Introduction to the case study by
by Antoinette Camilleri Grima
This contribution by Leena
Huss is an interesting example of how a language can
become valorised in spite of being almost forgotten
and with very few speakers left. The Guide
draws our attention to the fact that "plurilingualism
as a potential of every speaker is typified by the diversity
of individual repertoires" (p. 63) and that one"s
repertoire may include a "generational variety
of the first variety" (p. 64).
Furthermore, the Guide (p. 64) stresses that
education systems and all other training authorities
should, among other things, demonstrate the intrinsic
equal dignity of all those varieties (Guide_AY.ppt).
It is encouraging, therefore, to read about the efforts
of the Meänkieli community who, rather than introducing
their young children to another Western language, have
had the courage to revive an ancestral language.
The offer of Meänkieli in pre-school is impressive
for a number of reasons. Leena Huss gives a clear
picture of the sociolinguistic background and it is
significant that in spite of obvious difficulties, one
teacher, Astrid Kruukka, became the successful leader
of this revitalisation programme. Here it is worth
highlighting a few points that relate this event to
recommendations made in the Guide, such as
(a) the creation of social consensus for the plurilingual
project (section 5.3, p. 70f) by involving the parents
- and eventually the grandparents, and practically
the whole Tornedalen community ..\Workshop\AY_Parentalinvolvement.ppt)
(b) stimulating pedagogical innovation (section 6.2.4,
p. 81f) by, for example, creating language learning
activities for very young children, using songs and
rhymes which had disappeared from the homes but which
were brought back by the children who took them home
from school (MindMap_MN.pdf)
(c) raising the awareness of partners (section 5.4.1,
p. 73f) about issues in language learning such as domain
of language use and code-switching, e.g. by asking parents
to fill in questionnaires, by asking parents and teachers
to keep language diaries where they filled in information
about the developing repertoire of the young children,
and by adopting an action research approach (School
begin with the youngest!"
Minority language revitalisation through preschool
In February 2000, Sweden ratified two Council of Europe conventions:
the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities and the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
As a result, five national minorities and their languages
were recognized officially: the Finns and Finnish, the Jews
and Yiddish, the Roma and Romani, the Sami and the Sami language
and the Tornedalians and Meänkieli. The last of
the new national minority languages, Meänkieli, differed
from the others in several respects. First, it had acquired
language status as a result of the ratification process, while
being formerly regarded as a dialect of Finnish ("Tornedalen
Finnish"). Both languages had a common history
beginning in the Finnish spoken widely in the northern parts
of the Kingdom of Sweden until Sweden lost its eastern part
to Russia in 1809. When the new border was drawn through
Tornedalen, a culturally and linguistically homogenous area
in the north, part of the Finnish-speakers became a minority
in Sweden. On the other side of the border, Finnish-speakers
became part of the majority population in what is today Finland.
When nationalist policies gained momentum in Sweden in the
late 1800s, Tornedalen Finnish remained the vernacular spoken
in homes and the village square, while Swedish became the
only language of official domains. The only exception
was the Lutheran Church which has retained Finnish as one
of its languages until this day in the whole country.
Throughout a century of coercive assimilation policies in Sweden,
Finnish was, therefore, a low status mother tongue but also the
lingua sacra of the Tornedalian population. When
the period of overt assimilation ended in the 1970s and minority
language speakers could more easily make their voices heard, a group
of young Tornedalians came together and launched a linguistic and
cultural revitalisation movement. In 1981, the Federation
of the Swedish Tornedalians (the STR-T) was established, with the
promotion of the local language and culture defined as its central
task. From the beginning, the STR-T took a clear stand on
the question of which language should be regarded as the "language
of the Tornedalians": "Tornedalian Finnish" as
opposed to standard Finnish was chosen as the language to be revitalised,
and the name used for it within the Tornedalian movement was Meänkieli
(literally "Our Language"). The reasoning behind
this choice was that the local Finnish variety had developed in
its own way in the Tornedalian villages, without much influence
from the language standardisation and development taking place on
the Finnish side of the border, and gradually it had grown apart
enough to be considered a language in its own right, i.e. Meänkieli.
