(svenska [svɛnːska] (About this soundlisten)) is a North Germanic language spoken natively by 9.6 million people, predominantly in Sweden (as the sole official language), and in parts of Finland, where it has equal legal standing with Finnish. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and to some extent with Danish, although the degree of mutual intelligibility is largely dependent on the dialect and accent of the speaker. Both Norwegian and Danish are generally easier for Swedish speakers to read than to listen to because of difference in accent and tone when speaking. Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, the common language of the Germanic peoples living in Scandinavia during the Viking Era. It has the most speakers of the North Germanic languages.
In the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia, Proto-Norse, evolved into Old Norse. This language underwent more changes that did not spread to all of Scandinavia, which resulted in the appearance of two similar dialects: Old West Norse (Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Denmark and Sweden).
From 1200 onwards, the dialects in Denmark began to diverge from those of Sweden. The innovations spread unevenly from Denmark which created a series of minor dialectal boundaries, or isoglosses, ranging from Zealandin the south to Norrland, Österbotten and northwestern Finland in the north.
Old Swedish (Swedish: fornsvenska) is the term used for the medieval Swedish language. The start date is usually set to 1225 since this is the year that Västgötalagen (“the Västgöta Law”) is believed to have been compiled for the first time. It is among the most important documents of the period written in Latin script and the oldest Swedish law codes. Old Swedish is divided into äldre fornsvenska (1225–1375) and yngre fornsvenska (1375–1526), “older” and “younger” Old Swedish. Important outside influences during this time came with the firm establishment of the Christian church and various monastic orders, introducing many Greek and Latin loanwords. With the rise of Hanseatic power in the late 13th and early 14th century, Middle Low German became very influential. The Hanseatic league provided Swedish commerce and administration with a large number of Low German-speaking immigrants. Many became quite influential members of Swedish medieval society, and brought terms from their native languages into the vocabulary. Besides a great number of loanwords for such areas as warfare, trade and administration, general grammatical suffixes and even conjunctions were imported. The League also brought a certain measure of influence from Danish (at the time much more similar than today’s language).
Modern Swedish (Swedish: nysvenska) begins with the advent of the printing press and the European Reformation. After assuming power, the new monarch Gustav Vasa ordered a Swedish translation of the Bible. The New Testament was published in 1526, followed by a full Bible translation in 1541, usually referred to as the Gustav Vasa Bible, a translation deemed so successful and influential that, with revisions incorporated in successive editions, it remained the most common Bible translation until 1917. The main translators were Laurentius Andreæ and the brothers Laurentius and Olaus Petri.