dialects can be nearly incomprehensible to most Swedes, and most of their speakers are also fluent in Standard Swedish.
The different dialects are often so localized that they are limited to individual parishes and are referred to by Swedish linguists as sockenmål (lit. "parish speech"). They are generally separated into the six traditional dialect groups, with common characteristics of prosody, grammar and vocabulary. The color represents the core area and the samples are from Svenska Dagbladet's dialect project.
The areas with mixed colors as stripes are transitional areas. The parts in yellow with coloured dots represent various distinct dialect areas which are not easily defined as belonging to any of the six major groups above. The areas west of the core for Norrland dialects, west of Svealand dialects and north of Götaland dialects are related to each of these, respectively, indicated by the colour of the dots. Samples from these areas: Jämtland, Föllinge socken (related to Norrland dialects), Dalarna, Älvdalens socken (related to Svealand dialects) and Värmland, Nordmarks härad, Töcksmarks socken (related to Götaland dialects). The dialects of this category have in common that they all show more or less strong Norwegian influences, especially the dialects in Härjedalen, Northwestern Jämtland and Northwestern Dalarna. Dialects often show similarities along traditional travelling routes such as the great rivers in Northern Sweden, which start in the mountains at the Norwegian border and then follow a South-Easterly path towards the Bothnian Sea. The grey area does not have any independently developed Swedish dialect.
Here is a summary of some of the most important differences between the major groups.
|Feature||South Swedish dialects||Götaland dialects||Svealand dialects||Norrland dialects||Finland Swedish dialects||Gotland dialects|
|Diphthongs||Secondary in most of the area||No||No||Primary everywhere, secondary in north||Primary and secondary||Primary and secondary|
|Long a > å||Yes (secondary diphthong)||Yes||Yes||Yes (changed back to long a in north)||Only partially||No|
|p, t, k > b, d, g||In most of the area||No||No||No||No||No|
|Intervocalic g > j or w||In most of the area||No||No||No||No||No|
|Ending vowel -a||Remains||Weakened in parts of the area||Remains||Vowel balance||Vowel balance||Weakened in most of the area|
|Dropping of -r in plur.||Yes||Yes||No||In north||No||No|
|Allophone of r||Back||Back and front||Front||Front||Front||Front|
|Postpos. poss. pron.||No||Only family words||Only family words||Yes||Yes||Only family words|
|Softening initial g, k, sk||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Dropping of -n||No||Yes||Only in a small part of the area||Yes||No||Yes|
|Dropping of -t||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|"Thick" l, also of rd||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||restricted to some areas||No|
|Supradentals||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||restricted to some areas||No|
|Dropping of -de in pret.||In parts of the area||In parts of the area||Yes||Yes||Yes||Only -e is dropped|
|Prolong. vowel in short stemmed words, also in front of p, t, k, s||Yes||Yes||No||Some of the system of short stemmed words preserved||Some of the system of short stemmed words preserved||No|
|Stem vowel i, y > e, ö, also in long stemmed words and in front of i, u||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No|
Note that this table does not hold for the distinct (dotted) or transitional (striped) areas.
Götaland dialects are mostly used in Västergötland, Dalsland, northern Halland, northern Småland and Östergötland although they are also heard in Bohuslän and Värmland and Öland. Examples of Götaland dialect features are vowel reduction, vowel shortening in front of endings and loss of -r in suffixes (as in hästa' (hästar = horses)). In addition, connect adjacent areas, mainly Dalsland, northern Småland and Östergötland southwest. Värmland can also be counted here, although its dialects in many ways is a special case.
A characteristic of Svealand dialects is the coalescence of the alveolar trill with following dental and alveolar consonants — also over word-boundaries — that transforms them into retroflex consonants that in some cases reduces the distinction between words (as for instance vana — varna, i.e. "habit" — "warn"). This feature is also found in East Norwegian, North Swedish and in some dialects of Scottish Gaelic.
The following dialect groups are sometimes classified as "Swedish" in the broadest sense (northern East Scandinavian):
Modern Gutnish and Norrlandic are closer to Swedish than the older stages of those languages. Dalecarlian is intermediate in some respects between East and West Scandinavian, but is often classified as Western. Scanian is southern East Scandinavian, along with Danish and Jutish.