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Sweden criticized for lack of effort on minority languages

TT/The Local · 7 May 2009, 08:08

Published: 07 May 2009 08:08 GMT+02:00

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Nine years ago, Sweden signed on to the Council’s Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

Since then, Jews, Roma, Sami, Swedish Finns and residents of the Torne Valley (Tornedalers) were granted status as national minorities.

In addition, Finnish, all Sami dialects, Torne Valley Finnish (meänkieli), Romani, and Yiddish are recognized as national minority languages in Sweden.

According to the Council of Europe charter, Sweden is thus obliged to ensure proper instruction in the languages, as well as the ability for those who speak the language to participation in society.

For nearly a decade, the Council, Sweden’s National Schools Administration (Skolverket), and the Obmudsman against ethnic discrimination (DO) have criticized Sweden’s adoption of the convention’s and charter’s requirements.

Now an expert group from the Council of Europe has issued a new report pointing out remaining shortcomings in Sweden’s treatment of minority languages.

In the report, Sweden is “strongly” encouraged to find “innovative solutions” to train more instructors to each Romani.

In addition, there ought to be more instruction in Yiddish, especially in Malmö, Gothenburg, and Stockholm, according to the report.

The Council also wants to see more preschool-level instruction in Sami, Torne Valley Finnish, and Finnish, as well as a more highly developed teacher training programme for instructors in Sami and Torne Valley Finnish.

Public sector employees ought to also be encouraged to attain higher proficiency in Sami, and to use it on the job.

Story continues below…

Sweden is also criticized for not having the country’s laws and important societal information translated into each of the minority languages.

Also important, according to the Council, is an increased effort on the part of Swedish authorities to ensure that Sami and Torne Valley Finnish newspapers are established.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:25 May 7, 2009 by Inletwatcher
IMO only, I think its MY job as an Immigrant to learn the language of the country I moved to. I don't expect the peoples that gave me safeharbor to spend any more on me. I did like the drivers license book to be translated, I took one in Swedish as well, so I could compare and learn.

But, that being said I am lucky as I speak American English as my native tongue.

14:17 May 7, 2009 by Jeffi
These people are not immigrants, not even close to recently. They are native Swedes. However, like Canada with its dual English-French populations, Sweden has recognized native languages of its minority native-born citizens.
15:28 May 7, 2009 by Greg in Canada
French speakers in Canada are found almost exclusively in Quebec and parts of New Brunswick and northern Ontario, but the country provides government services in both English and French across the country.

I'd imagine providing services in five official languages would be both quite complicated and very expensive.
17:36 May 7, 2009 by byke
this story is a lot larger than many people really understand and while it may have a cloud or social responsibility in terms of language and social behavior, if you were to scratch the surface you would see a whole strew of human rights violations being committed by the government and breaches of swedish law by many of its own authorities. I fought skolverket last year and have intended to take my case to the EU court of law as the current situation is a mess and deserves to be challenged.
18:00 May 7, 2009 by howyougetfamous
Even though these minority languages are recognized, I still feel it's important that immigrants or those brought up in households that speak that language have an obligation to learn the majority language of the country they live in. It's difficult, expensive and complicated to have to translate all documents into even more than 2 languages.
18:40 May 7, 2009 by Puffin
We are not talking about immigrants

We are talking about minority languages = indigenous populations such as the sami/finnish minorities in the north/Lappland
19:00 May 7, 2009 by kaze
The Same speak the native language, its the Swedes that are the immigrants.
23:59 May 7, 2009 by Kaethar
An ethnic minority is not the same as a national minority. These people are not immigrants.

And that's why it's not done of course, especially since a miniscule amount of the population actually speaks these languages. So I can understand why this is not a priority of the Swedish government. However, at the beginning of this year they did pledge to do more:


They do speak Swedish and that's the problem. All of those languages (except Finnish) are at risk of dying out because it's usually not a possibility to learn them in schools.

Prove it. There's no evidence of that at all but it's something people assume since the Sami are the minority population. Most likely both populations were there are the same time, but the Northern Germanics were found in the south of the country and the Sami in the north.
00:35 May 8, 2009 by Miss Kitten
Isn't it interesting how Sweden has no official language? There are the five nationally recognized minority languages, but the language spoken by the majority of the population, namely Swedish, is considered a de facto native language. It has never been designated "official" the Swedish government.

Likewise, the US and the UK have no official languages. English is only a de facto language in those countries.

00:49 May 8, 2009 by Kaethar
Yeah, there have been calls to establish Swedish as the official language but most people seem to think there's no point (since everyone in Sweden, including national minorities, speaks Swedish anyway).

