Query (Me änkieli)

Merlijn De Smit merlijn.de.smit at finska.su.se
Wed Oct 31 16:42:34 UTC 2012


I think defining linguistic status according to strictly linguistic-
historical criteria is that it has never been consistently done in Finnic
research in any event. Otherwise we would speak of SW Finnish and Savo
as different languages (in accordance with the taxonomy of Sammallahti
1977 at least). There's the additional issue that the uncertainties 
about the internal taxonomy of e.g. Finnic would be too high to
distinguish languages and dialects on its basis (fortunately so. It keeps
busy ;-)).

The criterium of speaker identity is problematic because it's perfectly
possible to have a historically distinct language which does not coincide
with a distinct identity or which is not even consistently distinguished
a closely related variety by its speakers. My impression is that this is
case with Votic with Votic-Ingrian bilinguals.

Mutual intelligibility as a criterion I am uncomfortable with because it
very hard to quantify, and it seems to be based on idealized, perfectly
monolingual speakers.
For example, the tiny little bit I know about Frisian would probably
affect my 
understanding of Frisian a little. So one can't test the linguistic
between Dutch and Frisian with me. And this would go for probably most
of Dutch. Not to speak of Frisians who are all bilingual in Dutch. And
what is 
the use of a criterion that cannot be used in practice?

The only solution I see is to "muddle ahead" with the hodge-podge of
criteria we
have: historical taxonomy, mutual intelligibility, standardization, the
of a specific distinct speech-community with (perhaps) a specific ethnic
or linguistic
identity, etc. Which is impossible to do entirely consistently but that's
just the 
way it is. For purposes of research, e.g. the historical development of
Meänkieli or
the sociolinguistics of its usage in Sweden, it's really not that relevant
it is a language or a dialect. For purposes of collecting speaker
statistics on
Uralic minority languages, its political/sociolinguistic status as a
language would
seem to me decisive.


Merlijn de Smit

> 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
> http://www.mv.helsinki.fi/home/jphakkin/
> 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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