Minority languages of Sweden

From Academic Kids

In 1999 the Minority Language Committee of Sweden formally declared five minority languages of Sweden: Romani, Yiddish, Finnish, Sami language and Meänkieli (Tornedal).

Sweden has no official language but the Swedish is the national language and de facto official language of the country, dominating commercial and cultural life. The minority status is given to minor languages to protect cultural and historical heritage.

A status of minoriy language is closely related to the status of minority people. Being an official minority language leads to an inclusion of the minority people in school education. The population themselves have in recent studies expressed an appreciation about how their language now officially matters.


Criteria for inclusion

These are the criteras established by the Minority Language Committee, influenced by the directives from the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 1997.

To be accorded official minority status, a language must have been spoken in Sweden for a significant amount of time. A precise figure has not beed revealed, but qualified estimations consider 100 years to be reasonable, based on the included and excluded languages. A significant immigration to Sweden did not start until after World War I, and many languages currently spoken by a large number of people in Sweden are excluded, among them Arabic and Persian.

It is also required that the language be spoken by a significant number of people and be centred in a specific geographical region (the latter, however, not applied for Romani).

Furthermore, it is a condition that the granting of official minority language status should be of cultural benefit to the the group speaking it. It is allegedly for this reason that Swedish sign language was not included – even though it is a unique language with a history dating back to the 18th century, it was considered to have a sufficiently stable basis already in Swedish culture.

Common culture is yet another criterion for inclusion. A further reason for not granting minority language status to the sign language was that its users do not share a unique cultural heritage since hearing-impaired people come from all backgrounds.

Finally, languages that do not differ greatly from standard Swedish are considered dialects and are not included. Among these are Scanian, spoken in the southernmost province, and Gutniska, spoken on the island of Gotland.

Affected languages

Sami languages

The Sami languages is actually not one language, but – at the least – three languages. They are spoken in northern Sweden, and also in the northern parts of Norway and Finland, by the native population. It traces its history back at least 2,000 years. In total, it is spoken by 40,000 people.

As a minority language, it may be used in government agencies, courts, preschools and nursing homes in the municipalities where it is most common: Arjeplog, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and Kiruna and its immediate neighbourhood.


Meänkieli-Finnish or Tornedals language is spoken by a population in northern Sweden. It is related to Finnish and is not intelligible by Swedes. The number of speakers amount to 50,000 or so.

Standard Finnish

Standard Finnish has been spoken in Sweden ever since the borders were drawn in the 13th century. Sweden has always had a significant immigration to and from Finland. As the two languages belong to different language families it is easy to distinguish them, unlike the neighbouring languages Norwegian and Danish. Number of Finnish speakers in Sweden today amounts to over 200,000

Finnish and Meänkieli can be used in the northernmost municipalities of Gällivare, Haparanda, Kiruna, Pajala and Övertorneå and its immediate neighbourhood.


Romani chib, the language of Gypsies, has been spoken in Sweden since the 16th century. Today about 20,000 people speak it in Sweden. It does not have a geographical center, but is considered to be of historical importance.


Yiddish was historically a common language of European Jews. The first Jews were allowed in Sweden in the late 18th century. Certain evidence of Yiddish being spoken are about a century later. Of Sweden's 20,000 jews, about 4,000 are estimated to know enough of the language to claim to be speakers of it.

Romany and Yiddish have the position of "historical minority languages" throughout the country, and thus the Swedish state acknowledges a certain obligation to preserve them.


  • Sveriges officiella minoritetsspråk, Svenska språknämnden 2003. (In Swedish)

See also


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