Monday, September 21, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Sweden

Over the last few months we've dedicated many of our country profiles to African countries due to their rich linguistic diversity. However, today we'll be looking at the languages of Sweden, a Scandinavian country that is the third largest country in the European Union by area.

The Official Language

Unsurprisingly, the official language of Sweden is Swedish, a Germanic language that is closely related to Norwegian and Danish. Swedish is also the native language of the vast majority of Sweden's population. However, despite its longstanding prominence in Swedish society, it was not actually declared the official language of Sweden until 2009.

The Scandinavian Peninsula, with Sweden in the
center, as seen from space in the winter of 2003.
The Recognized Minority Languages

When Sweden named Swedish its official language in 2009, it also gave official recognition to five minority languages: Finnish, Meänkieli, Sami, Romani, and Yiddish. The most spoken of these languages is Finnish, a Uralic language which is the native language of approximately 5% of the country's population. Most of these Finnish speakers are first- and second-generation immigrants.

Meänkieli and the Sami languages also belong to the Uralic language family. Meänkieli, which is the native language of around 50,000 people, is very closely related to Finnish. In fact, due to its mutual intelligibility with Finnish, some consider it to be a dialect instead of a distinct language. The Sami languages, on the other hand, are quite distinct from Finnish due to characteristics such as their many Germanic loanwords. There are several Sami languages, though the exact number varies depending on which linguist you ask.

Sweden is also home to approximately 10,000 native speakers of the various Romani languages. These Indo-Aryan languages are spoken by the Romani people, an ethnic group primarily dispersed throughout Europe and the Americas.

Finally, there's Yiddish, a Germanic language known for its distinctive mix of Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic vocabulary. There are currently thought to be around 1,000 native Yiddish speakers in Sweden, though most of them are elderly.