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Endangered LanguagesBeliefs and Ideologies in Language Documentation and Revitalization$

Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265765

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265765.001.0001

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Minority Language Use in Kven Communities:

Minority Language Use in Kven Communities:

Language Shift or Revitalization?

(p.97) 5 Minority Language Use in Kven Communities
Endangered Languages

Anna-Kaisa Räisänen

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the relationship between language beliefs and language ideologies among the Kvens in Northern Norway, and specifically how beliefs about Kven language transmission to future generations are manifested in discourse about use of the language with children at home. A critical discourse analysis approach is adopted, analysing discursive structures, especially modal structures, and word choices. Critical attention is also paid to language ideology with a focus on power relationships and their effect on language and its use as a social practice. The goal is to analyse how linguistic beliefs about the Kven language are constructed, based on semi-structured interviews recorded in 2007 with 12 Kven-Norwegian bilinguals from Bugøynes in Northern Norway.

Keywords:   Kven, Norway, critical discourse analysis, language ideology, power relationships, language as a social practice

5.1 Introduction

THE LAST DECADES of the twentieth century saw a turn away from the ideal of the monolingual society towards active work on language pluralism in Scandinavian societies. According to Maria Wingstedt (1998), this turn meant a shift from nationalistic and monolingual language ideologies to plurilingual language ideologies. The nationalistic and monolingual views of language in Norway were indeed very strong when the state separated from Denmark in 1814, and later when the union with Sweden ended in 1907. During the period from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, minority languages posed a problem for the young nation-state, which resulted in a tendency to assimilate linguistic minorities into majority society (Eriksen and Niemi 1981).

The aim of this article is to shed light on language ideologies in a small bilingual Kven community in Northern Norway. Nowadays, the Kvens live in a Norwegian society, where the official political discourse resonates with pluralistic language ideology. However, there are, in addition, many other language ideologies affecting people’s views of languages. Former Scandinavian research on language ideologies has revealed that discourses concerning minority and majority languages are infused with ecological, instrumental, monolingual, national, and ethnic ideologies (Wingstedt 1998). Some language ideologies support ongoing revitalization projects, while others actively support language shift among minority groups.

In this chapter, I examine the beliefs that speakers of Kven have about their language. I concentrate on the construction of their beliefs in discourses in which the interviewees discuss their own, and their family members’, acquisition of the minority and majority languages. An essential part of my analysis describes the discourses associated with socialization (Schieffelin and Ochs 1986) into a minority language community, which describe the choices made in the respondents’ (p.98) childhood family homes, and the choices that they themselves make with regard to their own children. I am interested in how individuals see the past from a present-day perspective. It is vital to understand the experiences that the speakers of a minority language have in a historical context, especially considering that former ideologies supporting monolingualism have undergone a major shift. This has resulted in ideologies that support the value of multilingualism and language revitalization. As Austin and Sallabank (this volume) point out, ‘the study of language ideologies and beliefs can provide insights into reasons for both language decline and revival’.

5.2 The Kvens

The Kvens are a national minority in Norway. They once spoke a Finnic language, nowadays officially called Kven, before language shift started around the beginning of the twentieth century in Troms, and later in the mid-twentieth century in Finnmark (Aikio 1989; Eskeland et al. 2003; Lane 2010: 64). According to Eskeland et al. (2003), Kven was an important lingua franca in interethnic communication and was also a lingua sacra in the Laestadian religious movement in Northern Norway. However, in both local and peripheral Kven communities, it has lost ground while Norwegian has strengthened its hold.

Kven is generally used by the older generations, and it has an important role in the ethnic identity of the Kvens. The language is closely related to Finnish and has been considered a dialect of Finnish (termed ruijanmurteet or kveenimurteet) by both its speakers and linguists (Hyltenstam and Milani 2003). The Kven language received the status of an independent language in 2005, after a long political debate. The Kvens themselves have various interpretations of the origins of their own language. In the western part of Northern Norway, the Kvens regard their language as an independent language. It is called either kveenin kieli (the Kven language) or kainun kieli (the Kainu language); in Norwegian, the language is called kvensk. Despite the official status of the language, the Kvens in the eastern part of Northern Norway regard the Kven language as a dialect or a variety of Finnish called ‘Old Finnish’ or ‘Norwegian Finnish’.

