zaterdag 31 januari 2015

when one turns two.

This year, I was lucky to spend Christmas and New Year with minus 26 high up in Northern Sweden. There, I spend some time with a Finnish-speaking family. I hear you thinking, and I thought as well: what are Finnish-speakers doing in Sweden, why don't they move to Finland, or why isn't their home part of it? Obviously, I started to read and this is what I found out. 

These Swedish Finnish-speakers are separated from their co-speakers since Finland became a part of the Russian Empire. Before, there was no border, and there was no Finland: all was Sweden. In 1809, the Treaty of Fredrikshamn (Hamina) ended the Finnish War (1808-9) between Sweden and Russia. It created two nations where there was only one before.

Large parts of present day Finland had become part of the Swedish realm in the fourteenth century. Finnish speaking people are living in the Swedish Torne valley since at least this day. Therefore, they are known as Tornedalians. At times, they were instrumental in the colonization of Northern Sweden. When the Russian Empire acquired present day Finland in 1809, the Tornedalians were not included, although the Russians pushed for it. Until after the 1950s the Swedish government tried to Swedify the Tornedalians. Since then, the policy was reversed, and in 1999 the Tornedalian language, Meänkieli, was officially recognized as a minority language. It is said that there's still about 150,000 Swedes who understand Meänkieli. Many of the developments of standard Finnish in the nineteenth and twentieth century didn't happen in the Meänkieli dialect. Moreover, it contains many Swedish loanwords. As such, a new nation with a distinct language is created.

There's also many Finns in Sweden, by the way, but they find their origin in what is now Finland. The Swedes in Finland settled there ages ago (since 1200), but as a matter of fact, they don't see or at least call themselves different than the Swedish Swedes. In Norway there's Finnish speaking people known as Kven.

Finnish is a Finno-Ugric language, as Hungarian is famously as well. These are not all of them, however. In Northern Russia there's many more Finno-Ugric speakers. Read more about this here. 

There's more examples of a divided nation which becomes or might become two - or more. For example, the Turks (Turkey and Azerbaijan), the Azeri (Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan), the Arabs (Syria, Iraq, etc.), the Bulgarians (Macedonia, Bulgaria), the Albanians (Kosovo, Albania), Mongolians (Inner and Outer Mongolia), Bengali (Bengal and Bangladesh), etc. Of course, it's all about identification. Even though many Arab dialects aren't mutually intelligible, many speakers see Arab as one tongue. And what about the Korea's, or the Pashtun in Pakistan and Afghanistan? The Germans were never together in one state, but what is it that separates Swiss, German Germans and Austrians? And what would have happened if the German Democratic Republic would have lived on? More people today identify with Meänkieli, but almost nobody without abandoning their Swedish identity. A feeling which is stronger, obviously, than the language bond with Finland. 

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