Swedish speaking Finns

Helsinki, 2 degrees

Source

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.

Today like every November 6, Finland celebrates Finnish Swedish Heritage Day, marking the significance of this bilingual country’s “other” official language. I found a wonderful article explaining what this day is all about called How to be Finnish in Swedish on This is Finland and I thought I would share it with you, my dear readers, since I haven't written that much about my mother tongue in earlier posts. Maybe you'll learn more about me as well by reading this post.

In the article Swedish-speaking Finnish journalist Anna-Lena Laurén gives us an inside view of what Swedish means to Finland.

"Finland-Swedish poet Henry Parland (1908–30) once wrote in a letter, “I am a foreigner wherever I go.” The writer had the sort of multifaceted background that is typical of many Finland-Swedes (Swedish-speaking Finns):

Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia to a family with Scottish roots, Parland attended school in German. Although he also knew Russian and Finnish, Swedish was his language of choice for his writing career.

Finland has had a Swedish-speaking population since the 1100s, when Swedish crusaders arrived, but Finland-Swedes possess a much broader cultural and genetic heritage. Russian, German, Scottish and Baltic blood runs in the veins of many Finland-Swedes."

According to Laurén when Parland wrote about being a foreigner wherever he went, he was not only referring to his multicultural background. He probably also meant that it can be extremely difficult to explain your identity to people who believe that nationality and language are one and the same. A Finn who speaks Swedish? What is that?

Source

I agree on the fact that Finland-Swedes adamantly consider themselves Finnish. That means we’re not Swedes who live in Finland, but rather Finns whose mother tongue is Swedish. Multilingual countries are not unique – Europe also contains Belgium and Switzerland – but the misconception that a country can only have one language is still quite common. I think Laurén hit the nail on the head when she says: "So, never ask Finland-Swedes if they root for Finland or Sweden in ice hockey. They’ll find it downright insulting."

Laurén continues by telling that foreign guests often ask why Swedish is an official language in Finland, seeing that Swedish speakers make up only about 6% of the population.

Here's her answer: 
"The answer is that the Swedish language has a cultural and historical significance in Finland that can’t be measured by percentage. For 700 years, Finland was part of Sweden, a period that brought Finland a western European social structure. Rather than becoming a feudal society it became a society made up of free farmers, in contrast to Russia and the Baltics.

When Finnish started to gain ground as a language of administration and creative arts in the 1800s, Swedish-speaking intellectuals spearheaded the process. They looked upon themselves as Finnish patriots. At the same time, Swedish maintained its cultural significance.

A very large portion of Finland’s most important literature was written in Swedish – the national anthem, for example, by national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg. Finland’s best-known composer, Jean Sibelius, was a Swedish speaker, as was Marshal C.G. Mannerheim, who led Finland through the World Wars. In addition to his mother tongue, Mannerheim spoke Russian, German, French and English – and Finnish was actually his weakest language. Note that this didn’t make him any less of a Finn."

Source

I'm happy to read that to this day, Finland-Swedes produce a much larger proportion of literature than you’d expect from 6% of the population. The Moomintrolls, Finland’s biggest export, were created by Finland-Swedish author and artist Tove Jansson. Do you know them?

There are also three Swedish-language theatres in the capital, 15 newspapers around the nation, several radio channels and a TV channel: A whole world of culture and arts exists in Swedish in Finland, parallel to and in dialogue with the Finnish-speaking one.

That’s one of the reasons why the Swedish language is so solidly rooted in Finland. It’s not a foreign language – it’s part of the whole nation’s cultural heritage. Happy Finnish Swedish Heritage Day!


4 comments

  1. Hi Elisabeth, thank you for providing an explanation...its a great and unifying thing that you have a special heritage day allocated to celebrating the Swedish-Finnish connection.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This topic is close to my heart so it felt natural to write about it as well :)

      xxx
      E

      Delete
  2. that was a great post, Elisabeth! I actually didn't know all those facts about your country so it definitely broadened my mind a bit.
    bilingualism has been a sharp topic in my country as well but I find it insulting to insist on speaking Russian when our only national language is beautiful Estonian. I have learned Russian but I simply don't use it at all when I'm in Estonia.
    in my opinion it's polite to learn the national language of the country where you live if you respect that country. if you see what I mean :)

    ps. I have something special waiting for you in my blog! ;)

    Maiken,
    Maikeni blogi - part of me

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Maiken! Of course if a country has only one official language, it is respectful that you learn it. That isn't the case in Finland though since both of the languages are official.

      xxx
      E

      Delete