After a couple of decades of hard work, the revitalisation movement
now (2005) seems to have reached a large part of the adult Tornedalian
population and the current question is how to make the younger generations
part of it as well. Minority language support through school
education is often seen as crucial (Edwards, 1985; Fishman, 1991)
and in the new Swedish minority policy starting in 2000, school
education is given some attention but measures promoting strong
bilingual or minority language medium programmes for long term language
maintenance are lacking. The evident shortcomings as regards
support for languages of national minorities in the field of education
were also a central point of critique on the part of the Council
of Europe following the first monitoring round after the Swedish
ratification of the two European conventions. *
* The report of the Swedish government
on the state of the national minorities and their languages and
the critique expressed by the Expert Committee for the Charter are
available at www.coe.int/minlang.
The few existing examples of bilingual education in Sweden are
almost exclusively found in the so-called independent schools, i.e.
schools which are privately run but publicly funded. The position
of these schools is for the time being rather insecure as a lot
of responsibility is put on the local parents and there are examples
of municipalities actively resisting the establishment and running
of such schools. What dominates in the way of minority language
support in the Swedish school is the so-called mother tongue instruction,
which is, one or two weekly lessons in the mother tongue of the
child in an otherwise Swedish medium school (e.g. Boyd, 2001).
In Tornedalen, there is only one independent school, The Kangos
Culture and Ecology School, with some instruction in and of Meänkieli
(see Huss, 1999). In a number of municipal schools, Meänkieli
is taught as a subject one or two hours a week. The patterns
of minority language competence within the Tornedalian population
(estimated to comprise some 70,000-80,000 individuals) are very
typical for endangered languages: the older the people, the better
the language competence and the younger the worse. There is
no language census in Sweden, neither are there any other statistics
available as to the number of speakers of any languages. Nevertheless,
it is obvious that language shift is taking place in Tornedalen,
resulting in a situation where most children no longer speak Meänkieli
at home or with their peers. Given this situation, traditional
bilingual education would be difficult to apply from the start;
rather it would require the use of an immersion model where Swedish
speaking children would learn Meänkieli through a special pedagogy
applied to the Tornedalian situation. In the absence of such
a model, many parents see the current mother tongue support model
with one or two weekly lessons as an adequate solution .
In Tornedalen, history is still very much present and as a heritage
from the period of overt assimilation, the attitudes of part of
the population towards the local language and culture have long
been mixed or sometimes even hostile. When initiatives have
been taken to strengthen the local language with the help of the
school, they have met with strong support, but sometimes also with
strong opposition on the part of some of the parents. Some
elderly people who have themselves suffered from an assimilatory
school system and from prejudices on the part of the majority society,
find the new interest in the local language and culture painful,
like ripping open old wounds (Huss, 1999). Recently, however,
attitudes have changed and in many schools instruction in Meänkieli
or Finnish is offered today as part of the curriculum which deals
with instruction in local culture. These inititiatives remained
non-mandatory for a long time and only in 1999 was the first attempt
taken to introduce instruction in Meänkieli as a compulsory
subject in the local curriculum for primary schools.
The Pajala school language debate 1999-2001
The municipality of Pajala located very near the Arctic Circle,
on the north eastern border of Sweden, is part of the core area
of Finnish where the language has been spoken for many centuries,
in addition to Sami and later on also to Swedish. At present,
there are 7.200 inhabitants in Greater Pajala, with some 30% of
them living in the municipality centre. Until the 1960s most
people in Pajala worked in agriculture or in the forest industry.
In the 1970s, the municipality began losing inhabitants and became
known as an area from which large numbers of young people were moving
southwards, to study or to work in Stockholm or other larger cities,
leaving only the elderly population behind. In the wake of the new
minority policy in Sweden, the Tornedalian revitalisation movement
began to challenge this tradition through cultural and educational
efforts of various kinds. As new cultural events and also
employment possibilities emerge on the Tornedalian scene, it is
not as self-evident as before that young people prefer not to return
to Tornedalen when they have finished their studies or worked for
some time in other parts of Sweden.
