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The Kvens and planning of a minority language

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Kvens have lived in northern Fennoscandia for more than a thousand years. Their language belongs to the Uralic languages and closely resembles northern Finnish dialects and Meänkieli in Sweden.

Nowadays only people living in Norway are called Kvens, and my paper will focus on them.

In Norway, the Kvens have been subjected to extensive assimilation, their language was long forbidden, and there are now few people who have Kven as their mother tongue, mostly elderly people.

After 1980, the Norwegian politics against the Kvens changed. They now had the possibility of learning their language at school – at least in theory. But then the question arose: What is the language of the Kvens? Is it a Finnish dialect, or is it a language in its own right? Both scientists and language users have had problems agreeing on the issue. However, language planning is underway, and the Kven language now has its own normative grammar.

In my paper, I will handle the question of whether the language of the Kvens is a language in its own right or not, and what the criteria for that are. I will also describe the work on standardization of the language, how it has been organized, and which strategies have been used in the concrete planning of Kven.

Eira Söderholm is Associate Professor of Finnish and Kven at the University of Tromsø in Northern Norway, and has published extensively on these languages. A true pioneer in the teaching of the Kven language, she has been an advocate for establishing more Kven courses. She also undertook the impressive task of writing the first grammar of the language, and has been central to the Kven language planning.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group series.

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