View Full Version : Swedish-speaking Finns

June Pelo
11-03-07, 20:51
Excerpts from a speech by Norm Westerberg "Who am I?"

I'm a Swedish-speaking Finn. What is that, you ask. This leads to a history lesson. The starting point could be the six and a half centuries of Finland's development as a part of Sweden. The precise origins of this experience are lost in time and religious mythology, but it was never a matter of a Swedish conquest. Sweden-Finland slowly became an integrated society founded on the wider European intellectual heritage.

From the early 14th century there grew a Swedish-speaking population inthe coastal areas of Finnland, mixing settlers from Swedish mainland with Finnish speakers learning the main language of the Kingdom. Later they shared good and bad, the really bad being occupation by Russian soldiers for long periods in the 18th century. In the middle of the 19th century, then in the Autonomous Grand Duchy of a seemingly friendly Czar, Finnish and Swedish speakers joined hands in the great effort to found a Finnish nation, and raising the Finnish language to the prominent position it deserved.

In the history of Finland, the 1809 settlement ranks as a formative event of the first magnitude, comparable in importance with landmark dates such as 1776 in American history or 1789 in France. Just ask yourself: would Finnish have evolved as a national language had Finland remained a part of Sweden?

During the years of the great emigration to America, about a hundred years ago, over 20% of the emigrants were Swedish speakers. They had called themselves "svensk" or "svenskfinne" back home, and adopted the expression Swedish-Finn here. The US census does not count Swedish Finn as a separate ancestry, but if it did, I estimate that close to 100,000 Americans would claim it, with about 2% still speaking Swedish at home. Currently 620,000 persons claim "Finnish" as their ancestry, with 64% speaking Finnish.

There are 300,000 persons in Finland claiming Swedish as their mother tongue (6% of the population), and the numbers are expected to remain at this level. Half of marriages involving one Swedish Finn are now with a Finnish Finn partner. Of their children every other one is attending Swedish school, and counted as Swedish Finn. It has been said that Finland is unique, as 98% of the population speaks Finnish and 20% Swedish. Finns are increasingly multilingual. There have been occasional linguistic conflicts in Finland, but they have never been violent, as has often been the case in other bilingual or multilingual countries.

Norden, 22 Feb 2007


Gunnar Damström
11-10-07, 07:26
After Finland separated from Sweden in 1809 to become an autonomous nation in the Russian Empire, Swedish was to remain the “official” language for almost a century. Had it not been for a strong cultural current occurring in the 19th century, Swedish might still today be the dominating language in Finland. That current has gone to history under the name National Romanticism.

National Romanticism greatly shaped Europe of the 19th and 20th centuries. According to its apostle, Friedrich Hegel, a nation is cemented in its unique character by its common language. What was the newly born Finnish Nation to do? It could not unite under the Swedish language claiming a unique national character. Finnish seemed to offer the desired platform.

In hundreds of thousands farmhouses, crofts and estates people of all ages sat down to tackle the very difficult chore of learning Finnish. At the same time the unique character of the Finnish Nation was depicted; in epics like the Kalevala, in Jean Sibelius music, the paintings of the golden era and in numerous publications. Students from the Helsinki University spent their summer holidays spreading information about the Finnish National Character in rural areas.

In the 1860’s famous Finnish economist and statesman J.V.Snellman convinced the Czar Alexander II to enact a law putting Finnish on equal footing with Swedish as administrative language. Thousands “fennocized” their names. Johan Gustaf Hellsten became Juho Kusti Paasikivi, Alexis Stenwall Aleksis Kivi, Johannes Brofeldt Juhani Aho, and so on. In the early 1900’s a great majority of the population claimed Finnish as their mother tongue.

But some Swedish speaking people refused to give up their mother tongue. They claimed their own unique cultural character referencing the same theory as the Fennomans: Hegelianism. They lived prevalently in the Ostrobothnia coastal area, the Southwest Archipelago and the South Coast.

From about 1760 to 1860 the Ostrobothnia Province was one of the most prosperous areas of the Nordic countries. Finnish tar was a precious commodity that H.M. Navy depended on to keep its warships afloat. Ships built in Ostrobothnia were considered the best one could buy anywhere. Ostrobothnia ship-owners made fortunes transporting cargo all over the world. The population grew and there was work for everybody.

But after the Crimean war the picture changed. The British Navy and many ship-owners switched to iron steamships. The demand for tar and wooden merchant ships dropped drastically. Famine struck Finland in 1866-1867 with severe crop failure. The able and resourceful Ostrobothnian laborers had to look for work elsewhere. Some went to the St. Petersburg area, some to the Finnish south coast and some went to the New World. Some eventually came back, some didn’t. Between 1880 and 1913 50,000 people from the Swedish speaking areas of Ostrobothnia emigrated- half of the population! Many settled in the Northwestern part of North America.