The language debate in Pajala in 1999-2000 is, however, a
good illustration of the sensitivity of the language question
in Tornedalen. The debate started during late autumn
1999, just before the Swedish parliament passed a decision
acknowledging five national minority groups and languages
in Sweden. It continued during the spring of 2000 when
the Swedish ratifications of the European conventions mentioned
above entered into force. It began in November 15, 1999,
when the Pajala municipal council stated that one of the aims
of the comprehensive school in the municipality of Pajala
was to enable all pupils to "read and write simple texts
in Meänkieli" by the time they left school.
The reaction from non-Meänkieli circles came quickly
in the form of an appeal against the decision that was lodged
with the county administrative court by a private person who
also initiated a petition and gathered more than 1,000 signatures
against the new policy - a considerable number in a
municipality with less than 8,000 inhabitants. Following
this, the municipal council took a further decision and made
an amendment to the policy; the original aim to teach Meänkieli
to comprehensive school pupils remained, but now it was to
cover 70 percent of the pupils only. In 2003,
the issue was again discussed by the municipal council and
a new decision to increase the percentage to 80 was
taken. Since then, the question of "compulsory
Meänkieli" has not attracted the attention of the
media and instruction in Meänkieli in schools seems,
for the time being (2005), to be a more or less uncontroversial
issue (School policy).
Special issues in the revitalisation
Although the presence of Meänkieli in school is nowadays largely
accepted, language revitalisation faces some specific problems attached
to the Tornedalian context. The most significant of them is
the already mentioned age distribution of fluent Meänkieli
speakers. Meänkieli came to be regarded as the "language
of the old" because parents were formerly not supposed to
pass it on to the next generation and many adults and elderly people
got into the habit of addressing children and young people/adolescents
in Swedish only. This meant that the young lost contact with
the language in spite of the fact that it was, and still is, frequently
used among older people. Consequently, the pupils in Tornedalian
schools are mostly monolingual Swedish speakers, and Meänkieli
instruction has to begin from scratch.
Another difficulty is of a linguistic nature. Meänkieli
as opposed to standard Finnish, has a strong symbolic value for
many people. It is regarded as the bearer of the genuine Tornedalian
culture. It is also true that it has many specific traits
owing to the long period of separate development it has gone through.
Nevertheless, the two varieties, Finnish and Meänkieli, are
largely mutually intelligible and may be used in the same conversation
without difficulty. Various forms of Finnish and Meänkieli
form a continuum and it is sometimes difficult to draw a line between
the two to decide where the one ends and the other begins.
This linguistic situation is further complicated by the tradition
of frequent poikkinainti ("cross-marriage")
between Swedish Tornedalians and Finns from Finland which tends
to have linguistic consequences, promoting spoken varieties nearer
the Finnish end of the continuum.
For school education, the lack of a standardised written
language is also an issue (Graz
2005.PPT). Terminology in various domains
where Meänkieli (or "Tornedalian Finnish")
was not traditionally used, is also lacking. Unlike
Sami and Finnish in Sweden, Meänkieli does not have the
support of a special language council, which would develop
terminology, give advice in linguistic matters etc.
There are currently plans to establish such a council for
Meänkieli, possibly in connection with a planned "Language
Council of Sweden", an authority which would cater for
the care and promotion of Swedish as well as immigrant languages,
minority languages, the Swedish Sign Language * etc.
For the time being, however, Meänkieli teachers and others
working with the written form of the language, have to manage
without such support. Consequently, most materials used in
teaching Meänkieli are produced by individual teachers
* This authority was one of the proposals
included in the commission report SOU 2002:27 Mål i mun. Förslag
till handlingsprogram för svenska språket. Betänkande
av kommittén för svenska språket [Proposal for
an action programme for Swedish. Commission report by the Committee
for the Swedish Language] (Accessible at the website of the Swedish
Ministry of Culture: http://www.kultur.regeringen.se/propositionernmm/SOU/index.htm)
Meänkieli action research in Pajala preschools
In 2003, a project financed by the municipality was launched to
revitalise Meänkieli from the "bottom up" in two
respects: the project was to target the youngest of the Tornedalian
population, namely children in preschool, and an effort would be
made to engage their parents, grandparents and the local community
as well in the revitalisation efforts. It was recognised that
all participants would need to cooperate and complement each other
if significant results were to be achieved (Vincent, 2000).
