Term Paper, 2008
15 Pages, Grade: 1.7
2 Historical background of the language development in Finland
3 Contemporary language situation
4 Language situation in the Finnish education system
4.1 Development of the language situation in primary and secondary schools ...
4.2 Development of the language situation at universities
4.3 Development of second language teaching in Finnish education
5 Special (language) situation in Åland
6 Conclusion and prospects
Finland is an officially bilingual country with the two national languages Swedish and Finnish. The language situation nowadays bases on the history of the country and important decisions made throughout the years. This thesis will at first show the historical background of the language development and describe the contemporary language situation. Afterwards the development of the language situation in Finnish education will be presented and in the end the special (language) situation of the Åland islands will be described.
This essay will not deal with the treatment of other languages than Finnish and Swedish in Finland. There exist for example regulations concerning the Nordic and Sámi languages (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 230-231). In addition, it will not treat preschool education, adult education or vocational education.
Finland is a small country between powerful neighbours, so that the role of external factors in the history had a great influence on its development. For around six centuries nowadays Finland has been a part of Sweden and the “border regions” shared cultural and social traditions (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 362-363). In 1362 inhabitants of Finnish landscapes got the right to participate in the election of the Swedish king. In addition, parts of the official communication with Finnish speakers were in Finnish, even though all documentation was in Swedish (cp. Modeen, 1995, p. 49). In 1809 the unity was broken through external force, not internal revolt and Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia. The official language was still Swedish and most of the laws stayed the same (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 363).
In the 19th century began the Fennoman movement, a Finnish-nationalist movement, with leaders from Swedish-speaking academic groups, which soon became a mass movement. The goal of radical Fennomen was an exclusively Finnish-language Finland. Soon a counter reaction started, as many Finns did not want to miss the Swedish part of their culture. The result was a separation of the Finnish population into two groups (cp. Modeen, 1995, p. 50-51). Finnish in that time was an undeveloped language that was not used much in a written way. The Russian emperor wanted to weaken the concession to Sweden and therefore supported the development of the Finnish language, Finnish- language schools were founded and literature in Finnish was published. In 1863 the emperor announced Finnish to be the second official language and much later Russian became the third official language (cp. Modeen, 2004, p. 85). There has never been a Russification in the Finnish educational system even though there were a lot of unconstitutional actions of Russification in the last years of the connection with Russia (cp. Modeen, 1995, p. 50).
In 1896 the Swedish party was founded and in this time Swedish speakers had great political power. In 1906 they lost a lot of power due to a constitutional amendment (cp. Modeen, 2004, p. 87).
In 1917 Finland became independent and in 1919 it got its own constitution, which will partly be described in the next chapter, and parts of the earlier cultural convergence between Sweden and Finland have been rebuilt (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 363). The first years of Finland’s independence were a critical period in which, among other things, language and ethno cultural issues had to be settled. In the Constitution of 1919 and the Language Law in 1920-22 the relationship between the two major language communities in Finland was regulated. The Constitution regulates, among other things, that Swedish and Finnish are legally equal national languages, that both languages are used before court and administrative authorities and that the cultural and economical needs of both groups should be fulfilled according to identical principles. The last point assured educational rights for the Swedish speaking community (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 219-221). Finland has a new constitution since 1999, which came into force in 2000. Still Finnish and Swedish are the two official languages in Finland and the other linguistical and cultural rights described before are still valid for all inhabitants. There should not be any unilateral favouring for the Swedish speakers but both language groups should be treated in an equivalent way (cp. Modeen, 2004, p. 86).
Finland had to deal with changing and asymmetrical external relations. Russia was seen as the major external enemy which helped creating internal peace. In addition the threat of loosing the Åland islands increased the cohesion between both language groups in Finland (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 364-365).
The situation of Swedish-speakers in Finland changed a lot over time and shows different difficulties. Between the two world wars Finnish nationalists tried to weaken the position of the Swedish speakers in Finland without success (cp. Modeen, 2004, p. 89). The ratio from Finnish to Swedish speakers in 1880 was six to one whereas in 1990 it was already 16 to one. The number of Finnish speakers compared to Swedish speakers increased a lot. The distribution of economic resources between the two language groups became more and more proportionate to the amount of people, so that Swedish speakers lost their economical advantage over the Finnish speakers (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 366-367).
The central principle of the Language Law of 1922 is linguistic qualification of all municipalities or communes. If the official-language minority is under 10 % in a commune, it is unilingual, otherwise bilingual. A review of these qualifications is required every 10 years. In addition this law regulates the language use in courts, administrative agencies, municipal agencies, church, higher education, military, the state railway administration and the parliamentary legislative process (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 219-221). The Language Law was modified in 1935 and 1975 and the changements tended towards greater predominance of one of the languages and a stronger emphasis on the majority language of the districts (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 228-229).The newest Language Act in Finland entered into force on 1 January 2004. It does not contain any new rights or changes in the status on the mother tongue. The aim is, that the bilingualism of Finland is seen and functions. One central reform is the obligation of authorities to act at their own initiative implementing the language rights in flexible ways. Different kinds of information have to be published in both languages while others at least have to contain a summary in Swedish (cp. Report of the Government on the application of language legislation, 2006, p. 5, 34-39). A problem is, that the linguistic rights have not been well publicized, so that the daily practice differs from the theoretical situation (cp. McRae, 1999, p. 228-229).
Finland is becoming more and more multilingual. At the end of 2004 Finnish was the mother tongue of 91.9 per cent of the population while it was Swedish for 5.5 per cent. Finnish is the majority language in most parts of the country, but still some 37,000 Finnish-speaking Finns live in regions where Finnish is a minority language. Swedish is still mainly spoken in the costal regions and Åland, in unilingual Swedish or bilingual areas. Some 13,250 Swedish-speaking Finns live in unilingual Finnish municipalities. The situation of Finnish in Finland nowadays can be seen as a secure one in all parts of the society. Swedish instead is threatened as it is spoken by a small minority and its use before authorities and in public life has decreased (cp. Report of the Government on the application of language legislation, 2006, p. 9-14).
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