The main target of my study is the small Kven community in Eastern Finnmark, Bugøynes, which has 400 inhabitants, and where the onset of language shift was relatively late. As Lane (2010: 69) has pointed out, although since the 1970s parents have tended to speak only Norwegian to their children and grandchildren in Bugøynes, the minority language is still actively used among the community’s oldest members, who learned Kven or Finnish as their first language. There have been some efforts to revitalize the language in Bugøynes, but until now the revitalization process has been restricted to the school environment as an optional subject.

(p.99) 5.3 Language Ideologies and Discourses

As many chapters in this book show, research on language ideology has been carried out from various viewpoints, in different language communities, and in many parts of the world. In this chapter, I shall use Blommaert’s (1999) concept of language ideology to examine the discourses concerning language socialization among the Kvens. According to Blommaert’s definition, language ideologies are ‘socioculturally motivated ideas, perceptions and expectations of language, manifested in all sorts of language use’ (Blommaert 1999: 1). These are not separated from any kind of language use but are present in language itself as well as in all its varied uses.

In the same way as language, language ideologies are also connected to other sociocultural, political and economic contexts, and to other ideologies and social practices affecting social life (Wingstedt 1998: 26). They have an influence on the way the language users perceive, interpret, and experience the language, but language and its uses also wield various influences on ideologies via discourse. As Woolard (1992: 235) points out, ‘ideology stands in dialectal relation with, and thus significantly influences, social, discursive and linguistic practices’. As language speakers’ ideologies are at work in their language(s) and in the linguistic choices they make, ideologies about languages should therefore be examined systemically in relation to language use, and especially to those semiotic processes that reveal these ideologies (e.g. Irvine and Gal 2000: 37).

In addition to linguistic ideology, discourse is the other important concept treated in this chapter. In conceptualizing discourse, I draw on Fairclough (2001), who considers discourse as a way of representing ideas and knowledge. By analysing discourses and their contexts, it is possible to reveal socially meaningful elements from different levels, originating from different historical, social, cultural, or ideological surroundings (Blommaert 2005: 174). Since language is an important semiotic system in which discourses are manifest, it is important to analyse language and its use.

5.4 The Data and Methods of Analysis

The data is taken from interviews with 12 native Kven speakers in Bugøynes. I collected the data (11 hours of recordings) in August 2007 when I worked as a field assistant in the project ‘The Linguistic and Cultural Heritage Electronic Network’, which was funded by the Research Council of Norway. The main focus of the project was Kven language documentation. Another aim was to gather and disseminate information about the situation of the Kven language (Lane and Räisänen 2008). The purpose of the interviews discussed in this (p.100) chapter was to explore the attitudes and beliefs Kven speakers have with regard to their language. The interviews concentrated mainly on language, although some other particular themes about Kven culture were also discussed.

I analysed the data using Fairclough’s (2003) discourse analysis method, paying attention to the content and linguistic structures of discourses in the data. Initially, I separated the excerpts in which the interviewees speak about language socialization into two generations: the first focused on the respondents’ and their elders’ use of language, and then about the respondents’ own language use with their children. Secondly, I analysed how respondents linguistically conceptualize this kind of content concerning language choice within the family. In the analysis, attention was paid to the words and structures (especially to modal structures) that the participants used to express these themes and discourses. In the examination, there are two levels for analysing discourses: the micro-level linguistic choices, by which the respondents give meanings to language choices within families, and the macro-level choices that the interviewees make as members of a socio-cultural community. Finally, I examined what kind of language ideologies are constructed by these connected discourses regarding language and its intergenerational transmission. In addition to presenting the results of my study I shall discuss how different language ideologies relate to language shift and resistance to it.

5.5 Minority Language Transmission

A common feature in the interviews was that all participants who had learned Kven or Finnish as their first language described the use of the minority language as a normal and natural phenomenon at home during their childhood. The themes that arose in most interviews while talking about language use at home were connected to the interviewees’ experiences of learning Norwegian and changes in the use of languages when starting school.



