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Language Report Swedish in Finland (2016)



Location: Spoken in Sweden and in Finland (mainly coastal region). There is also a small minority of speakers in North Western Estonia.

Number of Speakers: 10.5 million worldwide. Sweden has more than 90 percent of the speakers. Approx. 9.2 million inhabitants speak it as mother tongue (no official language registration).

In Finland there are around 291,219 speakers, which is 5.4% of the population and they register themselves as Swedish-speaking (date from 31.12.2011). Of the Swedish speaking Finns approx. 25,000 of these live in the Åland Islands, which is an autonomous province with Swedish as the official language.

In North Western Estonia only a few speak it as mother tongue, and there are no official figures. Most of the 8,000 Swedish-speaking Estonians fled to Sweden during the Second World War. Today, approximately 1,000 people are believed to belong to the Swedish-speaking Estonians.
Migrant communities of Swedish speakers are present in USA (approx 76,000) and Canada (approx 17,000), however their language skills are not known.

Legal status: In Sweden it is the official language. With five more recognized minority languages spoken in the country (2010): Finnish, Meänkieli, Sámi, Romani and Jiddish.
In Finland, Finnish and Swedish are official national languages with an equal footing, making the country bilingual. The Language Act (2003) contains provisions on the rights of citizens to use both languages before a court of law, when in contact with state authorities and with municipal authorities in bilingual municipalities.
In Estonia, since 2007, the Swedish minority has a cultural administration of its own, led by the elected Cultural Council (under the Ministry of Culture).

Swedish language community in Finland
Due to the official language registration (mother tongue) in Finland, we have exact numbers of the Finnish and Swedish speakers, as well as of people speaking other languages. In 1880, the number of Swedish-speakers in Finland was approx 295,000, or 14.3 % of the population. The number increased steadily until the 1940 to around 354,000 (however the percentage was only 9.6 % by then). From the 1940’s onwards the Swedish-speaking population decreased rapidly and this was mainly due to the large immigration to Sweden during many decades following the war etc. The actual numbers, with the population was at its lowest in 2005, there were 289,251 Swedish-speaker Finns (5.5% of the population). However, during the past five years, there has been a slight increase in the number of Swedish-speaker Finns. In 2011 approx 291,219 speakers were recorded, and the forecast is that there will be 300,000 speakers in 2030.

A positive development is that bilingual families show an increasing interest in the Swedish language. This can be seen both in how parents register their children according to language, and in the large number of pupils that are enrolled in Swedish schools. Nowadays, about two-thirds of the children born in bilingual families (with one parent Finnish and the other a Swedish-speaker) are officially registered as Swedish speakers, and an even larger number of them are enrolled in Swedish schools.

Day-care and education in Swedish is the obvious choice for Swedish-speaking families along with many bilingual families. In Finland, each child has the right to attend day-care, pre-school and school in the own language be it Finnish or Swedish. This does not apply only in the Swedish or bilingual municipalities, but must also be provided wherever there is a demand for it.
In 1968, Swedish became a compulsory subject for every student in Finland. But whereas most Swedish-speaking pupils start learning Finnish in the third grade, a large majority of the Finnish-speaking pupils tend to start much later, usually in the seventh grade (from 2016, this will be changed to the 6th grade, at the latest).

The linguistic rights are guaranteed in the Constitution, whereas the Language Act (2003) specifies the rights before the courts of law, in contact with state authorities and with municipal authorities in bilingual municipalities. In Finland, municipalities are either unilingual (Finnish or Swedish) or bilingual, with either Finnish or Swedish majority. A municipality is considered bilingual if at least 8% or 3,000 people are registered as belonging to the minority group. The linguistic rights are dependent on the status of the municipality (which in Finland is the authority responsible for a large number of public service, from day-care and education to basic health care).

The Swedish language in Finland is said to have the best minority status in the world, however… during the past years, there have been problems in implementing the Act in practice regarding public services in Swedish, especially in the health care sector, before courts and in contact with state authorities (especially the police). This has been brought up by the Finnish Government in two reports to the Parliament (2006 and 2009). As a consequence of this, the Government formed an official working group in late 2011, headed by the Prime Minister, to write a Strategy for the Two National Languages, with recommendations regarding different sectors of administration and public life, for the effective implementation of the linguistic rights set out in the Language Act. The Strategy was published in December 2012. It remains to be seen if it will lead to a better implementation of the language provisions.






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