This Is Why Swedish Is the Official Language of Finland


Many people wonder why Swedish is one of the official languages of Finland. The Finnish language is more understandable to a lot of people, but the Swedish language requires a little more explanation. So how did this come to be?

That the Swedish language is one of the official languages of Finland is rooted in the historical period in which Finland was a part of Sweden. Though less than 10% of Finnish people speak Swedish today, the language was important in the country from the 16th century to the late 19th century.

Swedish became one of the official languages of Finland in 1863. Before and after that time, it was considered more of a formal language, while Finnish was considered more common.

Swedish may be used in courts and schools for example, but Finnish would be spoken in many homes and at many non-elite social gatherings.

Swedish and Finnish have interesting histories in Finland and their current use has changed over the years. The article below provides interesting details on these facts.

Most people in Finland Speak Finnish

When people start to learn more about Finland, such as when they are preparing a trip to visit the Scandinavian nation, Finnish is understandably the first language to come to mind.

First, the name of the language and the name of the country are practically identical.

Second, a person may even know that the majority of the Finnish population speaks Finnish. In fact, about 90-95% of people in Finland speak Finnish. [1] 

Yet some may wonder: What about the rest of the country?

Approximately 5% of the population of Finland speaks Swedish as their native language. Despite the small number, Swedish is equal with Finnish in terms of being a national language. However, practically, Swedish isn’t equal with Finnish because of its limited use.

Finland Swedish

The Swedish spoken by residents of Finland is pronounced slightly differently than the Swedish spoken in Sweden. They also refer to Finland Swedish as Suomenruotsi.

While the majority of the nation’s population is familiar with the Swedish language, it is mostly spoken by those who live in the southern and western coast of Finland.

The four main regions where Swedish is spoken are:

  • Uusimaa
  • Aland Islands
  • Ostrobothnia
  • Southwest Finland

Even though the pronunciation of the Swedish language varies between Finland and Sweden residents, for the most part they are still able to understand each other well enough to carry out a conversation. [2]

A lot of native Swedish speakers consider Finland Swedish to be dialects of Swedish varieties. 

It is not true that Finish Swedish is just Swedish spoken with a Finnish accent:

“A common misconception among many Swedes is that Finland Swedish is simply Swedish spoken with a Finnish accent, something that can be a considerable source of frustration to most native Swedish-speakers in Finland.” [2]

The Roots of Swedish in Finland

Back in the 16th century Finland was a part of Sweden. Swedish was considered the main language taught in schools and used for jurisdiction and administration.

However, most Finland citizens would speak Finnish in casual social situations. Swedish was considered a more formal language.

It wasn’t until 1863 that both Finnish and Swedish became official languages of the country, both having an equal status. 

In 1900 Helsinki, the capital of Finland, became a predominantly Finnish-speaking city. A few decades later in 1917, the country of Finland declared independence and Finnish started to take over as the country’s main language spoken. 

The government and society all began to use Finnish on a regular basis, making Swedish less common among everyday conversations.

For more than 100 years, Finland has been known as a bilingual country. The urbanization and Industrial Revolution of the 20th century have prompted more Finnish speakers in each city. 

Although Swedish still remains one of the official languages of Finland, it is less common to be the main language spoken.

The one exception to this is the province of Aland Islands. They have remained a mainly Swedish speaking community. 

The Swedish they speak is more similar to the native Sweden spoken Swedish as opposed to the Swedish most citizens of Finland speak. 

Swedish on the Aland Islands

The Swedish language still remains an important part of Finland’s heritage because it is the main language used in the province of Aland Island.

This island is the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. It is the only single-language Swedish region of Finland. This was a decision agreed upon in 1920 by the League of Nations.

The Aland Islands is the smallest region of Finland. It only makes up 0.51 % of the land and 0.54 % of the population.

There are thousands of islands making up Aland Islands, but only 60 of them are inhabited. The most populated of the Aland Islands is Fasta Aland, which is located just 38 kilometers away from the coast of Sweden. 

Aland Islands is largely exercised by its own government, separate from the provincial powers exercised among the rest of Finland. 

This can be dated back to 1850, right after the Aland War there was a Paris Peace Treaty which formed the current neutral position of Aland Islands. [3]

Thinking about moving to Finland?

For anyone who is considering applying for immigration to Finland a certificate of sufficient proficiency of either Finnish or Swedish is necessary. 

Since Finland is so close to Sweden, this is why Swedish is an official language in Finland. It makes it easier for citizens of Sweden to do business or go to school in Finland. 

Swedish can be used with all government authorities and registrations. Anyone who does plan to apply for immigration to Finland with Swedish being their language of choice, it is important to choose a bilingual region of Finland. 

While the country has two official languages, each region is different. Some regions are monolingual and only speak Finnish, while others are bilingual and people can get around only speaking Swedish.

While a Swedish speaking immigrant can make a life for themselves in the province of Aland Islands, if they intend to live elsewhere they should learn the language of Finnish. 

It is difficult to find a job or make friends for people in Finland when they are not familiar with Finnish.

Government business in Finland

Most government offices in Finland offer Finnish-speaking services.

“Municipalities in Finland can be either monolingual or bilingual.

Most of the municipalities in Finland are Finnish-speaking.

There are bilingual municipalities on the southern and western coasts.

If your municipality of residence is bilingual, you can also use Swedish with municipal services, such as the health centre.” [2]

Thinking about learning Swedish?

For Finland natives, Swedish integration is always a good idea. It can improve their skills in the language in case they ever want to travel nearby to Sweden. It will also come in handy for traveling to bilingual regions of Finland. 

While most jobs in Finland require a strong knowledge of Finnish, being bilingual increases their chances for finding better-paying jobs in Finland.

Some regions in Finland offer Swedish language training to teach their natives the basics of the language. Many workplaces also offer additional Swedish language training if it is necessary for the positions. 

Finland offers numerous resources for Swedish language training, including educational institutes, language counselors, summer programs, and online training. They offer courses, exercises, and games to help individuals get a better grasp of the language.

The counselors work to help students read, write, and speak Swedish. They help students get a better understanding of their grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. This helps prepare them to have fluent conversations in Swedish. 

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finland_Swedish#History

[2] https://www.infofinland.fi/en/living-in-finland/finnish-and-swedish/swedish-language-in-finland

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%85land_Islands

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