This blog, obviously, focuses on Swedish, the official language of Sweden. But there are several official minority languages in Sweden as well – these include Finnish, Sámi, Meänkieli, Romani, and Yiddish.
Back in 2000, the country also ratified the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. This charter offers a lot of protection for regional and minority languages. A “regional or minority language” is defined by the Charter as one that is used within a certain territory that is different than the official language of that territory. The language must be used by a minority group, that is to say one that is smaller than the remainder of the population, for example, Sámi up in northern Sweden. Sweden determines these languages by the cultural significance of the language, the community using the language, and even the amount of time the language has been spoken in Sweden, which is why some languages, despite large populations in Sweden, are not designated as regional or minority languages.
There are a whole lot of different articles within the Charter, but essentially, it calls for all signing countries to acknowledge, respect, maintain, and even encourage the further use of minority or regional languages. This includes the promotion of the languages, the teaching of the languages, the encouragement of everyday usage of the languages in speech and in writing, and the creation of links between groups using languages in similar ways.
Of course, this can be tricky. With education, for example, the Charter calls for countries to encourage or provide education at all levels in the regional or minority language, but only “if the number of users of a regional or minority language justifies it.” This is an important but and one that is open to a lot of interpretation in terms of what constitutes sufficient numbers.
But why are we writing about this now? There are about 500,000 people in Sweden who have close connections to the Finnish language, either they speak Finnish or their families do. With that in mind, just recently, the Finnish language was added as an optional language in preschools and also nursing homes in eight additional cities. This brings the total of cities in Sweden offering these sorts of services for Finnish to 48. Sweden is said to be making a concerted effort to continue supporting these minority and regional languages.
What’s it like in your country? Does your government support the minority and regional languages that continue to be used in your country?