Camilla Wide

​Language on the Internet: How do young Swedish-speaking Finns write today?

Camilla Wide
Professor of Scandinavian Languages
University of Turku

Swedish is spoken by a minority of 5.4 % of the population in Finland. It is a non-dominant variety of Swedish, the dominant variety being Sweden Swedish. The written language norm is the same as in Sweden and the spoken standard language (finlandssvenska ‘Finland Swedish’) is one of the five regional versions of the common Swedish standard language. Approximately half of the Swedish-speaking Finns, however, speak a dialect as their first language. In addition to this, most Swedish-speaking Finns are bilingual (Swedish–Finnish) in one sense or another.

The explicit policy of Finland-Swedish language cultivation since the late 19th century, when the discussion of so-called finlandisms (i.e. lexical and grammatical features typical of Finland Swedish) started, has been to keep written and formal spoken Swedish in Finland as close to the Sweden Swedish norm as possible. Differences in comparison with language use in Sweden can nonetheless be found. Some of them can be explained by language contact with Finnish, others by the peripheral position within the Swedish language area, which for example may lead to a preservation of archaic features or innovations that do not find their way into the common Swedish standard language.

As in many other speech communities, one of the concerns within the Finland-Swedish speech community is that the skills to write and speak proper Swedish is declining among young people. In particular, there seems to be a concern that young Swedish-speaking Finns are not able to write proper texts. Since Finland Swedish is a non-dominant variety of Swedish, the distance between written and spoken Swedish can be expected to be bigger in Finland than in Sweden. In addition to this, language contact can directly or indirectly have an impact on writing patterns. One could thus, for example, expect Finland-Swedish texts to be more influenced by spoken language and stylistically less coherent from a written language point of wiew. However, with the rise of new media, the status of texts and written language has changed radically. Computer-mediated-communication can be both highly spontaneous and contain various types of non-standard features. There are, however, big differences across different genres of computer-mediated-communication. In some genres, spoken language features are much less salient than in others.

In my paper I will discuss the language used in two Finland-Swedish discussion groups for young people. Wha tcharacterizes the language use in the discussions? Are spoken language features particularly frequent? What written language features can be found? How are the postings structured linguistically? Are there many errors, finlandisms etc.? In short, how do young Swedish-speaking Finns behave linguistically on the Internet?

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