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Language and Globalization

Series Editors: Sue Wright, University of Portsmouth, UK and Helen Kelly-Holmes,

University of Limerick, Ireland.
In the context of current political and social developments, where the national group
is not so clearly defined and delineated, the state language not so clearly dominant
in every domain, and cross-border flows and transfers affect more than a small elite,
new patterns of language use will develop. The series aims to provide a framework for
reporting on and analysing the linguistic outcomes of globalization and localization.

Titles include:
David Block
London Stories

Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen, Päivi Pahta and Tiina Räisänen (editors)
Northern Perspectives on Order, Purity and Normality

Jenny Carl and Patrick Stevenson (editors)

The German Language in a Multilingual Space

Diarmait Mac Giolla Chrióst


Julian Edge (editor)


John Edwards

Aleksandra Galasińska and Michał Krzyżanowski (editors)


Roxy Harris

Jane Jackson
From Study to Residence Abroad

Helen Kelly-Holmes and Gerlinde Mautner (editors)


Clare Mar-Molinero and Patrick Stevenson (editors)

Language and the Future of Europe

Clare Mar-Molinero and Miranda Stewart (editors)

Macro and Micro Perspectives

Ulrike Hanna Meinhof and Dariusz Galasinski

Richard C. M. Mole (editor)

Leigh Oakes and Jane Warren


Mario Saraceni

Christina Slade and Martina Mollering (editors)


Colin Williams

Forthcoming titles:
Robert Blackwood and Stefani Tufi
A Study of French and Italian Coastal Cities

Grit Liebscher and Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain


Language and Globalization

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Dangerous Multilingualism
Northern Perspectives on Order,
Purity and Normality

Edited by

Jan Blommaert
University of Tilburg, The Netherlands

Sirpa Leppänen
University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Päivi Pahta
University of Tampere, Finland


Tiina Räisänen
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Selection and editorial matter © Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen,
Päivi Pahta and Tiina Räisänen 2012
Individual chapters © their respective authors 2012
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List of Tables vii

List of Figures viii
Acknowledgements ix
Notes on the Contributors x

1 Endangering Multilingualism 1
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti
Part I Order – Disorder
2 Finland’s Official Bilingualism – a Bed of Roses
or of Procrustes? 25
Olli-Pekka Salo
3 Linguistic Diversity as a Problem and a Resource –
Multilingualism in European and Finnish Policy Documents 41
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri
4 Dealing with Increasing Linguistic Diversity in
Schools – the Finnish Example 67
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa
5 Problematic Plurilingualism – Teachers’ Views 96
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin
Part II Purity – Impurity
6 Hard Currency or a Stigma – Russian–Finnish Bilingualism
among Young Russian-Speaking Immigrants in Finland 121
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski
7 Finnish Culture and Language Endangered – Language
Ideological Debates on English in the Finnish Press
from 1995 to 2007 142
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta
8 Multilingualism in Nordic Cooperation – a View
from the Margin 176
Maisa Martin
9 The Dangers of Normativity – the Case of
Minority Language Media 194
Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes

vi Contents

Part III Normality – Abnormality

10 Discourses of Proficiency and Normality – Endangering
Aspects of English in an Individual’s Biography
of Language Use 207
Tiina Räisänen
11 Peer Normativity and Sanctioning of Linguistic
Resources-in-Use – on Non-Standard Englishes in Finnish
Football Forums Online 228
Samu Kytölä
12 Experiencing Multilingualism – the Elderly
Becoming Marginalized? 261
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo
13 When One of Your Languages is not Recognized
as a Language at all 284
Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen

Index 309
List of Tables

2.1 Language studies in the national core curricula in Finland 32

3.1 The data 45
5.1 Class supervisors, students, their L1(s) and grades 101
6.1 Subjects’ self-evaluation of their language skills in Finnish 130
6.2 Students’ self-evaluation of their language skills in Russian 131
7.1 Editorials and letters to the editor discussing language
issues in Helsingin Sanomat in 1995–99 and 2005–7 148
7.2 Ideological constructions of English as a danger in Finland 162

List of Figures

3.1 Terms used to categorize languages 50

4.1 Statement: ‘Students with immigrant background are
regarded as a burden’ 77
4.2 Statement: ‘The school has too little information on the
language background of its students’ 79
4.3 Statement: ‘The students are forbidden to use their native
language with speakers of the same language during
school recesses’ 81
4.4 Statement: ‘It is hard for the L1 teacher to become a member
of the school community’ 83
4.5 Statement: ‘A student obviously needs FSL instruction, but
does not receive it’ 85
4.6 Statement: ‘Parents have unrealistic expectations regarding
the progress and future education of the student
(e.g. a desire to get to upper secondary school)’ 87
4.7 Statement: ‘More information on the assessment of
plurilingual students is needed in the school community’ 88
7.1 The Attack (1905) by Eetu Isto 166


We would like to acknowledge the Finland Distinguished Professor

programme of the Academy of Finland as well as the University of Jyväskylä.
Without their support, this book would not have been possible.
We are grateful to Ari Häkkinen for his valuable help with the preparation
of the manuscript. We also wish to thank Olivia Middleton, commissioning
editor for Palgrave Macmillan, and also Keri Dickens and the rest of the team
at Palgrave Macmillan for all their help and patience.

Notes on the Contributors

Jan Blommaert was Finland Distinguished Professor of Linguistic

Anthropology at the University of Jyväskylä (2007–10). Currently, he is
Professor of Language, Culture and Globalization at Tilburg University, The
Netherlands. His main publications include Language Ideological Debates
(editor, 1999), Discourse: a Critical Introduction (2005), ‘Grassroots Literacy
(2008) and The Sociolinguistics of Globalization (2010).
Marja Hujo studied at the University of Jyväskylä and received her MA
in English from the University of Jyväskylä in 2010. In her MA thesis she
studied the role of the English language in the Finnish countryside, focusing
on the opinions and views that people of different ages had about English.
Her interests are in the role of English in Finnish society and in language
learning and teaching. Currently, she works as a teacher of English at
Sastamala Community College, Finland.
Teija Kangasvieri is Research Coordinator in the Finnish Network for
Language Education Policies at the Centre for Applied Language Studies
(CALS) at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. She is also a PhD student in
applied linguistics. Her research focuses on L2 motivation, and the differ-
ences between motivational structures of pupils studying compulsory and
optional foreign languages at the upper level of comprehensive school. Her
recent publications include reports on language immersion and teaching in
foreign languages, and language studies in basic education in Finland.
Helen Kelly-Holmes is Lecturer in Sociolinguistics and New Media at the
University of Limerick, Ireland. She is the author of Advertising as Multilingual
Communication (2005), and has edited/co-edited many titles including:
Language and the Market (with Gerlinde Mautner, 2010). She is currently
co-editor (with Sue Wright) of the Language and Globalization series
published by Palgrave Macmillan. She has published widely in a range
of journals on the economic aspects of multilingualism, and media and
multilingualism, particularly in relation to minority languages.
Samu Kytölä is currently Junior Researcher at the Department of Languages,
University of Jyväskylä, Finland. His research areas include linguistic diver-
sity in Finland, discourses of non-native and non-Standard Englishes,
multicultural discourses of football, multilingual language use as a source
of inequality for individuals and communities, as well as the linguistic
ethnography of ways of writing, especially internet writing. With these
foci, and with insights from sociolinguistics, critical discourse analysis,

Notes on the Contributors xi

linguistic anthropology and computer-mediated communication (CMC),

his forthcoming PhD thesis analyses Finland-based online discourses of
football. In addition to co-authoring Info National Survey on the English
Language in Finland: Uses, Meanings and Attitudes (2011), Kytölä’s most recent
publications have appeared in 2012 in the series Routledge Critical Studies
in Multilingualism (series editor: Marilyn Martin-Jones).
Mika Lähteenmäki is University Researcher in the Department of Languages
at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. He holds a doctorate in Russian
language and literature from the University of Jyväskylä. He has published
extensively on the linguistic aspects of the works of the Bakhtin Circle
and the history of Soviet/Russian linguistics. His current research interests
include multilingualism among the Russian-speaking people in Finland and
the history of Russian linguistics. Recent publications include a co-edited
volume (with Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski) Language Ideologies in Transition:
Multilingualism in Russia and Finland (2010).
Sirkku Latomaa is Lecturer in Finnish in the School of Language, Translation
and Literary Studies at the University of Tampere, Finland. In addition,
she has worked as a visiting lecturer in Finnish language and culture at
the University of Washington (Seattle), the Moscow State University and at
the Communication University of China (Nanjing). Her research and publi-
cations focus on multilingualism in the family and school contexts, minority
languages, language rights, language awareness, and language-in-education
policies. She has extensive experience as an in-service teacher educator.
Sirpa Leppänen is Professor of English at the University of Jyväskylä,
Finland. Her major publications in the field of multilingualism include
National Survey on the English Language in Finland: Uses, Meanings and Attitudes
(co-author, 2011), Internet Fictions (co-editor, 2009) and Kolmas kotimainen:
Lähikuvia englannin käytöstä Suomessa [The Third Domestic Language: Case
Studies on the Use of English in Finland] (2008].
Maisa Martin has been a Professor of Finnish as a second and foreign
language at the Department of Languages at Jyväskylä University, Finland,
since 1996. Before that she held a variety of academic positions at the
same university and taught Finnish at Lakehead University in Thunder
Bay, Ontario, Canada, for nine years. She is also the Director of Langnet,
the national doctoral programme in language studies, for 2012–15. She
has been a member of several Nordic working groups, due to her long-time
involvement as a member and chair of the Advisory Group for Finnish
Studies at Universities Abroad. Her research interests currently focus on the
relationship between the functional and structural development of Finnish
as a second language, but she has also written on issues of multilingualism,
particularly of North American Finns.
xii Notes on the Contributors

Tarja Nikula is Professor in the Centre for Applied Language Studies (CALS)
at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Her research interests include
pragmatics of foreign language learning and use, classroom interaction,
English–Finnish language contact phenomena, and language education
policies. Her current research focuses on conceptual challenges that content
and language integrated learning (CLIL) poses for central notions within
applied linguistics; she directs a research project funded by the Academy of
Finland called ‘Language and Content Integration: towards a Conceptual
Framework’. Her publications have appeared for example in Linguistics and
Education, Applied Linguistics, Multilingua, International Journal of Applied
Linguistics and a number of edited volumes. Her recent publications include
a co-edited book (with Christiane Dalton-Puffer and Ute Smit) Language Use
and Language Learning in CLIL Classrooms (2010).
Päivi Pahta is Professor of English at the University of Tampere, Finland.
Her main publications include Writing in Nonstandard English (co-editor,
1999), Medical and Scientific Writing in Late Medieval English (co-editor, 2004),
The Dynamics of Linguistic Variation (co-editor, 2008), Medical Writing in Early
Modern English (co-editor, 2010) and Social Roles and Language Practices in
Late Modern English (co-editor, 2010).
Sari Pietikäinen is Professor of Discourse Studies at the Department of
Languages, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Her research interests include
multilingualism and indigenous Sámi communities, critical discourse stud-
ies and media research. She has published widely on these topics. She
is a project leader for an international research project on transforming
multilingual indigenous and minority language communities (see www.
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta is Professor of English and Head of the Department
of Languages, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Her research focuses on lit-
eracy and discourse practices of young people, foreign language learning in
formal and informal contexts, and the role of English in Finnish society. Her
research employs ethnographic and discourse analytic methods.
Sari Pöyhönen works as a Senior Researcher (language education policies) at
the Centre for Applied Language Studies (CALS) at University of Jyväskylä,
Finland. Her research and writing deal with notions on language education
and integration policies, and linguistic and ethnic minorities. Currently, she
is involved in two projects focusing on migrant education and language edu-
cation policies, called ‘Participative Integration in Finland’ (2010–13), and
‘Transforming Professional Integration’ (2011–14) funded by the Academy of
Finland. Recent publications include ‘Russian-speaking young immigrants in
Finland: educational and linguistic challenges to integration’ (with Tatjana
Rynkänen) in Multilingualism in Finland and Russia. Language Ideologies in
Transition (edited by M. Lähteenmäki and M. Vanhala-Aniszewski, 2010) and
Notes on the Contributors xiii

a forthcoming article ‘Localising supranational concepts of literacy in adult

second language teaching’ (with Lars Holm).

Tiina Räisänen is Junior Researcher in the Department of Languages,

University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Her research interests include ethnographic,
discourse and sociolinguistic studies of language users’ identities, individual
linguistic repertoires and biographical trajectories. Her longitudinal research
project focuses on Finns as users of English in globalized working life.

Taina Saarinen is Researcher at the Centre for Applied Language Studies

(CALS) at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Her main research interests
are higher education policy, internationalization, discursive policy and
language education policy. Currently, she is working on an Academy of
Finland funded project on the (in)visibility of ‘language’ in Finnish and
Nordic higher education internationalization. She has published for exam-
ple in Studies in Higher Education, Discourse Studies and Discourse: Studies
in the Cultural Politics of Education. Her latest publications include articles
‘Dominant and emerging approaches in the study of higher education
policy change’ (with Jani Ursin) and ‘Internationalization of Finnish higher
education – is language an issue?’

