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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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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.

Story continues below…

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.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

18:07 July 1, 2009 by Omaro
What an important new law about swedish language.
18:36 July 1, 2009 by Nemesis
Took long enough.

What happened to cause the sudden rush of sanity?

Dig someone drug up the entire Rikstag?
19:10 July 1, 2009 by Andy from NYC
Fair amount in English spoken in these parts, but happy, oy so happy that Yiddish is one of the other five...
20:38 July 1, 2009 by justanotherexpat
In other news, the government officially declares that surströmming is "food", passes a law that all fika breaks should be 30 mins long (45 for tjänstemän) and that Ulf Lundell's "Öppna Landskap" is the new national anthem..........
22:13 July 1, 2009 by Greg in Canada
Sweden is the main language of the Swedes, Duh. Who would have ever guessed. :-)
10:27 July 2, 2009 by RoyceD
Taking away incentives for people to buy economically friendly cars.... Volvo and Saab brands in economic crisis... can you join the dots??? Who is running this country anyway???

And secondly, conviction for being a sexual predator being deemed by a term known as grooming to be punished by... one year in prison... but no mention if also banning the pervert from ever using the internet again etc... why not try and also at least say that if you try and coerce young children into being molested not only do you face prison time, we will also do our best to make sure this never happens again if we (the state) deem it safe to let you out of our prisons.

Come on this is 2009 and we are still letting society be degraded by this system we now live in.
12:37 July 2, 2009 by Brucelee@stockholm.sweden
What the hell Sweden has relationship with Yiddish , a Jewish language, curiosity.
12:45 July 2, 2009 by Dr. Dillner
Hug a child = go to jail . . . dangerous thing this "grooming" word.
16:21 July 2, 2009 by jimmyjames
Lets see the entire population of the Swedish nation is less than the population of Metro Los Angeles, Metro Chicago, Metro New York, Metro Houston ( get the gist?) AND there are probably as many English speakers in Sweden as there are in the aforementioned US cities yet English is omitted as an officially recognized language...now on the other hand there are probably enough Yiddish speakers in Sweden to make up a good size party in my back-yard and it is an officially recognized language. I'm beginning to think Swedes are not overly Liberal, nor are they overly stupid...no,no...they are just down right GOFFY !!!! Hey, you Swedes !!! there are medications that can help you with your reality issues however I've never heard of dosing AN ENTIRE FREAKING COUNTRY. Jesus, what freaking morans.
17:04 July 2, 2009 by Streja
??? English has not been a minority language traditionally in Sweden, Yiddish has.

Come back in 50 years when ohhhh wait I forgot, most "expats" will have left Sweden by then.

These new laws are laws that the government promised to do when they were trying to be elected and when they came to power. 1 July is historically the date Swedish governments use for new laws to come into effect.

17:10 July 2, 2009 by Miss Kitten
What part of Sweden do you live in?
17:28 July 2, 2009 by Streja
I still don't understad why people in this thread want English to be an official language. Do they want to be lazy and not learn Swedish or what?

Jimmyjames, why should English be an offiicil language in Sweden?
20:52 July 2, 2009 by 7
better to be goffy morans than a goofy moron.
23:53 July 2, 2009 by justanotherexpat
English is hardly a minority language in Sweden - and with all due respect, it has sweet fannyadams to do with being too lazy to learn Sveedisch...........why should we bother when most people we meet are quite happy to speak Änglisch even when I try to speak Sveedisch with them anyway??

Good point though about Yiddish - surely Kurdish is more widely-spoken.........but hey, say anything remotely controversial about anything related to Israel and hey well that social conscience from WW2 kicks in........oops was that the sound of my accouunt being deleted for daring to express an opinion? ;)
10:14 July 3, 2009 by jack sprat
Interesting that at a time when other languages are increasingly being used here, that the Govt feels it necessary to pass a law, to state that the native Swedish language shall be the main language.

Regardless of laws,languages tend to make a natural progression,...

In other words its a case of "What will be,Will be".

Apart from languages spoken in the mainly immigrant areas,I doubt many would deny that English has had an increasing influence in recent years with most of the younger generation now very comfortable with it and happy to use it when the occasion arises.

