Unequal language rights in the Nordic language community
The aim of this paper is to show the implications of using the notion of ‘common culture’ as a basis for a communication policy across language boundaries. There are eight different national languages in the Nordic area, from Greenland in the west to Finland in the east, from Sápmi — the traditional territories of the Sami people in Northern Scandinavia — in the north to Denmark in the south. Additionally, a dozen traditional minority languages and some two hundred immigrant languages are spoken in the area. Despite this linguistic diversity, a ‘Declaration on a Nordic Language Policy,’ signed in 2006 by ministers of education in the Nordic countries, recommends using one of the three ‘Scandinavian’ languages (Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish) for communication across language boundaries throughout the Nordic area, rather than using translation and interpretation, or speaking in English — which is common practice despite official policies. Moreover, recent empirical research indicates that there is good reason to seriously doubt that using a Scandinavian language is a practical communication solution for the Nordic peoples. For example, Greenlanders have poor skills in understanding Swedish. Similarly, Finnish-speaking Finns have poor skills in understanding Danish. Official Nordic language policy is based on an ideology of a common culture rather than linguistic practice. Thus, it appears that communication problems are seen as less important than the prevailing ideas of perceived common Nordic (linguistic) culture.
Keywords: Icelandic, linguistic practice, Nordic language community, English as a lingua franca, Scandinavian languages, language policy, language rights, language ideology
Published online: 19 December 2012