Swedish is the official language of Sweden and one of the languages spoken in Finland. It belongs to east Scandinavian bunch of North Germanic languages. Today, it is spoken by over nine million people in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and several immigrant communities. It is closely related to Danish and Norwegian, and was also spoken in parts of Latvia. This essay looks at the development of Swedish language from a historical perspective, and also reflects how the language will develop in the future.
The history of the Swedish language for the Common Scandinavian period (between 600 and 1050 A.D.) to about 1225 is mainly gotten from several runic inscriptions. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, radical changes occurred, particularly in its sound system. Prior to the Swedish revolt of Gustav 1 Vasa that took place in 1525, there was a strong Danish influence on the language. However, the new government put a lot of effort to do away with this effect. Thus, modern Swedish is often dated starting from 1526, when the bibles New Testament was translated into the language and then published. The written version of the language was based on the one developed in manuscripts found in central Sweden, and extended from Uppsala and Stockholm Vadstena monastery in eastern Gotaland. When compared to the speech spoken in the area, many of the languages features were conservative.
The written language aggressively marketed as a symbol of national strength, a situation that spurred King Gustav 3 to set up the Swedish Academy in 1786. The standard language started to emerge in the seventeenth century, mainly derived from the Svea dialects spoken around Lake Maler and in Stockholm although it had certain features similar to the Gota dialects. It spread at the expense of the Danish language through the conquest to western and southern provinces during the seventeenth century. After Finland was ceded to Russia in 1809, the role of the Swedish language was gradually minimized in that country. However, after Finland gained independence in 1917, it has recognized Swedish as one of the national languages and taught it in schools although less than 6% of the population speaks it. On the other hand, the language is spoken by around 90% of the Swedish population, and has a rich and distinguished literature.
There is one characteristic the Swedish language grammar that is also present in other Scandinavian languages. This is the enclitic definite articles whereby the article is placed after the noun. The standard language does not have case endings in nouns apart from the possessive S, and has just two genders: common and neuter. However, in most dialects, three genders i.e. neuter, feminine and masculine are still differentiated. Also, the language has a pitch accent or tone described by English speakers as a singsong rhythm. Its vocabulary has numerous loanwords, particularly from High German and Low German, and also from English and French.
Swedish happens to be among the official languages of the European Union and the Nordic council. Also, it has a high degree of standardization. Its standard version is based on the one spoken in Stockholm although some dialects still exist. Official Swedish linguistics figures out the language varieties that probably did not go through the same evolution historically as the official language. Consequently, such varieties can somehow not be understood by most standard Swedish speakers, although those who speak them fluent in the standard languages.
The future of the Swedish language may somehow be bleak. For one, its official status in Sweden has been challenged by many immigrants. For instance, in 2005, a bill was proposed that would have made it an official language. However, it failed to pass by a very narrow margin of 147-145 because of a pairing-off failure. Also, the languages official status in Finland has been challenged. Some Finns would prefer learning English instead of Swedish. In fact, not many people there understand Swedish; so Finland is not a bilingual country but a monolingual. Today, no other countries whose citizens speak Swedish or recognize it as the official language apart from Sweden and Finland.
As time goes by, the Swedish language is spoken by a lesser percentage of the worlds population. Also, the geographical area where the language is spoken shrinks gradually. However, as the years go by, it is learn by an increasing number of people. Explaining this is a bit complicated. Speakers of the language in Sweden and South West Finland have low nativity figures. Hence, they tend to lose relative ground to finish speakers locally, and to the productive masses of countries such as India globally. All in all, Sweden also gets immigrants who cause its population to increase gradually. Most of them learn the language. Hence, it cannot be said that the language is small or under the threat of extinction.
In 2013, people in Finland began signing a petition against compulsory Swedish classes, spurring a parliamentary debate on the matter. At the moment, Swedish first-language speakers make up about 6% of the population of Finland, while the figure for those who speak Finnish is about 90%. However, in a small autonomous Finish region called Aland Islands located between the two countries, the figures are virtually reversed since Swedish is the only official language. The Finnish national law states that Swedish lessons should start within the three years of lower secondary school. All in all, there is a variation in education and demography that mean the levels of Swedish proficiency vary significantly. Also, there is some resistance from pupils and students who lose interest in the language, especially in areas where it is rarely spoken.
It is worth looking at the Swedish language from a historical context. From the middle ages up to the nineteenth century, Finland was governed and ruled as part of Sweden. In the course of this time, Swedish was the language used by the ruling class. When the country was conquered by Russia in 1809, it still retained the language for higher education, justice, and administration. In the current Finish society, the language is generally spoke more in the bigger cities due to migration, and in south western, westerns, and coastal southern regions. References
Kallkvist, M., & Hult, F. M. (2016). Discursive mechanisms and human agency in language policy formation: negotiating bilingualism and parallel language use at a Swedish university. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19(1), 1-17.
Kuteeva, M. (2014). The parallel language use of Swedish and English: the question of nativeness in university policies and practices. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 35(4), 332-344.
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