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Assessing the ethnolinguistic vitality of minority languages in Northern Sweden

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Title: Assessing the ethnolinguistic vitality of minority languages in Northern Sweden
Authors: Arola, Laura
Issue Date: 14 Mar 2009
Description: Northern Sweden is a traditionally multilingual region. In addition to Swedish, several indigenous Saami languages, Finnish, and a local variety of Finnish called Meänkieli are spoken in the area. Even quite recently some of the villages have been monolingual in a minority language while others have been bi- and even trilingual. Nowadays, however, a rapid language shift to Swedish is remarkably changing the sociolinguistic situation. During the last two or three decades there have been attempts to revitalize the minority languages. One result of this is that Meänkieli has gained the official status of a language, and a literary standard is being currently created for it. However, the local population’s opinions are divided on whether Meänkieli should be considered a language of its own or a dialect of Finnish. The Saami languages of the region are in an uneven situation: the status of North Saami, the largest Saami language, is relatively good and it also gets support from the Norwegian side of Saami land. Lule Saami, on the other hand, has only a few hundred speakers and very few young speakers. My ongoing Ph.D. research focuses on bi- and multilingualism among young people in Northern Sweden. The aim is to find out to what extent the minority languages are still known by young speakers, how they are learned and in which domains they are used, how do the speakers themselves report their knowledge of languages, and what kind of language attitudes and linguistic identities there are in the region. Questions centering on these themes are used to assess the ethnolinguistic vitality of minority languages among young speakers. The gathering of data takes place in fall 2008 through a web-based questionnaire, which will be filled out by all high school students in the five northernmost municipalities of Sweden. From this data it will be possible to study the language attitudes of both the minority-language speakers themselves as well as the dominant Swedish-speaking population. In my presentation I will examine the historical background of the linguistic situation in Northern Sweden, and discuss the future and ethnoliguistic vitality of minority languages in the region in light of data gathered through the questionnaire. I will also report my experiences on using web-based questionnaire, and discuss how the chosen set of questions has worked in the assessment of ethnolinguistic vitality.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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