Westrobothnian (Bondska)[1] is a number of closely related non-standardized Scandinavian dialects spoken natively along the coast of the historical province of Westrobothnia in co-existence with Finnish, Sami and, in recent centuries, the national standard language Swedish. Westrobothnian is the northernmost dialect group of the North Germanic languages in Sweden and borders the traditional Sami-speaking Lapland to the west and Finnish-speaking Torne Valley to the north. Like all Scandinavian, the different varieties of Westrobothnian originate in Proto-Norse and dialects of Old Norse, spoken by immigrating Germanic settlers during the Viking Age.

måLe, bonsk
Native toSweden
Native speakers
Westrobothnian alphabet (Latin script)
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Westrobothnian has three grammatical genders in most dialects, two plural forms of indefinite nouns, and broad usage of definite nouns. Nouns are also inflected differently in the dative and accusative case. Some adjectives can be serially joined with nouns and some have two plural forms. A pleonastic article is always used before names when referring to someone. In the vocative, a name may instead be declined similarly to how words for near kin decline in the vocative.


A small population of Nordic tribes inhabited the area as early as the Bronze Age, as is supported by evidence from recent archeological findings in Backen and Jävre. While Sami cultures have been present around the inner parts of Westrobothnia for several thousand years, all forms of Westrobothnian are developments from Germanic-speaking settlers, arriving along the coast of the Scandinavian peninsula. Sami languages can be considered native to historical Sápmi and Westrobothnian native to old Westrobothnia except for Torne Valley, where Meänkieli Finnish traditionally has been the native tongue of the region; original Westrobothnia refers to the coastal areas of contemporary Västerbotten and Norrbotten.

Westrobothnian dialects, in their different forms, were historically the native tongues in Umeå and Skellefteå. In Kalix and Luleå, they coexisted with Kven language before gradually becoming the majority language of the region. These two cities are now part of Norrbotten County but before 1810, they belonged to Westrobothnia and so their dialects are included in the Westrobothnian dialect continuum. The different dialects of Westrobothnian are also present in southern and central Lapland, where it was introduced in the late 17th century as the colonization of traditional Sami lands begun. Each person was promised 15 tax-free years and other state privileges for settling what was then referred to as Lappmarkerna, and many people from the coasts started moving up the river valleys to settle villages such as Arvidsjaur, Lycksele and as far north as Eastern Jokkmokk, which brought different dialects of Westrobothnian to the Lapland region that had until then spoken Sami.

The dialects' main characteristics developed largely independently of Standard Swedish for almost a millennium until 1850, when Standard Swedish was introduced to all citizens through the public school system. At first, they co-existed peacefully but during the 1930s the repression of genuine dialects and non-North Germanic languages was at its peak. Children were prohibited from using their native tongue, labelled as ugly and inappropriate, in school. Standard Swedish is based on the dialects spoken in Svealand and Götaland and so differed considerably from the Westrobothnian tongues, even more than the differences between Standard Swedish and the neighbouring Norwegian and Danish languages. The cities soon became mostly Swedish-speaking while the native tongues still maintained a strong stance in rural areas and minor towns for many decades to come. The native tongues were gradually weakened as an urbanization process went on and TV and radio broadcasts were exclusively in standard Swedish, making the native tongues appear backward.

The misleading nickname bondska has played a big part in making the native tongues less attractive since it is derived from bonde, the Swedish word for peasant; it is widely used and causes a lot of misconceptions. The name was most likely not invented by the native speakers and should be considered pejorative since the word bonde or bonnigt is either used pejoratively for denoting something uncultivated or to refer to the occupation of farming. But the name was implemented and eventually turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy as the city population gradually switched to Swedish and people from the villages were highly discouraged about using their native tongues when moving to the city.

The correct term in Swedish is Västerbottniska although it is rarely used; the notion of a Westrobothnian dialect group that includes Piteå, Luleå and Kalix dialects is unknown to most people but the pejorative name remains in use in the entire region to denote the regional dialect.

During a large part of the 20th century, many citizens did not speak their native tongues in the cities because it was looked down upon but once back in their villages they switched to their native tongue.

