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|Native to||Sweden, Finland|
Official language in
|Recognized minority language of Sweden|
Meänkieli (lit. "our language") is a group of distinct Finnish dialects spoken in the northernmost part of Sweden along the valley of the Torne River. In Sweden it is recognized as one of the country's five minority languages.
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 (see Dialect chart). For historical reasons it has the status of a minority language in Sweden. In Swedish nowadays, the language is usually referred to as Meänkieli by the authorities too; a common, and older, name is tornedalsfinska, which literally means "Torne Valley Finnish".
Meänkieli is distinguished from Standard Finnish by the absence of 19th- and 20th-century developments in Finnish. Meänkieli also contains many loanwords from Swedish pertaining to daily life. However, the frequency of loanwords is not exceptionally high when compared to some other Finnish dialects: for example, the dialect of Rauma has roughly as many loanwords as Meänkieli. Meänkieli lacks two of the grammatical cases used in Standard Finnish, the comitative and the instructive (they are used mostly in literary, official language in Finland). In Finland, Meänkieli is generally seen as a dialect of Northern Finnish. There is also a dialect of Meänkieli spoken around Gällivare that differs even more from Standard Finnish.
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 a small part of today's Sweden, along the modern border, was historically Finnish speaking (just like most areas along the eastern coast of the 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 Finnish territory (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 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. The population of Karesuando was predominantly Finnish-speaking people of Sami, Finnish, and Swedish mixed descent. Laestadius reported that the local dialect was notably different from standard Finnish, though he did not give it a name.
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 were regarded as being of another "race." The official Swedish opinion was that "the Sami and the Finnish tribes belong[ed] more closely to Russia than to Scandinavia". 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 Meänkieli 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.
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. In other words, its minority language status only applies in certain designated local communities and areas, not in all of Sweden.
Few people today speak Meänkieli as their only language. Estimates of how many people speak Meänkieli vary from 30,000 to 70,000, of which 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 city 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. 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, grammars, and songs in Meänkieli; he has also written and directed films.
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. Today, there are grammar books, a Bible translation, drama performances, and some TV programs in Meänkieli.
Comparison of an example of Meänkieli and Standard Finnish
|Ruotti oon demokratia. Sana demokratia||Ruotsi on demokratia. Sana demokratia|
|tarkottaa kansanvaltaa. Se merkittee||tarkoittaa kansanvaltaa. Se merkitsee,|
|ette ihmiset Ruottissa saavat olla matkassa||että ihmiset Ruotsissa saavat olla mukana|
|päättämässä miten Ruottia pittää johtaa.||päättämässä, miten Ruotsia pitää johtaa.|
|Meän perustuslaissa sanothaan ette kaikki||Meidän perustuslaissamme sanotaan, että kaikki|
|valta Ruottissa lähtee ihmisistä ja ette||valta Ruotsissa lähtee ihmisistä ja että|
|valtiopäivät oon kansan tärkein eustaja.||valtiopäivät on kansan tärkein edustaja.|
|Joka neljäs vuosi kansa valittee kukka||Joka neljäs vuosi kansa valitsee, ketkä|
|heitä eustavat valtiopäivilä, maakäräjillä||heitä edustavat valtiopäivillä, maakäräjillä|
|ja kunnissa.||ja kunnissa.|
Literal English translation:
Sweden is a democracy. The word democracy means rule by the people. It means that people in Sweden are allowed to participate in deciding how Sweden is to be governed. It is said in our constitution that all power in Sweden comes from the people and that the Riksdag is the most important representative of the people. Every four years the people choose those who will represent them in the Riksdag, county councils, and municipalities.
- Meänkieli at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tornedalen Finnish". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- L.W.A Douglas, Hur vi förlorade Norrland – How We Lost Norrland, Stockholm 1889, p.17
- Tervetuloa valtiopäivitten webbsivuile meänkielelä!. Accessed 2009-02-10
|Meänkieli dialects test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|