Kven language

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Native to Norway
Native speakers
2,000–8,000 (2005?)[1]
Official status
Official language in
(Minority language)
Regulated by Kven language board
Language codes
ISO 639-3 fkv
Glottolog kven1236[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Kven language is a Finnic language spoken in northern Norway by the Kven people. For political and historical reasons, it received the status of a minority language in 2005 within the framework of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Linguistically, however, it is seen as a mutually intelligible dialect of the Finnish language, and grouped together with the Peräpohjola dialects such as Meänkieli, spoken in Torne Valley in Sweden.

Contrary to popular belief, the dialects spoken by the Kvens and Kainuu peoples are not closely related. The Kainuu dialect is one of the Savonian dialects that was formed from the 16th century onwards, when immigrants from Savonia started to settle in the northern wastelands.[citation needed]

The Kven language has come to incorporate many Norwegian loanwords, such as tyskäläinen (from the Norwegian word tysk, meaning German) instead of standard Finnish saksalainen. The Kven language also uses some old Finnish words that are no longer used in Finland.

Official status[edit]

From the 1860s onwards the Norwegian government attempted to assimilate the Kvens. For example, the use of the Kven language became forbidden in schools and government offices, and Kven town names were replaced by Norwegian names. From 1970s onwards, the Kvens and the Sami in Norway have openly been allowed to use their original native languages, the Kven language and the Sami languages, respectively, and to teach them to their children in schools. Despite its recent gain of status as a minority language, there is still a major discussion among the Kven about whether the Finnish orthography should be applied to the language or if a new orthography should be devised.

Since 2006, it has been possible to study the Kven culture and language at the University of Tromsø,[3] and in 2007 the Kven language board was formed at the Kven institute, a national centre for Kven language and culture in Børselv, Norway. The council will work out a written Kven language, but use Finnish orthography to maintain inter-Finnish language understanding.[4]

Geographic distribution[edit]

Today, most speakers of Kven are found in two Norwegian communities, Storfjord and Porsanger. A few speakers can be found other places, such as Bugøynes, Neiden, Vestre Jakobselv, Vadsø, and Nordreisa.

In northeastern Norway, mainly around Varanger Fjord, the spoken language is quite similar to standard Finnish, whereas the Kven spoken west of Alta, due to the area's close ties to the Torne Valley area along the border between Finland and Sweden, is more closely related to the Meänkieli Finnish spoken there.

In government report from 2005, the number of people speaking Kven in Norway is estimated to be between 2,000 and 8,000, depending on the criteria used. However, there are very few young people who speak it, making it an endangered language.[1]


The phonology of Kven is basically the same as that of Finnish. It is however worth noting that while Standard Finnish has been replacing /ð/ by /d/, it is retained in Kven. For instance, the word meiđän ('our') in Kven is meidän in Standard Finnish.


Kven has 16 vowels, if one includes the vowel length:

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i iː y yː u uː
Mid e eː ø øː o oː
Open æ æː ɑ ɑː

In writing, the vowel length is indicated by doubling the letter, e.g. ⟨yy⟩ /yː/ and ⟨öö⟩ /øː/.

The graphemes representing /ø/, /æ/ and /ɑ/ are ⟨ö⟩, ⟨ä⟩ and ⟨a⟩, respectively.


Kven has 14 consonants found in native vocabulary, and four consonants found in loanwords:

Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ h
voiced ð
Trill r
Approximant ʋ l j

/b, d, ɡ, ʃ/ are only found in loanwords.

/ʋ/ and /ʃ/ are represented in writing by ⟨v⟩ and ⟨š⟩, respectively.

/ð/ is represented in writing by ⟨đ⟩.

/ŋ/ is represented in writing by ⟨n⟩ if followed by /k/, and ⟨ng⟩ if geminated, i.e. ⟨nk⟩ /ŋk/ and ⟨ng⟩ /ŋː/

Gemination is indicated in writing by doubling the letter, e.g. ⟨mm⟩ for /mː/ and ⟨ll⟩ for /lː/



Kvääninkieli oon se kieli mitä kväänit
oon puhuhneet ja vielä tääpänäki puhhuuvat,
ja mikä oon säilyny ruottalaistumisen
ja norjalaistumisen läpi minuriteettikielenä.
Minun mielestä Torniolakson «meiän kieliki»
oon vanhaa kvääninkieli tahi vanhaala
meiđän kielelä kaihnuunkieli.

Standard Finnish:

Kveenin kieli on se kieli, jota kveenit
ovat puhuneet ja vielä tänä päivänäkin puhuvat,
ja joka on säilynyt ruotsalaistumisen
ja norjalaistumisen läpi vähemmistökielenä.
Minun mielestäni Torniolaakson "meidän kielikin"
on vanhaa kveenin kieltä tai vanhalla
meidän kielellämme kainun kieltä.

Literal English translation:

The Kven language is the language which the Kvens
have spoken and still today speak,
and which has survived through Swedenization
and Norwegianization as a minority language.
In my opinion "meänkieli" of Torne Valley
is also an old Kven language
or in our old language, Kainu language.

External links[edit]



  1. ^ a b Kainun Institutti
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kven Finnish". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ University of Tromsø
  4. ^ Andreassen, Irene: Et nytt skriftspråk blir til
  5. ^ "Miksi kvääninkieli kirjakielenä" by Terje Aronsen. Ruijan Kaiku 1/2004


Söderholm, Eira (2007). "Kainun kielen grammatiikki". 
This grammar can be found in the Kven language here.
The grammar above can be found in the Norwegian language here.