[lg policy] Re: The debate on mandatory Swedish in Finland's schools

Dave Sayers D.Sayers at SWANSEA.AC.UK
Wed Aug 28 06:02:14 UTC 2013

After I sent this email, I was contacted by Ingrid Piller with an exciting invitation 
to adapt the email for the blog Language on the Move. I expanded on it in a few 
places, and it's now on the site here: http://goo.gl/JeflhE.

Since I'm sending this email, I'll link to another very interesting article I've 
subsequently come across about Swedish and Finnish in Finland: http://goo.gl/x4ZGso. 
It's by a Swedish-speaking Finn, with a mix of personal insights and research findings.

I hope all this doesn't seem as though I'm trying to set up stall as an expert on 
language issues in Finland (that does not describe me at all). I've just been living 
here for a year and come across some interesting comparisons and contrasts to other 
areas of the world, in particular the way the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland is 
stereotyped as wealthy and powerful, which I think is an unusual stereotype -- not 
unique by any means (e.g. Chinese minority in Indonesia), but unusual. Or is it?


Dr. Dave Sayers
Honorary Research Fellow, Arts & Humanities, Swansea University, UK
Visiting Lecturer (2013-14), Dept English, University of Turku, Finland
dave.sayers at cantab.net

On 12/08/2013 09:48, Dave Sayers wrote:
> I don't have a blog so I thought I'd just write all this up as an email to you good 
> people! Enjoy...
> A public petition against mandatory Swedish classes in all Finnish schools has now 
> reached the required 50,000 signatures, meaning it will be debated in Parliament.
> http://yle.fi/uutiset/citizens_against_mandatory_swedish/6771945
> It doesn't seem particularly likely that Parliament will actually grant the wishes 
> of the petitioners, for a few reasons. First and most obviously, co-official status 
> for Finnish and Swedish is written into the Finnish constitution, and changing that 
> would require a large majority of MPs in a relatively diverse multi-party 
> Parliament. Second, although the constitutional provision does not specifically 
> dictate bilingual education, nevertheless it is a long-standing political 
> compromise alongside compulsory Finnish in Swedish-speaking municipalities -- and 
> so any change could affect both languages. Third, Finland is a signatory of the 
> Declaration of Nordic Language Policy which aims to strengthen the teaching of 
> Scandinavian languages. Finnish is not a Scandinavian language, and although 
> Finland is a Nordic country (along with Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden), it is 
> not consistently seen as part of Scandinavia (which tends to refer to just Denmark, 
> Norway and Sweden) and so this could be seen as weakening the ties with other 
> Nordic countries -- one may also speculate about Finnish losing favour in Swedish 
> schools as a result. Fourth (and I hesitate to mention this) is the somewhat 
> conspiratorial noise about powerful Swedish-speaking Finns influencing Finnish 
> corporate hiring practices. This last one bothers me not least because it directly 
> echoes a lot of grim conspiracies in history about oppressed minorities seen as 
> secretly pulling invisible strings (perhaps most frequently Jewish people). Still, 
> these noises are out there and important to understand.
> Having said all this, it is worth pausing for a moment to assess the weight of 
> opinion in this petition. The established threshold of 50,000 signatures for 
> Parliamentary consideration might seem small, but that is almost 1% of the Finnish 
> population -- the equivalent of requiring around 600,000 signatures in the UK, or 
> around 3 million in the USA. For further perspective on this weight of opinion, the 
> top petition on epetitions.direct.gov.uk currently has 262,769 signatures -- around 
> half the level of support for this Finnish poll by proportion of the population. So 
> this is no fringe movement. Meanwhile the Association of Finnish Culture and 
> Identity runs periodic surveys showing broad support for removing the mandatory 
> provision of Swedish. Another factor is the changing demography of Finland, with 
> steady increases especially in the Russian-speaking population, projected to 
> outweigh Swedish-speakers by 2050. Then there's the conspicuous rise of the 
> nationalist 'True Finns' party (a mainstay of the anti-compulsory Swedish campaign) 
> which has grown in representation recently, to about a fifth of Parliamentary seats.
> All this could just be a familiar inward lurch in response to worsening economic 
> circumstances and projected real-terms declines in earnings. It could just be a 
> cloud that lifts with economic recovery. But that recovery is not expected 
> imminently, and so at the very least this debate will lumber on for some time to come.
> See also:
> http://yle.fi/uutiset/6771945
> http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=MnUGMAlShiEC&pg=RA1-PT4
> http://goo.gl/NYolCX
> http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6116529
> http://yle.fi/uutiset/5691132
> www.hs.fi/english/article/1135265088259
> Dave
> -- 
> Dr. Dave Sayers
> Honorary Research Fellow, Arts & Humanities, Swansea University, UK
> Visiting Lecturer (2013-14), Dept English, University of Turku, Finland
> dave.sayers at cantab.net
> http://swansea.academia.edu/DaveSayers

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