Translation:The twentieth century
The literal translation here is "the nineteen hundreds," right? The nineteen hundreds is, of course, the twentieth century. Earlier in this course we learned the word "århundrade" for century. Do the Swedes ever use "det tjugonde århundradet"? (In English we often express it both ways... as the 1900s and the twentieth century.)
Okay, I would love to have some context here.. From another sentence I learned that -tals has the same function as the "-s" in "hundreds/thousands". So what does "tal" mean? I thought it meant "number"? So why does Swedish use the possessive -s to turn it into something that means "many ...", instead of just using plural? Or isn't this possessive?
And, more importantly: What does "nittonhundratalet" exactly mean? Is it like "the 1900-numbered (ones)"? But it is singular because of -et, isn't it? I'm confused :D
Sorry for this looong comment :D
The Swedish 'tal' is cognate to German 'zahl' or English 'tally' and is one of several words (along with nummer, antal, etc.) that might be translated into English as 'number'. According to 'Swedish, A Comprehensive Grammar' by Holmes & Hinchliffe, '-tal' has several uses, such as:
the suffix -tal added to a cardinal number equals approximation or order of magnitude; for example, 'ett femtiotal träd' = 'around 50 trees'.
-tals can also be used to indicate an indefinite rather than an exact number: 'tusentals personer' = 'thousands of people'.
-talet is used to indicate decade or century: 'han dog på femtio talet'= 'he died in the fifties'; '2000-talet' = 'tjugohundratalet' = the 21st century
So, to answer your most recent question, think of 'tusen' as an exact number but of 'tustental' as a category or approximation.
And to answer your original question, think of 'nittonhundratalet' as 'the 1900 year category' or maybe 'the number space 1900 to 1999' or maybe just 'the 1900s'.
You probably saw a sentence like 'Det kostar tusentals kronor'. It is true that that can be translated as 'It costs thousands of kronor'. However, the -s there on -tals is not really a plural -s. (The indefinite plural of 'tal' is 'tal'!) Rather, the -s there is a genitive -s (like the English 's): literally, 'It costs thousand's kronor.' I think of it as meaning something like 'The number of kronor is in the category of a thousand'. (If I am mistaken about this, I hope someone will correct me!)
I think the sentence I mentioned contained tusentals or something like that. That's why in my comment I claimed -tals to mean many (as in many thousands instead of one thousand). So my confusion was due to -tals meaning more than one in one case, and -tal meaning... yeah, what indeed? in the case of nittonhundratal(et)?
I hope my question/confusion is clearer now. Though by now, I have kind of incorporated these uses of tal into my sense of the Swedish language. So it's okay if nobody can explain this to me. :)
In my language - native dutch - "...TAL" would express a close estimate (een aanTAL (enkele), een honderdTAL, een duizendTAL ...)
"en nittunhundratal männen" = "about 1900 men" (approximated, may be less, or maybe more)
So here (as well as in Dutch) "en ...TAL" is not meaning the number range of the 1900's
"nittonhundratalet männen" = " twentieth century men"
"nittunhundratalets männen" = men of the 20th century
"nittonhundra männen" = "nineteen hundred men" (exactly)