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Josephson - English


Olle Josephson, Swedish Language Council     

Sweden on the treshold to multilingualism – a new Swedish      language policy     

The language situation in Sweden is nothing special. On the contrary, I believe that Sweden      lingustically could be characterized as a typical, relatively small European country. For a long      time, it considered itself monolinguistic, although it never has been . there are Sami- and      Finnish-speaking minorities as old as the Swedish-speaking majority. Swedish has a strong      position as the official national language since the 16th century, there has only been minor      changes in the written standard norm since the beginning of the 19th century, and the level of      reading and writing skills is high.     

Today, there exist in fact almost 200 native tongues among Swedish population. About 90      percent of the population speak Swedish as their first language, and there are five official      minority lanugages, i.e. Fnnish (by far the biggest one), Meänkieli (or Tornedalian Finnish),      Sami, Romany and Yiddisch, and there are close to 200 immigrant languages. The knowledge      of English is good; it is estimated that ca 75 percent of the adults can read an English      newspaper or manage an ordinary conversation. Many Swedes have also some slight      knowledge of another European language, mainly German, French or Spanish. But the      position of these languages is the one of foreign languages, while English in some respects is      a second language in the Swedish speech community.     

Functional domains in three spheres     

Thus, considering functional domains, the picture is in no way amazing. Roughly, the      functional domains of the Swedish speech community can be divided in three groups, or      spheres. The first sphere relates to activities which are often more or less internationalized:      science, big business management, technologically advanced industry etc; these activities are      dominated by the middle and upper middle class. The second sphere relates to everyday      activities in the Swedish society: (the main part of the) labour market, school, local politics,      daily consumption, public authorities etc. Simply speaking, all Swedish citizens take part in      these activities. The third sphere is the one of private life.    

In the first sphere, English has an increasingly strong position, and there is actually a risk of      domain losses from Swedish to English, first and foremost in the domain of natural sciences.      In the second sphere, Swedish is by far language number one; you cannot live a decent life in      Sweden without knowing Swedish . unless you are very privileged. In the third sphere,      Swedish is the most frequently used language, of course, but here, we also find the minority      and immigrant languages. (They could be found in the second sphere too, to some extent; e.g.      65 000 primary school pupils with a minority or an immigrant language as mother tongue are      instructed in their first language at least two hours per week.)     

Pessimistic and optmistic scenarios     

That is the situation of today, what will it bee in one or two generations? In a pessimistic      scenario, the the separation of spheres in different languages will be still stronger. The first      sphere will be more or less monopolized by English, there will be no Swedish, no other      foreign languages and absolutely no minority and immigrant languages. In the second sphere,      there will be some English, but it will remain an almost complete Swedish-speaking sphere      with no place for immigrant and minority languages. These languages will only be used in the      third sphere.    

 In an optimistic scenario, the languages of the Swedish speech community are paralleled; they live side by side in the same domains, so to speak. The position of English is strong in the first sphere, of course, but there is also some place for Swedish and foreign languages, and      even for immigrant and minority languages. In the second sphere, these latter languages are      written and spoken beside Swedish; e.g. it will not be surprising to interprete the meeting of      the local council into Arabic or to find webb sites of public authorities or private enterprises      in Finnish.     

Swedish language policy     

This future multilingual society, with Swedish as the principal language, is the objective of an      extensive report of a parliamental committee from spring 2002, Mål i mun (Speech, in      English; an English summary is to be found at ). The committee proposes      three points to ensure:     

− Swedish shall be a complete language, serving and uniting society    

− Swedish in official and public use shall be correct and shall function well    

- Everyone shall have a right to language: Swedish, their mother tongue and foreign      languages    

As could be seen, the first and the third points directly relates to the the problem of domain      losses and paralleled languages.     

The fulfil these objectives, the committee has almost a hundred of proposals. I quote a few:      − Universities and other institutes of higher education should augment elements in their      students. programmes that promote better oral and witten skills in both Swedish and English, and should also, in certain cases require a more advanced previous      knowledge of Swedish. Measures shall be taken to promote parallel employment of English and Swedish in research and scholarship.     

− The use of Swedish in working life shall be promoted and in certain cases enjoined by      regulation. The consequences of using other languages in working life shall be monitored.     

− The position of the Swedish language in culture and the media shall be advanced.    

− Measures shall be taken in primary and secondary schools to strengthen education in      Swedish as a second language, and measures shall be taken to strengthen mother      tongue (i.e. other mother tongues than Swedish) support in preschool and mother      tongue instruction in school.     

− Modern (foreign) languages shall be given a stronger position in Swedish education.     

− Measures shall be taken to ensure that Swedish terms and expressions can be      generated in all those areas in which we want to be able to use Swedish.     

Three conclusions     

The new language policy may be summarized by three ideas which are apparent in the report,      even if not explicitly stated:    

− English has an inescapable and important position in the Swedish society. There is no      reason demonizing English, but the task is to promote parallel use of Swedish and      English.     

− The question of functional domains cannot be restricted to the relation between the      national language and English. Foreign languages, the five minority languages and      the next to 200 immigrant languages are a part of the matter as well.    

− The Swedish contribution to a multilingual Europe is most of all the construction of a      multilingual Sweden. Language policy on the national level forms the necessary      foundation for multilingualism on the international level.     

Three questions     

I sympathize with the report of the parliamental committee, but I see some problems that      deserves debating. I think they have some relevance not only in Sweden:     

− Is it true that language policy on the national level decides the future of a multlingual      Europe? Obviously, there is a need for European cooperation in language planning,      e.g. in language technology or terminology work. But for the rest, how much can be      fulfilled on a national level?     

− We know that language policy measures of the type mentioned above is of little effect      if they are not followed or preceeded by a change in attitudes towards a moore      positive view on multlingualism. In Sweden, it is easy to enumerate several common      attitudes that blockade the switch to multilingual society with parallel use of      languages: the high prestige of English, and the low prestige of immigrant languages;      the fact that Swedes overestimates their (deeper) knowledge of English; the      widespread idea that high proficiency in one language disfavours proficiency in      another (it is a paradox that this idea is combined with the overestimation of the      knowledge of English!); the idea that language planning is suspect and interferes with      the rights of the individual. To what extent can language policy influence such      attitudes?     

− What is the relation between the multilingual society that is the objective of the status      planning, on the one hand, and the linguistic standard norm for a specific language      that is the objective of the corpus planning, on the other hand? In Sweden . as in      other countries, I believe . we want a stable standard norm. That implies a certain      amount of linguistic purism. There are many good reasons for this stable standard      norm. We all need it, not least those Swedes who do not have Swedish as their native tongue, or those who speak Swedish as a minority language under pressure from a      majority language, such as the 300 000 Swedish-speaking Finns. But there is also an idea in Sweden that the written standard norm not should be too distant from ordinary      spoken language; a close relation between written and spoken language facilitates      learning of the written language. This will be more complicated in a country with many mother tongues. And it may be that a stable standardnorm inevitably mediates the idea that languages should be kept apart, that language mixing and many languages at the same time is an inconvenience. Such an attitude is not favourable to parallel use of several languages. How are we to solve this contradiction?            


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