• Sweden's news in English

Introducing: Sweden's five minority languages

The Local · 20 Aug 2014, 11:45

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Refugee crisis
Asylum requests in Sweden down by 70 percent
Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed.

The unique story of Stockholm's floating libraries
The Stockholm archipelago book boat. Photo: Roger Hill.

Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places.

Refugee crisis
Second Stockholm asylum centre fire in a week
The new incident follows a similar fire in Fagersjö last week (pictured). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday.

More misery for Ericsson as losses pile up
Ericsson interim CEO Jan Frykhammar presenting its third quarter results. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant.

Facebook 'sorry' for removing Swedish cancer video
A computer displaying Facebook's landing page. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts.

Watch this amazing footage of Sweden’s landscapes
A still from the aerial footage of Sweden. Photo: Nate Summer-Cook

The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north.

Sweden could be allowed to keep border controls: EU
Police ID checks at Hyllie station in southern Sweden. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Sweden could be allowed to keep ID controls on its border with Denmark beyond the current end date of November, following discussions among EU leaders in Brussels last night.

Why women in Sweden will work for free by November
File photo of a woman working in a Swedish office. Photo: Anders Willund/TT

A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do.

Look familiar? Meet your jawbone's ancestor
Thank God for evolution, eh?

There's something fishy about the human jawbone – it has its origins in the placodermi, a jowly species of fish that lived 400 million years ago, Swedish and Chinese researchers say.

Isis claims unremarked arson attack in Malmö
The arson attack took place on Norra Grängesbergsgatan in Malmö. File photo: Emil Langvad/TT

An arson attack in Malmö that caused only minor damage and was barely reported in the media has been claimed by terror group Isis.

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Here's where it could snow in central Sweden this weekend
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden's 'a-kassa'
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
People-watching: October 12th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available