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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Native toSweden
RegionTorne Valley
Native speakers
(70,000 cited 1997–2020)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3fit
Map of the area where Meänkieli has an official status.

Meänkieli (literally 'our language') is a Finnic language or a group of distinct Finnish dialects spoken in the northernmost part of Sweden along the valley of the Torne River. Its status as an independent language is disputed, but in Sweden it is officially recognized as one of the country's five minority languages and is treated as a distinct language from standard Finnish.[2] According to the Swedish National Association of Tornedalians, 70.000 individuals are able to understand Meänkieli, at least to some level.[3]

Linguistically, Meänkieli consists of two dialect subgroups, the Torne Valley dialects (also spoken on the Finnish side of the Torne River) and the Gällivare dialects, which both belong to the larger Peräpohjola dialect group.[4] It has the status of a minority language in Sweden. In modern Swedish the language is normally referred to officially as meänkieli, although colloquially an older name, tornedalsfinska ("Torne Valley Finnish"), is still commonly used. Sveriges Radio tends to use tornedalsfinska for the culture generally and meänkieli specifically for the language.[5]

Meänkieli is distinguished from Standard Finnish by the absence of 19th- and 20th-century developments in Finnish.[6]


Before 1809, all of what is today Finland was an integral part of Sweden. The language border went west of the Torne Valley area, so the upper section of today's Sweden (about 10% by area), was historically Finnish speaking (just like most areas along the eastern coast of the southern part of Gulf of Bothnia, areas that were ceded to Russia and are part of modern Finland, were historically Swedish speaking, and to a large extent still are). The area where Meänkieli is spoken that is now northern Sweden (apart from the linguistically Sami and Swedish parts of this geographical area), formed a dialect continuum within the Realm of Sweden. Since the area east of Torne River was ceded to Russia in 1809, the language spoken on the western side of it developed in partial isolation from standard Finnish. In 1826, the state Church of Sweden appointed the priest and amateur botanist Lars Levi Laestadius to be the Vicar over the Karesuando parish, which is situated along the Muonio River north of the Arctic Circle on the border of Finland in Swedish Lapland.

In the 1880s, the Swedish state decided that all citizens of the country should speak Swedish. Part of the reason was military; people close to the border speaking the language of the neighbouring country rather than the major language in their own country might not be trusted in case of war. Another reason was that Finns (primarily eastern Finns) were sometimes regarded as being of another "race." An opinion of that period, as reflected in contemporary fiction, was that the Sami and the Finnish populations belonged "more closely to Russia than to Scandinavia".[7] Beginning around this time, the schools in the area only taught in Swedish, and children were forbidden under penalty of physical punishment from speaking their own language at school even during class breaks. Native Finnish speakers were prevented by the authorities from learning Standard Finnish as a school subject for decades, which resulted in the survival of the language only in oral form.

When minority languages first became taught in Swedish schools, Meänkieli was still classified as a form of Finnish and children who spoke in natively were taught standard Finnish in school, which caused problems for children to fully understand, demotivating students. However, in 1977 some schools began to make materials specifically designed for speakers of Meänkieli which did not use standard Finnish. This was also the first time the term "Meänkieli" was applied to the form of speech, which was called "Tornedalian Finnish" before.[8]

Meänkieli today[edit]

On April 1, 2000, Meänkieli became one of the now five nationally recognized minority languages of Sweden, which means it can be used for some communication with local and regional authorities in the communities along the Finnish border. Its minority language status applies in designated local communities and areas, not throughout Sweden.

Few people today speak Meänkieli as their only language, with speakers usually knowing Swedish and often standard Finnish as well. Estimates of how many people speak Meänkieli vary from 30,000 to 70,000, of whom most live in Norrbotten. Many people in the northern parts of Sweden understand some Meänkieli, but fewer people speak it regularly. People with Meänkieli roots are often referred to as Tornedalians although the Finnish-speaking part of Norrbotten is a far larger area than the Torne River Valley; judging by the names of towns and places, the Finnish-speaking part of Norrbotten stretches as far west as the town of Gällivare.

