Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Learn a Language with the Ikea Catalogue

Last week an Ikea catalogue made its way into the pile of unsolicited post that enters through our letterbox every day. As we went through the seemingly endless pages of utilitarian minimalist furniture, we started pondering what the product names meant, if anything.

I imagined that if the names of the products were in any language, it would be Swedish due to the company's origin. However, it should be noted that Ikea's headquarters are located in Leiden, Netherlands. Since my knowledge of Swedish is fairly limited, simply reading that catalogue was never going to give me the answer to my question.

A typical Ikea kitchen layout.
While it is rare that anyone would ever find the answer to anything in a catalogue, I remembered that I live in a wonderful era where almost everything is at my fingertips and a quick bit of delving into the internet would answer my question. This may seem very foolish to anyone in Sweden or anyone who speaks Swedish, but to me it was the culmination of years of infrequent pondering and terrible Swedish impressions every time I bought flat-pack furniture.

My efforts, though as minimalist as the furniture itself, yielded results. It turned out that all of Ikea's products are indeed real words, rather than foreign-sounding pseudo-language, such as Häagen-Dazs, which is supposed to sound Danish.

In addition to being actual words, all of Ikea's products follow a nomenclature, or naming convention, that is designed to ensure that products belonging to certain groups are all named after certain types of words.

Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Danish place names are each allocated to three different groups of product types while the names of Scandinavian lakes, rivers, and bays are used for another group with garden furniture being named after Sweden's islands.

"That's all well and good, but I don't want a geography lesson, I want to learn Swedish!"

Don't worry! Ikea's ranges of bookcases are all the Swedish words for various occupations and the kitchen ranges are often grammatical terms, ideal if you are a prescriptivist. Chairs and desks and fabrics and curtains are men's and women's names respectively, and lighting products are all named after a wide range of terminology from music to the sciences as well as the months of the year and the seasons.

You can learn the names of precious stones and minerals from the bedding and cushions and even mathematics in Swedish from curtain accessories. While we're certainly not saying you'll become fluent in Swedish by walking around their one-way stores and eating meatballs, you should remember next time you find yourself replacing a bookcase that you can expand your Swedish vocabulary while arguing with your other half in Ikea.