Germanic settlement

The Vikings are known for their ships and most likely visited the Bothnian Bay thousands of years ago as some archeological findings indicate, but there is no clear evidence of Norsemen or Germanic settlement along the river valleys in the area. The first Germanic settlers were probably a combination of farmers, hunters and fishermen, arriving in southern Westrobothnia around 900 AD and northern parts around 1100 AD, in the late stages of the Viking Age.

Different theories exist as of how exactly Westrobothnia came to be settled by Germanic speakers, as in e.g. Umeå, Luleå and Piteå, but they were probably using small boats to move along the coast and up along river valleys, generation after generation settling river by river. Most of the coast seems to have been uninhabited during the Viking age but some settlements of unknown origin existed during the iron age. There are no Sami loan words in the Westrobothnian coastal dialects, except for in the dialects spoken in the much later settlements in Lapland, such as Malå and Arjeplog dialects. Most likely Sami people did not have a notable presence in the coastal areas of historical Westrobothnia although they did visit the coast occasionally with their cattle, moving down the river valleys in the summer. Some settlements were close to the coast such as Koler in Piteå Municipality and most likely Kåddis outside Umeå but the majority of all names of villages and lakes are of North Germanic origin.

Early Westrobothnian settlements typically end with -böle or -mark and most of them are from the pre-Christian era, the villages with the ending -mark are derived from a male name; for example, Tvare for Tväråmark in Umeå municipality or Arne for Arnemark outside Piteå. The highest density of villages ending with -mark is found between Umeå and Skellefteå.

The Germanic settlers spoke a north dialectal development of proto-Norse, related to, but not equal to the Old Norse spoken by Vikings many hundred kilometers down the Scandinavian coast. Old Norse is rather well preserved in runestones and later also in a Bible translation. But few runic inscriptions have been found north of Svealand, and none at all in what is now the administrative areas Västerbotten and Norrbotten apart from the runic inscriptions found in Burträsk where minor runic inscriptions was found in the early 20th century. This suggests that the farming settlers finally reaching Westrobothnia had little contact with southern Scandinavia during the Viking age, and most probably already by then had developed different lingual features, some of which are still preserved in some Westrobothnian dialects, particularly in the dialects spoken in Skellefteå and Bureå.

The citizens of the area around Umeå and Skellefteå were initially referred to as speakers of the Old Norse dialect Helsingemål during the early Viking age.

Trade and colonization

During the 14th century, the Hanseatic League started dominating trade in the Baltic sea, mostly speaking Middle Low German. Trade routes might have gone as far up north as to the Bothnian bay, and that might have influenced the languages in the region since some similarities exist between Westrobothnian and both German and Dutch in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. After the Consolidation of Sweden, this uprising power started to take control of trade along the coast, and exploit what was named lappmarken (the Sami lands), by using birkarls (trade men).

Christianity also came to the relatively non-organized and free Germanic settlers, who by then might have been practising variants of Norse mythology. A monastery was built in Bureå in the early 15th century, and with the arrival of Christianity, priests began registering all family relationships in the villages, and since this new era there is a better knowledge of the local history, also from preserved documents and maps used for taxation.

Colonisation escalated under the Swedish Empire, and while Österland received independence in the Treaty of Fredrikshamn 1809, Swedish colonialism still remains in terminology like Norrland.

Modern history

The Swedish school came to Westrobothnia in the 1850s, with the goal of teaching everyone to read, write, speak and understand standard Swedish with its grammar. This was, at first, a rather peaceful form of language education, but escalated under the early 1930s into a system where students were forbidden to speak all forms of local languages in the classrooms throughout Sweden. Similar laws existed in Scotland, where speakers of Scottish Gaelic were forbidden to use their language in schools as a result of the Education (Scotland) Act 1872, and in Wales after the Treachery of the Blue Books in 1847. In Westrobothnia, parents were informed that "the Swedish standard language was the future", and that "children can only learn one language properly", and therefore local languages "will handicap them in a future society based solely on standard Swedish". These ideas have been proven well and truly wrong by later research into the field of multilingualism, but they had a huge influence on many relatively small societies like Umeå and Skellefteå where those living in Umeå today could be accused of speaking a dialect which is far more influenced by Standard Swedish than by the far purer Skellefteå dialect. The Westrobothnian dialect spoken in Skellefteå has maintained a lot of influence of Westrobothnian language in terms of pronunciation and certain words, but among the younger generation very few people know how to properly speak the Westrobothnian language or even understand it. The language still remains severely threatened with extinction.

