Swedish 101

Swedish is the national language of Sweden and the first language for the overwhelming majority of roughly eight million Sweden-born inhabitants and acquired by one million immigrants. In mainland Finland Swedish is spoken as a first language by about 10% or about 500,000 people. The Finland-Swedish minority is concentrated to the coastal areas and archipelagos of southern and western Finland. In these areas, Swedish is often the dominating language. In three cases, in the municipalities of Korsnäs (97% Swedish speakers), Närpes and Larsmo, Swedish is the only official language. In several more, it is the majority language and it is an official minority language in even more. There is considerable migration between the Nordic countries, but due to the similarity between the languages and cultures, expatriates generally assimilate quickly and do not stand out as a group. According to the 2004 US census some 67,000 people age five and over were reported as Swedish speakers, though without any information on actual language proficiency.

Official Status

Sweden has had a comparatively homogeneous culture, with Swedish the dominant language for most of its modern history. Language minorities such as Samis have been small and often marginalized, during the 19th and early 20th century even actively suppressed. Although Swedish has been the administrative and liturgical language since the early 16th century, it has not been deemed necessary to formally prescribe it as the official language of Sweden.

Swedish is the sole official language of Åland, an autonomous province under the sovereignty of Finland, where 95% of the 26,000 inhabitants speak Swedish as a first language. In Finland, Swedish is the second national language alongside Finnish. Swedish is also one of the official languages of the European Union.

Regulatory Bodies

There are no official regulatory institutions for the Swedish language. The Swedish Language Council (Svenska språknämnden) has semi-official status as such and is funded by the Swedish government, but does not attempt to enforce control of the language, as for instance the Académie française does. Among the many organizations that make up the Swedish Language Council, the Swedish Academy (established 1786) is arguably the most influential. Its primary instruments are the dictionaries Svenska Akademiens Ordlista and Svenska Akademiens Ordbok, in addition to various books on grammar, spelling and manuals of style. Even though the dictionaries are sometimes used as official decrees of the language, their main purpose is to describe current usage.

In Finland a special branch of the Research Institute for the Domestic Languages of Finland has official status as the regulatory body for Swedish in Finland. Among its highest priorities is to maintain intelligibility with the language spoken in Sweden. It has published Finlandssvensk ordbok, a dictionary about the differences between Swedish in Finland and in Sweden from their point of view.

Featured Video