Meänkieli dialects

Native toSweden, Finland
RegionTorne Valley
Native speakers
60,000 (1997–2009)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3fit
Where meänkieli is spoken

Meänkieli (literally "our language") is a Finnic language or a group of distinct Finnish dialects spoken in the northernmost part of Sweden along the valley of the Torne River. In Sweden it is recognized as one of the country's five minority languages.

Linguistically, Meänkieli consists of two dialect subgroups, the Torne Valley dialects (also spoken on the Finnish side of the Torne River) and the Gällivare dialects, which both belong to the larger Peräpohjola dialect group (see Dialect chart).[3] For historical reasons it has the status of a minority language in Sweden. In modern Swedish the language is normally referred to officially as meänkieli, although colloquially an older name, tornedalsfinska ("Torne Valley Finnish"), is still commonly used. Sveriges Radio tends to use tornedalsfinska for the culture generally and meänkieli specifically for the language.[4]

Meänkieli is distinguished from Standard Finnish by the absence of 19th- and 20th-century developments in Finnish.[citation needed] Meänkieli also contains many loanwords from Swedish and Sámi pertaining to daily life. However, the frequency of loanwords is not exceptionally high when compared to some other Finnish dialects: for example, the dialect of Rauma has roughly as many loanwords as Meänkieli. Meänkieli lacks two of the grammatical cases used in Standard Finnish, the comitative and the instructive (they are used mostly in literary, official language in Finland). In Finland, Meänkieli is generally seen as a dialect of Northern Finnish and in Sweden its generaly considered a language. There is also a dialect of Meänkieli spoken around Gällivare that differs even more from Standard Finnish.


Before 1809, all of what is today Finland was an integral part of Sweden. The language border went west of the Torne Valley area, so a small part of today's Sweden, along the modern border, was historically Finnish speaking (just like most areas along the eastern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, areas that were ceded to Russia and are part of modern Finland, were historically Swedish speaking, and to a large extent still are). The area where Meänkieli is spoken that is now Finnish territory (apart from the linguistically Sami and Swedish parts of this geographical area), formed a dialect continuum within the Realm of Sweden. Since the area east of Torne River was ceded to Russia in 1809, the language developed in partial isolation from standard Finnish. In 1826 the state Church of Sweden appointed the priest and amateur botanist Lars Levi Laestadius to be the Vicar over the Karesuando parish, which is situated along the Muonio River north of the Arctic Circle on the border of Finland in Swedish Lapland. The population of Karesuando was predominantly Finnish-speaking people of Sami, Finnish, and Swedish mixed descent. Laestadius reported that the local dialect was notably different from standard Finnish, though he did not give it a name.[citation needed]

In the 1880s, the Swedish state decided that all citizens of the country should speak Swedish. Part of the reason was military; people close to the border speaking the language of the neighbouring country rather than the major language in their own country might not be trusted in case of war. Another reason was that Finns were regarded as being of another "race." The official Swedish opinion was that "the Sami and the Finnish tribes belong[ed] more closely to Russia than to Scandinavia".[5][irrelevant citation] Beginning around this time, the schools in the area only taught in Swedish, and children were forbidden under penalty of physical punishment from speaking their own language at school even during class breaks. Native Meänkieli speakers were prevented by the authorities from learning Standard Finnish as a school subject for decades, which resulted in the survival of the language only in oral form.

Meänkieli today[edit]

On April 1, 2000, Meänkieli became one of the now five nationally recognized minority languages of Sweden, which means it can be used for some communication with local and regional authorities in the communities along the Finnish border. Its minority language status applies in designated local communities and areas, not throughout Sweden.

Few people today speak Meänkieli as their only language, with speakers usually knowing Swedish and often standard Finnish as well. Estimates of how many people speak Meänkieli vary from 30,000 to 70,000, of whom most live in Norrbotten. Many people in the northern parts of Sweden understand some Meänkieli, but fewer people speak it regularly. People with Meänkieli roots are often referred to as Tornedalians although the Finnish-speaking part of Norrbotten is a far larger area than the Torne River Valley; judging by the names of towns and places, the Finnish-speaking part of Norrbotten stretches as far west as the city of Gällivare.

