• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Introducing: Sweden's five minority languages

The Local · 20 Aug 2014, 11:45

Published: 20 Aug 2014 11:45 GMT+02:00

Sweden is one of the most multicultural countries in Europe with around 200 languages spoken, according to the Language Council.

But for a language to be inducted into the small group of official minority languages is no simple accomplishment, and only five languages in Sweden hold that honour. 

And as widely spoken as English is, you may be surprised to learn that it's not one of them. 

Sweden's five minority languages

Finnish: There are between 500,000 and 1 million Sweden Finns in the country, mainly in Stockholm and the Mälaren Valley. Unlike Norwegian and Danish, Finnish comes from an entirely different language family to Swedish.  

Meänkieli (Torne Valley Finish): Meänkieli is a close relative of the Finnish language, and is spoken by the Torne Vally Finns, the majority of whom live in the north of Sweden. There are around 50,000 up north and 5,000 in Stockholm.

Sami languages: Approximately 20,000 - 35,000 Samis speak different variations of the Sami language, and most live in northern Sweden. The language can be traced at least 2,000 years back in time. 

Yiddish: Thousands of Jews arrived in Sweden in the 18th century, and now there are around 20,000 - 25,000 Jews living in Sweden, mainly in the larger cities. Their minority language is Yiddish.

Romani: There are 50,000-100,000 Roma living across Sweden. The different variations of Romani constitute the final minority language of Sweden. The language has been spoken in Sweden since the 16th century, although there was a centuries-long lapse when the Roma community was outlawed from Sweden, when many fled to Finland. 

All five languages received their status when the parliament decided to join the framework convention for the protection of national minorities in Europe back in 1999.

To classify as a minority language, each must be classed as a language and not a dialect, and each must have been spoken in Sweden for at least three generations or approximately 100 years.

Karin Skoglund, responsible for coordinating the national minority issues in Stockholm, explains that on January 1st in 2010 a new law came in to force giving these national minorities the right to language and culture protection, as well as the right to accessing political issues. 

"Stockholm has a Finnish administrative board, meaning extended rights to preschool and elderly care in Finnish for the Sweden Finns," she tells The Local. 

There are also administrative boards in another 26 municipalities in Sweden and 12 county councils.

More specifically, the policy provides protection and representation for the national minorities, strengthens their opportunities to influence policy, and supports their languages so that they are kept alive.

The County Administrative Board in Stockholm and the Sami Parliament have been primarily responsible for coordinating and ensuring that the Swedish minority policy is being implemented in the country.

But according to Skoglund, even if the law has helped in strengthening the minority cultures, it hasn't been easy.

"There are difficulties spreading knowledge about the minority law and the responsibility from the authorities. The law is too vague when it comes to providing the right guidance about the issues," she adds.

"It needs to be clarified and information needs to be spread out more, because people have little knowledge about the national minorities."

Photo: Shutterstock

Keeping the languages alive

Christian Mattsson, project leader at the Institute for Language and Folklore, says efforts are being made to prevent the languages from disappearing. 

Story continues below…

"We provide a grant of 3.5 million kronor ($509,000) for projects to revitalize all five languages. Our main focus is primarily the languages, even if the cultural heritage is said to be supported by it," he explains. 

Mattsson says that the institute is also working on Romani and Meänkieli dictionaries to help preserve and strengthen the languages. Yiddish has been more limited, and he adds that they will be working this autumn with a Yiddish language purist.

Even the Swedish sign language has been considered as a minority language, but did not fulfill the criteria according to the European convention board.

"For it to be a national minority language, a political majority is needed. However, Swedish sign language is in practice treated equally as a minority language and its status does not affect our work," Mattsson explains.

So will the list of official languages grow?

"The European convention board for the protection of national minorities sets a requirement that the language has to have been 'traditionally' spoken in the country," says Mattsson.

"This means that like Arabic, for example, which arrived in Sweden mainly through immigration during the twentieth century and beyond, are not recognized as national minorities."

Swedish, meanwhile, remains the country's "main language" - but has only had the official honour since new laws were passed in 2009.