Olli-Pekka Salo is a teacher of Swedish at the University of Jyväskylä

Teacher Training School, Finland. He is working on a PhD thesis on the
chain of effect of the teaching of Swedish in Finland. His research interests
also include teacher education, second/foreign language appropriation,
dialogical language philosophy and language planning policy. His recent
publications include a co-edited book (with Marita Kontoniemi) Educating
Teachers in the PISA Paradise. Perspectives on Teacher Education at a Finnish
University (2011).

Massimiliano Spotti is Deputy Director of Babylon, the Centre for Studies

of the Multicultural Society at Tilburg University, The Netherlands. In 2009,
he co-edited the volume Language Testing, Migration and Citizenship. Since
2010, he has also covered the post of researcher within the group Languages
and Discourses in Social Media at the Department of Languages, University
of Jyväskylä, Finland. Its current research interests deal with superdiversity
at the margins, language-testing regimes for citizenship and identity con-
struction in multicultural schooling settings.
Minna Suni is Lecturer in Finnish Language at the Department of Languages,
University of Jyväskylä (Finland) and Postdoctoral Researcher (2011–13)
funded by the Academy of Finland. Her major research interests include
second language development in interaction, work-related language skills
of adult immigrants, and multilingualism in schools. Recent publications
include a Theme Issue of the journal Puhe ja kieli (‘Speech and Language’,
Guest ed. April 2011) on Finnish as a second language at work, and articles
xiv Notes on the Contributors

on multilingualism in for example The Journal of Estonian and Finno-Ugric

Linguistics (2 Feb. 2011, with Sirkku Latomaa and Lea Nieminen) and Apples
(vol. 5(1), 2011, with Hannele Dufva, Mari Aro and Olli-Pekka Salo).
Ritva Takkinen is Professor of Finnish Sign Language at the University of
Jyväskylä, Finland. She has conducted research on sign language acquisition
of deaf children, bilingual first language acquisition (Finnish Sign Language
(FinSL) and Finnish) in children with a cochlear implant, on depicting signs
and existential expressions in FinSL. She has been head of the Finnish Sign
Language section of the Department of Languages, University of Jyväskylä,
since 2005 and chair of the Advisory Board of the Sign Language Centre
at the University of Jyväskylä since 2010. She has also lectured on sign
language acquisition and bilingual acquisition of a spoken and signed lan-
guage for families of deaf children and professionals with deaf children.
Publications addressing sign language acquisition and bimodal bilingualism
include The Acquisition of Finnish Sign Language (2008), Evaluative Language in
Spoken and Signed Stories Told by a Deaf Child with a Cochlear Implant: Words,
Signs or Paralinguistic Expressions? (co-author with Lea Nieminen, 2011) and
Two Languages in the Life of Children Using a Cochlear Implant (2012).
Elina Tapio is a university teacher in Finnish Sign Language in the
Department of Languages at the University of Jyväskylä. Her ongoing PhD
research focuses on the English language in the everyday life of Finnish Sign
Language people. Her research interests include multilingualism, language
learning, multimodality in interaction and ethnography.
Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski is Professor of Russian Language and Culture
in the Department of Languages, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. From
2003 to 2006 she was Professor of Russian in the Department of Foreign
Languages at the University of Joensuu. Her research interests include
issues of syntax, semantics and pragmatics as well as contrastive analysis
with Finnish. Her current research focuses on discourse analysis, especially
on the language use and variation in Russian media discourse. Her recent
publications include the volume of Voices and Values of Young People –
Representations in Russian Media (co-editor with L. Siilin, 2007) and Language
Ideologies in Transition: Multilingualism in Russia and Finland (co-editor with
M. Lähteenmäki, 2010).
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen is a PhD candidate in Finnish and Education at the
University of Jyväskylä and at the University of Helsinki. She received her
MEd. at the University of Helsinki in 1999 and has studied at the University
of Munich and at the University of Toronto at OISE. Her PhD in progress
focuses on bi- and plurilingualism among teenager immigrant students and
on the support for their bi- and plurilingualism. She is also interested in
bilingual education, Finnish as a second language (FSL) teaching methods,
Notes on the Contributors xv

L1 instruction and educational arrangements among immigrant students,

language education policy, and immersion language education. She has
co-authored study books of FSL for teenagers and adults with different
teams. She is an active member in the Association of Teachers of FSL and
has served on the board of the association for several years. Currently she is
a member of the editorial board of Sutina, the journal of the Association of
Teachers of FSL in Finland.
Endangering Multilingualism
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti


To the extent that every science has its banner and rallying cry, multilingualism
would be that of sociolinguistics. In the face of a widespread societal
dismissal, degradation, denial or abnormalization of multilingualism, socio-
linguistics has since the 1960s been making the claim that multilingualism
is a positive thing in societies. It represents the richness of cultural diversity
in language and so enriches society, and it is beneficial for individuals too.
These arguments have, to some extent, now penetrated political institutions,
and the EU, for instance, now celebrates and champions multilingualism in
the Union. There is no need to provide an emblematic string of references
here: most of sociolinguistics has shared these assumptions and has, often
with vigour and passion, broadcast them to whoever was likely to listen.
The record speaks for itself on this point. It would be hard to find a socio-
linguist who would seriously doubt that multilingualism is a positive thing.
The point here is therefore not to deny or challenge this; rather we want to
draw attention to the fact that even if multilingualism is in general and in
principle a positive thing, it can in actual fact be a problem for individuals and
social groups. Not all forms of multilingualism are productive, empowering
and nice to contemplate. Some – many – are still unwanted, disqualified
or actively endangering to people. And while sociolinguistics should by all
means go on proclaiming the positive sides of multilingualism, it should
not turn a blind eye to its negative sides. It is good to champion equality
among people and their languages, but the best way of doing that (and we
echo Hymes, 1996 here) is to actively combat the actual inequalities that
exist between them.
Rather than present such forms of dangerous multilingualism as an aber-
ration or as the product of silly language policy makers, we should see them
as an integral part of social and sociolinguistic reality. They are features of a
sociolinguistic system; more precisely, they are systemic and structural features
of the sociolinguistic system of high modernity (Bauman and Briggs, 2003;

2 Dangerous Multilingualism

Baumann, 1991). High-modern forms of management of multilingualism,

notably those forms organized by the nation state, define much of multilin-
gualism as problematic. Now that globalization challenges the foundations
of high modernity, such features are more than ever anachronisms. But
every social system contains anachronisms at any point of its existence, and
so with sociolinguistic systems. The tension between high modernity and
what has been called postmodernity or late modernity remains unsolved.
And, as we shall see throughout the essays in this book, the dominant
response to post- or late modernity, at least in large parts of the West and in
the field of language, consists of typical high-modern measures: denying or
combating hybridity, multiplicity and ‘mixing’, ‘crossing’ and related expres-
sions of impurity (Hymes, 1996; Silverstein, 1998; Blommaert, 2009). The
increasing importance of language testing in the context of immigration and
‘integration’ policies, for instance, represents a form of modernist linguistic
border control in which ‘modern’ (and thus essentialist) regimes of identity
attribution are central, and in which a static, mono-normative and artefac-
tualized concept of language is used (see the essays in Hogan-Brun et al.,
2009 and Extra et al., 2009). Similar language-ideological foundations
underlie the Common European Framework of Reference on Language
(CEFR), an amazingly modernist instrument for addressing (i.e. measuring
and comparing) language competences across Europe and increasingly
elsewhere (Van Avermaet, 2009).
We thus set the problematic of dangerous multilingualism in this historical
frame: as anachronisms that reflect the ongoing and unresolved tensions between
high modernity and post- or late modernity. This to some extent shifts the
debate and moves it into another intellectual field of force: a historical and
political one, not just a synchronic–sociolinguistic one, concerned mainly
with the operational demands of things like education, policy-making or
media. The space into which we bring these issues is a macroscopic one,
a space of slow changes in a social system – changes that make visible (and
often accentuate) paradoxes, fissures and fields of struggle. And our aim is
therefore not just documentary but analytical. It is to provide a particular
diagnostic of why language is such a big problem to so many people in the
present world; a diagnostic that does not just look at language but even
more at society (as a place of order guaranteed through loyalty from those
who are part of it) and that tries to do justice to the deep social forces of
inclusion and exclusion that determine sociolinguistic systems.

Modernist ideologies of language

This macroscopic angle makes our approach complementary to, but also
an extension of, those forms of critique that already circulate intensely
in the sociolinguistic literature, notably the critique of what we could
broadly describe as the ethnolinguistic assumption – the assumption that aligns
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 3

language use and ethnic or cultural group identity in a linear and one-on-one
relationship, and in which the modern subject is defined as monolingual
and monocultural.

The ethnolinguistic assumption

The ethnolinguistic assumption was already quite conclusively critiqued
by Edward Sapir in his 1921 Language (‘Totally unrelated languages share
in one culture, closely related languages – even a single language – belong
to distinct cultural spheres’, Sapir, 1921, p. 213). The same assumption was
crippled by Dell Hymes in his famous paper on the ‘tribe’ (Hymes, 1968),
and more recent work has developed entirely different lines into the analysis
of language and ethnic or cultural belonging (e.g. Rampton, 2006; Harris,
2006). The long lineage of such critiques can be explained by the fact that
the ethnolinguistic assumption was the cornerstone of the classic Herderian
language ideologies of the nation state (Bauman and Briggs, 2003; essays
in Blommaert, 1999; Kroskrity, 2000 and especially Silverstein, 2000) and
has lived a long life in a variety of versions in the context of state-managed
language and culture policies throughout the twentieth century, one of its
most prominent versions being ‘classic’ multiculturalism (Vertovec, 2010;
for illustrations see Blommaert and Verschueren, 1998; essays in Pavlenko
and Blackledge, 2004).
As the central assumption of modern governmentality in the field of
language and culture, it was through the ethnolinguistic assumption that
governments addressed national minorities, immigrants and colonial
subjects – ‘them’ – as well as their own ‘native’ class, gender and other socio-
linguistic distinctions – ‘us’. Full membership of a nation was predicated
on full (and exclusive) membership of an ethnolinguistic community:
a community defined by one language and one culture. Speaking another
language than the ‘national’ one, when seen from within the ethnolinguis-
tic assumption, creates a fundamental problem of otherness for which a
range of solutions was designed, from extinction and expulsion over assimi-
lation to integration – because a ‘normal’ person naturally belongs to only
one language and culture unit.
This assumption thus organized several forms of social, cultural and
political rejection and oppression in the modern nation state. The evidence
for these practices is sufficiently known: Native American children had to
wash their mouths with soap when they were heard speaking their native
language; similar forms of punishment were administered to Aboriginals in
Australia and Africans in the colonial empires. The Finnish Sámi people had
Finnish as their official medium of instruction until 1995, and native minority
languages as media of instruction are still in a nascent and fragile stage
across the world.
Remarkably, the ethnolinguistic assumption has experienced a revival
of sorts in the context of a theme that, since at least the 1980s, became a
4 Dangerous Multilingualism

fundamental attack on the language and culture hierarchies of the nation

state: the recognition and empowerment of linguistic minorities and endan-
gered languages (e.g. Phillipson, 1992; Nettle and Romaine, 2000; May,
2001). Respect for national minorities, indigenous peoples and endangered
cultural heritage became part of the postcolonial world order, and it repre-
sents a historical discontinuity with the era of the classic nation state. It is
in the context of this discontinuity that the Sámi and many other minorities
acquired the right to use their language in education. Yet, those who would
have expected that this recognition of linguistic and cultural diversity within
the nation state would have caused an ideological adjustment to a more
relaxed and flexible view of language and culture were wrong; if anything,
this development has strengthened the power and scope of the ethnolin-
guistic assumption, which is now eagerly adopted by minorities and used
as a crucial, compelling and compulsory defining feature of minorities’ own
purity (see Spotti, 2011). Indeed, as Michael Silverstein observes, ‘Groups
of people are increasingly challenged to have newly active, positive cultural
processes emanating from centring institutions, so that what we have here
termed the relative and seemingly residual fact of locality gets semiotically
turned into a positive attribute of their identity’ (Silverstein, 1998, p. 404;
also Silverstein, 2003; Moore et al., 2010).
Thus, while the recognition and empowerment of minorities is a discon-
tinuity with earlier stages, it is at the same time a factor of continuity. The
attention to empowerment of minorities and endangered linguistic and
cultural groups is a distinct late-modern feature that shoots through the
high-modern nation-state constructions and results in what can appear to
be a politically and ideologically haphazard assemblage of different posi-
tions and orientations (see the work by Duchêne, 2008 on how linguistic
minorities become entextualized in the discursive practices of supranational
institutions). What we see, however, and what the essays in this book
establish, is that both the classic high-modernity nation state and the
late-modern recognition and empowerment of linguistic and cultural
minorities within the nation state (or interstate systems such as the EU)
proceed along very similar lines in practice. The upshot of this is that
the hybrid nation state of late modernity operates very much within a
modernist hegemonic discursive framework. In short, the nation state was,
is and remains the terrain on which this hegemony is played out, and we
will come back to this below.

