Multi-sited Language Policies in Finland, Sweden and Everywhere Else

Earlier this month we published Language Policies in Finland and Sweden edited by Mia Halonen, Pasi Ihalainen and Taina Saarinen. Here, the editors of the book explain how the book came about.

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Recent news headlines from around the world show how we are constantly surrounded by language politics and policies. Often the news items in question have historical and spatial links to policy issues and discourses elsewhere or in another time – or to both.

Language Policies in Finland and SwedenOur observations on multi-sitedly linked language policies led us to work on the book Language policies in Finland and Sweden: Interdisciplinary and Multi-sited Comparisons. While our empirical cases are located in Finland and Sweden, similar debates are going on everywhere in the world. We saw examples of (potentially nationalistic) policy discourses in which concepts like “minority”, “official”, “main”, “domestic” and “foreign” were used to construct the political field and became sources for ideological constructions. “Language” turned out to be an even heavier political argument than we initially thought.

The comparisons between Finland and Sweden show for example that in spite of the shared long history of the two countries, the language political climate has developed in very different ways. In Finland, the present policy discourses still highlight a historically strong consensual ideal of state bilingualism, visible in the equal legislative status of Finnish and Swedish. At the same time, looking at educational settings, the Swedish language gets “defamiliarised”, i.e. constructed as a foreign, not a domestic, language.

In Sweden, in turn, the arguments advocating Swedish as the “main” language of the country are based on the ideal of the Swedish language enabling democratic participation in society. However, the support for Swedish has often also entailed losing possibilities to sustain heritage languages.

These kinds of frictions in language policies directed our focus to the apparent clashes between language “policies” and “practices” at different levels. These are often studied separately by either researchers interested in macro level politics and policy making, or researchers studying micro level use of language in interaction. We soon realised that observing the levels separately would not help us to understand their intertwined nature. Instead, we wanted not just to combine micro and macro analysis of the historical and the contemporary, but to see them as dialogical, feeding and construing each other.

This theoretical idea comes alive in the analyses of parliamentary discourses as a nexus of interrelated discourses, constructions of standard language ideals, embodied immigrant experiences of a lack of language, ethnic activism, and media discourses, among others. For us, the chapters opened a whole new world of a constantly changing sociolinguistic space, where just a minor change in a description of a status of a language or change in the amount (and status!) of a migrant group affects the whole field and the related political discourses. The separate cases emerged as stills of a film or details of a painting where everything has a crucial part in the entirety.

We hope the book helps you, too, in understanding language policies as historically and contemporarily intertwined, in other words, as multi-sited. We also strongly believe that the same strategy is applicable to any field of political discourse.

For further information about the book please see our website or contact the authors:
Mia Halonen, Researcher (language ideologies) mia.halonen@jyu.fi
Pasi Ihalainen, Professor of Comparative European History pasi.t.ihalainen@jyu.fi
Taina Saarinen, Senior Researcher (language education policies) taina.m.saarinen@jyu.fi

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