Today Meänkieli is declining. Few young people speak Meänkieli as part of daily life though many have passive knowledge of the language from family use, and it is not uncommon for younger people from Meänkieli-speaking families to be more familiar with standard Finnish, for which literature and courses are much more readily available. The language is taught at Stockholm University, Luleå University of Technology, and Umeå University. Bengt Pohjanen is a trilingual author from the Torne Valley. In 1985 he wrote the first Meänkieli novel, Lyykeri. He has also written several novels, dramas, grammar books, songs and films in Meänkieli.

The author Mikael Niemi's novels and a film based on one of his books in Swedish have improved awareness of this minority among Swedes. Since the 1980s, people who speak Meänkieli have become more aware of the importance of the language as a marker of identity.[citation needed] Today there are grammar books, a Bible translation, drama performances, and there are some TV programmes in Meänkieli.

On radio, programmes in Meänkieli are broadcast regularly from regional station P4 Norrbotten (as well as local station P6 in Stockholm) on Mondays to Thursdays between 17:10 and 18:00, while on Sundays further programmes are carried by P6 between 8:34 and 10:00 (also on P2 nationwide from 8:34 to 9:00). All of these programmes are also available via the Internet.

Status as a language[edit]

Individuals who agree with the classification of Meänkieli as a separate language generally do so for historical, political and sociological reasons, usually pointing to its separate standardised written language that is distinct from standard Finnish. However, on pure linguistic grounds, Meänkieli may be classified as a Northern dialect of Finnish. Meänkieli is very comprehensible for speakers of Finnish, especially due to the fact that Swedish is taught as a mandatory subject in Finland, causing the heavy Swedish influence in Meänkieli to not cause problems for comprehension. Despite the mutual intelligibility, speakers of Meänkieli generally wish to see it as its own language separate from Finnish, since its status as an independent language has increased its linguistic prestige and has aided with keeping the language alive.[9]

Geographical distribution[edit]

Meänkieli has an official status in: Pajala, Övertorneå, Haparanda, Gällivare, Luleå, Kalix, Kiruna, and many speakers also live in Stockholm.[10]


  • A – aa – [ɑ]
  • B – bee – [b]
  • C – see – [k/s]
  • D – dee – [d]
  • E – ee – [e]
  • F – äf – [f]
  • G – gee – [ɡ]
  • H – hoo – [h]
  • I – ii – [i]
  • J – jii – [j]
  • K – koo – [k]
  • L – äl – [l]
  • M – äm – [m]
  • N – än – [n]
  • O – oo – [o]
  • P – pee – [p]
  • Q – kuu – [k]
  • R – är – [r]
  • S – äs – [s]
  • T – tee – [t]
  • U – uu – [u]
  • V – vee – [ʋ]
  • W – kaksois-vee/tupla-vee – [ʋ]
  • X – äks – [ks]
  • Y – yy – [y]
  • Z – tset(a) – [s]
  • Å – ruotti oo – [o/oː]
  • Ä – ää – [æ]
  • Ö – öö – [ø]

B, C, D, G, W, X, Z, and Å are only used in foreign words and names.[11]

in 2016 a letter š /ʃ/ was added into Meänkieli, instead of the Swedish letters sj.[12]


The grammar of Meänkieli is very similar to Finnish, with some variations such as the aspiration of consonants before long vowels. Meänkieli is an agglunatitive language with fifteen noun cases. It contains consonant gradiation and vowel harmony, just like Finnish. It contains four verb tenses, which are the present, imperfect, perfect and the pluperfect. It does not have a separate tense for future events.[13][14]

Some Meänkieli words not used in standard Finnish[edit]

The Swedish language words are in parentheses in case of borrowed cognates. With Swedish being the dominant everyday language in the region, the language has impacted modern Meänkieli in some ways.