Policing modern sociolinguistic systems

We must be more precise with regard to what we understand by the
modernist language ideologies that will inform the analyses in this book.
Even if the ethnolinguistic assumption underlies much of it (and has its
roots in Enlightenment ideas of natural law), it is in itself not sufficient to
delineate the space of modernist language ideologies.
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 5

For Bauman and Briggs (2003), modernist ideas of language revolved

around the rejection of ‘hybridity’, and hybridity is used as shorthand for
every form of ‘impurity’ and ‘disorder’ in language. Languages, according
to this modernist view, were only worthy of that label when they were
pure, uninfluenced by outside forces, and showed clear and linear features
of authenticity. This connection between language purity and authenticity
emerged out of a romantic preoccupation with local cultures of the bucolic
type: local or regional traditions that were seen as the roots of the cultures
of the emerging nation states. We of course recognize the traces of the
ethnolinguistic assumption here.
The emerging field of dialectology was one of the main providers of scien-
tific evidence for such local cultures, and linguistic structuralism became the
methodology for studies of the languages of such cultures. Languages and
dialects were given shape and scientific (and, shortly afterwards, political)
reality as soon as they could be delineated and identified on the basis of a
descriptive apparatus that emphasized the pure, correct and unique features
of such units. A structural–descriptive grammar and a dictionary became the
codified objectives for such exercises, in which modern languages obtained
their official existence – an existence ‘on record’ as an artefactualized
object of study, and as an essential ingredient of the recognition of cultures
(Blommaert, 2008).
Bauman and Briggs’ viewpoint gels with the classic discussion of moder-
nity by Zygmund Baumann (1991), in which he sees the rejection of
ambivalence as the key to understanding modernity. To be more precise,

[a]mong the multitude of impossible tasks that modernity set itself and
that made modernity into what it is, the task of order (more precisely
and most importantly, of order as a task) stands out – as the least possible
among the impossible and the least disposable among the indispensable;
indeed, as the archetype for all other tasks, one that renders all other
tasks mere metaphors of itself. (Baumann, 1991, p. 4, emphasis in the

It was in the context of the emergence of modernity that the preoccupation

with order became a major political, social, cultural and scientific objec-
tive: ‘[o]rder is what is not chaos; chaos is what is not orderly’ (ibid.), and
this binary opposition between order and chaos became the driving force
behind the different projects of modernity. Order, or the quest for order,
became a feature of another dominant binary opposition of modernity: that
of ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’. According to Foucault (2003), modernity
was organized around the rise of an intellectual and political paradigm –
an episteme and a governmentality – in which the ‘normal’ subject was an
‘ordered’ subject, someone who behaved according to the norms of modern
society, and such norms were heavily policed by state institutions such as
6 Dangerous Multilingualism

schools and the legal system as well as by the scientific edifices of modern
medicine and psychiatry. The ‘abnormal’ subject was someone who defied,
either in defect or in excess, the clear categories that were used to describe
and police the social system, and defining the ‘abnormal’ as an identifi-
able category in its own right was the task of modernist humanities. In the
field of language, as we have seen, the normal was the normative – normal
languages were pure, uninfluenced by other languages, and markers of
non-ambivalent authentic identities. Three important axes thus defined
the policing of linguistic normality; we shall use them as the organizing
principles of this book:

1. The axis of order versus disorder in language use, often leading to modern-
ist language policies in which languages were hierarchically ordered in
relation to one another;
2. That of purity versus impurity, in which judgements about language
‘quality’ were made on the basis of modernist (i.e. structuralist)
appraisals of the purity of a language form, projected onto the purity of
its speakers (if you speak a ‘pure’ language X, you are a ‘real’ member of a
culture Y); and
3. That of normality versus abnormality, in which identity judgements
depended on judgements of normal versus abnormal language use.

These axes dominated both the public debates and policies on language
in society (and to a large extent still do; see the references to recent work
on language testing above), as well as assessments of individual language
proficiencies, competences and skills (as can be seen from the expanding
success of the CEFR, also mentioned earlier).

Modernist language policy and planning

It is not an overstatement to claim that these language-ideological features
of modernity have determined the sociolinguistic face of large parts of
the world. Or at least, it is not an overstatement to claim that they have
determined our current understanding of the sociolinguistics of large parts
of the world, and that this understanding is shared by many expert and lay
voices about language in society (see Williams, 1992 for a trenchant critique
of modernist sociolinguistics and Makoni and Pennycook, 2007 for an
influential recent statement). The tradition of language policy and planning
studies, for instance, rests upon solid modernist principles. Multilingual
societies, first, needed to reduce the number of (societally, and thus
economically, valuable) languages in use on their territory – the principle
of oligolingualism. Second, because of the efficiency and loyalty principle,
the remaining languages needed to be ranked, hierarchically ordered across
different domains in society (see for a fuller discussion Blommaert, 1996,
and also 1999).
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 7

Thus, in many postcolonial African states a number of local languages

could be used in primary education, a smaller number in (parts of) secondary
education, and one language – invariably the ex-colonial one – in higher
education (see Mazrui and Mazrui, 1998; also the essays in Ricento, 2006).
The general idea was that the high number of languages in postcolonial
countries such as Cameroon or Nigeria was a form of ‘chaos’, which required
a (modernist) effort to bring order. Indigenous languages also needed to be
‘developed’, and the model for such development was the former metropoli-
tan language or classical languages such as Latin; exercises such as status and
corpus planning always started from the assumption that what needed to be
planned was a pure, uninfluenced, stable authentic language. Such forms of
planning again mirrored the kinds of language policies that were in vigour
in ‘developed’ regions such as Europe and North America, where ‘monoglot’
ideologies had dominated the sociolinguistic scene for about a century and
had saturated state nationalisms as well as substate nationalisms (Silverstein,
1996; Kroon and Spotti, 2011; see also the essays in Kroskrity, 2000). The
hierarchical ranking of languages within such monoglot sociolinguistic
formations later gave rise to the linguistic minorities and linguistic rights
paradigm, which, as we have already noted, again adopts a fundamen-
tally modernist vocabulary (May, 2001). And it is within such a modernist
language regime that Bourdieu identifies the distinction between legitimate
and illegitimate language use – between bouche and gueule (Bourdieu,
1991). ‘Bouche’, as we know, was the normative and hence normal form
of language use – the standard – while ‘gueule’ was the deviant, abnormal
and substandard form (note the hierarchical order in the current sociolin-
guistic term ‘sub’-standard). Note that until fairly recently, widespread (and
sociolinguistically highly salient) forms of linguistic ‘impurity’ such as code-
switching were also seen as substandard forms of language use, and most
of the early influential research on code-switching saw it as a deviation of
normal monolingual language use, a curious, perhaps intriguing and even
somewhat amusing ‘freak’ form of language (see the essays in Auer, 1998
for a critique).

Challenges to modernism

The ideological space of sociolinguistic modernism has now been described;

changes in the social and cultural patterns in society, however, gradually
undercut the explanatory power of these ideologies of language and empiri-
cally challenged them. Modernity, as we have seen, rejected ambivalence,
the fact that things can have multiple forms, functions and meanings. In
the field of language in society, it rejected sociolinguistic diversity, and
if such rejection was impossible it ordered, regimented and policed such
‘chaotic’ sociolinguistic realities by means of modernist language policies
and planning efforts. Behind such efforts we could usually discern an
8 Dangerous Multilingualism

assumption, that oligolingual or monolingual language policies reflected

the total or partial uniformity of the people – the people of a nation state,
of a region or of a minority group. Such uniformity, needless to say, was
and is a sociological illusion, and the failure of modernist language regimes
became overt as soon as societies were manifestly confronted with and
acknowledged societal diversity.
Migration, in particular, offered critical challenges to monoglot state
policies in domains such as education, welfare and public administration,
and these challenges were identified early in the game (we can think of
Jim Cummins’ work here; see Baker and Hornberger, 2001). Immigrants,
as a rule, introduced different linguistic resources into areas dominated by
state or substate monoglot regimes; as soon as they entered the education
system or other state-sponsored systems, these systems became confronted
with multilingualism as a reality which posed a range of operational, politi-
cal and ideological problems. The complex patterns of multilingualism did
not go well with a monolingual education policy (the dominant issue in
Cummins’ work), and a widening gap emerged between the regime of
language in schools and that outside schools and in the informal learning
environments in which children dwelled (for the latter, see Heath, 1983).
This gap was long seen as a deficit for the immigrant children and as a major
factor in explaining the widespread academic underachievement and lack of
upward social mobility of minority students (and still is; see Crawford, 2001
and essays in Gorter and Extra, 2008 for critiques). At the same time, it was
demonstrated that this gap offered a rich terrain for inspecting the social
dynamics of language contact, for instance in providing an almost infinite
and dynamic range of identity resources for young people, often connected
with popular culture and with subcultural patterns of conduct (Rampton,
1995; Harris, 2006; Leppänen et al., 2009).
These subcultural patterns of conduct were, in effect, patterns of conduct
typical of a late-modern society affected by globalization; flows of people,
images and symbolic resources such as language (Rampton, 2006; also
Blommaert, 2010). Globalization has given contemporary societies a
profound makeover, and this makeover included a sociolinguistic change,
both in terms of quantity (more languages being present in migration cen-
tres such as the metropolises of the West) and of quality (languages being
used differently in such centres). Vertovec (2006, 2007) coined the term
‘super-diversity’ for these changes, suggesting that the post-Cold War forms
of diversity (thus, the forms of diversity we associate with contemporary
globalization processes) are of a different order than those generated by the
previous waves of immigration.
The fact can hardly be denied: at least sociolinguistically, we see an
escalating diversity, not only in Western urban centres but also elsewhere
around the globe, and the new discipline of linguistic landscaping does its
best to map the quantitative dimensions of these forms of diversity (see
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 9

Extra and Barni, 2008 for examples). Qualitatively, sociolinguistic life is

also changing. The introduction and success of new media such as satel-
lite television, the Internet and the mobile phone (the last being far more
democratically distributed than the two former ones) enable migrants to
maintain patterns of native language usage that in the previous generation
would have been very difficult to sustain. These new media also generate
new issues with respect to language and literacy norms, as they are forums
for heteronormative experiments with language varieties and with literacy
forms (Kress, 2003; Green and Haddon, 2009). Complex forms of language,
genre and style mixing emerge, and the late-modern urban subject is
distinctly and intensely polyglot – where ‘glot’ replaces ‘language’, because
very often such forms of mixing are not predicated on the ‘full’ knowledge
of one or more language, but rather on ‘truncated’ bits and pieces of
language (Blommaert, 2010, pp. 102–36; Leppänen, 2012).
Such new forms of diversity raise theoretical and descriptive issues
that cannot be addressed by means of the modernist paradigm discussed
in the previous section. The modernist conception of language (and of
the language-using subject) was based on clearly identifiable boundaries
between languages and on standard indexical attributive links between
languages and identities. Widespread ‘impurity’ of language, as in super-
diversity, does not fit that picture, and, of course, a theoretical universe in
which everyone is sociolinguistically abnormal is a universe in dramatic
need of revision. Such a revision is long overdue, because as we said at
the outset, the realities of late modernity are perpetually (and perhaps
increasingly) confronted with sociolinguistic recipes from the modernist
kitchen. The effect is dangerous multilingualism: particular forms of late-
modern multilingualism are effectively endangering because, even if they
define the sociolinguistic realities of contemporary Western societies,
they are imagined as being disordered, impure and abnormal. Those who
use such forms are at risk of being disqualified, marginalized, stigmatized
or excluded.