The manager of the project, and indeed the creator of the whole
idea, was Astrid Kruukka, herself a Tornedalian who had heard Meänkieli
spoken in her home. Astrid"s parents had spoken Swedish
to their children while keeping Meänkieli between themselves
and Swedish was established as the language used among the children.
Only between Astrid and her grandmother was Meänkieli used
in a natural and self-evident way. Later on, Astrid"s
interest in Tornedalian culture was born, firstly through her participation
in Tornedalian dance and song groups working with local musical
traditions. As time went by, she became more and more involved
in the linguistic side of the Tornedalian movement and started to
promote Meänkieli while being employed by the municipality
of Pajala for various tasks. In 2003, she received funding
for two years and launched her project "Meänkieli Action
Research for a Bilingual Preschool".
As stated in her project programme, the aim was to achieve "active
bilingualism" in the preschools of the municipality of Pajala.
"Preschool" in Sweden comprises day-care for 0-5 year
old children. From the age of 6, the children are transferred
to the "grade 0" usually located in the same premises
as the school where they will start in grade 1 the following year.
The action research was defined as covering among other things
the following elements:
- The project manager in cooperation with the preschool work team
would initiate a plan for development
- Those involved would be invited to participate continuously
and to influence the development of activities
- All the planning would be done with consideration to the conditions
prevailing for the staff and the children
- New experiences would be allowed to influence the planning so
that it will be possible to introduce improvements continually
- Mutual discussions would be held to decide how the follow up
should be carried out and how possible changes could be pin-pointed
Under the heading "Preconditions and methods", the
following points were included:
- All members of the work team would have to approve of the idea
of (participating in) action research
- The parents of the children in the preschool group would be
kept informed and invited to participate
- The project manager would participate actively in the work of
- Planning would be done for a couple of years ahead
- The work team in the preschool together with the project manager
and parents would make study visits to other bilingual preschools
- Staff and parents would be offered a course in Meänkieli
if there was a need and if there was interest in such a course
In addition, a language researcher (the present author) was affiliated
with the project as a consultant.
The first year
The bulk of the planning was done by Astrid Kruukka herself, with
some assistance from an "advisory board" consisting
of the headmasters of the preschools, local politicians as well
as the research consultant. The first task was to send the
project programme to all the preschools in Pajala municipality and
to ask the staff to pass on the information to parents. The
aim of this was to find a preschool class where both the staff and
the parents were one hundred percent in favour of participating
in the "Action Research for a Bilingual Preschool" project.
Finally, not only one but two kindergarten classes were singled
out, one in the "Snickaren" ("the carpenter")
preschool in the municipality centre of Pajala, and the other in
"Tallkotten" ("pine cone") preschool in
a small village called Korpilombolo within the same municipality.
These two kindergarten classes thus became the contexts for the
action research project.
|Playing music in Meankieli
Astrid started the project by sending a questionnaire to the parents
to gather background information about the families, details of
language use at home and the parents" wishes as to the outcome
of the project. The results showed that most of the children
involved (seventeen in Snickaren and ten in Tallkotten) all lived
in fairly similar language situations.
Most parents had grown up in the municipality of Pajala and were
now 30-40 years old. Almost all the children had at least
one parent who knew (some) Meänkieli and a couple of them
knew also or only standard Finnish (depending on whether they had
studied Finnish later in life or had emigrated from Finland).
Most of the parents had spoken only or mostly Swedish with their
own parents but they still reported that they understood
Meänkieli well or fairly well. Somewhat fewer reported
that they were able to speak the language well or even fairly well
and several of them pointed out that they did not speak it at all.
