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Population and languages in Finland (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
nordic flags
The home pages for the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic
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Population and languages in Finland

 

4.2.3 Population

Finland is a bilingual country (with a Swedish-speaking minority living mostly in the coastal areas).

The autonomous island-province of Åland is an exception: the province is monolingually Swedish-speaking.

Åland Islands, with approximately 25,000 inhabitants, is a demilitarized area with its own flag (a red Nordic cross outlined in yellow, on blue background) and a separate local legislation. Its autonomy is based on international treaties.

The Swedish-speaking minority of Finland descends chiefly from the settlers that arrived with the Christian missionaries and crusaders in the early middle ages. They speak a variety called "finlandssvenska" that differs slightly from Swedish spoken in Sweden ("rikssvenska"), most notably for its Finnish intonation and some archaic vocabulary. Today 5.7 % of Finland's population is registered as Finland-Swedish. The proportion has been steadily diminishing since the 18th century when 20% of the population had Swedish as mother tongue.

The Romani, or Gypsies, who arrived to Finland in late 16th century have long had to experience the prejudices of the majority population, but in recent years their situation has been improving, and Romani language is now taught at schools. They number approximately 5.500. Different from the situation in Scandinavia the Gypsies of Finland have usually not preserved their own language, but have Finnish as their mother tongue. On the other hand, they have preserved their dress customs a lot more.

In Lapland (the northernmost province of Finland), a small Sámi (Lapp) minority still survives. Their number is only around 5,000, with even fewer reporting Sami as their native language, but nowadays there are schools for Sámi-speakers and the language is considered official in municipalities with at least 7% of the population speaking Sámi. For more information about the Sámi, see section 2.3.

 

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4.2.4 Who is a Finn?

Believe it or not, but this question does raise heated discussions in the news group now and then. The disputes have their base in the inability, general among Nordeners, to distinguish between ethnicity, nationality and citizenship.

In the news group you can find citizens of Finland who declare that he or she "is certainly no Finn even if I am born in Finland (and my ancestors some 600 years back at least). If some bullshit Fascists think they can call everyone living in this country a Finn they are mistaken."

On the other hand ethnic Finns can be studied, who get insulted by any word referring to Finland's multi-ethnicity, arguing along the slogan In Finland we speak Finnish. They might claim that the distinction between Swedish-speaking and Finnish-speaking inhabitants of Finland is based on racism and the minority's need to feel superior.

Be warned!
This is a sensitive topic.

The origin of Finns is still subject to a lot of discussion; the traditional theory is that Finns emigrated from the Urals to Finland some 2,000 years ago, but the current view seems to be that the Finnish people have evolved into what they are in Finland as a result of numerous successive waves of immigration coming from east, south and west.

As Roman writers described the Fenni it is unclear whether they referred to nomadic Lapps exclusively, or if also the Finnish speaking farmers and sea-farers were included.

In any case: Written medieval sources exhibit great confusion on this point. When the king of Norway (who for long was the king of Denmark), or the Norse Sagas, refer to "Finns" they mostly mean Sámis or Lapps. The Swedish administration wasn't much better in making the distinctions we today put such a great importance to.

Still today "a Finn" is a Sámi or Lapp for many speakers of Norwegian.

Until the national awakening of the 19th century Swedish speakers meant people from Finland, or with ancestry from Finland, when talking about "Finns" (finne, plural: finnar). Then the Finnish nationalistic movement led to the majority language (Finnish) being given equal status to the old administrative language (Swedish). It became fashionable for the educated class to learn Finnish, to start using Finnish as much as possible, and to make Finnish the mother tongue of their children.

Then the remaining parts of the Swedish speaking minority in Finland started to stress their "Swedishness" - in reaction to the Finnish nationalistic movement from the mid-1800's on with its expectation that all inhabitants of Finland should switch from Swedish to Finnish. The Swedish speakers began to label themselves as "Finland-Swedes" defending their language's position in Finland as much as they could.

The battle was long and hard between proponents for Finnish as the national language of Finland and the proponents for Swedish as the language linking Finland to Germanic nations of Western Europe. And "a Finn" became a term which for the Swedish speaking minority referred to members of the Finnish speaking majority.

By the time of Finland's liberation from Russia the language-battle was almost won by the proponents for Finnish, but the Swedish speakers were still well represented in the government and among State officials. The independent Finland became officially bilingual, and during the Second World War (if not before) a consensus was established that both "Finns" and "Swedes" of Finland belonged to the same nation, a nation which thus in conflict with the 19th century Nationalism's dogma comprised two very different languages: Finnish and Swedish.

But still, for the Finland-Swedes the term en finne ("a Finn") denotes an ethnic Finn, and the term finländare (literally: Finlandener) is used to denote nationality or citizenship. The Finnish language has a term (suomenruotsalainen) for the Finland-Swedes, of course, but uses the same term (suomalainen) for ethnic Finns and citizens of Finland.