The nation state: focus on Finland

This is the macroscopic and historical field of tension in which this book
will be placed: the tension between a late-modern sociolinguistic phenom-
enology and a high-modern ideological instrumentarium by means of which
these phenomena are being addressed and handled. This instrumentarium
operates along the axes specified earlier: those of order versus disorder,
purity versus impurity and normality versus abnormality. This tension
yields a wide variety of concrete problems, ranging from language-political
anomalies, through inefficient and discriminating systems of ‘integration’
and education, to individual uncertainty and unease about language and
language use. We believe that this tension is discernible in numerous regions
10 Dangerous Multilingualism

across the world, even though it may assume a variety of actual shapes, and
the growing literature on this topic supports this.
We will repeatedly stress the importance of the nation state in this story.
While there is an abundance of literature on globalization in which the
end of the nation state is proclaimed, there is very little evidence for this
in the sociolinguistic field. Quite the contrary: the increase of late-modern
super-diversity in Western societies appears to go hand in hand with a
strengthening of the nation state (or of interstate systems) as a guardian of
order – something we can see clearly in fields such as immigration and
asylum, security policies, welfare and education – and language emerges
as a critical battlefield in almost all of these fields (e.g. Blommaert, 2009).
Language, thus, becomes the object upon which the tension of late-modern
realities and those of the high-modern – this hybrid of the contemporary
nation state – is played out and by means of which this tension is articu-
lated; it is through language that we see the continuity of the high-modern
nation state in a late-modern society, and in which the high-modern nation
state deploys its full apparatus for creating, restoring or maintaining socio-
linguistic order.
This book attempts to provide a panorama of various aspects of this issue
in one nation state, Finland. Confining the studies to Finland offers us
several advantages. The first one is that the studies cumulatively construct a
rather comprehensive and detailed picture of dangerous multilingualism in
one country, thus allowing levels of detail and depth in our examples, which
would be hard to achieve in a comparative project. In addition, Finland
is a relatively young and homogeneous nation state in the geographical
periphery of Europe. Its rapid post-war development into a modern, urban
and highly technologized society highlights much uneasy collusion of tena-
cious high-modern aspirations and a well-honed instrumentarium for order,
and the disorderly processes of change ensuing from late modernity and
Before gaining independence in 1917, Finland had been part of two
empires. From the twelfth century to 1809, it formed the eastern part of the
Kingdom of Sweden (or Sweden-Finland), and from 1809 to 1917 it was the
autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire.
Thus, Finnish history is marked by extended periods of colonization by
foreign powers, but even as a sovereign state, Finland was the child of cri-
ses. After gaining its independence, the new nation was deeply scarred and
divided by a civil war in 1918. The warring parties were the Social Democrats,
the ‘Reds’, who were mainly Finnish-speaking working class, and the forces
of the non-socialist, conservative-led Senate, the ‘Whites’, dominated by
farmers and middle- and upper-class Swedish speakers. While the Second
World War to an extent managed to unify the nation against a common
enemy, it also brought along another trauma: large areas of what used to
be the easternmost parts of Finland were lost to the new neighbouring
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 11

empire in the east, the USSR. These conflicts and traumas of the new nation
and nation state explain part of the historical mistrust of the foreign in
Finland. As the essays in this volume will illustrate, this mistrust also mani-
fests in the sense of danger that foreign languages and multilingualism have
often been taken to pose for Finland.
Since 1922, Finland has been an officially bilingual country with two
‘national’ languages, Finnish and Swedish. Currently, out of the 5.3 million
citizens, 90.7 per cent speak Finnish as their first language and 5.4 per cent
speak Swedish. Swedish is offered as an obligatory second language to
Finnish-speaking students. In addition, Finland hosts several other minori-
ties: besides the Swedish minority in the south-west of the country, the Sámi
populations in the north are the most prominent, while the small resident
Roma minority population is quite visible as well. The Finnish constitution
ensures that the Sámi and Roma and other groups are entitled to maintain
and develop their own languages. The Sámi have a legal right to use their
own languages in communication with Finnish authorities, and also the
rights of sign language users or other individuals in need of interpreting and
translation services are protected by law. Each of these minority languages
has a relatively low number of L1 users. For instance, only 0.03 per cent
of the population speak Sámi as their mother tongue (Statistics Finland,
2010a). However, many of the speakers of these minority languages are
bi/multilinguals, having either Finnish or Swedish as their first language.
Immigration to Finland from the rest of the world is still quite modest.
Finland has the lowest percentage of non-EU migrants in the European
Union: during the past ten years, the number of immigrants to Finland has
fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 per year (Statistics Finland, 2010b).
Although it is a slow process, Finland is gradually becoming a multilingual
society: according to the Ministry of Justice (2009) 120 languages are
currently spoken in the country. Speakers of Russian make up the largest
group with circa 52,000 L1 speakers (in 2009), comprising up to 25 per cent
of all foreign-language speakers. Speakers of Estonian form the second
largest group with circa 24,000 speakers, while speakers of English (c.12,000)
come in third place (Statistics Finland, 2009).
In this changing sociolinguistic terrain, English has rapidly acquired the
status of an international vernacular (Leppänen et al., 2011), and Russian is
repeatedly mentioned as a language of importance for the future generation.
Finland is an EU member state and is also cooperating with other Nordic
and Baltic countries in a variety of institutional contexts (see Martin, this
volume; Blomberg and Okk, 2008).
In addition to the political, historical and social developments in Finnish
society, the notion of multilingualism as a disruptive, impure and abnormal
state of affairs highlighted in the present analysis is also the outcome of
a strong nationalist cultural tradition (see also Salo in this volume). Its
origins date from the days of the new Finnish nation and nation state,
12 Dangerous Multilingualism

and the establishment of the nation state’s own version of ethnolinguistic

ideology. A particularly influential formulation of this ideology can be
located in the writings of the Finnish ‘national’ philosopher, J.V. Snellman,
who was strongly influenced by, for example, the ideas of von Herder. In
1844, Snellman wrote that

It is often thought that it does not matter which sound or language

you use, they just express the same thoughts. But human beings do
not only express their thoughts in their words, but they also believe,
feel, know and desire in their words, and their thoughts, the whole
of their rational being moves and lives in a language. How could the
spirit of a nation express itself in any other language except in its own?
[translation by SL]

It is largely thanks to Snellman that in Finland, national identity has long

been seen as crucially dependent on what were coined as the national lan-
guage/s (see also Mantila, 2005, 2006). In this ideology, language has been
taken to capture and express the fundamental essence of the nation.
Even under Swedish rule, language was a key factor that contributed
to the sense that the Finns were a distinct people. As suggested by Upton
(1980, p. 4), the Finno-Ugric language, structurally quite distinct from the
surrounding Germanic and Slavonic languages and spoken by the major-
ity of the population, the common people, ‘reminded the Finns that they
were a peculiar people’. The Finnish ruling class, however, had merged with
the Swedish settlers and administrators and adopted the Swedish language.
The situation changed radically in 1809 when Finland became a part of
Russia. The old ruling class could no longer identify with the new imperial
power. Language, religion, culture, and political and historical tradition
divided them from the Russians, and as a result, they came to feel the need
to establish a new identity as Finns. In the end this need required the ruling
class to identify with the language of the common people, Finnish, one
outcome of which was the birth of the Fennoman movement in the latter
half of the nineteenth century. Snellman’s role in the movement was crucial:
his programmatic view was that the ‘nation’, i.e. the common people,
needed to be educated (or, literally, made ‘civilized’), and the civilized
Swedish-speaking elite needed to be made part of the nation by learning
Finnish and by making it a language of higher learning. Ultimately the goal
of the Fennoman movement was to make Finland a monolingual nation
and nation state (Paunonen, 2001, pp. 227–8).
Up to the present day Finland, has, indeed, been marked by a strongly
monolingual and monocultural self-imagination. As was suggested above,
part of this is grounded in long histories of oppression and control by
foreign powers, which have provided a backdrop for narratives of national
uniqueness. Such narratives often refer to the exceptional features of the
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 13

Finnish language, a Finno-Ugric language contrasting sharply with the

predominance of Indo-European languages in that part of the globe. There
is, thus, a quite well-articulated nationalist undercurrent, and language is a
central feature of it.

Contents of the book

As already sketched above, this book is organized around three themes

and is divided, accordingly, into the parts of Order and Disorder, Purity and
Impurity and Normality and Abnormality. While the settings and discourses
discussed in the individual essays represent a great deal of variety, they
all, in their own way, tackle the danger that multilingualism is assumed to
pose to what is taken to be the orderly, pure and normal state of affairs in
the land. They also highlight aspects of the conflicts and collusions that
institutions, groups and individuals have with the diffusion, hybridity and
fluctuations ensuing from late modernity.
The first thematic part, focusing on order and disorder, includes four
essays. The part begins with the essay ‘Finland’s Official Bilingualism –
a Bed of Roses or of Procrustes?’ by Olli-Pekka Salo who, after giving a brief
history of bilingualism in Finland, discusses the complex effects of official
bilingualism – the bilingual order protected by law – on a variety of fields
and domains within society. The author shows how, while seemingly well
functioning in theory, official bilingualism in Finland also faces serious
problems in some crucial societal fields, such as healthcare, law and
education. The key challenge here is that the linguistic rights of the age-old
Swedish-speaking minority need to be secured by educating, for instance,
legal and medical experts who have a sufficient command of Swedish. On
the other hand, there needs to be more willingness than there has tradi-
tionally been, to an open discussion of the advantages and disadvantages
of keeping the second national language as a general school subject in basic
The second essay in this part, ‘Linguistic Diversity as a Problem and a
Resource – Multilingualism in European and Finnish Policy Documents’ by
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri, offers an
analysis of Finnish and European language policy documents. In their essay
the authors demonstrate how policies struggle to come to terms with the
messy realities of an increasingly multilingual everyday social life, trying
to create some balance and order in societies that are under a great deal of
pressure. Multilingualism and its political representations are investigated
for the purpose of shedding light on the societal tensions that are brought to
the surface as policy actors at different levels meet, making societal change
visible. One of the key conclusions of the essay is that in the era of super-
diversity there is a renewed need for more control and coercion, revealed as
growing emphasis on nation-state-oriented policies.
14 Dangerous Multilingualism

The part finishes with two essays on Finnish schools. Both of them are
motivated by the fact that in this era of globalization, increased immigration
and mobility have posed new challenges to the uniformity of the nation
state, creating new tensions between well-established systems originally
designed for a relatively homogeneous society, and the linguistic diversifi-
cation of an increasingly heterogeneous population. In their essay ‘Dealing
with Increasing Linguistic Diversity in Schools – the Finnish Example’,
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa investigate how well Finnish society, with
its long history as a bilingual country, succeeds in managing its increasing
multilingualism. They do this with the help of a review of the develop-
ment of language education policies in Finland and a report on how these
are currently implemented with respect to immigrant students. The essay
shows that the situation is far from being ideal, as there seems to be a
clear discrepancy between the ideal order purported by recent language
education policies aimed at securing language instruction for immigrants,
and the actual implementation of these policies. Suni and Latomaa’s study
is complemented by Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin’s essay
‘Problematic Plurilingualism – Teachers’ Views’, which approaches the same
issue with the help of interviews with teachers of immigrant students. The
authors single out and discuss teachers’ typical attitudes to, and evaluations
of, immigrant students’ plurilingualism. Their analysis shows how, despite
the existence of explicit policy guidelines, schools and teachers are
struggling to come to terms with the new challenges posed by the changed
situation. The authors argue that one of the reasons behind the inability
of schools and teachers to come to terms with the changed situation is that
they are still relying on the old, pre-immigration order, against which the
current situation in many schools with immigrant students appears to them
as problematic. Both these essays focusing on Finnish schools thus foreground
the confusion and ambivalence of teachers and schools, who have long
been assisted in their operations by explicit educational policies but who
are now faced with an increasingly disorderly situation in which the old,
pre-immigration policies are no longer applicable.
The second part of this book addresses issues of purity and impurity in
language/s and language use. Each essay in this part demonstrates how
the danger posed by late modernity to the alleged stability and integrity
of national, regional or minority languages leads to a heightened concern
with purity: the need to preserve and protect the local language from
disruptive ‘foreign’ influences. The section begins with Mika Lähteenmäki
and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski’s essay ‘Hard Currency or a Stigma – the
Russian–Finnish Bilingualism among Young Russian-Speaking Immigrants in
Finland’. The essay reports on the findings of a survey of Russian-speaking
students’ experiences regarding the use of Russian and Finnish in Finland.
The authors argue that for such reasons as the tension-ridden relationship
Finns have had – and to a great extent still have – with Russia (and the
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 15

former USSR), Russian continues to be an actively disfavoured language. In

addition, they suggest that discursive representations of Russia as a threat,
which are deeply rooted in the Herderian Holy Trinity of language, culture
and ethnicity, also function to emphasize the unity, self-containedness and
purity of Finland, the Finnish language and culture.
In their essay ‘Finnish Culture and Language Endangered – Language
Ideological Debates on English in the Finnish Press from 1995 to 2007’,
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta argue that the nationalist language ideol-
ogy, still robustly advocated, is one of the driving forces behind the language
ideological debates in the Finnish press about the increasing visibility and
significance of English for Finns. The authors show how, in these debates,
English has often been cast into the role of the other – it is depicted as both
the malicious attacker and the corruptive seducer – and argue that the ways
in which the pervasiveness of this image of the foreign other – in this case
the English language – has been rejuvenated in recent public discourses are
in fact symptomatic of the crisis of societies moving from an era of ‘first
modernity’ to late modernity. In such periods of crisis, language ideologies
which fall back on national language as the essence of a nation and nation
state have a certain appeal.
The third essay of this part, ‘Multilingualism in Nordic Cooperation –
a View from the Margin’ by Maisa Martin, moves outside Finland and,
from the perspective of speakers of Finnish, looks at politically consensual
language policy in pan-Nordic cooperation. The author shows how the
requirement of skandinaviska (‘Scandinavian’) as the lingua franca in official
Nordic activities and encounters is yet another example of how the ideo-
logical notion of purity is harnessed to the service of unity: skandinaviska is
taken to enhance the sense of the Nordic area as culturally and ideologically
unified territory, where all the nationalities can come together on an
equal basis. In practice, Martin argues, the choice of skandinaviska creates
a new kind of inequality, whereby the participants, Finns and immigrant
participants in particular, for whom a Scandinavian language is a second or
foreign language, are marginalized and disempowered.
The second part concludes with the essay ‘The Dangers of Normativity – the
Case of Minority Language Media’ by Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-
Holmes. Using the case of Sámi and Irish minority language media as their
illustrative cases, the authors discuss how normativity can be both dangerous
and protective for languages and speakers. They show how, in principle,
minority language media challenge the abnormal status accorded to multi-
lingualism by the official policies of most nation states. However, in reality,
in order to achieve media for minority languages, these media often adopt a
typically high-modern strategy, whereby impurity – hybridity, multiplicity,
crossing, the use of even smaller languages – is combated and denied.
The third and final part of the book focuses on multilingualism as
normality and abnormality. Despite their different foci of interest, all of the
16 Dangerous Multilingualism

