Saturday, September 28, 2013

Swedish Is Not A Foreign Language In Finland

Eurostat has released a report on how many are learning "foreign languages". Not surprisingly, English is the by far most popular foreign language, being learnt by the upper secondary level by 100% or nearly 100% of students in most countries.

The report's usefulness is however limited by the fact that the authors seems to dogmatically assume that there can be only one domestic language. For example, despite the fact that German and French are official languages in Luxembourg, they are characterized as "foreign languages". Similarly, both of Belgium's main domestic languages, Dutch and French are characterized as "foreign languages", a feat they explain by characterizing Dutch as "foreign language" in the French-speaking parts and French as "foreign language" in its Dutch speaking parts.

Still, at least in those two cases they have footnotes explaining that they are considered official languages. In Finland, Swedish is characterized as a "foreign language". That is of course factually wrong. Swedish has been spoken in Finland for nearly a millennium and though the percentage of Swedish speakers has dropped considerably since the 19th century mainly due to migration (historically mostly significant net emigration of Swedish speakers, mainly to Sweden, but in recent years also significant net immigration of non-Swedes to Finland) they are still a significant and influential minority. In two regions, Ostrobothnia (Österbotten in Swedish) and the autonomous Åland, Swedish is still the majority language.

It is mainly because of this, and not because of Finland's relations to Sweden, that Swedish is still an official language in Finland. Yet a reader of Eurostat's report who know little of Finland, will probably assume that it is only because of relations with Sweden that 92% study Swedish at the upper seconday level, as it is classified as a "foreign language" without even any explanatory footnotes.


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