The nickname bondska is derived from the word bonde, meaning peasant, and causes many misconceptions about the languages. The nickname might have been somewhat accurate hundreds of years ago since most people lived of agriculture at that time, but most speakers in the late 19th and early 20th century were not just peasants but ordinary working-class people. The language initially started disappearing in the cities and therefore came to be even more associated with rural areas. Many people believe that Westrobothnian is a language that uneducated peasants made up since they couldn't learn proper Swedish when it is actually the native language of the entire region and standard Swedish is in fact a language that was imposed by the school system and the authorities. State language policies caused the language to be seen as even more rural and backward, thus starting a downward spiral. The language has more speakers around and in the industrial cities of Piteå and Skellefteå, especially in the former, and a far weaker position in and around the regional capitals Umeå and Luleå. It is still being considered an incorrect dialect of Swedish by many.

There are notable differences between the dialects since they have never been standardized but the lexical similarity and grammar is without a doubt far more similar than if one of them is compared to standard Swedish. A standardization of the different dialects would make it more attractive to learn and raise the awareness of them as the endangered native tongues that they indeed are.

There are no official signs with Westrobothnian names; Westrobothnian places like Uum, Schélett, Peeit, Leeul and Kôlis are written in cartographic Swedish as Umeå, Skellefteå, Piteå, Luleå and Kalix.


While Westrobothnian was made a taboo subject in many ways by the Swedish educational system, and it thus lack the historical documentation that the most northern Westrobothnian dialect, the Kalix dialect can boast with. The Kalix dialect is however a bit different from the others and mutual intelligibility with more southern dialects is not very high. A large number of modern writers, artists and musicians use different forms of Westrobothnian on a daily basis. Several prominent Swedish writers have used Westrobothnian in their novels mixing the dialects with various degrees of standard Swedish, among them Sara Lidman, Nikanor Teratologen and Torgny Lindgren and a number of short stories and collections of idioms have been written.[2][3]

Furthermore, it is worth noting that several different scholarly studies into different forms of Westrobothnian have been published over the years, among them a study of Norsjö Westrobothnian.[4]

A number of dictionaries exist to aid the speakers and learners of Westrobothnian as well. A dictionary documenting the language spoken in Vännäs, a municipality in southern Westrobothnia was published in 1995 after 8 years of studies [5] and the speakers of Skellefteå Westrobothnian have published a number of different grammars and dictionaries.[6][7]

Germanic dialect continuum

Westrobothnian is part of a Germanic dialect continuum on the Scandinavian Peninsula, and more locally along the coastline of the Bothnian Bay. As such all forms of Westrobothnian are more or less related to the languages spoken in Jämtland and Ångermanland and to a smaller extent with the dialects spoken in the Swedish speaking Ostrobothnia.

Distinctions to the west and south

There are still more or less certain borders between lects, such as the Westrobothnian complete loss of a final vowel in some long-stem words such as in /ˇfjʉːk/[8] 'blow around, snow lightly' versus the Angermannian and Iemtian mostly preserved vowel in /ˇfyːkʰə/[8]. Another example is a vowel-balance split, such as the rounded vowel in Westrobothnian /ˇtʰɑːɽɐ/~/ˇtʰɒːɽɐ/~/ˇtʰoːɽɐ/ versus the unrounded Angermannian and Iemtian vowel /ˇtʰäʰːɽɐ/~/ˇtʰæːɽɐ/ 'to speak'. The softening of intermediary consonants before front vowels is also different in /ˇtʰɞjːe/~/ˇtʰɛjːɪ/~/ˇtʰäjːɪ/~/tʰui̯/ and /ˇtʰeːɣe/~/ˇtʰɛɣːɪ/ ’taken.’ Generally, Westrobothnian did not partake is the western vowel-assimilations of the type vikuvuku, hitahata, lesalasa, sofasovo, etc., but rather retained the vowels of viku, hita, *lisa[9], *sufa, with some seeming quality change only due to secondary lengthening; e.g. /lɪsɐ̃//ˇlɪːsɐ/.

