In Iceland (and some thoughts regarding the Nordic speech community)

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)


About tegis

This blog belongs to Carl-Mikael A. Teglund - tegis. Swedish emigrant with a heart for languages, philosophy, history, and politics (classical liberalism in the European tradition). Go ahead and look, read, or listen. I'm sure you will find it interesting.
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4 Responses to In Iceland (and some thoughts regarding the Nordic speech community)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think it is interesting that in the U.S. the state of California is willing to give illegal immigrants the lowest tuition cost that not even all U.S. born citizens are eligible for.

    Furthermore, I find it more interesting that as several countries around the world learn English to better their chances in a career or in communicating with each other, where I am from in the middle of the U.S. has for about 10 or more years now required children to start learning Spanish at the age of 6. However, learning this language is not to catapult these children into a more educated league, it is instead to allow the children to communicate with the Mexican immigrants.

    Learning a second language, any second language, is important for all children. But I think it would be better if the language was one to advance the child’s potential opposed to advance immigrants communication.

  2. tegis says:

    Well, they’re obviously not going to be unemployed immigrants forever, especially not in the States (if it had been Sweden, than yes). A lot of people go to the States and fulfill a dream and work hard to get it and if you ask me that is what America is all about and what Sweden is not. And now when you have such a huge amount of people which talk Spanish as their native tongue its just logical that your kids will obviously encounter Spanish-talking people throughout their carrier lives. If they want to be doctors or lawyers or policemen it can also be a huge advantage for a person to know that language of the biggest minority in the country. I think this is a sad backward mentality opposing everything America was founded on. America is obviously today an English- speaking nation but it doesn’t say in any law that this needs to be the case. You guys spoke a lot of Dutch, German, Swedish, and definitely also – Spanish, initially.
    To be an American pretending that America is a European country is silly, as it is being a Swede or being French pretending that those countries would have the same foundation and work the same way as the US.

  3. Anonymous says:

    No one is pretending that America is a European country, even though most who are there now are European decendants.

    My question to you more is, should it be fair that while American students can bearly afford college the goverment pays for illegal students to pay less? This is unamerican. You can argue it all you want, but the students who graduate in the U.S. are burdened with tens of thousands of dollars to repay, and the market is horrible. Why is it fair for non-American citizens to recieve better benefits than American citizens? Commonly Americans must remain in state for up to two years before they can in-state tuition at a university. This means they will not recieve health insurance and have to live and work in the state before they are even allowed to apply. Non-American citizens are walking in and recieving in-state and probaby benefits.

    This doesnt seem like nation taking care of its people to me. It seems more like a nation taking care of its visitors.

  4. tegis says:

    I do agree with you that everyone ought to pay normal substantial fees for the school they attend. However, I do believe the initial problem lies in the welfare state creation, and not necessarily an immigration problem. Although, having lower tuition fees for immigrant students is to ask for racial unrest and big problems in the future.

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