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Why this fearless woman is the talk of Sweden
Photo: David Lagerlöf/Expo/TT

Swedes are calling this picture an instant icon.

Petrol firm tries to woo women to pumps with new name
A Statoil station in Enköping. Photo: Fredrik Strandberg/TT

A Statoil petrol station in Stockholm today becomes the first in Europe to get a makeover.

Half of Swedes support law banning begging
A man begs for money on Hamngatan in central Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Only one political party in Sweden wants a ban on begging, but half the population shares their view, a new survey shows.

Presented by Stockholm University
Why Stockholm attracts so many successful researchers
Photo: Stockholm University

Thousands of outstanding researchers from across the globe have chosen to make Stockholm University their home and hub. What is it that attracts them? We asked.

Stockholm taxi drivers 'help clients find prostitutes'
A Taxi Stockholm car driving in the capital. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Drivers from Stockholm’s biggest taxi firm are suspected of helping fuel the sex trade despite the purchase of sex being illegal in Sweden.

Eurovision 2016
Eurovision set for US as gay channel announces live show
Eurovision flags flying in Stockholm this week. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Now you can watch Eurovision in the US too.

'Isis' kids get taken into care in central Sweden
File picture of children in the middle east. Photo: AP /Manu Brabo

Three siblings authorities feared could be forced to go abroad to get married or fight alongside extremists have been taken into care in central Sweden.

Opinion
'Swedes, please give your sperm a purpose'
File picture of an embryo. Photo: Richard Drew/AP

Swedish men should stop jerking off in public places and start donating sperm to help single women have babies, argues Stockholm-based writer Matilda Karlsson.

Eurovision 2016
Palestine envoy angry at 'insulting' flag ban
The Palestinian flag (left) was included on the same banned list as that of Islamic State (right)

The Palestinian Ambassador to Sweden has waded into the row over a Eurovision ban on the Palestinian flag calling it "insulting" and "a big mistake".

US election
Miss Sweden hits back at Obama Trump gibe
Former Miss World Camilla Hansson and Donald Trump. Photo: Camillahansson.org and Michael Vadon/Flickr

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump is "a likeable person" with “good leadership skills", according to a Swedish beauty pageant winner.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
National
Sweden set for sunny weekend
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Vollsjö, Sjöbo
Features
How to be a cool Swede during a hot summer
Blog updates

29 April

Editor’s blog, April 29th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Relations between Sweden and Russia went from slightly strained to full-on James Bond this…" READ »

 

18 April

A day as a guard (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Life as an Ambassador. Driven around in the Jaguar. Visits all planned so you go straight…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Kista: The best office space in Sweden?
Gallery
People-watching: April 29th - May 1st
Sponsored Article
'Swedes must realize only soft power can defeat radicalism'
Analysis & Opinion
Why Sweden's fretting about Brexit
National
INTERVIEW: Swedish police officer 'beat me up and used racial slurs'
Gallery
People-watching: April 27th
Sponsored Article
How to launch your international career
National
Öresund bridge border checks net record number of drink drivers
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
National
Swedes bid farewell to iconic Volvo
Gallery
Property of the week: Enköping
Sponsored Article
Why international researchers love to call Malmö home
Gallery
People-watching: April 22nd-24th
Sponsored Article
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
Politics
Could Brits in Europe stop Brexit?
National
The first official picture of Sweden's new royal Prince Alexander
Sponsored Article
‘Life in Stockholm’s suburbs is better than people realize’
National
Sweden's Sami reindeer still live in the shadow of Chernobyl
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 20th
Sponsored Article
'A sustainable Sweden must embrace diversity'
National
Why was a Nazi flag hoisted in a Swedish town on Hitler's birthday?
Sponsored Article
What's the best way for expats to transfer money abroad?
National
How did Sweden's deputy PM get in trouble over New York comments?
Sponsored Article
Sigtunaskolan: 'The best of what Sweden has to offer'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 16th-17th
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
Culture
Sweden finally axes historic dancing ban
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
International
Have you phoned Sweden yet?
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 13th
National
Is booze going up in Sweden?
National
How Sweden's fake 'smombie' traffic sign is being used for real
3,275
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se