Intermediary examples can be found in Nordmaling, where bånut, bånat 'pregnant', is bånet, which is also the (northern) Angermannian form.

Distinctions to the east

Westrobothnian always apocopes long-stem words, never short-stem words, while Ostrobothnian can have apocope in any word. Another difference is that Westrobothnian regularly differentiates feminine definite forms, depending on whether the word ends in a vowel or a consonant, while Ostrobothnian inflection can be more generalised. Westrobothnian has short-stem nouns viku, viko def. -n ’week,’ sögu, sögo, def. -n ’saw, story,’ long-stem skir def. -a ’magpie,’ kvissel def. kvissla ’blister,’ while Ostrobothnian has corresponding vik(å), def. -on, sag, def. -on, skjår, skjorå, def. -on, kvisel, def. kvislon.


Most forms of Westrobothnian have an extensive inflection, with many characteristics similar to the German language.


Westrobothnian has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

Adjectives mostly decline in neuter, adding -t or changing -i(n) for -e, although the variation in -in versus -i may represent the older masculine and feminine forms. Adjectives not ending in -i(n) sometimes have masculine declension, as in st(å)orer stöɽing(j)en “a big boy”, alternating with n st(å)or( n )stöɽing. Some words more commonly express -er than others. More common than -er is -e, which is used in all genders: häile ättermeda(je)n (masculine) “all afternoon”; st(å)ore f(å)ola (feminine) “a great lot”; häile hvärve (neuter) “the whole set of clothes”. The -e can also express emphasis: he var st(å)ore h(e)use “there was such a large house there”/“it was really a big house”.

The articles used are äin (n) for masculine words, äi(n) ([i]n) for feminine, äitt (i) for neuter, and in plural (äin)a for all genders. In a construction like “a big house”, the article is doubled: i st(å)ort i h(e)us; but is lacking in “the big house”, where adjective and noun merge: st(å)orh(e)use. Pronouns are also declined: ann hvorn dag “every other day”, annar hvor bjerk “every other birch”, anne hvort h(e)us “every other house”.

Noun paradigms

All nouns have an indefinite and a definite singular and plural form, and definite dative singular and plural forms. The declinations are slightly different depending on original syllable length.

In addition to the patterns below, long monosyllabic masculine words ending in a vowel, like snjö “snow”, also have the dative ending -(r)no(m), and feminine words of the same type may have that dative form in plural. These type of words are also often unchanged in the indefinite plural. Another quirk is that monosyllabic masculine and feminine nouns that are rarely or not at all used in plural have grave accent in the dative rather than acute, e.g.; mjɒ́ɽka “the milk”, but mjɒ̀ɽken “the milk (dat.)”, and krɒ́ppen “the body”, but krɒ̀ppo(m) “the body (dat.)”; this does not affect the neuter dative form as it always has the grave accent. Rarely indefinite dative forms are found, and only in the singular (unless one instead sees the def. and indef. dat. pl. forms as identical in form): mö̀rn’ “morning”. In these examples, the sign ’ in final position marks where grave accent within a single syllable forms circumflex accent due to apocope of long syllable, and the combination rn represents /ɳ/ and kj /t͡ɕ/.