A few of them had had some instruction of Meänkieli/Finnish
in school or had studied it later on. In their current homes, the
parents spoke mostly Swedish or both languages with each other,
while most of them spoke only Swedish with their children and the
rest mostly Swedish and very little Meänkieli or Finnish.
There was even one family with a trilingual situation, Finland-Finnish
and Russian being the native languages of the parents and Swedish
being used outside the home.
The Meänkieli competence of the children as estimated by the
parents was very low; the children usually understood or could produce
isolated words in Meänkieli. Meänkieli was often
spoken in the families when relatives came to visit and some parents
reported that they had asked relatives, often the grandparents,
to speak Meänkieli with the children. Most parents sometimes
followed radio and TV broadcasts in Meänkieli. There
is some very limited media production in Meänkieli and the
question posed to the parents was whether they listened to/watched
all the available programmes or only some of them. The parents
also stated that they did not read books or papers in Meänkieli
or children"s books in Meänkieli aloud to their children.
There are about 30 books written in Meänkieli, many of them
books for young children. There is also a bilingual Swedish-Meänkieli
cultural magazine and Meänkieli columns in a bilingual Swedish-Finnish
weekly newspaper and a daily Finnish newspaper, both published in
Sweden. The reluctance of the parents to make use of all this
could perhaps be explained by the fact that Meänkieli only
recently became a language used to produce literature of various
kinds; earlier it survived almost solely as a spoken vernacular
while the written language of the Tornedalians was Swedish.
The only exceptions were religious publications of various kinds
published also in Finnish according to the tradition of the Lutheran
Church in Sweden. The scarcity of publications in Meänkieli
and the tradition of only reading and writing in Swedish in Tornedalen
are still obstacles to spreading the use of written Meänkieli
within the Tornedalian population.
One of the questions in the preliminary questionnaire sent to the
parents read: "Could you as parents think of cooperating with
the preschool in developing (the children"s) Meänkieli
for instance by using certain words and phrases at home?"
Almost all parents answered positively, only one was against it
and a few parents answered "maybe". When asked
what kind of result the parents expected from the action research
project, most parents mentioned better linguistic skills.
One parent replied: "[I wish] that my child would be able
to communicate in Tornedalian Finnish feeling safe and proud and
would learn to understand that there are many people in this area
who know the language". Another wrote: "We [parents]
would like our children to understand and speak a little Meänkieli.
Our dream is that both we and our children would learn it."*
*This quote, as well as all the other quotes
in this chapter were originally written in Swedish but have been
translated into English by the author. The Meänkieli or Finnish
words used by some parents below are given in italics in their original
form and are also translated into English.
The question which lead to a number of different answers was: "In
which contexts in society do you think it can be a positive thing
to know Meänkieli?" Several parents mentioned contacts
with elderly people and social contacts in general in Tornedalen.
One parent emphasised the role of Meänkieli as a marker of
identity: "[Using Meänkieli] you are one of us!
As the language is still there, the ability to speak it leads to
richer and easier encounters with those who still use it in everyday
life. Meänkieli is also the bearer of our own culture
and a bridge over the border. It helps us understand the history
of our municipality." Meänkieli as a merit on the
labour market was mentioned by several parents, as was Meänkieli
as a starting point for learning or using standard Finnish. Competence
in Meänkieli was also seen as generally enriching; one parent
remarked: "You can always draw advantages from knowing several
With the help of the information gathered through the questionnaire,
Astrid composed a scheme of activities consisting of weekly visits
to both preschool groups and some information evenings for parents
and staff. The frequent visits to the preschools and the programme
Astrid developed for language learning was meant to inspire the
staff and gradually to give them the tools to work on their own
on Meänkieli and to develop their own routines. One of
the new activities introduced was to teach the children songs and
rhymes in Meänkieli, write them down and send them to the parents
to be practised at home as well, to have them printed on plate mats
and beautifully decorated by the children themselves and finally
to hang them on the walls at the preschool and send to the homes.
The staff also developed a routine of noting down everyday situations
where Meänkieli was used, discussed or involved in some way
in a notebook kept handy in the playroom. This made some very
interesting reading for the parents who could read the notes when
visiting the preschool.
