Swedish language in Finland

There are several European countries where more than one language is spoken, but Finland is one of only five that have more than one official language – Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta being the others.

Finland is a country with three official languages: Finnish, Swedish and Sami. Sami is an official language in the Sami areas; in Enare, Enontekis, Sodankylä and Utsjoki municipalities. For hundreds of years Swedish has been spoken in Finland – long before this country gained independence. The first Swedish speakers were trappers, fishermen and hunters from Sweden who settled in what is now the archipelago of Southern Finland sometime between 1000 and 1250 A.D.

As the political machinations of Europe ground their wheels over the centuries, Finland was ruled by her Western neighbours until 1809, which largely explains the existence of Swedish as an official language here because it was used by the ruling class and in administration.

Finnish itself was only recognised as an official language in 1863. Interestingly, it was Swedish-speakers like Johan Snellman and Minna Canth who largely brought about the emergence of Finnish as a literary language. Today, some 290,000 Finns – or around 5.3 % of the population – have Swedish as their mother tongue.

The rights of Swedish-speakers are enshrined by law, at least in theory. While there will be a good chance of getting council services etc in Swedish in the southern and western coastal areas, good luck finding anything similar as soon as you head a few hours north or east of Helsinki.