Circumstances will dictate, rather than a Swedish govt law, and with English looked upon as the international language in relation to quite a few things, plus the increase in international travel,(Swedish not being much use outside Sweden),plus the massive internet influence some would say its simply a matter of time.

Who knows in 50 or 100 years you may have to switch on the TV or whatever at a certain time of day for an hour or so in order to still hear a native language programme?

Kay Sera Sera.
10:10 July 4, 2009 by byke
This law will breach multiple human rights agreements that Sweden had signed. **Yet again**

If you remember the EU has heavily criticized multicultural diversity and non acceptance to minority languages in sweden.

If I could make 1 change, I would look heavily into swedish education of 1 particular subject.

And that subject would be "English" as at present Sweden doesnt teach English to the same standard it does with other languages such as French or German. At present Swedes are generally taught a watered down version of Panglish.

Sweden is definitely in a tough situation, that is very dangerous.

The simple truth is mass immigration is needed for the Swedish low end workforce which with the latest laws appears to further divide a 2 tear system of laws for white swedes against immigrants.

I am originally English and have lived here for over 16 years and never seen such a scary divide.
20:32 July 7, 2009 by spy

Unfortunately for you gibberish has yet to be officially recognised but don't worry I will continue to read your comments with mild curiosity.
01:46 July 23, 2009 by Norum
This took long enough, but I am happy this has been finally done.

To Greg from Canada - the problem was that up until now, Swedish was just a de facto language, not an official one. It is the same as in the USA, where English is not an official, but de facto language.

What this would lead in here was that in a 100 years, Swedish would become an extinct language.

If I have learned English, a foreigner coming here can learn Swedish.
12:31 July 23, 2009 by Streja
I wonder if the English in Britain think it's good if immigrants don't bother learning English when moving to England.

It's really worth while to wind people up on this forum, especially the men. They get so upset and start posting weird posts.
12:59 July 23, 2009 by Kieruk
This is a lot different from the British scenario...as English people don't speak very good ...ummm, anything else really!... so any immigrant would not be able to communicate to the vast majority of the country.

However, in Sweden a very very large part of what you want and need to do as an imigrant you can do on English alone, or with very little Swedish. I have not had any problems at all since arriving here 6 months ago, and although I am learning Swedish, I find it hard to practice much, because as soon as its obvious I am english Swedes like to 'practise' their English on me.
13:14 July 23, 2009 by Streja
Yeah I know Kieruk. My sambo had the same problem. You don't have a Swedish sambo do you? I can't remember if you said. Lots of Swedes are morons, like this landlord we have right now. He keeps speaking his not so good English to my sambo although my sambo knows Swedish and he and I only speak Swedish to each other now! Last time he came to chat with my sambo I butted in and started talking in Swedish to make the nutter realise that my man knows Swedish quite well! He's not into writing long essays in Swedish or anything but he speaks it and understands it well. We went to the bank and spoke only Swedish. I'm so proud of him, plus Swedish with an English accent is sooooo yummy!!!
13:19 July 23, 2009 by Kieruk
I have the problem the other way around it seems...people keep forgettign I don't know Swedish and have a conversation in Swedish, and then ask my opinion (in Swedish) and I say something like 'sorry, I only got abotu 6 words of that...I know you are talking about ***** but I have no idea of the specifics' and then they have the whole conversation again in English

And no, I have no sambo (Swedish or otherwise) just an english girlfriend who visits lots (but isn't that bothered about learning Swedish as she has no plans to move here)
13:24 July 23, 2009 by Streja
IN Göteborg there is a language café. I don't know if there is one in Stockholm. It's a good idea.
13:32 July 23, 2009 by Kieruk

What does it do??
13:41 July 23, 2009 by Streja
They have tables where people who want to learn a language get together and speak it. Everyone is a foreigner who wants to practice the language chosen. They have English, Spanish, Italian, French etc nights.
13:44 July 23, 2009 by Kieruk
Now that IS cool! Might have to give that a go when I visit...!
13:52 July 23, 2009 by Streja
It's called Språkcaféet. For some reason the link doesn't work.
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