essays in this part shed light on processes, practices and ideological

perceptions related to how (ab)normal multilingualism is taken to be in
different domains and contexts. In the first essay of the part, ‘Discourses
of Proficiency and Normality – Endangering Aspects of English in an
Individual’s Biography of Language Use’ by Tiina Räisänen, multilingualism
appears as a problem: Räisänen shows how the value and usefulness of the
multilingual repertoires of globalized employees vary and shift according
to the changing normativities in operation in the different settings these
employees find themselves in at work. More specifically, Räisänen’s chapter
explores the trajectory of an individual, a young Finnish engineer, from
being a learner of English as a foreign language, through a stay abroad in
Germany as a student, to a position as employee of a globalized company
operating in China. With the help of this particular case, the author shows
how English actually prevents individuals, like the young Finnish employee,
from fully engaging in social activities that would be important for them to
manage well in globalized working life. On the basis of this case, the author
also shows how, in the kind of discursive work that her subject engages
in, such individuals must recurrently struggle with questions of language
proficiency, normality and abnormality.
Multilingualism also proves problematic in everyday informal, interac-
tive web discussion forums, as discussed by Samu Kytölä in his chapter
‘Peer Normativity and Sanctioning of Linguistic Resources-in-Use – on
Non-Standard Englishes in Finnish Football Forums Online’. The author
shows how the domain under investigation in his essay is relatively free
of high modernist demands for purity, but how it, nevertheless, illustrates
a heightened concern with norms and normativity: the ways in which
multilingual resources can be and should be used – their normality – is
heavily regulated and policed at the grassroots level by the interactants. The
ascription to and use of particular language resources are taken to be a key
for full participation rights, agency and belonging. With two cases, both
highlighting multilingualism, Kytölä shows how they give rise to intense
normative peer evaluation, harsh humour, mockery and discrimination,
finally leading to the exclusion of some participants.
The third essay in this part, ‘Experiencing Multilingualism: the Elderly
Becoming Marginalized?’ by Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo,
discusses how the allegedly positive effects and outcomes of multilingual-
ism are for some social groups unattainable and may, in fact, contribute
to their social exclusion and marginalization. With the help of interviews
with an elderly Finnish monolingual couple living in a remote rural area
in Finland, the authors report on the couple’s grassroots-level story of
language contact and struggle with the strange and foreign in their envi-
ronment, of marginalization and coping. The essay shows how ordinary
people are touched by multilingualism, how they experience it and live
through it willingly or unwillingly. The authors show how the elderly may
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 17

well be fully aware of the processes of globalization and multilingualism in

their environment, but how this awareness is not enough to prevent their
self-perception as someone abnormal in society, despite their capacity to
conduct their everyday lives completely monolingually. At the societal level,
the story of the elderly illustrates how increasing multilingualism may lead
to a societal division between those who have the necessary skills for full
participation and upward mobility in society, and those who, because of
their monolingualism, are excluded.
The final essay of the part, ‘When One of Your Languages Is Not Recognized
as a Language at all’ by Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen, presents an extreme
case of linguistic abnormality: the case of the multilingual Deaf whose right
to learn and use sign language is questioned, resented and made difficult by
educational and medical institutions and their dominant discourses. With
the help of interviews of parents of deaf children as well as deaf adults, they
show how there has recently been a conservative and oralist backlash in
attitudes to and practices related to the Deaf, and how in these sign language
and its speakers are regarded as fundamentally abnormal. This is because
they are unwilling or refuse to communicate orally, although modern medi-
cine, with the help of the cochlear implant, is now capable of converting
many of them into oral communicators. The essay also describes the battles
the Deaf have to go through when they seek recognition of their linguis-
tic repertoires and, in actuality, of their right to be considered ‘normal’. It
also effectively foregrounds how a language can be seen as a danger to the
mainstream society, and how its learning and use are then effectively policed
and disciplined by scientific and educational discourses about language.


Before we hand over this book to the reader, we need to make the following
final point. In many ways, this book continues an old tradition in socio-
linguistics in which multilingualism was seen as a problem to be confronted
and solved. Some titles speak for themselves. The ground-breaking collection
of studies by Fishman et al. (1968) was called ‘Language Problems of
Developing Nations’, and a leading journal on language planning, founded
in 1976, is called ‘Language Problems and Language Planning’. The assump-
tions that multilingualism was a problem and that sociolinguistics should
address that problem were uncontroversial in that era, and our book
reasserts them.
At the same time, this book represents a rather fundamental break with
that older tradition, and the reasons for this have been given above. In the
older tradition the ‘problem’ of multilingualism was defined in modernist
terms, and recommended solutions consequently drifted in the direction
of the modernist forms of hierarchical ranking, standardization and devel-
opment we discussed earlier. Thus, problems with multilingualism were
18 Dangerous Multilingualism

generally seen as problems of (dis)order, and the solutions that emerged

out of such analyses rarely brought real benefit to the multilingual subjects
to whom they were addressed. The reason for this failure was that sociolin-
guists of that era tended to overlook the complexity of the phenomenology
of multilingualism-on-the-ground. When people mostly speak a mixed,
hybrid variety of language – a typical urban variety of language, in other
words – they are not well served when their language is dissected and
regarded as being composed of two or three other ones, only one of which
will then be used in schools and in public administration. They are then at
risk of seeing their language disqualified, taken away from them, defined
as a sublanguage, a ‘pidgin’, ‘jargon’ or ‘sabir’; of becoming literate in a
language or variety they do not use in other parts of life and remaining illit-
erate in the language or variety they use most; and of seeing their language
disappear from linguistic maps, atlases and Ethnologue inventories. Many
effectively ‘endangered’ languages in the world belong to this category
of mixed and hybrid varieties, and the remarkable thing is that they are
usually not even recognized as endangered languages. The task is therefore
to come up with better, more just and more equitable solutions to problems
of multilingualism.
This book consequently starts ‘with its feet on the ground’, so to speak,
from a strong awareness that the phenomenology of language in society has
changed, has become more complex and less predictable than we thought it
was. We have the advantage over earlier generations of being able to draw on
a far more sophisticated battery of sociolinguistic insights and understandings,
and we intend to draw these more advanced tools into our discussions. Our
diagnostic, as we said before, will revolve around a tension between two histor-
ical eras, high modernity and late modernity, and the problems we investigate
are problems that emerge out of this tension. The long historical development
from high to late modernity is a crucial backdrop for our approach, because
we see dangerous multilingualism as part of the debris of high modernity still
affecting late modern societies. High modernity has thus not disappeared, it
has not been replaced by late modernity; both developments coincide and
overlap, each at different levels of social structure. Late modernity defines
reality-on-the-ground, while high modernity defines the ideological and insti-
tutional perception of this reality. This is why, in our view, we do not live in
sociolinguistic postmodernity: the reality of language in society is to a large
extent determined by the ideological and institutional responses to it, and
these responses are those of high modernity. Our social and political systems
are, in that sense, more modernist than ever before. The challenge for con-
temporary sociolinguistics is not to simply reject or dismiss these modernist
reflexes and responses, but to understand them as real forces in our field and
as features of any sociolinguistic reality we intend to address in the age of late
modernity. This awareness (which we can call a ‘post-Fishmanian’ awareness)
drives the discussions in this book, and to these we can now turn.
Jan Blommaert, Sirpa Leppänen and Massimiliano Spotti 19

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Part I
Order – Disorder
Finland’s Official Bilingualism –
a Bed of Roses or of Procrustes?
Olli-Pekka Salo


Finland is a country with two national languages,1 Finnish and

Swedish. Finland is by no means the only officially bilingual country in
the world, but opposite to the situation in many other countries, Finnish
bilingualism is highly appreciated internationally, as it is regarded as well
functioning (see e.g. McRae, 1999). Compared to two other well-known
examples of officially bilingual countries, Canada and Belgium, Finland
excels by truly attributing both languages equal status, whereas in the other
two the formal recognition of the minority language in the public sphere
has remained essentially symbolic (Schnapper, 2004). So, multilingualism
being a catchword of today, Finland seems quite successful in that respect.
However, this model state of bilingualism faces serious problems despite the
noble intentions of ensuring its citizens’ constitutional rights through the use
of their mother tongue. This can be seen, for instance, in cases where public
authorities lack sufficient command of the other national language to
be able to serve the citizen in his/her native tongue. As the state aims at
avoiding these kinds of shortcomings, both national languages are part
of the national core curriculum for basic education (National Board of
Education, 2004) to provide the citizens with language skills in the other
national language. However, not everybody is satisfied with an educational
practice in which the large majority is obliged to study the minority’s
language for a three-year minimum.
In this chapter I am going to shed some light on Finland’s official
bilingualism – linguistic order protected by law – by introducing a variety
of fields which illustrate the complexities and somewhat disorderly reali-
ties of the issue. For instance, I examine the sometimes vital consequences
of high demands of language competence within public authorities such
as the medical profession and the police, as well as the impacts of having
the other national language (in this case Swedish) as a compulsory subject
in the Finnish national core curricula with regard to the study of foreign

26 Dangerous Multilingualism

languages. Before getting into detail with these issues, I give a brief summary
of the relationships between these two languages in the history of Finland.

A brief history of Finland’s bilingualism

As the French historian Marc Bloch (1953, p. 43) points out, one can only
understand the present by the past. Thus, to understand the present linguis-
tic situation in Finland, it is essential to briefly outline the history of the
relationship between the nation’s two languages.
Due to its northern location, Finland’s demographic history is fairly short,
but the country has been continuously populated ever since the last Ice Age
(see e.g. Huurre, 2005). We know very little of these first people: there is no
certainty of where they came from or what language they spoke. However,
research on loanwords (see e.g. Koivulehto, 2001) has shown that there are
very old Indo-European loanwords in Finnish, which implies that some
kind of pre-Finnish must have been spoken relatively close to the Baltic Sea
already quite early, that is, around 1900 BCE. It has been suggested that the
Baltic Finnic languages evolved from a proto-Finnic language, from which
Sámi was separated around 1500–1000 BCE, and research indicates that there
were at least three proto-Finnic dialects at that time (see e.g. Laakso, 2001).
Apparently, Finnish was a living oral language when Swedish-speaking
settlers arrived in the coastal regions during medieval times. Finland was
annexed to Catholic Sweden, and Swedish kings established their rule in
1249 (Sawyer and Sawyer, 1993). In the Middle Ages, the language of busi-
ness was Middle Low German, and religious activities were conducted in
Latin. Swedish, then again, was the main language of jurisdiction, admin-
istration and, to a certain extent, of higher education, which meant that
the majority of the population in Finland had few possibilities to use their
mother tongue in situations other than daily chores.
Despite the underprivileged position of Finnish, the first comprehensive
writing system for the language was created as early as the sixteenth century.
This was done by a Finnish bishop, Mikael Agricola, whose endeavour can
be seen as a natural part of the Christian reform movement in Europe,
during which vernacular languages were considered of utmost importance
in conveying religious information (see e.g. McGrath, 1999).
Even if vernaculars replaced Latin as the language of religion throughout
Europe, it was not enough for Finnish to become a recognized cultural
language. In fact, when Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy in
the Russian Empire some 200 years later in 1809, Swedish remained the
only official language. Language was not an issue during the first 50 years
of the Grand Duchy, which can be characterized as a period of consolida-
tion, during which the authorities succeeded in convincing the Russian
court not only of their own loyalty, but of that of all Finns. However, this
was followed by a period of increased independence, during which Finnish
Olli-Pekka Salo 27

was elevated from a language of the common people to a national language

equal to Swedish. This increased independence strengthened the national
spirit to an extent that made the Russian authorities feel uncomfortable
about the possible outcome. As a result, Russia introduced decrees, such as
the language manifesto of 1900 which made Russian the state language of
Finland. This 20-year era of attempted Russification (1899–1917) ultimately
turned out to be unsuccessful and detrimental to Finland’s relationship with
the Russian Empire.
The era of the autonomy was characterized by national romanticism,
which in Finland was not only seen as an attempt to separate from Russia,
but also as an emancipation from the lingering Swedish influence in society
and culture. This resulted in the rise of a strong movement that promoted
the use of the Finnish language in education, research and administration.
The idea that the state would be administered in a language not spoken by
almost 90 per cent of the population was considered outmoded. Interestingly
enough, it was the Swedish-speaking academia who worked deliberately to
strengthen the position of the Finnish language. Consequently, many influ-
ential Swedish-speaking families learned Finnish, fennicized their names and
changed their everyday language to Finnish, sometimes not a very easy task.
As the educated class was almost entirely Swedish-speaking, the first genera-
tion of the Finnish nationalists and Fennomans came predominantly from
a Swedish-speaking background. For instance, such national Finnish icons as
J.L. Runeberg, Z. Topelius and J.V. Snellman all wrote in Swedish about the
importance of giving Finnish a higher status in the society. Runeberg’s Vårt
land (‘Our Land’), the first poem in an epic collection on the Finnish War
1808–9, even became the Finnish National Anthem. This rising awareness of
the recognition of a separate Finnish identity can be summarized in a phrase
expressed by A.I. Arwidsson: ‘Swedes we are no longer, Russians we do not
want to become, let us therefore be Finns.’
Even if there was a strong nationalist movement seeking a unified
national identity during the autonomy, there nevertheless were language
conflicts between speakers of Swedish and Finnish. Swedish speakers clearly
realized that they needed to appeal to the large Finnish-speaking majority
to promote their ideals, and many upper-class Swedish speakers started
speaking Finnish. Soon, however, a countermovement was born, as the
Swedish speakers understood that they needed to secure the future of their
own language as well. The Swedish-minded feared that the Swedish lan-
guage in Finland would eventually die out and that a change of language
would weaken Finland’s bonds with Western civilization and Western
Christianity. Furthermore, they saw aggressive Russian nationalism as a
threat and dreaded that it would eventually lead to the Russification of
the country. The Swedish-minded came up with a slogan: ‘Swedish today –
Finnish tomorrow – Russian the day after tomorrow’. These fears made
the Swedish-minded believe that it was their patriotic duty to defend the
28 Dangerous Multilingualism

