Sunday, November 7, 2010

Correction! Ruotsalaisuuden päivä or Svenska dagen

I was in a hurry yesterday and did not fully grasp the fact that the little flag on my calendar was not next to Pyhäinpäivä, but rather next to Ruotsalaisuuden päivä.
The shops were closed for the religious holiday, but the flags were flying for Swedish Day. Thank you to Astrid and Mari for letting me know.

Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. About 6 % of Finns speak Swedish as their mother tongue. This multilingualism would send shivers down the necks of some American politicians who find Spanish threatening.

I hope that readers will correct any errors in this post, but here is my unschooled understanding of official bilingualism in Finland:

Swedish speaking Finns and Finnish speaking Finns share a common culture. Sweden controlled Finland for about 600 years and Swedish was the official language with Finnish existing mostly as an oral language. (I have blogged about written Finnish here).

In 1809 Finland became part of Russia. The Finns resisted being part of Russia. The wealthier, better educated Finns of that time spoke Swedish as Swedish had been the language of education. Finnish became the language of independence from both Sweden and Russia. The Swedish speaking Finns had to learn Finnish as part of their movement towards independence and some even changed their names to more Finnish sounding names. Aleksis Kivi and Akseli Gallen-Kallela are examples.

Some of the Finns that we associate with Finnish independence never spoke Finnish flawlessly--Mannerheim for example!

This 2005 article from the New York Times explains how Swedish has been constitutionally protected since independence, but also reports that some Finns today take issue with learning Swedish. I know this from my experience in Turku. My Finnish language teacher explained that her daughter was struggling with her Swedish studies as she prepared for exams and that many Finnish teens resented studying Swedish. They would much rather spend their time on English, French, or German.

I had friends in Turku who were Swedish speaking Finns. One friend explained to Chris that Swedish speaking Finns referred to their community as "the duck pond". You know everyone in it. I watched as the Swedish speaking Finns moved effortlessly between Finnish and Swedish during an Easter brunch. One Finnish speaking professor confessed in a lecture that, while he could speak Swedish, his Swedish speaking friends all reverted to Finnish for his comfort when they were out for a drink.

My daily review of Selkouutiset has kept me up to date on some aspects of bilingualism in Finland. For example, the Prime Minister, Mari Kiviniemi, supports replacing mandatory Swedish language instruction with Russian language instruction in Eastern Finland. Another more recent story explained that some immigrants now wish they hadn't studied Swedish for their citizenship requirements. They may have chosen Swedish as an easier language, but find that Finnish is necessary to really integrate into Finnish society.

So in celebration of Swedish Day in Finland, I post for your enjoyment a flashback to the past,
every American child's first introduction to Swedish-The Swedish Chef!


  1. you wrote "many Finnish teens resented studying Swedish. They would much rather spend their time on English, French, or German." erm ... I think they would really rather just not study! (grin)At least as a teacher that's my experience.

    It should be noted that Swedish is not classed as a foreign language (because it's another mother tongue) and there are many towns e.g. Ekenäs/Raseborg (Tammisaari) where about 3/4 of the population are Swedish speakers. There it's very difficult to manage without Swedish! In the same way as it's very difficult to manage without Finnish in smaller provincial towns in the east. Most Swedish speaking areas are on the coast.

    Swedish speaking Finns are Finnish. They have allegience to Finland not sweden and really like to see the swedes beaten e.g. at international ice hockey matches!!! But the Swedish speaking v. Finnish speaking culture is not exactly the same ... there are differences :)

  2. Thanks for that insight. It is interesting to remember that it is not a foreign language and that distinguishes learning Swedish from learning Russian.