Query (Me änkieli)

jphakkin at mappi.helsinki.fi jphakkin at mappi.helsinki.fi
Wed Oct 31 13:22:05 UTC 2012

Very interesting conversation.

I think we should here distinguish two different levels:
1. Identity of the speakers
2. Linguistic status

With most of the Uralic languages these levels agree: the vernaculars,  
which the speakers themselves consider separate, are also different at  
the linguistic level. But problems arise with the cases like  
Meänkieli. The reason, why it is not seen as a separate language from  
the linguistic viewpoint, is that there are for example hardly any(?)  
sound changes distinguishing it from the Far-Bothnian dialects of  
Finland. I don't have Martti Airila's old book available at the  
moment, but such sound changes would be crucial in order to  
linguistically separate Meänkieli from Finnish across the state border.

Swedish and Norwegian, and Swedish and Danish clearly are different  
vernaculars with different developments in the phonological level, as  
well as in other levels of language. Mixed or intermediary dialects  
cannot change this fact: the "nucleus" Swedish is clearly a separate  
language. Furthermore, the split of the Nordic languages has occurred  
long time ago, during the first millennium AD.

 From the linguistic viewpoint Meänkieli does not appear as an  
independent language, because:
- it is hardly distinguishable from the Far-Bothnian dialects of  
Finnish in EVERY level of language
- it has split off from those dialects only since the Medieval times,  
after the Old Karelian influence reached the Far-Bothnian dialects.

The same points go with Kven, although it split off even later.  
Especially Meänkieli has borrowed heavily from the majority language,  
which of course makes it rather unintelligible. Still, it is a matter  
of definition whether this kind of situation is seen as a separate  
language or special jargon etc. – similarly I don't understand spoken  
Teekkari, although it has no sound changes distinguishing it from my  
native Finnish. ;)

I emphasize that this is not contradicting the separate identity of  
the speakers of Meänkieli, because the identity and the linguistic  
status are independent factors. The separate identity of the Meänkieli  
speakers is for certain affected also by the political situation: they  
live in another country, not in Finland, so it is hard for them to  
feel a connection to Finns at the level of identity.

It is important to understand that we are talking about different  
levels here. Anyone who wants to present numbers of speakers should  
explicitly tell which level (s)he is applies: the linguistic viewpoint  
or the identity viewpoint.

Jaakko Häkkinen

jaakko.hakkinen at helsinki.fi

Lainaus "Ante Aikio" <ante.aikio at oulu.fi>:

> (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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