Swedish language in Finland. However, they were extremely aware of the

fact that keeping Swedish as the sole language of administration would
be unrealistic, and therefore they fought for a maximum of official bilin-
gualism. The Finnish-minded elite, led by J.V. Snellman, thought that the
best idea was to have one national language and to recognize Swedish as a
regional minority language.
It needs to be emphasized that the language issue was not primarily an
issue of ethnicity, but rather an ideological and philosophical issue as to
what language policy would best preserve Finland as a nation. This also
elucidates why so many educated Swedish speakers changed to Finnish: it
was motivated by ideology. Both parties had the same patriotic objectives,
but their methods were completely opposite.
By the time of Finland’s independence in 1917, Finnish clearly dominated
in government and society. However, language conflicts continued through-
out the first decades of independence, especially in the early 1930s when
there were even street fights between the language groups (Hämäläinen,
1968). The Second World War put an end to these clashes, and in recent
decades the language dilemma has been confined to occasional editorials
and letters to the editor as well as classrooms where teachers teaching
Swedish as the second national language face unmotivated, sometimes even
verbally aggressive, pupils (Salo, 2009).
Despite the language conflicts Finland has remained a bilingual country
with a Swedish-speaking minority (5.4 per cent of mainland Finland’s popu-
lation in 2009) living mostly in the coastal areas of southern, south-western
and western Finland. During the twentieth century, the urbanization
following the Industrial Revolution led to large majorities of Finnish speakers
in all major cities. For instance, the capital Helsinki became predominantly
Finnish speaking as early as around 1900. Today, there are approximately as
many speakers of Swedish in Helsinki as there were 100 years ago, but the
percentage has declined from about 45 per cent to mere 6.1 per cent in 2008
(Facts about Helsinki, 2008).

The official bilingualism in theory

According to the Finnish Language Act (423/2003) Finland has two national
languages, Finnish and Swedish. The purpose of this Act is, for instance,
to ensure ‘the constitutional right of every person to use his or her own
language, either Finnish or Swedish, before courts and other authorities’ as
well as ‘the right of everyone to a fair trial and good administration irrespec-
tive of language and to secure the linguistic rights of an individual person
without him or her needing specifically to refer to these rights’.
The new Language Act of 2003 is to a great extent based on the old Act
of 1922, both in terms of how the municipalities are categorized according
to language and concerning the duties of the authorities. According to the
Olli-Pekka Salo 29

Language Act, both Swedish-speaking and Finnish-speaking Finns have

the right to use their own language in contacts with central government
authorities and with the authorities in bilingual municipalities. The right to
use Swedish applies both in contacts with the authorities concerning some
matter to be dealt with, and when requesting information. The authorities
are required to provide service in both national languages on their own
initiative, without being asked to do so. They are also required to ensure
that signs, forms, brochures and other written materials are available and on
display in both languages. The management of each public authority is ulti-
mately responsible for this. It should also be possible to submit a complaint
to the management concerning shortcomings in Swedish services. The
enforcement of the Language Act is monitored by the Ministry of Justice,
which may also take initiatives to correct any deficiencies.
As can be read in the Language Act, Finland’s bilingualism is twofold.
On one hand, it secures the citizens’ right to use their own language in
contacts with central government authorities, and with the authorities in
bilingual municipalities on the other. In practice this means, for instance,
that a person who is registered as a Swedish speaker gets all the state-level
documents, such as tax declarations and information on presidential and
parliamentary elections, in Swedish. Then again, on the municipal level
the language of services may be dependent on whether the municipality is
officially bilingual or not.
The Finnish situation is an apt example of two types of bilingual territori-
ality – fixed and flexible (see e.g. MacRae, 1999). The flexibility is seen, for
instance, in the principles according to which municipalities are designated
either uni- or bilingual. As stated in the Language Act (423/2003), a munici-
pality is designated bilingual ‘if the population includes both Finnish
and Swedish speakers and the minority comprises at least 8 per cent
of the population or at least 3000 persons’. Even if the proportion of
the minority decreases below 8 per cent, a bilingual municipality is not
automatically designated unilingual. Instead, its proportion needs to
decrease below 6 per cent, and, in addition, on the recommendation of the
municipal council, ‘Government may determine by a Government Decree
that the municipal is bilingual for the following ten-year period even if
the municipality would otherwise be unilingual.’ Fixed territoriality, then
again, refers to the bilingual Finnish authorities, in other words the central
state administrative authorities.
In recent years, Finland has seen a strong movement of consolidation of
municipalities. In 2004 there were 444 municipalities in Finland, and seven
years later the number had come down to 336 and new consolidations are
constantly being planned. However, these fusions seldom affect the linguis-
tic balance of the area, even if the number of bilingual municipalities has
diminished. In most cases, it has actually strengthened the position of the
minority by ensuring the continuation of bilingual administration. On the
30 Dangerous Multilingualism

other hand, as Latomaa and Nuolijärvi (2002) point out, no matter what
kind of laws we have, the laws as such cannot provide services. What is
needed is enough funds to secure services in both national languages.

The official bilingualism in practice: Part 1 – the public


In June 1996, the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (also known

as the Barcelona Declaration) was adopted at the conclusion of the World
Conference on Linguistic Rights held in Barcelona. The document was
signed by UNESCO, the PEN Clubs, and several non-governmental organiza-
tions to support linguistic rights, especially those of endangered languages.
The declaration states, for instance, that ‘everyone has the right to carry
out all activities in the public sphere in his/her language, provided it is the
language specific to the territory where s/he resides’ (First Title, Article 12,
see UNESCO, 1996). In practice, this article indicates that Swedish speakers
in Finland, for instance, have the right to obtain medical treatment in
Swedish in bilingual municipalities. This, in turn, requires personnel who
know enough Swedish to be able to treat Swedish-speaking patients. This is
not always the case, which makes it an issue that many Swedish-speaking
Finns find particularly problematic. Even if language rights are enshrined
in the Language Act and the authorities are required to provide services in
both languages, in practice it is each speaker’s personal responsibility to
ensure that the law is put into practice. Unless there is demand for services
in Swedish, the authorities will have no real incentive to provide it or to
create language programmes to teach their personnel Swedish.
A few years ago, the Swedish Assembly of Finland (Folktinget, 2006) pub-
lished a report on how the legal rights of the patient to use their mother
tongue in health care are recognized in practice. The report presented several
worrying examples where the linguistic rights of the citizen were infringed,
often without any reasonable cause. A case in point was a 92-year-old
Swedish-speaking lady called Alma from Espoo (a bilingual city next to
Helsinki) who could only say one word in Finnish (‘Kyllä’, ‘Yes’). She had
been taken to a local hospital (part of a bilingual hospital district) after falling
down and hurting herself severely. In the hospital, she kept coughing and
vomiting blood. As the doctor was explaining in Finnish what the matter was
with her, Alma kept replying: ‘Kyllä, kyllä.’ The doctor continued his round
convinced that Alma had understood him, as she had been responding to his
account. Later, the patient in the neighbouring bed gave her a rough Swedish
translation of the doctor’s words (Folktinget, 2006).
Another example illustrates the occasional inflexibility of the bureau-
cracy. Fjalar, an elderly Swedish-speaking man from a bilingual town west
of Helsinki, had had a Swedish-speaking doctor for years. At one point,
the municipality decided to change the borders in the personal doctor
Olli-Pekka Salo 31

organization, and as a result Fjalar got a new doctor with Finnish as a

mother tongue. All this, despite the fact that Fjalar still lived at the same
address and that there were several Swedish-speaking doctors and other
personnel in the municipality. However, Fjalar’s case had a happy ending,
as he decided to fight for his rights and consequently, after persistently
contacting the authorities, Fjalar was allowed to have his old doctor
back (Folktinget, 2006). According to the Finnish National Institute for
Health and Welfare (Stakes, 2008), it is fairly common that there are no
Swedish-speaking personnel on duty in healthcare centres in big bilingual
municipalities in southern Finland.
Even if Swedish-speaking Finns are well aware of their rights, many of
them are hesitant to stand up for them, if there are more important issues
in question. For instance, no matter whether they consider an individual’s
linguistic rights extremely valuable, they understand that there are more
profound human rights that exceed it, like the right to life (the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, article 3). For instance, the bilingual munici-
pality of Sibbo/Sipoo north-east of Helsinki used to have a Swedish-speaking
majority for centuries, but as it has gradually turned into a Finnish-majority
municipality, it has become more and more difficult to get medical treatment
in Swedish. However, as a Sibbo resident points out,

För tio år sedan var det självklart att man mötte en svensk läkare på
hälsocentralen här i Sibbo. Nu har man tur om de kan ta till svenska. Men
då får man kompromissa, det är ändå viktigare att få bra vård än att man
får den på sitt eget språk. (Gabrielsson, 2004)
[Ten years ago it was self-evident that there were Swedish-speaking
doctors at the health centre in Sibbo. Now you’re lucky if they know some
Swedish. But one has to compromise, it is still more important to get good
treatment than to get treatment in your own language. Transl. OPS]

Because of the high level of language proficiency required of medical

experts in bilingual hospital districts, many professionally competent appli-
cants have not been able to be selected for open vacancies. Therefore, for
instance, the Vaasa Hospital District recently decided to lower the require-
ments regarding language skills for competent medical experts (YLE, 2008).
According to the VD (chief executive) of the Hospital District, the aim with
these new principles is to make it easier to employ people based on their
level of competence, especially for vacancies that have been open for a long
time. A few months later, the principle to lower language requirements was
also applied to technical personnel (Vasabladet, 2008), due to difficulties
in obtaining qualified employees. A year later, the City of Vaasa decided
to lower the requirements for employees in additional fields of service
(e.g. rehabilitation and home service in child protection). Instead of having
‘an excellent ability to speak and write the language of the majority in the
32 Dangerous Multilingualism

authority’s district’, it is now sufficient to have ‘a satisfactory ability’ to use

the language in question (YLE, 2009).
It is stated in the Finnish constitution that people are equal before law,
but in actual fact the proceedings in Swedish cases can be almost twice as
long as in Finnish ones (Valtioneuvosto, 2009, p. 59). Therefore, Swedish
speakers occasionally decide to use Finnish to speed up the procedure. In
addition, there are often linguistic breaks in the procedural chain. Instead
of being able to conduct a legal case solely in Swedish from beginning to
end, one may need to switch between Finnish and Swedish at various points
during the process. The core of the problem seems to lie in the lack of police
officers with a good command of Swedish, which often results in having
the preliminary investigation in Finnish. This, in turn, is often replicated in
the later phases of the procedure, even though it is against the law.
According to the Finnish Council of State (Valtioneuvosto, 2009, p. 80), the
most alarming deficiency in the court of law is the fact that instead of recog-
nizing the linguistic rights of the litigant as the starting point, the language
skills of the attorney or the judge seem to be more essential.

