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Sweden/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

Swedish is spoken by about ten million people: mainly the inhabitants of Sweden and a minority (approximately 290 000) in Finland, where Swedish is one of the two official national languages. Furthermore, an increasing number of Swedes live abroad, often for limited periods of their lives (nearly 50 000 Swedes emigrate each year). Swedish is, furthermore, intelligible to speakers of Norwegian and Danish.

Swedish was recognised as the official language of Sweden in 2009, with the new Language Act. Even if Swedish is a majority language within Sweden, it is a minority language in a European and global context. It is therefore supported by libraries and research institutions and promoted via literature grants, media, and education. In recent years, the government has placed great emphasis on children's reading and speaking via support schemes for library purchases and reading campaigns. Knowledge of the Swedish language among immigrants has also been prioritised. Free introductory language courses for immigrants are provided by all municipalities.

Measures intended to strengthening the position of the Swedish language have been a feature of government policy at least since the 18th century. Such now established measures include supervision of the development of the language, guidelines for setting language standards, the production of manuals and dictionaries, and promotion of relevant guidance and research. Measures taken by the government to support and protect the Swedish language, as well as the languages of the recognised national minorities, are coordinated by The Swedish Language Council, a government agency created in 2006 by merging the (previous) Swedish Language Council and the Centre for Technical Terminology. The Royal Swedish Academy (dating back to the 18th century) also serves several functions in language policy, including the publication of Swedish dictionaries. 

In 1999, five minority languages were declared official in Sweden: Sami (all varieties), Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani Chib (all varieties), and Yiddish. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was ratified by Sweden in January 2000 with regard to these minority languages. Swedish sign language has also been declared an official language. Cultural policy directed at the national minority languages and sign language includes a number of measures intended to support and develop these. Of these languages, Finnish has, by far, the most speakers in Sweden. It is estimated that around 260 000 persons in Sweden are native speakers of Finnish.

Due to immigration, a large percentage of the population speak other languages than Swedish, or the recognised national minority languages, as their mother tongues. It is estimated that more than 150 languages are spoken in Sweden today. Culture in these languages is not a prioritised area within cultural policy. Neither are they recognised in any official sense. The increased communication across national borders, including satellite television and the Internet, is, however, likely to increase their connection to their respective linguistic communities transnationally and may thus influence the contribution of diaspora communities in Sweden both to culture in Sweden and to culture within their own respective linguistic communities.

Chapter published: 16-05-2017

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