Typical short monosyllabic declensions
GenderSingularDef. sing.Dat. sing.PluralDef. plur.Dat. plur.Meaning
Masculine dágdá(je)ndán, dágo(m)dɒ̀gadɒ̀ga(r)n(a)dɒ̀go(m)“day”
Feminine fɒ́rfɒ́rafɒ́rnfɒ̀rafɒ̀ra(r)n(a)fɒ̀ro(m)“furrow”
Neuter fátfátefàte(r)nfátfátafàto(m)“plate”
Typical short duosyllabic declensions
GenderSingularDef. sing.Dat. sing.PluralDef. plur.Dat. plur.Meaning
Masculine stègastèganstèga(r)no(m)stègastèga(r)n(a)stègo(m)“ladder”
Feminine vö̀ru, vö̀rovö̀ru(r)n, vö̀ro(rn)vö̀run, vö̀ronvö̀ru, vö̀rivö̀run(a), vö̀r(j)in(a)vö̀r(j)o(m)“ware”
Neuter ------
Typical long monosyllabic declensions
GenderSingularDef. sing.Dat. sing.PluralDef. plur.Dat. plur.Meaning
Masculine bǻtbǻtnbǻto(m)bå̀t’bå̀ta([r]n)bå̀to(m)“boat”
Feminine bjérkbjérkabjérkenbjèrk’bjèrk(j)e(r)nbjèrk(j)o(m)“birch”
Neuter h(e)úsh(e)úseh(e)ùse(r)nh(e)úsh(e)úsah(e)ùso(m)“house”
Typical long duosyllabic declensions
GenderSingularDef. sing.Dat. sing.PluralDef. plur.Dat. plur.Meaning
Masculine fàrg’fàrgenfàrgo(m)fàrg’fàrga([r]n)fàrgo(m)“boar”
Feminine fèrg’fèrgafèrgenfèrg’fèrg(j)e(r)nfèrgo(m)“colour”
Neuter sèt’sètesète(r)nsèt’sètasèto(m)“bench; haycock”

Definite and indefinite nouns

The definite noun form is used in a broader sense than in other Scandinavian languages, which is typical in all dialects spoken in northern Scandinavia.[10] Most typically, wordings like “made of wood” or “I like bread” would have “wood” and “bread” in their definite forms in Westrobothnian, while Danish, Swedish and Norwegian would use the indefinite forms.


Westrobothnian has around three to five cases, depending on definition.

Nominative and accusative usually take the same form, except in pronouns where there are doublets such as vor and vånn “our, masc.”, m(y)in and m(y)i “my/mine, fem.”, männ and määnn “my/mine, masc.”

Dative is separated from the accusative and nominative case, in that it differs from the two others, which are identical. Whenever a dative is used, the dative suffix -åm or -o(m) is added to masculine nouns, to some -(r)nåm or -no(m), whereas the suffix -(e)n is added to feminine nouns, and -e(r)n (rarely -[r]n) to neuters. In all cases, the plural ending is identical to masculine singular, although the accent may still differentiate masculine singular and plural; e.g. stǽino(m) “stone” stæ̀ino(m) “stones”; this is less common for words that mostly are only used in singular; e.g. krɒ̀ppo(m) “body/bodies”; and some forms retain grave accent by having other distinctions: sk(å)òjo(m) “the forest” vs. sk(å)ògo(m) “the forests”. Some plurals also display -nåm/-no(m). For the pronouns männ “mine”, dänn “thine”, sänn “himself/herself/itself”, the respective dative forms are m-/d-/s- -i(r)no(m), -ännar, -i(r)ne, and plural all cases -i(r)no(m). Examples in masculine singular: nom./acc. vájen mä́nn “my road”, dat. (opp)a vàjom mìrnom “(up)on my road”. Note that -i- becomes -öy- and -äi- in the northernmost dialects, where also -o is used for -om, so e.g. mi(r)nom is möyno or mäino.

A traditional genitive case is mostly unused, but rather the dative has taken over most roles of the genitive, while genitive forms serve other purposes, such as forming compounds or derivations, or have specified meanings; e.g. års “year’s,” indef. gen. sg. of år “year,” is used to form compounds, such as för-års-korn “two years old grain,” while the def. gen. sg. årsens is used as a separate word meaning “that of this year,” usually meaning the harvest of the past year. An example of doublet forms is vatn “water,” which uses the form vötu for regular compounds; e.g. vötumonn “mouthful of water,” while the form vass is used to form nouns denoting residents of placenames ending in -vatn(e), such as Mjövassa “inhabitants of Mjövatne (a village.) Some traditional use of genitive does occur; e.g. grannars gåln “the neighbour’s estate.”

Vocative is by nature typically restricted to nouns referring to living beings; e.g. stinta “girl!”, stinte “girls!”, pajk(e) “boy!”, pajkar “boys!”, fåre “sheep!”, Erke “Eric!”, Janke “John!”, måmme “mom!”, fare “father!”. Typically a suffix along with duosyllabic accent is used for all vocative forms. Rarely other words take vocative form; e.g. kärä “[my] dear,” = “please!”