But Swedish is spoken by about ~10 million people. Look at the figures of the national minority languages:

Meänkieli = 50,000

Sami (various dialects) = 40,000

Romani = 9,500

Yiddish = 3000

Yiddish and Romani have roughly 2-3 million speakers worldwide so the language itself isn't threatened (although it is in Sweden). But Meänkieli and especially Sami are at risk of dying out.

Although yes, it seems a bit ridiculous to translate all of Sweden's laws/documents into Yiddish for 3000 people, but that's what you have to do with languages who have an official status.
10:08 May 8, 2009 by Inletwatcher
Woops! Ty Keith for setting record straight for my little turntable!

11:59 May 8, 2009 by kaze
Its thought the Germanics originated round about Skåne yeah.

I speak mainly of the areas where the Same actually live though. Certainly there was a time only a few hundred years ago where there was a large land of no nation above Sweden and Norway where the Sami were the only ones.

I would be interested to know more on this, I've heard that Same or related people did once spread over a larger part of Sweden.
12:02 May 8, 2009 by VikingHumpingWitch
I notice Yiddish is on there. Wondering if Arabic should be added.

Then again, this is Sweden. Its language is Swedish. If you can't hack that, go somewhere with a language that suits you.
12:54 May 8, 2009 by Oskarsmamma
Minority languages or any other language that is not Swedish mainstream - i.e. the one used everyday by ca 10million people in this country should be taught by parents and family at home.

It is not the fault of the Swedish Govt. or the Swedish people who are not categorised in the minorities - why should everything be translated into 5 languages where one is already sufficient?

It is not as if those languages labelled as minority are freshly arrived immigrants who do not know Swedish.

It is up to anyone with a second language or mother tongue different to Swedish to educate their children/family in that second language.

For the record, I also teach my son Yiddish, German and French, he learns his Swedish at dagis and we speak English at home.

If I can manage all those, then surely these minority languages can manage ONE EXTRA
14:34 May 8, 2009 by Vidyadhara
@Puffin and others: good

@Inletwatcher, howyougetfamous, et al

The minority languages aren't immigrant languages. Several have been in Sweden for as long as or longer than Swedish

@kaze: Sami as far as can be proven is not native to lower Sweden.
17:17 May 8, 2009 by Kaethar
There's not really a lot of evidence regarding this, actually. But we can assume the Sami were found in the north before the Germanics. But calling the Sami the "indigenous people of Sweden" is what is misleading.

First Yiddish speakers came to Sweden in the 1700's. Since Yiddish is a minority language everywhere in the world the Swedish state saw it as endangered (same goes for Romani) and therefore sought to protect it by making it an official minority language. This won't happen to Arabic or any of the other languages which migrants had in the 18th century (French, German, etc)

Because they made them official minority languages. If the state doesn't want to do it they have to remove their official language status.

This is the case for ethnic minority languages, not national minority languages (if they're official). Ethnic minority languages are taught at home and they are given the right to hemspråksundervisning in schools. But that's it. The same would go for national minorities if they were unofficial (which they're not, in this case)
21:15 May 8, 2009 by jimmyjames
This is another excellent example of "Political Correctness" run amok. All over the world ( actually its only in countries predominatly populated by Europeans,ie USA,Canada, Australia, ect. or Europa itself) majority populations seem to feel as though they have to literally bend over backwards to accomodate minority populations. Take a good look at Japan !! They make no apologies about being Japanese. They let outsiders know at light speed that in Japan you better learn the Japanese way ( Culture, language, customs, ect.) because they are not going to change themselves nor their culture for you nor are they going to even allow you to annoy them with such ridiculous requests. They will politely ignore you until you either get with the Japanese program or leave. Same in China, ect. The West had better learn to do the exact same thing or else in 100 years there will not be a Swedish Culture, or British,or American, or German, or French, ect.
22:39 May 8, 2009 by Puffin
So you don't think that thse who speak Sami or Meänkieli have the right to keep their languages?
03:08 May 9, 2009 by Joemath
I believe that minority languages should be represented in the host country.

Nonetheless, Swedish should be the language of choice for entering

students. English or another language may be taught alongside Swedish.

I would give students a year of high school or college foreign language credit for

fluency in the language of birth ( if other than Swedish ) . Nonetheless, Swedish would be

required for all in the primary school setting.

Joseph S. Maresca
07:37 May 9, 2009 by Puffin
Do you mean you would abolish the Sami school system?

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