In the past, Sweden occupied greater territory than what it does today. Hence, the modern linguistic landscape of the country is greatly different from its historic linguistic landscape. The Swedish language, treated as the official language of Sweden evolved around the 14th and 15th century from Old Norse. The language has several dialects spoken in various parts of the country. The formally recognized minority languages spoken in Sweden include Finnish, Meänkieli, Yiddish, Sami, and Romani. German was the most important foreign language of Sweden prior to the Second World War after which English replaced German as the dominant foreign language spoken in the country.
Official Language Of Sweden
Swedish is the official language of Sweden and is held in high regard in the country. Nearly the entire population of Sweden speak Swedish with most speaking it as a first language and the rest as a second language. The Swedish language is a North Germanic language that closely resembles Norwegian and Danish. The language is also given an official status in Finland where it is spoken by the ethnic Swedes of Finland. Swedish is also spoken in other countries by the ethnic Swedes. In the US, Swedish is spoken by about half a million people with a Swedish ancestry.
Several different dialects of Swedish are spoken in various parts of Sweden. These include:
- Westrobothnian (coastal areas of Westrobothnia and Norrbotten)
- Dalecarlian (spoken primarily in the Älvdalen Municipality and other northern parts of the Dalarna province)
- Modern Gutnish (spoken in Gotland and Fårö)
- Jamtlandic ( spoken mainly in Jämtland but with scattered speakers throughout Sweden)
- Scanian (spoken in the province of Scania)
Minority Languages Of Sweden
Five minority languages have been formally recognized in Sweden since 1999. They are as follows:
The Finnish language has been spoken for many generations of ethnic Finns in Sweden. The fact that Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom for centuries makes Finnish one of the oldest minority languages of Sweden. About 5% of the population of Sweden comprises of ethnic Fins and Finnish is spoken by about 470,000 speakers in the country. A majority (about 16,000) of the Finnish speakers of Sweden reside in Norrbotten.
The Meänkieli is a Finnic language so closely related to Finnish that it is often treated as a dialect of Finnish. The language is spoken as a first language by about 40,000 to 70,000 speakers in the Torne Valley region of Sweden. These people are called the Tornedalian people.
The Sami languages are spoken by the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. These languages are Uralic languages. The Sami languages feature a significant number of loanwords from Germanic languages like Finnish, Swedish, etc. Three different Sami languages are spoken in Sweden. These languages are spoken by about 9,000 of the 15,000 to 20,000 Sami people living in Sweden. The Sami language speakers of Sweden are mainly found in the municipalities of Kiruna, Arjeplog, Jokkmokk, and Gällivare.
The Romani language is a language spoken by the Romani people. These people are a nomadic group tracing their origins to northern India. The Romani language is an Indo-Aryan language and is closely related to the languages spoken in northern India. Since the Romani people have a nomadic lifestyle, no particular area in Sweden can be designated as a Romani-speaking region. The language is, however, given significant importance in the country with the Swedish government promoting plans to preserve the Romani language.
Yiddish is a Germanic language spoken mainly by the Ashkenazic Jews. Traditionally, Sweden served as the home of the Sephardic Jews but the Ashkenazic Jews immigrated to the country after the 18th century and introduced the Yiddish language in the country. The language is written using a variant of the Hebrew Alphabet. The Swedish government gives considerable attention to the preservation of this language in the country. Most of the Yiddish speakers in Sweden are adults. 2,000 to 6,000 of the 20,000 strong Jew population in Sweden claim to have some knowledge of Yiddish. The Society of Yiddish and Yiddish Culture in Sweden has been established with the aim of promoting the use of the language in the country.
Immigrant Languages Spoken In Sweden
Immigrants to Sweden speak their native languages. Sweden attracts a large number of workers, especially from the countries of Southern Europe. Thus Bulgarian, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Turkish are some of the languages spoken by the immigrant settlers in Sweden. These languages are known as the immigrant languages of Sweden.
Foreign Languages Spoken In Sweden
The German language was quite popular in Sweden for the period extending from the Middle Ages to the end of the Second World War. During this time, Sweden had close connections with Germany. Many Swedish pioneering intellectuals were educated in the universities in Germany and they helped spread the knowledge of German in Sweden. However, all changed after World War II and the defeat of the Germans. Sweden now attempted to maintain a distance with Germany and the huge popularity of the German language in the country was lost. Soon English became a more popular foreign language of Sweden. Currently, German is no longer a compulsory second language taught in schools but is usually offered as an elective language in educational institutions.
A large section of the Swedish population speaks English. The language is most commonly spoken by the younger generations who were born after the Second World War. The trade links of Sweden with English-speaking nations, the strong American influence, overseas travel to English-speaking countries, and cultural interchange have increased the popularity of English in Sweden. Since 1952, studying English has been made compulsory for all students in the country.
Other Foreign Languages Spoken In Sweden
French and Spanish are offered as additional languages in school. There are also plans to introduce Mandarin as an additional language. Danish and Norwegian is also taught on certain occasions to native Swedish speakers.