Linguistic Minorities and Geographical Names – University of Copenhagen

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UNGEGN Norden Division > Linguistic Minorities ...

Linguistic Minorities and Geographical Names

Most countries within the Norden Division are multilingual communities with recognized regional or minority languages. Each country does, however, have each a spoken and written majority language which is recognized as the official language of the country. Only Iceland does not have any recognized minority languages.

Minority languages have, historically speaking, often been one under threat from the majority languages of the areas, even directly prosecuted. In recent years, the status of minority languages have been greatly improved within the Norden Division area, and the right of minority language users to use their own language forms of geographical locations is now widely recognized. The safeguarding and integration of minority language geographical names in the national and transnational geographical names gazetteers and databases is a key issue for the Norden Division.

Finnish

Being the official language of Finland, Finnish is also spoken by minorities in Northern Sweden, as is the variant, Meänkieli, spoken in the Tornedal area situated by the border to Finland in Northern Sweden, and also in the variant form, Kven, spoken in areas of Northern Norway, see also below. Finnish is recognized as an official minority language in Sweden and is included in the Swedish Cultural Heritage Law in the sections of 'Proper Place-name Practice'. Finnish minority geographical names in Sweden occur on maps and road signs alongside majority and other minority language geographical names.

Faroese

Faroese is the spoken and written language of the Faroe Islands. As part of the Kingdom of Denmark, Faroese is recognized as an regional language of the kingdom with official language status in its region. Being the official language of the Faroe Islands, all geographical names are represented solely in Faroese on maps, road signs and in the official administration.

German

When Denmark ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, German spoken by the German national minority in Southern Jutland (i.e. the former parts of the duchy of Schleswig) was recognized as a minority language. Although the charter stipulates the right of the German minority to use their own forms of geographical names, no steps have hitherto been taken in this direction, let alone to establish a policy for own geographical name usage for this minority.

Greenlandic/Inuit

Greenlandic/Inuit is the spoken and written language of Greenland. As part of the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenlandic/Inuit is recognized as an regional language of the kingdom with official language status in its region. Having official language status in Greenland, all geographical names are represented solely in Greenlandic/Inuit on maps (under the control of the Greenland Home Rule and the National Survey and Cadastre), road signs and by the official administration.

Kven

Kven is an official minority language in Norway which descends from Finnish. It is estimated that there are 10.000-15.000 Kven-speaking people in Norway, mostly situated in the coastal areas of Troms and Finmark in Northern Norway. Kven was recognized as a minority language in 2005.  Some Kven forms of geographical names are used on maps and road signs, but hitherto only to a limited extent. Current efforts focus on bringing attention to Kven forms of geographical names.

Meänkieli

Meänkieli is a local variant of Finnish spoken in the Tornedal area, which is a region of Northern Sweden near the border to Finland. Meänkieli has recently been recognized as an official minority language in Sweden but is not specifically mentioned in the Swedish Cultural Heritage Law under the sections of 'Proper Place-name Practice'. However, since Finnish is included in the law text, Meänkieli is effectively included, nonetheless. Geographical names in Meänkieli is used  on maps, road signs and by the local administration in the Tornedal area alongside majority and other minority language geographical names.

Saami/Sámi

The Saami language area constitutes several distinct spoken and written Saami variants, i.e. Inari, Kildin, Lule, Pite, Skolt, Ter, Ume as well as North Saami and South Saami.  Although individual Saami language areas are discernable, several Saami variants are often spoken within one and the same area. The Saami languages are spoken throughout wide areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Being a language area with a distribution across several national borders Saami faces the problem of uniformity of standardization of geographical names, as Saami place-names are housed in the individual national geographical names databases with no common facility available.

Saami forms of geographical names are used on maps, road signs and by the local administration alongside majority language geographical names in many areas of the Saami language area. However, not all local administrations have as by yet embraced the possibility of having a Saami language policy.

Swedish

Swedish is recognized as a national language in Finland, and is spoken as a first language by approximately 5.3% of the population. The greatest concentration of Swedish speaking Finns is to be found in the western and southern parts of Finland. In areas with Swedish speaking minorities, Finnish and Swedish bilingual signage is in use, as are Swedish forms of geographical names used on maps, road signs and by the local administration.