Swedish becomes official 'main language'
David Landes · 1 Jul 2009, 17:26
Published: 01 Jul 2009 17:26 GMT+02:00
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- Sweden criticized for lack of effort on minority languages (07 May 09)
The new law, a first for Sweden, also gives five other languages – Finnish, all Sami dialects, Torne Valley Finnish (Meänkieli), Romani, and Yiddish – status as official national minority languages and is supposed to ensure that the languages used by public bodies are “protected, simple, and comprehensible”.
“The language law is an important tool in work on language policy,” said Lena Ekberg, head of Sweden’s Language Council (Språkrådet), in a statement.
As Swedish society has become increasingly diverse, the number of languages spoken by the country’s residents has ballooned.
According to the Language Council, close to 200 languages are spoken in Sweden today.
In addition, as the pace of globalization has increased, more and more Swedes are using English on a regular basis, which has resulted in English terms displacing many Swedish terms in technical areas such as medicine and economics.
On one reading, the new law simply codifies what anyone living in Sweden today already knows: Swedish is the language spoken by the most people in Sweden, either as their mother tongue or as a second language.
However, by stating explicitly that Sweden is the country’s “main language” (‘huvudspråk’), the law is also seen as an effort to secure the position of Swedish as the common language in Sweden and the language on which Swedish society rests, according to the Language Council.
As a result, “public bodies have a special responsibility to see that Swedish is used and developed” and to ensure that the language is not displaced entirely in international contexts.
The law also states that anyone living in Sweden should have the ability to “learn, develop, and use” the Swedish language.
In addition to the language law, 27 other laws affecting Swedish residents come into force on July 1st.
Not only are there new laws abolishing the country’s pharmacy and railway monopolies, but subsidies offered to people who purchase environmentally friendly cars are also set to expire.
Sweden has also changed the penalty for murder, allowing for time-defined sentences of 10 to 18 years, in addition to life in prison.
It is also now a crime for adults to seek sexual contact with minors on the internet. A conviction for “grooming”, as it is known, may result in a prison sentence of up to one year.