The official bilingualism in practice: Part 2 – the study of the

second national language

Finland is strongly dedicated to reaching the target of ‘mother tongue plus

two’ set by the European Union, and thus the national core curriculum for
basic education (see National Board of Education, 2004) puts a great deal
of weight on second and foreign language teaching (Table 2.1). This results
in the fact that all Finnish students are supposed to learn at least two addi-
tional languages during their basic education. One of them is either Swedish
(usually B1) or Finnish (usually A1 or A2), and the other usually is English
(99.2 per cent in 2007).
Despite the general recognition of the importance of multilingualism
both on the individual and societal levels, Finns’ command of foreign
languages is declining: the skills are of poorer quality and the scope of lan-
guages is getting narrower and narrower (Pöyhönen and Luukka, 2007; also
Dufva and Salo, 2009). One of the reasons behind this development is that

Table 2.1 Language studies in the national core curricula in Finland

Language Grade

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Upper secondary school

A1 --------------------- Compulsory
A2 ----------- Optional
B1 Compulsory
B2 ----------- Optional
B3 Optional
Olli-Pekka Salo 33

people generally believe that a good command of English suffices. In fact,

the public opinion of the majority – according to the 2006 Eurobarometer
survey – is that the 1⫹2 target is too high and that only one foreign
language (read: English) would be sufficient. The survey shows that Finns
perceive English to be by far the most useful language to know (88 per cent)
(Eurobarometer, 2006). Interestingly enough, however, as Leppänen and
Nikula (2008) point out, English has become such an everyday means of
communication which is seen and heard everywhere that it could be dis-
cussed whether some resources from the teaching of English could actually
be directed to teaching other languages.
Another reason behind the declining language skills might be the man-
datory second national language in the curriculum. According to the Basic
Education Act (628/1998), the second national language is a core subject in
the basic education syllabus, which means that every pupil studies it either
as the first, second or third foreign language.2 However, many Finns feel
reluctant to study Swedish for no apparent reason, but it can be argued that
the layered historicity of discourse (Blommaert, 2005) affects contemporary
classrooms. These negative attitudes are so prevalent that every second
teacher of Swedish mentions attitudinal problems as the most depressing
aspect of their work (Salo, 2009).
In recent years, the future of mandatory Swedish has been discussed
widely in public, partly thanks to a significant rise in the popularity of the
populist Finns Party. A few weeks before the 2011 parliamentary elections
the party, which openly opposes teaching mandatory Swedish, was strongly
challenging the big three traditional parties, the Social Democratic Party,
the National Coalition Party and the Centre Party of Finland. In addition,
the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity has actively worked for the
abolition of mandatory Swedish since the early 1990s, for instance by releas-
ing a language programme that has a monolingual Finland as the ultimate
goal and by ordering surveys that have constantly shown how the majority
of Finns (varying between 63 and 69 per cent in the past ten years) answer
‘Yes’ to a question whether teaching of Swedish should be voluntary for all
Finnish-speaking pupils. On the other hand, the surveys initiated by two
different Swedish-speaking organizations in 1998 and 2006 showed that a
slight majority of Finns (50 and 52 per cent) think that studying Swedish
should be mandatory in Finnish schools also in the future.
Paradoxically enough, the language programme of today’s Association of
Finnish Culture (founded in 1906) conflicts with the strong appeals for a
bilingual Finland put forward by the association’s founding fathers at the birth
of the nation. For instance, the renowned linguist E.N. Setälä (Karlsson, 1999),
a member of the association’s first central committee, played an integral
part in formulating the first Language Act of 1922, which declared that
Finland has two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Obviously, the
Finland of today is not the same as the Finland in the early 1920s, but
34 Dangerous Multilingualism

one can question whether this is a good enough reason for abolishing the
nation’s official bilingual policy which guarantees its citizens’ linguistic
rights.3 However, it is another question whether mandatory Swedish as a
school subject has equally unquestionable reasons to be preserved.
The arguments both for and against having the other national language,
which for the 94 per cent majority is Swedish, as a mandatory subject at
school are often vague and misplaced (Salo, 2010). On the one hand, sup-
porters see the teaching of Swedish to all Finns as a precondition for the
survival of Swedish in tomorrow’s Finland. On the other hand, opponents
believe that abolition would free resources which, thus, would increase the
study of other languages. Both arguments lack evidence. All in all, however,
the arguments against mandatory Swedish seem to be more logical, and
even language professionals have increasingly started to question the mean-
ingfulness of teaching reluctant pupils something that cannot be reasonably
argued for. For instance, a professor of Nordic philology has pointed out that
the pupils’ skills in Swedish would apparently improve, if pupils studied
the language voluntarily instead of being obliged to do it (Sundman, 2010).
However, Sundman argues that Swedish should be studied in higher educa-
tion. Marjatta Huhta, whose PhD thesis dealt with language needs analysis,
states that even if Swedish has its place in Finland, not everyone necessarily
would need to study it. According to Huhta, the needs of working life would
be met if 60 per cent of each language cohort achieved level B1 in Swedish
(Sivula, 2010). In practice this could mean that Finnish speakers would start
studying Swedish at the upper secondary level at the latest, and they would
also need to demonstrate a sufficient command of Swedish while studying
in higher education.
Despite the heated public discussion, however, there will probably be no
changes in the curriculum in this respect in the near future, as Finland has
recently signed the Declaration of Nordic Language Policy in which one of
the goals is to strengthen the teaching of Scandinavian languages as a help-
ing language and as a foreign language at school (Nordic Council, 2006).

Language purism – norms and regulations

As Martin (this volume) points out, Finland has ‘a strong tradition of stri-
ving for linguistic purity and adherence to norms and a prescribed standard’.
This regulatory approach to language use, reflecting language-ideological
evaluations providing a basis for hierarchical ordering of linguistic varieties,
aptly illustrates the theory of high modernity operating along three
basic parameters (order–disorder; purity–impurity; normality–abnormality)
(see e.g. Blommaert et al., this volume), as the aim to officially define correct
or good use of language clearly meets all the three criteria. One can only
speculate about the reasons for this kind of language cultivation, but the
following two explanations can be considered plausible. First, as described
Olli-Pekka Salo 35

above, under Swedish rule the Finnish language had hardly any official
status in society. Thus, during the era of autonomy, in the growing hope of
an independent nation state, the role of Finnish was strongly put forward
and it gained a foothold surprisingly fast. According to Allardt and Starck
(1981), it took a mere 40 years from the 1863 Language Decree, which stated
that Finnish should become an official language of government and should
be on equal terms with Swedish for litigants in the courts, for Finnish to
overcome Swedish as the dominant language of the country. In 1902, the
principles for language use in municipalities were enacted, and these prin-
ciples set the foundation for the very first Language Act of the independent
Finland a few decades later, thus providing the basis for the official linguistic
order of the new nation.
The need for a prescribed standard form of language has been so strong in
Finland that Svenska språkvårdsnämnden i Finland (‘The Swedish Language
Cultivation Council in Finland’), founded in 1942, was actually the first of its
kind in the Nordic countries (Laurén, 1992). The variety of Swedish spoken
in Finland, finlandssvenskan, has naturally been influenced by Finnish,
which has occasionally been regarded as a threat, as it has resulted in a
variety that deviates from the Swedish spoken in Sweden to an extent that
has made some scholars argue, more or less seriously, that finlandssvenskan
should be classified as a language of its own (see e.g. Oksaar, 1990). This
leads us to the second reason behind the serious desire for a strict linguistic
regulation: the size of the Finland Swedish minority. The number of Swedish
speakers has remained more or less stable during the past century, but their
relative proportion has shrunk from 12.9 per cent in 1900 to 5.5 per cent in
2007 (Statistics Finland, 2009). In actual fact, the alleged linguistic deviations,
so-called finlandismer (‘Finnishnesses’), are few and far between, as there
are on the average only five instances in a thousand words (Laurén, 1992).
In fact, the present situation owes a lot to Hugo Bergroth and his classic
description of Finland Swedish from 1917, in which he states that

Att vårt finländska modersmål med tiden skall utvecklas till ett särskilt
språk, som inte längre kan kallas svenska, behöva vi väl inte under några
omständigheter på allvar befara. Skulle så ske, är vår nationalitet i och
med detsamma dödsdömd. (Bergroth, 1917, p. 18)
[We need not in any circumstances be worried about that our Finnish
mother tongue will in time develop into a specific language which can-
not any longer be called Swedish. Should this happen our nationality
would immediately vanish. Transl. by OPS]

This striving for order and purity in the name of survival sometimes results in
situations where institutions, such as kindergartens, try to control language
use. This has been a common phenomenon in many parts of the world,
but surprisingly, there were at least two cases like this in Finland in spring
36 Dangerous Multilingualism

2009: a Swedish-language kindergarten in Vaasa prohibited children from

speaking Finnish (Pohjalainen, 2009) and a Finnish-language kindergarten
in Imatra prohibited children from speaking Russian (Etelä-Saimaa, 2009).
(For a discussion of a similar case in a Helsinki school, see Voipio-Huovinen
and Martin, this volume.) These two examples illustrate two different views
of the problems that multilingualism can bring with it. In the former case,
the authority’s aim to maintain order by keeping the kindergarten mono-
lingually Swedish is to secure, paradoxically enough, the living bilingualism
in Finland. This is to say, as Allardt (2000) argues, that no linguistic minor-
ity can survive unless it has its own institutions, organizations and forms
of interaction on its own terms. In addition, bilingual institutions and
organizations tend to become monolingually Finnish rather rapidly without
any conscious effort. This is due to the fact that most Swedish speakers are
bilingual and therefore do not suffer from the use of Finnish for practical
reasons. This development, then again, easily leads to monolingual practices
in the long run (Allardt, 2000).
In the latter case, the reason for prohibiting the use of Russian probably
has to do with the authorities’ aim to maintain order by accommodating (or
rather assimilating) the immigrant population into the society. The cause is
most likely well meaning and innocent, as command of the national language
is vital for full participation in societal matters. For instance, it is only possible
to gain citizenship after passing a language test at an appropriate (B1) level
(cf. Blommaert et al., this volume). However, it is questionable whether
violating an individual’s linguistic rights is an approach to be recommended.
Even though Swedish-speaking Finns form a community that is con-
stantly diminishing in relative terms, they are, according to a recent study
(Folktinget, 2005), relatively happy with their contemporary situation, and
most of them have a realistic view of the future. For instance, 48 per cent
of them consider it understandable, though poignant, if their children or
grandchildren choose Finnish as the language spoken at home.
It needs to be pointed out that Swedish-speaking Finns are not a homo-
geneous group, as there are significant differences in their socio-economic
position. On the one hand, as Swedish was the former dominant language
of government and business, Swedish-speaking Finns are over-represented
among lawyers, doctors and business executives and they are 3.3 times more
likely to own stocks and shares (Saarela, 2006). On the other hand, statistics
show that the two language groups have almost the same distribution by
industry and socio-economic position at the national level; the differences
are regional rather than socio-economic (Finnäs, 2003). In Osthrobotnia
(a north-western, coastal province), Swedish is dominant in many munici-
palities, whereas it seems that in the Helsinki region Finnish tends to
dominate Swedish in the public sphere (Folktinget, 2005).
Thinking about the strong Finnish tradition of unofficial normative
language policy, it is somewhat paradoxical that some of the people who
Olli-Pekka Salo 37

want to get rid of the mandatory Swedish use the impure nature of the
Finnish variety of Swedish as one of their arguments.


It seems obvious that the official bilingualism in Finland is not only a bed
of roses, but also a bed of Procrustes: it is seemingly orderly and well func-
tioning in theory, but it also faces serious problems in some crucial societal
fields, such as health care, law and education. On the one hand, the state
needs to maintain the linguistic rights of the age-old Swedish-speaking
minority by educating, for instance, legal and medical experts who have
a sufficient command of Swedish, but, on the other hand, we need to be
prepared to openly discuss the pros and cons of having the second national
language as a general school subject in basic education.

1. In addition, Sámi languages, Finnish sign language and the Roma language all
have certain rights recognized in for example the Constitution and the Language
Act. The number of residents whose mother tongue is not Finnish, Swedish or
Sámi is 3.6 per cent of the population (Statistics Finland, 2010).
2. Even if Swedish is officially the second national language, it nevertheless appears
to be a foreign language for most Finnish pupils. Instead, English seems to have
obtained the status of a second language in many young people’s linguistic reper-
toire (see e.g. Leppänen et al., 2008).
3. Naturally, this does not apply to all citizens (e.g. refugees and immigrants), but
only to speakers of Finnish and Swedish, and to some extent also the speakers of
Sámi languages, Finnish sign language and the Roma language.

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Linguistic Diversity as a Problem
and a Resource – Multilingualism
in European and Finnish Policy
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri

Linguistic diversity – a factor in societal processes and

policy documents

Societal background
Societies in Europe and across the world are under constant pressure to cope
with increasing multilingualism and multiculturalism. This development
has its roots in different global and local societal and economic processes.
On the one hand, globalization is putting pressure on the economy in that
more varied language resources are needed in society. On the other hand,
immigration is constantly on the increase, giving rise to what Vertovec
(2006) has termed super-diversity, a ‘condition distinguished by a dynamic
interplay of variables among an increased number of new, small and
scattered, multiple-origin, transnationally connected, socio-economically
differentiated and legally stratified immigrants’.
Super-diversity has made the language situation in Europe – the focus
of our analysis – increasingly diverse over the last decades. This concerns
particularly the old immigration countries. Currently, there are over 300
languages of almost 200 nationalities spoken within the boundaries of
the European Union. While the official policy of the EU is to promote the
freedom of its citizens to speak and write their own language, it is the 23
official languages and to some extent the 60-odd heritage languages which
are given priority.
In Finland the language situation has traditionally been viewed as fairly
homogeneous. There are two national languages, Finnish and Swedish,
but since the Swedish-speaking Finns comprise only about 6 per cent of
the whole population, the social reality of most Finns can be described as
relatively monolingual. In addition to Finland’s official bilingualism, Sámi
as indigenous people, Roma and ‘other groups’ have the constitutional
right (Finnish Constitution, 1999, §17) to ‘maintain and develop their own