Information on the project as well as teaching materials were also
made available through the medium of "Tema Modersmål"(http://modersmal.skolutveckling.se/meankieli/)
, a website started and administered by the Swedish Agency for Education.
The website was created to function as a link between teachers of
various mother tongues in Sweden and an information bank to be used
by teachers, pupils, parents and other interested people.
Astrid participated in the development of the Meänkieli page
and made all her teaching materials available there.
As the project presupposed a strong interest on the part of the
parents and, in the long run, also grandparents, other relatives
and the local community, parent-focused activities were considered
very important and Astrid was curious to know how actively the parents
were actually willing to participate if needed. A meeting
with the consultant researcher drew rather large groups of parents
and staff in both preschools while only a couple of parents came
to a "language evening" organized with a teacher of
Meänkieli. As was also evident from the questionnaires,
many of the parents felt that they lived busy lives and it was difficult
to find time and energy to participate in language lessons, especially
as many parents felt that they already knew Meänkieli.
What was appreciated was the routine of sending the songs, rhymes
and phrases used in the preschool to the parents - a follow-up
questionnaire at the end of the first year confirmed this and also
revealed that the parents wanted to have more material of this kind.
Some parents also asked for practical advice about bilingual upbringing,
and suggestions for strengthening Meänkieli at home.
Another way of activating the parents used by Astrid was the "language
diary". Like the teaching staff, the parents were asked
to keep a diary for one week at the end of the first project year,
and to write down all episodes at home when Meänkieli was used,
discussed or commented upon. The diaries revealed once again
that the rhymes and songs in Meänkieli were very popular among
the children. Even the children who otherwise hardly ever
used Meänkieli or Finnish seemed to enjoy them. One parent
"Monday: At breakfast, Fanny says some Finnish words, for
instance paperi [paper], vettä [water],
päälä [on top of]. Fanny recites
the rhyme The cock and the egg and pulls faces when mummy
has Casper in her arms.
Tuesday: Fanny recites the rhyme Milk, meat and potatoes
when she is putting on her clothes to go out.
Thursday: The rhyme Isikon, tisikon we hear when Fanny
is putting on her clothes."
Some parents quote long bilingual conversations with a lot of codeswitching
and metalinguistic questions like "What does that mean in
Swedish?", "How do you say that in Meänkieli?"
One parent had noted down that the whole family including the siblings
of the preschool child had repeatedly discussed the Finnish and
Meänkieli names of various animals during car-rides. In some
notes, one can feel that the parents are really making an effort
to stimulate their children to speak Meänkieli. One of
"Thursday: Mummy calls to Ellen: Ellen tule!
[Ellen, come here!] Ellen answers: Why? Later on, mummy says:
Ellen, ota kengät pois [Ellen, take off your shoes!]
Ellen understands and does it!".
"Sunday: Today Daddy has spoken Finnish to Ellen.
She says once: Stop speaking like that! Daddy believes that she
understands a lot (simple phrases and words). When Daddy speaks
Finnish, she starts playing with the language. She keeps mixing
Finnish words and Swedish baby talk and seems to enjoy it very
Some parents seem to be worried at having nothing to report. One
of them writes:
"Monday: And she who usually always speaks [in Meänkieli]…
said nothing (at least when we were listening)! And we didn"t
try to influence her! Tuesday: Nothing spontaneous today
either…there is something funny here! Wednesday:
At last! Many, many songs…She also said: Saanko mie
nuola? [May I lick?] (the bowl where we made the dough for
At the end of the first year, Astrid sent a new questionnaire to
the parents to find out what they thought about the project.
The answers showed that so far the project had been a success.
One parent wrote: "The project has been very good indeed and
the children think that using another language is fun. I think
this is largely because the language has been introduced through
rhymes and other pleasant things." Some of the answers
reflect a change in attitudes towards Meänkieli among the children:
"The project has raised the interest of the children in Meänkieli.
They ask us How do you say that in Meänkieli?
