OK, I am in Iceland and the past week has been pretty hectic. The flight went OK and also my short stay in Copenhagen, where I took part in the board for language understanding within the Nordic Council of Ministers of which I have the honor to have been appointed into. The Nordic language community is a hard-to-handle subject of which this post will be devoted to.
The basic idea is that we in the North are living in a speech community which we share with several other countries – we have different languages but due to linguistic, political, and historical reasons they are mutually understandable for us. But it is a complex issue, to say the least – it is the idea of that the people of the northernmost region in Europe who live in – or in countries formerly belonging to – the Scandinavian countries mutually understand one another even though they have different mother tongues. It doesn’t come easy. There is also a need of explaining the division about what is considered Scandinavia, the North, and what is not considered as not being any of the above. It can be a complicated and rather confusing discussion to say the least – even for people living in the area. Scandinavia is the three countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The term “the North” refers to Denmark, Norway and Sweden as well as Finland and Iceland, and the associated territories. Neither term does include areas such as Canada, Russia, and/or the Baltic countries (even if it is disputable, according to myself, regarding Estonia). This is so due to linguistic, territorial, political, and cultural reasons that go back as much as a thousand years back in history.
The biggest problem for the Nordic speech community is its peripheries, Finland and Iceland. This is so due to that the language in Finland – Finnish – belongs to a complete different group of languages which cannot even be considered to be of European origin. And Icelandic has stayed intact in its development whereas the other North-Germanic languages (Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian) drifted away from their roots so the language is not mutually intelligible with the others anymore. This constitutes problems of course for the idea of the Nordic speech community. Therefore, in order to prevent the community to break down and collapse it is necessary that the inhabitants in Finland and Iceland know a second language – the language of any of the Scandinavian languages. Another option would be giving in to what some would say be a natural development and use a sc. bridge language – a lingua franca. Even this option comes with two alternatives: 1) use a mixture of the three Scandinavian languages, a variant called Scandinavian (swe:skandinaviska), or 2) English which is the leading language of international discourse, and has acquired use as lingua franca in many other regions.
To give up the struggle in keeping the Nordic speech community intact and start to use English instead seem to be the most convenient option. But many people fear that it will be the beginning of the end for Nordic co-operation all together. There is no need in denying that the fellowship of language is one of the things that binds Nordic co-operation together. And the situation is such as a bit over 80 per cent of Nordic residents have Danish, Norwegian or Swedish as the language they control the best. About 20 per cent speak Finnish and Icelandic, and, in addition, a great number of minority languages are spoken. To be able to keep the community together in one piece, the minority seemingly have to adjust to the majority. Therefore, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are the working languages in official Nordic co-operation (Nordic Council of Ministers homepage). If English would to be used an important administrative domain within the Nordic co-operation would be lost and something that rests on a thousand years of history as its backbone would shatter to pieces. One of the advantages also for the Nordic co-operation is that the North is a sc. natural co-operation platform with a common history, common culture, and more or less common communication system. This is of course an advantage that the European or African co-operation models do not share in the same way and it ought to be something that should be worthwhile maintaining. But this has also to come with a greater understanding and respect for smaller languages that thrives within the Nordic region.
However, maintaining the Nordic speech community requires constant development of the possibilities for strengthening language comprehension. Here the school systems are important tools in order to guide the way – whatever way might to be desired.
(and this is what I study – CIE – Comparative & International Education)