Spoken in Sweden, Finland
Region Torne Valley
Native speakers 40,000-70,000  (date missing)
Language family
Official status
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-3 fit

Meänkieli (lit. "our language") is the name used in Sweden for Finnish dialects spoken in the northernmost parts of the country, around the valley of the Torne River.

Linguistically Meänkieli consist two dialect sub-groups (Tornio and Jällivaara dialects) of Peräpohjola dialects, which belong to the Western dialects of Finnish.[1] For political and historical reasons it has the status of a minority language in Sweden. In Swedish nowadays the language is usually referred to as Meänkieli by the authorities; a common, and older, name is tornedalsfinska which literally means "Torne Valley Finnish". Linguistically meänkieli consists of the Finnish Torne Valley (also spoken on the Finnish side of the Torne River) and Gällivare dialects which belong to the much larger Peräpohjola dialect group (see Dialect chart).

Meänkieli is chiefly distinguished from standard Finnish by a lack of influence from modern 19th and 20th century developments in that language. Meänkieli also contains many loanwords from Swedish, pertaining to daily life. However, the frequency of loanwords is not exceptionally high when compared to some other Finnish dialects: for example the dialect of Rauma has roughly an equal frequency of loanwords as Meänkieli. Meänkieli lacks two of the grammatical cases used in standard Finnish, namely the comitative and the instructive (and they are used mostly in literary, official language in Finland). In Finland Meänkieli is generally seen as a dialect of northern Finnish. There is also a dialect of Meänkieli spoken around Gällivare which differs even more from standard Finnish.



Before 1809, all this region belonged to Sweden. The language border went west of the Torne Valley area, so a part of today's Sweden was historically Finnish speaking. The area where Meänkieli is spoken and what is now Finland (apart from the linguistically Sami and Swedish parts thereof), formed a dialect continuum within the Realm of Sweden. Since the area east of Torne River was ceded to Russia in 1809, the language developed in partial isolation from standard Finnish. In the 1880s, the Swedish state decided that it would be better if all citizens of the country used Swedish. Part of the reason was based on military concern; one felt that people close to the border speaking the language of the neighbouring country rather than the major language in their own country might not be trusted, in case of war. Another reason was that Finns were considered to be of another race. Opinions were, that "the Sami and the Finnish tribes belong closer to Russia than Scandinavia".[2] The schools in the areas were only teaching in Swedish, and the children were forbidden, under penalty of physical punishment, to speak their own language at school even during the breaks.

A language thus separated from all public life and only maintained in the private sphere soon loses ground. For innovations, the Swedish word had often been incorporated. Thus Meänkieli can be regarded as an old-fashioned northern Finnish dialect, with many loan words from Swedish. Native speakers of Meänkieli are very well aware of the fact that they speak what is technically a Finnish dialect, but given that Meänkieli is now taught as a standardized language, it could also be regarded a language in its own right rather than a mere dialect. Native Meänkieli speakers were prevented by the authorities from learning standard Finnish as a school subject for decades, which resulted in the survival of the language only in oral form.

Meänkieli today

On April 1, 2000, Meänkieli became one of the five nationally recognized minority languages of Sweden. It is most commonly used in the municipalities of Gällivare, Haparanda, Kiruna, Pajala and Övertorneå. However, few of the employees in the public sector have sufficient literacy in the language; some 50% of civil servants[where?][citation needed] have oral proficiency in Finnish and/or Meänkieli.

The numbers of how many people speak Meänkieli vary, since few people today speak Meänkieli as their only language. Numbers from 30,000 to 70,000 people are mentioned, most of them living in Norrbotten. Many people in the Northern parts of Sweden understand some Meänkieli, but those who speak it regularly are fewer. People with Meänkieli-speaking roots are often referred to as Tornedalians although the Finnish-speaking part of Norrbotten is a far larger area than the Tornio (Meänkieli and Finnish name for Torne) river valley; judging by the names of towns and places, it stretches as far west as the city of Gällivare. Today Meänkieli is declining as an active language. Few of the young people in the region speak Meänkieli as part of daily life, though many have passive knowledge of the language from family use. The language is taught at Stockholm University, Luleå University of Technology and Umeå University. Bengt Pohjanen is the trilingual author of Torne valley. He wrote in 1985 the first novel in Meänkieli, Lyykeri. He has written several novels, dramas, grammars and songs in Meänkieli. He has also written and directed films. The author Mikael Niemi does not speak meänkieli. His novels, and a film based on one of his books in Swedish, has improved the general knowledge among average Swedes regarding the existence of this Finnish-speaking minority. Since the 1980s, people who speak Meänkieli have become more aware of the importance of the language as a marker of identity that one should not be ashamed of. Today, grammar books are being written in Meänkieli, as such, the Bible is being translated into Meänkieli; there is drama performed in Meänkieli and some TV programs are being made in Meänkieli – ironically at a time where the number of people who do speak Meänkieli as their first language has reduced drastically.


Education in and on Meänkieli has been criticized on the grounds that standard Finnish would give the students considerably greater possibilities for further studies, access to the much larger Finnish literature, and would additionally improve the relations between Finland and Sweden, as well as between Swedes and Ethnic Finns in both countries. The governmental and legal support for Meänkieli as a minority language has proved to be weaker than in comparable countries, such as Norway, Finland, and the Netherlands.

Comparison between Meänkieli and Standard Finnish

Meänkieli[3] Finnish
Ruotti oon demokratia. Sana demokratia Ruotsi on demokratia. Sana demokratia
tarkottaa kansanvaltaa. Se merkittee tarkoittaa kansanvaltaa. Se merkitsee,
ette ihmiset Ruottissa saavat olla matkassa että ihmiset Ruotsissa saavat olla mukana
päättämässä miten Ruottia pittää johtaa. päättämässä, miten Ruotsia pitää johtaa.
Meän perustuslaissa sanothaan ette kaikki Meidän perustuslaissamme sanotaan, että kaikki
valta Ruottissa lähtee ihmisistä ja ette valta Ruotsissa lähtee ihmisistä, ja että
valtiopäivät oon kansan tärkein eustaja. valtiopäivät on kansan tärkein edustaja.
Joka neljäs vuosi kansa valittee kukka Joka neljäs vuosi kansa valitsee, ketkä
heitä eustavat valtiopäivilä, maakäräjillä heitä edustavat valtiopäivillä, maakäräjillä
ja kunnissa. ja kunnissa.

Literal English translation

Sweden is a democracy. The word democracy means the power of the people. It means that people in Sweden are allowed to participate in deciding how Sweden has to be governed. It is said in our constitution that all power in Sweden comes from the people, and that the Riksdag is the most important representative of the people. Every four years the people choose those who will represent them in the Riksdag, the County Councils and the municipalities.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ L.W.A Douglas, Hur vi förlorade Norrland – How we lost Norrland, Stockholm 1889, p.17
  3. ^ Tervetuloa valtiopäivitten webbsivuile meänkielelä!. Accessed 2009-02-10

External links

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