Verbs are conjugated in singular and plural in present, past, and imperative, usually also past subjunctive and sometimes present subjunctive, and the prefix o- is used with perfect participles to denote that something has not happened yet, e.g. h(e)u hav ofyri “she hasn't left yet”, literally “she has un-gone”. No suffix marks the present tense except for the words /fa “receive, give” /ga “walk, go” and stå/sta “stand”, which display -r in singular.

A common pattern is that the present and imperative singular is a monosyllabically accented or shorter version of the infinitive, and that the plural present is identical to the infinitive, e.g.; kåma “come” has singular present and imperative kåm, plural present kåma. The imperative plural tends to appear as the root form or supine form plus -e(r)n, e.g.; supine kömi “(has) come” + -en = köm(j)e(r)n! “(you) come!”. Likewise, sl(j)ɒ “beat, mow” has supine slæije and plural imperative slæije(r)n “(you) beat, mow!”. Since the infinitive is already monosyllabic with monosyllabic accent, the present singular and imperative are unchanged. Weak verbs like l(j)ès “lock” (Old Norse læsa) has singular present and imperative l(j)és, plural present l(j)ès, plural imperative l(j)èse(r)n.

Strong and pseudo-strong conjugation

Some strong paradigms such as fara, fer, for, fyri[11] are preserved, though often there is a generalisation of the singular present or infinitive and plural present, thus fara, far, or fera, fer. Due to vowel-balance, even with a generalised paradigm there can be a vowel difference between /ˇfɑːrɐ/ and /fæːr/[11]. This also leads to pseudo-strong conjugation of formally weak verbs such as /ˇhɑːʋɐ/, /hæːʋ/, pret. /ˇhædː/, sup. /hædː/[11] ’to have.’


Adjectives and adverbs can be joined with nouns, e.g. fleenonga – the crying children and liislpajtjen – the little boy.

Pleonastic article

The pleonastic article is widespread among languages in the area, as far north as Troms.[12] A pleonastic article, marking the opposite of the vocative, is put before people's names, pet's names, and words denoting the immediate family. The masculine form is n, and the feminine form is a. For example; “father is home” is n far jär hæ̀im’. In dative, n becomes om or o, e.g. ɒt om Jɒ̀nk’ “to John”.

Writing systems orthography and phonology

In early scientific literature, a phonetic alphabet landsmålsalfabetet (LMA), developed by Johan August Lundell was used to write most northern dialects, while the most widely used informal form of writing is based on the Latin alphabet with a few added symbols, including the letters å, ä, ö, a capitalised L or bolded l, apostrophe for marking long or diacritic accents, etc. Since no formal standard has been developed, slight differences can be found among different writers. The lack of a standardized writing system has made the dialects drift more and more towards the standard language, and many short stories written in Westrobothnian have been influenced by standard Swedish to various degrees.

Some published writings use dotted letters for some common phonemes ( for /ɖ/, for /e̞/, for /ɽ/, for /ɳ/, for /ʂ/, for /ʈ/.)

Pehr Stenberg uses his own particular orthography, with two new letters and some special consonant combinations to denote certain Westrobothnian sounds.


1.^ Ostrobothnian examples taken from Rietz.


  1. "Västerbotten" [Westrobothnian]. Swedish Institute for Language and Folklore. Archived from the original on 5 February 2007. Retrieved 22 December 2017 via Internet Archive.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2011-05-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "LIBRIS - Vännäsmålet :". Libris.kb.se. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  4. "LIBRIS - Skelleftemålet :". Libris.kb.se. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2011-05-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. Rietz, Johan Ernst, Svenskt dialektlexikon : ordbok öfver svenska allmogespråket, 1862-1867, pg. 141
  7. Svenska landsmål och Svenskt folkliv, 1891, pg. 88
  8. Dahl, Östen (2010). Grammaticalization in the North: Noun Phrase Morphosyntax in Scandinavian Vernaculars. Stockholm: Institutionen för lingvistik vid Stockholms universitet. ISBN 978-91-978304-1-6. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  9. Valfrid Lindgren, Jonas, Orbok över Burträskmålet, 1940, pg. 39 ’fara’, pg. 60 ’hava’
  10. An introduction to Norwegian dialects, Olaf Husby (red), Tapir Akademic Press, Trondheim 2008
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