Query (Me änkieli)

Ante Aikio ante.aikio at oulu.fi
Wed Oct 31 08:09:07 UTC 2012

(Dear list members:
I forward the message below from Laura Arola (University of Oulu), who is not subscribed to the list.
-- Ante Aikio)


A comment from a researcher of Meänkieli:

Meänkieli IS an official language in Sweden. It is both strange and offensive for Meänkieli activists that its status as a language, gained with hard work, is nowadays still constantly questioned,mostly by Fenno-Ugrian scholars. I personally do not understand where this idea comes from and what is the need for it, as it is their language, not mine, and it is inappropriate for a linguist to argue against the speakers' own linguistic self-identification. And on the other hand, why would we then classify Swedish and Norwegian as separate languages as they clearly are parts of the same dialect continuum? We consider them languages because they have the status of a language, as well as independent literary standards. But this applies to Meänkieli and Kven, too. It is inconsistent to maintain that Meänkieli is not a "language", and at the same time accept that Swedish (another official language of Sweden) is a language.

Certainly there is some debate on the issue in the area, but much less than earlier. A significant number of speakers identify their language as Meänkieli. Many of them might call the language "Tornedalsfinska" (Tornedalian Finnish), but both in personal life and during my studies I have met very few speakers who would identify their language with (Finland) Finnish or Standard Finnish. On the contrary, the distinction between "our language" (regardless of whether it is called Meänkieli, Tornedalian Finnish, Village Finnish, Norbotten Finnish, Gällivare Finnish, or whatever) and the language in Finland or the Sweden Finnish language is always mentioned. Also the mutual intelligibility is rather low when it comes to speakers of Meänkieli understanding modern Finnish. That a Finnish speaker with skills in Swedish understands Meänkieli well is not evidence for Meänkieli not being a distinct language in the minds ofMeänkieli speakers.

As regards the number of speakers, there are no good statistics. The following information is from 'Case-Specific Report of Meänkieli', pre-final version (the ELDIA project).

"As stated many times, “Official Swedish statistics contain no information on the ethnic background of individuals and no census has contained questions about ethnic origin or language in recent years.” (Spiliopoulou Åkermark & Huss 2006: 577.) The only study regarding the number of Finnish and Meänkieli speakers in the whole country is made in 2005, when Radioundersökningar (RUAB 2006) took a sample of the entire population of Sweden and made 35 829 telephone interviews, in which the first question was whether the respondent “undestands or speaks Finnish or Torne Valley Finnish”. The possible options included “Yes, Finnish”, “Yes, Meänkieli”, and “Yes, both”. According to this simple survey, a total of 5,2% (4,7% Finnish and 1,7% Meänkieli) of the residents of Sweden and 28% of theresidents of Norrbotten either understands or speaks Finnish or Torne Valley Finnish.

The number of speakers has been estimated by government, researchers and minority. However, the estimates may outdatequickly due to aging of population. According to the Minority Committee Reports (SOU 1997:192 and 193), Government Bill 1998/99:143, and Hyltenstam the approximate size of the groups is: Tornedalians 75 000, Meänkieli speakers 50 000. (Spiliopuolou Åkermark and Huss 2006: 557.) The UTSKOTT of Swedish Parliament came to the conclusion that there are 50 000 – 60 000 Meänkieli speakers, plus 16 000 people of Finnish origin in Swedish Torne Valley who know both Finnish and Meänkieli (Konstitutionsutskottets betänkande 1999/2000:KU06). In the official area the number of speakers is often considered to be 25 000 – 40 000 (Wande 2003: 22). Winsa (1998: 206) estimates that there are 20 000 – 35 000 speakers in Torne Valley and additional 15 000 – 25 000 outside of the area. STR-T states that there are 40 000 – 70 000 speakers in the whole country. The latest estimates have been made by Parkvall (2009: 22), who consideres the amount of speakers being much lower than earlier estimates, that is 30 000. Parkvall’s methodology and results have been criticised byactivists."

There are very little speakers under 40-50 years and most speakers are over 65. Personally I am aware of less than 10-20 families where language is transmitted to children (if we do not count families where one parent is from Finland). There are no language nests or Meänkieli medium day care or schools to produce more speakers.

Laura Arola
University of Oulu

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