  • mitä kieltä teilla kotona puhuttiin.
  • ‘What language did you use at home?’
  • Maria:

  • suomia joo se oli aivan suomia. joo () joo. ei minun isä ja äiti ei puhuhneet ne ei ne osahneet oikiaa norjaa he. net oli puhuhneet aivan suomia. nii () ko heän nehä esivanhemmat olthii Suomesta mm.—
  • nii joo ja se näi net puhuthii aivan suomia ja ja sillälailla se on (ollu sillon), samoten äitiki ni niin mii_en tiiä koska äiti on (—) mutta äitin äiti mie vain muistan, nii, kansa nii tä-se kuoli ko mie olin kuuev vuojev vanha, () nii () joo. niin mutta nehän oli su-suomesta se oli heillä aivan (p.101) se suomi tuo nii ja kaikki met lapset jokka olemma ylöskasunheet kotona ni sehän oli suomia. ja nii nii niin kauan ko me aloimma kouhlun.
  • ’Finnish, yeah, only Finnish. Yeah. () Oh, my father and mother could not speak proper Norwegian. They spoke only Finnish. Yeah. () Because their ancestors were from Finland mm. —
  • So, yeah, and they spoke only Finnish and so it has been (has been then), and also mother, so yeah, I don’t know, because mother is (-) but I remember my grandmother, yeah, too, she died when I was six, () so () yeah. But they were from Finland and had only Finnish and all of us children who were brought up at home, so it was Finnish. And so, it was so as long as we started school.’
  • 2


  • joo no entä mikä on ollu sun ensimmäinen kieli, jonka sie oot oppinu. ‘Yeah, and what was the language you learned first?’
  • Reidun:

  • no sehän on tietenki suomi. hhh mutta mie olen siinä samassa norijaaki saanu jotaki, katto ko mulla on vanhempija, <syster> vanhin <syster> oli kaheksan vuotta vanhempi minua, sehän kulki jo koulua. se oli oppinu norijaa, ja ja:: minun vanhemmatki puhuthin norijaa aina joskus, ja ko kylä-joku ihminen tuli kylhän jol-joka osas aivan norijaa, niin niin opin vähän sillon norijaa jo. kotona puhu äiti oli oli <flink> hyvä puhumhan norijaa kotona, ja niin mie opin norijaa ennen ko mie menin koulhun. niin mie osasin jo norijaa.
  • ‘Oh of course it was Finnish. But I did learn Norwegian as well, you see, because I had older ((siblings)), sister the oldest sister was eight years older than me, and she was already in school. She had learned Norwegian, and and my parents spoke Norwegian as well every now and then, and when someone visited us, someone spoke only Norwegian, so so I did learn a little Norwegian then already. My mother spoke at home, she was good at speaking Norwegian, and so I learned Norwegian before starting school. So I knew some Norwegian already.’
  • The discursive construction of speaking the Kven or Finnish language at home provides an immediate answer to the question about the language used at home in the interviewees’ childhood. In line with other speakers in the study, Maria, in example (1), describes her home environment with her parents and grandparents as totally Finnish-speaking. This is a way of constructing a strong position for the minority language in private domains, which draws on discourses of monolingual environments where there are no other languages present—only the minority language. This is emphasized with the repetitive phrase ‘aivan suomia’ (only Finnish). Like Maria, Reidun (2) too describes the home as a Kven-speaking domain: ‘Sehän on tietenkin suomi’ (Of course, it’s Finnish) contains a modal particle ‘tietenkin’ (of course), which draws on discourses (p.102) about Finnish as a natural first language in Bugøynes. These linguistic choices naturalize the linguistic socialization in the Kven language community and clearly echo the discourses of the Kven-or Finnish-speaking Bugøynes, where there is a strong tendency to compare their own minority community and its uniqueness to Norwegian-speaking majority communities.