Today Meänkieli is declining. Few young people speak Meänkieli as part of daily life though many have passive knowledge of the language from family use, and it is not uncommon for younger people from Meänkieli-speaking families to be more familiar with standard Finnish, for which literature and courses are much more readily available. The language is taught at Stockholm University, Luleå University of Technology, and Umeå University. Bengt Pohjanen is a trilingual author from the Torne Valley. In 1985 he wrote the first Meänkieli novel, Lyykeri. He has also written several novels, dramas, grammars, songs and films in Meänkieli.

The author Mikael Niemi's novels and a film based on one of his books in Swedish have improved awareness of this minority among Swedes. Since the 1980s, people who speak Meänkieli have become more aware of the importance of the language as a marker of identity.[citation needed] Today there are grammar books, a Bible translation, drama performances, and there are some TV programmes in Meänkieli.

On radio, programmes in Meänkieli are broadcast regularly from regional station P4 Norrbotten (as well as local station P6 in Stockholm) on Mondays to Thursdays between 17.10 and 18.00, while on Sundays further programmes are carried by P6 between 8.34 and 10.00 (also on P2 nationwide from 8.34 to 9.00). All of these programmes are also available via the internet.

Comparison of an example of Meänkieli and Standard Finnish[edit]

Meänkieli[6] Finnish
Ruotti oon demokratia. Sana demokratia Ruotsi on demokratia. Sana demokratia
tarkottaa kansanvaltaa. Se merkittee tarkoittaa kansanvaltaa. Se merkitsee,
ette ihmiset Ruottissa saavat olla matkassa että ihmiset Ruotsissa saavat olla mukana
päättämässä miten Ruottia pittää johtaa. päättämässä, miten Ruotsia pitää johtaa.
Meän perustuslaissa sanothaan ette kaikki Meidän perustuslaissamme sanotaan, että kaikki
valta Ruottissa lähtee ihmisistä ja ette valta Ruotsissa lähtee ihmisistä ja että
valtiopäivät oon kansan tärkein eustaja. valtiopäivät ovat kansan tärkein edustaja.
Joka neljäs vuosi kansa valittee kukka Joka neljäs vuosi kansa valitsee, ketkä
heitä eustavat valtiopäivilä, maakäräjillä heitä edustavat valtiopäivillä, maakäräjillä
ja kunnissa. ja kunnissa.

Literal English translation:

Sweden is a democracy. The word democracy means rule by the people. It means that people in Sweden are allowed to participate in deciding how Sweden is to be governed. It is said in our constitution that all power in Sweden comes from the people and that the Riksdag is the most important representative of the people. Every four years the people choose those who will represent them in the Riksdag, county councils, and municipalities.

Dialect or language[edit]

Particularly for political reasons, it has been desired to treat Meänkieli as a separate language. Those who consider Meänkieli as an independent language generally justify their view by emphasizing the sociological significance of the language and its independent role in the linguistic ecology of the area. Those who consider Meänkieli as a Finnish dialect base their views on the comparative methods of linguistics and the traditional view of language as a linguistic system. Meänkieli differs in grammar and has loanwords from Swedish and Sámi.[7][circular reference]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meänkieli at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tornedalen Finnish". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved October 3, 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Sveriges Radio press release 22.02.2017 (in Swedish)
  5. ^ L.W.A Douglas, Hur vi förlorade Norrland – How We Lost Norrland, Stockholm 1889, p.17
  6. ^ Tervetuloa valtiopäivitten webbsivuile meänkielelä!. Accessed 2009-02-10
  7. ^ "Meänkieli", Wikipedia (in Finnish), September 21, 2019, retrieved September 21, 2019

External links[edit]