Through the preschool, it has become legitimate to speak Finnish.
Now the children are proud to know Finnish words." All
parents except one saw no need for improvement; the project was
functioning well. The one exception was a parent who was afraid
that other kinds of popular activities, like "planting flowers",
had been reduced to make room for language activities. Almost
all parents stated that their children understood more Meänkieli
after the first year of the project than they had done before; one
parent claimed that they could no longer use Meänkieli as the
secret language between parents! Almost all parents also stated
that their children had begun to use more Meänkieli than they
had done previously, mostly they still used isolated words but some
also used sentences and many children sang and rhymed in Meänkieli.
Most children spoke to their parents about the project, most often
about the visits Astrid made to the preschool; the children greatly
enjoyed them and did not like to miss them.
As for the parents themselves, the change was less significant.
Most of them seemed to focus solely on the achievements of their
children and did not make special efforts to improve their own Meänkieli.
second preschool year, 2004-2005, Astrid planned a couple of new
activities in addition to the ones already used in the preschools.
One of them was to apply the "language nest" model and
engage elderly fluent speakers of Meänkieli, preferable grandparents
of some of the project children, in a systematic way in the work
of the preschool. The language nest model goes back to an innovation
of the Maori in New Zealand called "Kohanga Reo", (e.g.
Fishman, 1991). The main principle behind it is to recruit
linguistically and culturally competent elderly people, preferably
grandparents, to work in day care and to transmit the language and
culture to the children, thus forming a "bridge" over
the already assimilated into Swedish parent generation. Here
the role of the parents is very important because they are in a
position to easily locate willing candidates - and grandparents
who have their grandchildren in the preschool are probably more
inclined to volunteer. The other new initiative planned by
Astrid was to inspire both the parents and the staff by doing a
joint study visit to another preschool where language revitalisation
was taking place possibly to a Saami or a Kven (the Kven are an
old minority in northern Norway who speak a language very similar
to Meänkieli) preschool in Norway. During the visit,
the staff and the parents were to have the opportunity of getting
to know each other better, to meet their Norwegian counterparts
and to exchange ideas and solutions to everyday problems in a revitalisation
situation. The final aim of the second year was to make sure
that the language work would not be interrupted when the project
ended but would continue in some form both in the preschool and
Summing up and looking ahead: Is
"Action Research for a Bilingual Preschool" a tool for
In autumn 2004, the situation in the Snickaren and Tallkotten
preschools was as follows: there was a unanimous feeling among parents
and staff that the project was a success and should be continued.
The children seemed to have learnt some Meänkieli and the language
had become a self-evident part of everyday activities. However,
the parents themselves mostly relied on the efforts of the preschool
and did not seem to have significantly increased the use of Meänkieli
at home although several of them had expressed their appreciation
of the written copies with Meänkieli songs and rhymes made
available to them. A couple of parents have also expressed a wish
to obtain the little booklet containing advice on bilingual upbringing
which had been included in the plans for the second year of the
So far, Astrid"s efforts to involve the parent and grandparent
generations in the activities of the preschools have led to a new
form of activities. Special language evenings "for all
generations" took place in January 2005 and proved to be a
great success. Rather than concentrating only on traditional
language lessons for parents and personnel as the original plan
was, Astrid has arranged in both preschools special evening programmes
totally in Meänkieli in both preschools where everybody could
find something interesting to do. She describes the evening
held before Christmas evening as follows:
"I myself first took care of the mums and dads, grandmas
and granddads in a big adjoining room. Some teachers had translated
the text in the Christmas carol Tip tap into Meänkieli
and we went through it together, discussing whether the words
sounded right, how you would write them correctly, how you would
say them in Finland-Finnish and such things. After that we practised
singing the song together a couple of times and I told them that
we were going to sing it for the children and that the preschool
personnel would make a little theatre of it, dramatizing the events
in the song. After that we played a kind of word Bingo game in
Meänkieli. There were two teams competing with each other
and that really turned out to be very engaging! Afterwards we
all returned to the room where the children had in the meantime
been working on other things. First, they enacted for us the story
of Billy Goats Gruff, De tre bockarna Bruse, which they
had turned into a little theatre play and then it was our turn
to sing and to show our own Christmas song play for the children.
