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Swedish word of the day: vovve

A Swedish dog is a hund, but it's also a vovve. Image: nito103/Depositphotos If you're raising bilingual children in Sweden, this may very well be one of the first words as soon as they start to get a sense of the world around them.

While a Swedish dog is usually known as a hund, the word vovve – or vovvar in plural – is commonly used as a more diminutive word in speech directed at children (or by owners talking to their dogs).

Vovve, which the Swedish Academy dates back to 1867, is a form of onomatopoeia – words that imitate the sounds they describe – and comes from the word vov-vov, which is the sound the dog makes in Swedish.

You can compare this to for example 'woof' in English or 'bau' in Italian.

The Swedish word for 'to bark' is skälla, but the sound itself is vov or voff. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

But why do animals sound different in different languages? As you can probably guess, it is not that the animals are multilingual, it is that we perceive the sounds in different ways depending on our own language.

There is even one theory attributed to German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (although this is contested) which suggests that animal sounds contributed to the birth of human language – when our ancestors started imitating those sounds they heard in their natural environment.

Other Swedish animal noises include kuckeliku, nöff and gnägg. Ten points if you can guess which animals they are associated with, otherwise here's a cheat sheet.

Examples

Titta, vilken söt liten vovve

Look, what a cute little dog

Duktig vovve

Good dog

Har du kommit ihåg att mata vovvarna?

Have you remembered to feed the dogs?

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