  • äpyli 'apple' (äpple)
  • son/s'oon 'it is'
  • sole 'it is not'
  • klaarata 'to get along' (klara)
  • sturaani 'ugly'
  • potati 'potato' (potatis)
  • pruukata 'to have a habit of' (bruka)
  • följy 'along with, company' (följe)
  • ko 'when, as, since'
  • fiskata 'to fish' (fiska)
  • kläppi 'child'
  • muuruutti 'carrot' (morot)
  • porista 'to talk'
  • praatata 'to speak' (prata)
  • kahveli 'fork' (gaffel)
  • pruuvata 'to try' (prova)
  • kniivi 'knife' (kniv)
  • knakata 'to knock' (knacka)
  • öölata 'to drink beer' (öla)
  • miilu 'game'
  • knapsu 'feminine man'
  • fruukosti 'breakfast' (frukost)
  • fältti 'field' (fält)
  • funteerata 'to think' (fundera)
  • engelska 'English' (engelska)
  • fryysbuksi 'freezer' (frysbox)
  • flakku 'flag' (flagga)
  • häätyy 'to have to'[15]

Differences between standard Finnish and Meänkieli[edit]

In many loanwords the sound f has been replaced with v in Finnish.

Meänkieli Finnish English
färi väri 'color'
fankila vankila 'prison'

Many words have been loaned with the letter u into Finnish but with y into Meänkieli.

Meänkieli Finnish English
kylttyyri kulttuuri 'culture'
resyrssi resurssi 'resource'

Many words have been loaned with the letter o into Finnish but with u into Meänkieli.

Meänkieli Finnish English
puliisi poliisi 'police'
pulitiikka politiikka 'politics'

In loanwords, the sound d has been replaced with t. In native words, d is gone.

Meänkieli Finnish English
tehä tehdä 'to make'
tynamiitti dynamiitti 'dynamite'
meän meidän 'our'
heän heidän 'their'

Double consonants[16][17][circular reference]

Meänkieli Finnish English
mettä metsä 'forest'
kattoa katsoa 'to watch'
savvu savu 'smoke'

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meänkieli at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Meänkieli, yksi Ruotsin vähemmistökielistä – Kielikello". www.kielikello.fi (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  3. ^ "Ett språk under ständig utveckling". Minoritet.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  4. ^ "Peräpohjalaismurteiden alue". Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved October 3, 2009.
  5. ^ Sveriges Radio press release Archived 2022-11-01 at the Wayback Machine 22.02.2017 (in Swedish)
  6. ^ "Meänkieli, yksi Ruotsin vähemmistökielistä – Kielikello". www.kielikello.fi (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  7. ^ L.W.A Douglas, Hur vi förlorade Norrland – How We Lost Norrland, Stockholm 1889, p.17
  8. ^ Aasa, Ahti; ahti.aasa@sverigesradio.se (2022-11-30). "Meänkielen tie koulhuun aukesi 45 vuotta sitten". Sveriges Radio. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  9. ^ "Meänkieli, yksi Ruotsin vähemmistökielistä – Kielikello". www.kielikello.fi (in Finnish). Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  10. ^ "Meänkieli". www.isof.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 2021-10-15.
  11. ^ "Meankieli language". Omniglot. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  12. ^ Radio, Sveriges (20 April 2016). "Meänkieli saa uuden kirjaimen – Sveriges Radio Finska". Sveriges Radio (in Finnish). Retrieved 2021-06-14.
  13. ^ "Meänkieli – Grammatik, lärobok, historia, texter". www.isof.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  14. ^ Kenttä, Matti; Pohjanen, Bengt (1996). Meänkielen kramatiikki (in Tornedalen Finnish). Kaamos. ISBN 978-91-87410-19-2.
  15. ^ "Meänkielen sanakirja". meankielensanakirja.com. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  16. ^ "Meänkielen sanakirja". meankielensanakirja.com. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  17. ^ "Meänkieli", Wikipedia (in Finnish), 2020-01-20, retrieved 2020-01-26

External links[edit]