After that we all sang some more, had something to eat and generally
had a good time. And there were so many people coming
to these evenings! That is the good thing of arranging evenings
for all generations - almost everybody wants to come and
join the language work when it is given in this form."
A lot of help from the parents, grandparents and the local community
will be needed to reverse the Tornedalian language shift and Astrid
views these kinds of events as one way of raising the status of
Meänkieli in the minds of the local people, in addition to
raising their language awareness.
After the second year, the project will come to an end but, according
to the overall aim, support structures and willingness will have
been created among the parents and staff to permit a continuation
of the language work, without a formal project or project leader.
One of the difficulties is that some of the preschoolers will have
by then become school children and left the preschool. Already
after the first year, some children left for school and some newcomers
joined the two preschool groups. This meant that the new children
had to be integrated into the Meänkieli activities without
any introductory period. Ideally, continued and adequate support
for Meänkieli should be provided for the new school children
at the comprehensive school. These children are not total
Meänkieli beginners anymore, while children from other preschools
might be, so the task for the school will have to be to develop
individually adapted mother tongue instruction in Meänkieli.
Half of the answers given by parents to the final questionnaire
given to parents of school beginners show that there is a wish for
the school to provide that support. Those who do not express
such a wish expect that interest and competence of the children
to "grow naturally" after having been started in the
What has the Action Research project meant so far for the revitalization
of Meänkieli in the municipality of Pajala? Is this the
way to engage the whole community in language maintenance work,
by beginning with the youngest and involving the parents and elderly
people in the process? The number of children included in
the project is very modest and the activity of the parents limited,
in spite of favourable attitudes and an interest in the project
among both parents and staff.
Nevertheless, from a time perspective (a couple of decades), the
change in the linguistic climate in Tornedalen is stunning.
While the STR-T had to fight for their cause in the early 1980s
and keep discussing the legitimacy of their linguistic and cultural
maintenance work with their fellow Tornedalians, few people today
question it - instead it is welcomed and appreciated.
Even the conflict over the obligatory status of teaching Meänkieli
in the schools of Pajala was forgotten rather soon after it had
erupted and both teachers and parents presently seem to be comfortable
with Meänkieli in the curriculum.
The development in Pajala is very similar to situations in many
other minority communities where assimilation policies have led
to a wide-spread language shift. When the generation which
has become bilingual or monolingual in the majority language establishes
its position in society, attitudes change, the (partially) lost
language is revalorised and efforts are started to reclaim it (Crystal,
2000). The problem with this kind of development lies in the
fact that the interest in the language rises precipitously when
it is already almost lost, and language revitalisation therefore
becomes much more cumbersome than it would have been otherwise.
Crystal claims, in fact, that minority language speakers should
be made aware of this very common pattern so that they can at least
make their own, informed choices before it is too late. While
an information campaign spreading the words of Crystal in Pajala
is a possibility, efforts could also be made to spread the good
practices created in Snickaren and Tallkotten to other preschools
and gradually to establish them as a standard ingredient in Tornedalian
preschools. Beginning with the youngest, engaging the older
generations and raising the profile of Meänkieli in everyday
life in Pajala could be a way of grappling with both minority language
learning and cultural democracy in Swedish Tornedalen.
Boyd, Sally, "Immigrant languages in Sweden"
in Guus Extra and Durk Gorter (eds), The Other Languages of
Europe, Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, 2001.
Crystal, David, Language Death, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 2000.
Edwards, John, Language, Society and Identity,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985.
Fishman, Joshua, Reversing Language Shift.
Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened
Languages, Multilingual Matters Limited, Clevedon, 1991.
Huss, Leena, Reversing language shift
in the far north. Linguistic revitalization in northern Scandinavia
and Finland. Studia Uralica Upsaliensia 21, Uppsala University,
Vincent, Carol, Including Parents? Education,
Citizenship and Parental Agency, Open University Press, Buckingham,