    The linguistic choices of the participants exploit discourses about bilingual Bugøynes, although the main explicit discourse refers to the minority language speaking community. In extract (2) Reidun emphasizes that her first language is Kven, but then she continues with the contrastive adversative conjunction mutta (but), followed by her description of learning Norwegian too. Reidun chooses contrastive linguistic elements to refer to her language socialization in the local community as a bilingual community member. Maria, also, recalls her bilingual childhood when she divides her family into two groups: those who could not speak proper Norwegian, and those (herself included) who spoke both Kven or Finnish, and Norwegian. These views of language use in childhood derive from discourses of bilingualism and the parallel use of languages, where participants are not able to keep the two languages separate when speaking about their linguistic environment during their childhood.

    Both examples (1) and (2) demonstrate what an important effect school had in small bilingual villages, as the school was a monolingual Norwegian institution. School was the only domain where bilingualism was totally forbidden: only the use of Norwegian was permitted. In extracts (1) and (2) both Maria and Reidun construct discourses which create higher boundaries between private and public domains, thus these discourses connect the interviewees’ beliefs about the different possibilities that the languages used in the community can provide; using Kven is opportune in the local village, but with Norwegian there are opportunities in society beyond the village.

    The great majority of the participants learned Kven as their first language at home, yet the data includes two interviewees who say that they only learned Norwegian at home. However, these two respondents have been socialized in the minority community among other Kven speakers, and both of them have a strong identity as minority language speakers.



  • oo joo. () no oliko teillä kotikielenä suomi vai, ()
  • ‘Yeah, yeah. () Did you speak Finnish at home or,’
  • Irene:

  • äiti ja isä puhuthin suomia kyllä, mutta ei koskhan lasten aikana, ko lapset olthin siinä sillai, että mehän o-mehän olima norijalaisia, ja se oli se {p’edagogiik} sillon, että ei saa kahta kieltä. se_oli no se_oli väärin tietenki, mutta se oli se-sellainen {p’e-} niihän se_oli, että se oli {p’edagogiik} niin semmonen että yks kieli kerralhan. .hhh mutta ko me olima siinä kuuen kuuen vuen vanhana, niin kyllä sitä alko niin_ko ulkona (p.103) kuuli, () suomen kielen. .joo ja sitä alko sitten, mutta ehän sitähän kuuli suomen kielen ko vanhat ihimiset puhuthin niin se.
  • ‘Mother and Father spoke Finnish but never when children were present, when children were there, because we were Norwegian, and it was the pedagogy then, that you are not allowed to speak two languages. It was, so, it was of course wrong, but it was kind of {p’e-} so it was, that it was {p’edagogiik} that one language at a time. But when I was six or so, then I started to learn, because I heard Finnish outside. Yeah, and I started to, because you heard older people speaking Finnish, yeah.’
  • In this extract (3), Irene describes how her parents decided to speak only Norwegian to the children, although they spoke Kven or Finnish to each other. After this, Irene focuses on the reasons why her parents did not pass on the language to their children. These reasons highlight the two beliefs that have been used to resist bilingualism and justify monolingualism in Norway: ‘Norwegians speak Norwegian’ and ‘bilingualism is harmful’. From her present-day point of view, Irene explicitly expresses that a monolingual upbringing is ‘väärin’ (wrong), and impossible in a bilingual community; thus her statements reveal positive views of bilingualism. This example also shows how Irene constructs a strong contrast between discourses of defending or resisting multilingualism. The first is situated within the context of family and society, where her parents made the decision to shift languages, and the second within the context of a current plural postmodern society.

    The previous analysis illustrates the contradictions between Kven and Norwegian, which are constructed through the discourses concerning the languages in the interviewees’ childhood. The minority language represents home and the minority community, while the majority language represents wider society and its institutions. Although participants strongly emphasize the significance of learning Norwegian before they started school, they also highlight their primary socialization in the minority language community as a natural and normal process. Despite the discourse of bilingualism, participants draw on discourses where they construct contrastive views between languages as parallel linguistic resources existing in separate domains, where bilingualism refers to private domains and monolingualism to public domains.

    The analysis also illustrates that discourses about language use in childhood draw on coexisting contradictory language ideologies. Although the dominant ideology in Norway during the respondents’ childhood was a nationalistic and monolingual ideology, from the data it is obvious that this did not have a big impact on the Kvens in their local communities, and therefore did not radically affect the linguistic choices made in the home domain.