In Sweden people try to show the Finland-Swedes basal courtesy by remembering to distinguish between en finne and en finländare. In Norway people try to avoid the word finne perceived as derogatively as the word "Lapp" when denoting the Sámis, and the word finlender (the equivalent term to "Finlandener") is the recommended form, especially by people interested in politicial correctness.

The problem usually arises when Swedes or Norwegians remember the political correctness but forget the sensitive nature of this matter. The word "a Finn" can be avoided in English, by exchanging it to citizen of Finland, inhabitant of Finland, ethnic Finn, or Finland-Swede.

Thereby, however, nothing is implicated for the question of Åland's status as being a part of the country Finland or not, its population belonging to the nation of ethnic Finns and Finland-Swedes or not, or other disputable issues...
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4.2.5 The Finnish language

Whatever the roots of Finns are, a fact is that they speak a language that isn't Indo-European like the other Nordic languages, but Finno-Ugric; its closest major relative is Estonian (but even those two languages aren't really mutually intelligible), and it is distantly related to Hungarian, Sámi, and several minor languages spoken in European Russia and Siberia.

Eugene Holman writes:

Even though Finnish is not related to the Scandinavian languages, like Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, it has its sister languages which it is more or less mutually intelligible spoken by people of essentially the same ethnic stock as the Finns. Many people know that the difference between Finnish and Estonian is approximately the same as the difference between Swedish and Danish. Fewer know that the same holds for Finnish and the indigenous speech forms behind the Russian border: Karelian (karjala), Olonetsian (aunus), Lydian (lyydi) and Vepsian (Vepsä). These three speech forms are essentially part of the eastern Finnish dialect continuum with an increasingly strong Russian superstratum the further east one goes. Twice in this century, specifically during the Finnish Civil War 1918-1920 and then again during the so-called Continuation War (1941-1944), certain nationalist circles in Finland have aspired to join these areas of Karelia to Finland.

Finnish military rule in White Sea Karelia during the Continuation War meant the erection of concentration camps, and the internment and eventual death of many Russians, communists, and other "undesirables", a large number of them children. It also meant the establishment of a school system teaching in local speech forms and a serious effort to make the inhabitants literate in their local "dialects" as a first step towards making them Finnish. The story, although not without its positive aspects, is not one that official Finland is particularly proud of.

 

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4.2.6 Culture

Finnish culture could be characterized as a mixture of Swedish and Finnish elements, with a touch of Russian influence especially in the eastern provinces. Mikael Agricola (1510-57) established Finnish as a written language. The national epic Kalevala, collected from Karelian oral poetry by the scholar Elias Lönnrot, has had enormous effect on the forming of the Finnish culture in the last century, as did the poetry of Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-72) and the drama of the author Aleksis Kivi (1834-72). The scholar H. G. Porthan (1739-1804) awakened the public interest in Finnish mythology and folk poetry, and laid a firm basis to humanist sciences. Tove Jansson (1914--) has won popularity with her books about the Moomins.

Music has had a special place in Finnish culture, the best known and loved composer being of course Jean Sibelius (1865-1957); others include Fredrik Pacius (1809-91), Oskar Merikanto (1868-1924), and Aarre Merikanto (1893-1958), Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947), and Uuno Klami (1900-61). Aulis Sallinen, Joonas Kokkonen and Magnus Lindberg are major contemporary composers. Hundreds of music festivals draw large crowds in the summer; among the best known are Kaustinen Folk Festival, Savonlinna Opera Festival which is held in a medieval castle, and Ruisrock in Turku.

Finnish architecture has won international fame; it is represented by people such as Eliel Saarinen (and his son Eero Saarinen, who worked chiefly in North America) Wivi Lönn (1872-1966), and Lars Sonck (1870-1956) who were pioneers of the national romantic style. Neoclassicism was introduced by J. S. Siren (1889-1961), and functionalism by Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). Aalto is also well known as an urban planner, interior designer, and industrial and furniture designer. Reima and Raili Pietilä are contemporary architects well known for their unconventional, expressionistic style.

Among painters, Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905) and Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931) are the best known representatives of the golden era of Finnish painting; their styles were naturalism, realism, and symbolism, the themes often being taken from Finnish history or mythology. Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) was a leader in the break with realism, Hugo Simberg (1873-1917) was one of the foremost symbolists, and Tyko Sallinen (1879-1955) was one of the first expressionists.



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© Copyright 1994-2001 by Antti Lahelma and Johan Olofsson.
You are free to quote this page as long as you mention the URL.
The line of flags is modified after a picture at det Åländska skoldatanätet.
This page was last updated February the 27th in the year of 2001.

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