    (p.104) 5.6 Language Transmission to the Next Generation

    During the 1950s in Bugøynes, attitudes towards minority languages changed radically from positive to negative, as modern society and the education system did not support Kven language and its use (Lane 2010: 72). Although the interviewees perceived their own bilingualism as normal, they decided to shift from Finnish to Norwegian with their own children. As Lane (ibid.) states, ‘mainly through the educational system, their mother tongue was devalued and this was one of the reasons that they did not pass it on to their children’.

    However, according to the participants in the study, language practices varied greatly from family to family. Before the 1970s when most families shifted from Kven to Norwegian, some of the interviewees used only Norwegian with their children but still used Kven with their spouse, some used both languages with both their children and spouse, and some even shifted to Norwegian with their spouse after the birth of their first child.



  • mitä te yhessä ((Maria ja hänen miehensä)) puhhuitte.
  • ‘What did you speak together ((with your husband)))’
  • Maria:

  • me me puhuimma suomia joo. hän praatasi suomen hänki. joo, ja sitte ko meilläki ko lapset tuota ni niinko se hääytti, me hääyimmä puhua norjaa sitte lapsille sitte ko lapset saathii kouhluu. () niin ni että se ei ole niin ankara, niin nii () mutta mehän tä-tavallisesti koti kotipuhe oli suomi. nii se oli suomi nii mutta, () mutta niinko lasten vuoksi, ni lapsethan vai puhuthii, ni sitte sillähän opithii hekki sitte suomen ko ko met keskenhää puhuimma suomia ja ja puhuimma norjaa sitte lapsille.
  • ‘We spoke Finnish, yeah. He spoke Finnish too. Yeah, and when we had children, then we had to, we had to speak Norwegian to children then when they started school. () and so, so it is not so difficult, so so () but we spoke Finnish at home usually. So it was Finnish so, but because of the children, so the children spoke only, so, and they learned also Finnish, because we spoke Finnish together and we spoke Norwegian to children.’
  • In extract (4) Maria divides up the description of her family’s language shift from Kven to Norwegian with a temporal expression, ‘sitten ko’, into two periods: the Kven-speaking era before the children started school, and the bilingual era that followed. Maria attaches ‘we, the parents’ to the Kven language. The parents are actors and direct the action, speaking to their children. These divisions of different periods and groups within the family construct the discourse, where Maria sees socialization in Norwegian society as more important than socialization in the Kven community (see also Lane 2010: 71–2). Furthermore, she does not see any possibilities of developing bilingual linguistic practices with the children. The deontic modal expression ‘me hääyimmä puhua norjaa’ (‘we had (p.105) to speak Norwegian’), however, implies that the parents had to speak Norwegian to the children because of school and for later socio-economic success. Here, the modal verb ‘häätyä’ expresses Maria’s construction of obligation and duty, which is explicitly connected to school and implicitly to the larger society. Maria has experienced language shift as a force and necessity, which means that she did not shift of her own will. Example (4) could be summarized as ‘You have to know Norwegian so that life will not be difficult’. Even though Maria partly refers to monolingual language ideologies, she also expresses resistance discourse, in which pluralistic ideological community wishes are expressed—the wish to continue their language and culture in present-day society—at least at the level of discourse.

    As Dorian (1994) points out, people internalize ideologies of linguistic inferiority, which usually leads to linguistic and cultural shift, if they are faced with a lack of freedom in language choice. In this kind of situation, as the data show, people prefer to draw on discourses where the process of language shift is shown in a positive light. This discourse includes the presupposition ‘It is good to know Norwegian so that life will be easier’:



  • ((lapset puhuvat)) aivan norijaa ja [see nee nee ‘((Children spoke)) only Norwegian and [they they)’
  • Ida:

  • mutta ko mes] saama mek ko saima lapset sitten, niin sittem me vain, että elikka se oli koko kylässä tässä että että kyllä se on parasta puhua lapsile norijaa. ko ne ko nes synnythin että ne se tullee niin_ko helpoks helpompi koulussa, kouhluun alkaa.
  • ‘But when we had] children then, so then we only, so and the same was in the whole village, that that it is the best for the children that we speak Norwegian to them. When they were born that it will be easier at school, when starting school.’
  • Idar and Ida perceive the choice of Norwegian as a first language for their children as a decision that was made by the speech community, the ‘koko kylän’ (‘the whole village’), and where the responsible actor is the community and not single individuals. According to them, the decision was based on the belief that life in modern Norwegian society is ‘helpompaa’ (‘easier’) if the children are monolingual in Norwegian. They refer to this with positive adjectives, ‘parasta’ (‘best’) and ‘ja helpompaa’ (‘easier’), which describe their attitudes towards language shift as being much more positive than Maria’s in example (4). These word choices connect example (5) to the discourse, which Lane (2010: 72) summarizes as the reasons for language choice made by Kven speakers in Bugøynes, ‘We did what we thought was best for our children.’ This discourse is linked to the ideology that the minority language belongs to the past and to the (p.106) older generations, while Norwegian is the language of success in modern society (see Lane 2010).

    As pointed out in Irene’s example above, the attitude towards language shift is quite sceptical, even though the opposite attitude also exists. This is explicitly expressed in example (6), but it is also present in examples (4) and (5). The description of language shift as a forced process in example (6) presupposes that the natural and free choice for the interviewee would be speaking Kven to the children. The same discourses appear in the following example:


  • nii se se sano ni että eihän ymmärrä ko te puhutta aivan, sehä on sehän koulutti {X:ssä} jo sillon ni sannoo että eihän ymmärrä ko oletta aivan puhuhneet norjaa heile, että {Nimi} se puhu aivan suomia lapsille ja sillä oltiin niin nopiat ne lapset. mutta mehäs sanomma että se oli se norja tietenni ko se on kirjotus ja sillai sitte se on ko me oomma Norjassa tieten. () mutta: sehän otti sitten: mm: suomen: () mitem mie sanon. {viideregooeende}
  • ‘So he said that he does not understand why we spoke only, so he went to school in {X} then and he said that he does not understand why you have spoken only Norwegian to them, because he ((a man in a village)) spoke only Finnish and his children were so smart, those children. But we said that it was of course Norwegian, because of the written language and so and we live in Norway of course. () But he chose Finnish at school, how do I say {viideregooeende}.’
  • This example points towards the changes of attitudes towards minority languages, strengthened by the references to the opinion held by Lina’s son, who has criticized his parents’ decision to bring up their children as monolinguals. This point of view reveals a critical attitude to monolingual discourses and represents a positive attitude to multilingualism. Although the children mainly use Norwegian with their parents and their own children, they have, however, studied their parents’ language at school and achieved a level of skill such that they can now use the Kven language with Finnish-speaking people in Norway and Finland.

    5.7 Conclusion

    Whilst minority language use in the interviewees’ childhood is seen as natural, language shift to Norwegian with their children is then seen as natural some decades later. The nationalistic ideology, which has produced a ‘Norwegianiza-tion’ process, has had an intense effect on language shift in the Kven communities in Northern Norway. The above analysis illustrates that it has not been only language ideology that affected language choices in the Bugøynes speech (p.107) community. The process of language shift is still under way, but there are discourses evident that reveal a resistance to this process and a concomitant change of attitudes in a more positive direction. From this perspective interviewees regard past choices as unfavourable and wrong, and now refer to a progressive view of the minority language.

    Language shift in the 1950s and 1960s was justified for educational and socio-economic reasons. The school as an institution had a remarkable role in strengthening national and economic language ideologies in the Kven communities. Once more, the school has a central role, but now in the present revitalization process: the arena that was formerly a place for assimilation is now promoting the reversal of language shift. Kven revitalization has begun in schools with the teaching of Kven as a second or foreign language, although revitalization efforts have yet to reach families and private domains. In addition to concrete revitalization projects, the change of beliefs and attitudes about Kven, from negative to positive, helps to shed some light on a possible avenue for the survival of minority languages.


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    Proceedings of The British Academy, 199, 97–108. © The British Academy 2014.