42 Dangerous Multilingualism

language and culture’; this right is thus as much cultural as linguistic. Users
of Finnish sign language are also mentioned in the Finnish Constitution, but
in terms of physical disability rather than as a cultural or linguistic minority
(Tarnanen and Huhta, 2008; Conama, 2009; for Finnish sign language, see
also Tapio and Takkinen, this volume). As regards multilingualism in soci-
ety, a recent survey on English in Finland (Leppänen et al., 2011) shows
that even though Finns perceive themselves as largely monolingual, their
social environments have become increasingly multilingual. Nevertheless,
the idea of a homogeneous language situation is maintained, mostly due to
language minorities in Finland being both relatively and absolutely small in
comparison to those in other European countries (Latomaa and Nuolijärvi,
2005; Pöyhönen, 2009). In a similar vein, the dogma of homogeneism
(Blommaert and Verschueren, 1998) is also in use at the European level,
both to describe social cohesion within the EU and to maintain a sense of
national place and identity (Horner, 2009).
The above descriptions give a typical, high-modern picture of language
situations in certain geopolitically restricted areas: languages are classified,
numbered and placed in different positions in the hierarchies of languages as
‘official’, ‘national’ or ‘other’, to structure the diversifying situation ration-
ally. But as Makoni and Mashiri (2007) point out, this kind of enumeration
and representation of the language situation is already language-ideological
work, an attempt to essentialize languages into countables that can be
labelled, contained and controlled. In a situation where these categoriza-
tions and enumerations are needed, the warm and fuzzy understanding of
multilingualism (in Europe as in Finland) is truly challenged.
Beneath official policies at supranational and national levels there is
a complex and messy reality which does not conform to the hygienic
and politically correct descriptions of language situations. As Hélot and
de Mejía (2008) observe with reference to bilingualism, there is a double
vision in that while bilingualism is presented as something that may bring
advantages, prestige and power, it is also referred to as something that
can give rise to problems and disadvantages. These advantages and dis-
advantages may be societal (i.e. increased diversification both as a source
of cultural richness and as political problems of societal incoherence) or
individual (i.e. increased diversification as a personal resource and as an
obstacle to particular societal trajectories; Blommaert et al., this volume).
The same appears to be true of understandings of multilingualism. While
multilingualism may be celebrated for its ability to enrich society, it may
also be viewed as abnormal, even dangerous, for a nation state struggling to
maintain its identity (see ibid.).
We approach constructions of languages and multilingualism as indicative
of social change. Following Blommaert et al. (this volume), we argue that the
documents we have analysed show a tendency towards ordering the messy
realities of everyday social life, or bringing some kind of balance to societies
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 43

that are under pressure. Multilingualism and its political representations (in
our case in the policy documents) provide an insight into the different soci-
etal tensions that are brought to the surface as policy actors at different levels
meet, much like tectonic plates (Bleiklie and Kogan, 2000, p. 21), making
societal change visible. In other words, we see policies of multilingualism
as a case of ‘governmental rationality’ or ‘governmentality’ (Foucault, 1991;
Rose, 1999). As Rose (1999, p. 1) suggests, conventional forms of political
thought are more or less framed for the centralized (controlling, regulative)
nation state, with one collective actor who exercises legitimized power
over a geographical area. Consequently, ‘power’ becomes power to control
individuality (see also Foucault, 2003), whereas freedom may be defined
as absence of coercion or domination (Rose, 1999, p. 1). Disorder, in turn,
appears as something that needs to be governed to maintain order, whereas
‘good order’ leads to ‘the security, tranquillity, prosperity, health and happi-
ness of the authorities’ (Rose, 1999, p. 5). Disorder, then, is a consequence of
societal exclusion. It may be that the era of super-diversity will create a need
for further control and coercion (as Etzioni suggests happened in the 1970s
and 1980s, as cited in Vertovec, 2006), revealed as a growing emphasis on
nation-state-oriented policies. How and whether this shows in policy texts
that deal with language issues is a concern of the present chapter.

Introducing the analytical framework and data

In this chapter, we investigate the ways in which multilingualism and the
multiplicity of languages are presented in supranational (EU) and national
(Finnish) policy documents. Key questions here are ‘what kinds of language
hierarchies emerge and what kinds of values are expressed when labelling and
controlling languages (Makoni and Mashiri, 2007), implicitly or explicitly?’,
‘how is multilingualism governed (see Foucault, 1991; Rose, 1999)?’ and
‘how are diversity and cohesion dealt with in order to create a ‘manageable’
multilingual space in Europe?’ Like Heller and Martin-Jones (2001, p. 4),
we also believe that it is important to explore how linguistic and cultural
differences are used in policy documents as a ‘resource for constructing, level-
ling, contesting and blurring boundaries’. In other words, policy documents
not only reflect social realities but play an important role in constructing,
ordering and structuring them, thus acting as instruments of governance, or
‘governmental rationalizing’ (see Rose, 1999). It is therefore all the more
important to investigate what kind of values, meanings and ideologies are
attached to different languages, and consequently to ‘multilingualism’ in EU
and Finnish (language education) policy documents. As Bailey (2007, p. 258)
suggests, ‘languages or codes can only be understood as distinct objects to the
extent to which they are treated as such by the social actors’. Consequently,
ways of representing languages are also indicative of the language ideologies
and values of the social actors involved. In short, we analyse how order is
brought to the simultaneously ordered and messy European language policy
44 Dangerous Multilingualism

situation (Wright, 2004), what underlying values and ideologies are present,
and what are the implications for language education policy. We view
‘ideologies’ in critical terms as mediators and legitimizers of existing hierar-
chies and power relations (Thompson, 1990; Chiapello and Fairclough, 2002).
Values, in turn, are ideological systems which can be appealed to or invoked
in order to achieve the desired effects (Fairclough, 2003; Bacchi, 2000).
Our data consist of four policy documents from the EU and from Finland
that deal with languages and (language) education (see Table 3.1). All the
documents were published in 2007–8, and represent a particular societal
situation. Multilingualism was given a separate portfolio in the European
Commission for a three-year period from the beginning of 2007 under
Leonard Orban; since the beginning of 2010 it has been amalgamated into the
portfolio of Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. In Finland, politi-
cal discussion of multilingualism is less common, and it mainly concentrates
on the official bilingualism and the wide range of foreign language provision.
Both the EU and Finnish documents reflect an attempt to balance the needs
of both global and local (national) policies. These discourses create and sup-
port ideologies as mediators of power relations, as defined above.
There may be connections between the two sets of documents but here we
are not investigating whether European documents influence Finnish ones,
or whether there is any linear relationship between the supranational and
national documents. Rather, we explore these policies side by side, to see how
multilingualism is constructed in a supranational and national European
context at the beginning of the twenty-first century, a period of time that,
in the words of Heller and Duchêne (2007, p. 5), can be described as ‘one of
consolidation of a globalized new economy based on services and informa-
tion […] but in which nation-states continue to play an important role’.
In policy documents, some policy views and problems are inevitably
foregrounded, which simultaneously narrows the space for alternative
views (see Ball, 1993, p. 15). Consequently, the documents also perpetuate
particular political views of social reality (Muntigl, 2002), and ultimately
exercise power. Apart from their explicit attempt to affect societal circum-
stances, policy documents also often serve as a source for other texts and
thus, through processes of intertextuality and interdiscursivity (Blommaert,
2005), their power to influence both official and public opinion about
multilingualism increases. The rationale for exploring policy documents
arises from this power they have to affect both official policies and general
opinions. As regards the image constructed of multilingualism in policy
documents, it is a result of discursive power at play, as these discourses have
historical, social and institutional implications (Foucault, 2002, p. 131).
Hence, the documents are ‘archives’ of particular institutional practices or
policies on multilingualism, and as such well worth investigating.
Table 3.1 offers an overview of the data. The documents differ in style
and orientation. This means that to do full justice to them each one would
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 45

Table 3.1 The data

Document name Description Length

Document 1 (EU): The Communications of the 15 printed pages,

Communication 2008. Commission are proposed in English
Multilingualism: an Asset legislation and recommendations
for Europe and a Shared to the Council and member states
Commitment rather than binding directives.
Member states are, however,
‘invited’ to adopt actions proposed
by the Commission. This particular
Communication approaches
multilingualism in general terms,
not only in connection with
education. The goal of policy is to
‘mainstream’ multilingualism into
different EU policy areas.
Document 2 (EU): High As preparatory work for the 32 printed pages,
Level Report 2007. strategy on multilingualism, the in English
Final Report of the High Level Commissar for Multilingualism
Group on Multilingualism appointed a High Level Group of
11 experts to discuss aspects of
multilingualism in the EU. The
final report has no direct authority
over multilingualism policies but
gives general recommendations
to the European Commission
and to educational institutions.
The document emphasizes the
importance of a stronger foothold
for multilingualism – or, to be
precise, mainstreaming
multilingualism – in the policy-
making processes of the EU.
Document 3 (Finland): Development plans are central docu- 61 printed pages,
Development Plan 2008. ments in Finnish education policy: in Finnish
The Development Plan for they set the framework for education
Education and Research policies for each five-year period that
2007–2012 they cover. They also form a bridge
between the more abstract goals
of government programmes and
the more practical, operationalized
policy goals and actions in contracts
between the Ministry of Education
and educational institutions. This
document covers the whole field of
education, language education only
comprising a small part of it

46 Dangerous Multilingualism

Table 3.1 Continued

Document name Description Length

Document 4 (Finland): The KIEPO project was funded by 50 printed pages,

KIEPO 2007. the Ministry of Education and the in Finnish
The Central University of Jyväskylä and was set
Recommendations of the up to examine language education
National Project on Finnish as widely as possible, with particular
Language Education Policies emphasis on language education
(KIEPO) as a continuum and on issues of
lifelong learning. It had no direct
authority or mandate over language
education policies but several
suggestions found their way into
the Development Plan. While the
present analysis focuses on the
central recommendations with
minimal explanation and
background of the project, a wider
(500 page) final report is also

have to be analysed in its entirety. However, as this is not possible within

the confines of a single chapter, we will only focus on those instances of
policy texts that clearly have to do with language(s) either explicitly or by
implication, since they can be regarded as key elements in the construction
of meaning around multilingualism.
To ensure consistent treatment of each document we applied the same
analytic grid to each, tracking ‘diversity’, ‘cohesion’ and ‘competitiveness’
in each one, all three representing crucial and recurrent aspects of the
policy discourse. In practice, we sought to identify all explicit and implicit
references to language(s) and the learning of languages, with particular
attention to the following three dimensions: (i) is diversity implied, in
either positive or negative terms?, (ii) how is social cohesion mentioned, in
society at large or in smaller communities?, and (iii) are multiple languages
(or a lack thereof) discussed in the light of the economy, competitiveness or
advantages/disadvantages on an individual level or in the labour market?
Our focus on diversity and cohesion is inspired, firstly, by a Durkheimian
viewpoint (Durkheim, 1964), according to which the existence of societies
is based on the coexistence of divisive and cohesive powers. The cohesion of
pre-modern societies was brought about by what Durkheim calls ‘mechanical
solidarity’; that is, unquestioned societal norms pressing members of society
towards similarity. Modern societies, however, were characterized by
‘organic solidarity’; in other words, individuals with different characteristics
and skills all having their place in the societal division of labour. In the
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 47

Durkheimian sense, within ‘good’ diversity all individuals have to develop

and maintain specialized skills and tasks in a society where the division of
labour is highly advanced. In ‘bad’ diversity, on the other hand, this division
of labour ceases to have a specialized role and begins to undermine societal
ties instead of strengthening them. Secondly, diversity and cohesion have
also been addressed in earlier studies on multilingualism, for instance by
Milani (2007), who discusses these processes by drawing on Bakhtin’s (1981)
ideas of ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal’ voices; or by Horner (2009), who
discusses language requirements as a ‘solution’ to the migration ‘problem’,
viewing social cohesion as the dogma of homogeneism and diversity as a
‘European mosaic’.
The question of competitiveness in our analytical grid arises from those
trends of globalization that largely see society in economic terms and com-
petitiveness as a self-evident value (see Saarinen, 2008 on competitiveness
as a built-in value of OECD and EU education policies). Our preliminary
analysis of the documents also showed that the knowledge of languages is
presented as an individual and social asset and an economic commodity.
‘Competitiveness’ and language as a social commodity have also been
discussed by Grin (2001) and da Silva et al. (2007).
Throughout, we also paid attention to the various ways in which languages
are conceptualized in the documents and how these descriptions relate to
each other. We were interested both in the different terms used to refer to
the multiplicity of languages and whether any hierarchies are implied in the
way these labels are used.

The European dimension – united in diversity or managing


The two European policy documents which we analysed show that multi-
lingualism in Europe presents itself as both a central and a problematic
issue (see Blommaert et al., this volume). Different sources of tension can
be recognized. Firstly, there is tension between societal and individual
multilingualism. While multilingualism within the EU is a given due to
the wide range of languages in the member states, at the level of the
individual multilingualism is something that needs to be supported and
enhanced; current political aims are to make all EU citizens multilingual and
to help them recognize and fully exploit the potential that multilingualism
can offer in the different areas of their lives. The second type of tension
has to do with the many different values attached to multilingualism. On
the one hand, it is an asset that needs to be fostered as it can be of service
both economically and culturally: multilingualism within the EU is seen
as both an economic advantage and a valuable resource in promoting
intercultural understanding and overcoming intercultural barriers. On the
other hand, increasing multilingualism is also a problem that needs to be
48 Dangerous Multilingualism

managed as it can at its worst threaten social cohesion within the EU. This
problematic side of multilingualism reveals that there are, in fact, different
types of multilingualism, both ‘good’ (visible and socially accepted) and
‘bad’ (invisible and undervalued) versions (cf. Hélot and de Mejía, 2008).
As regards the three central dimensions of analysis introduced above –
diversity, cohesion and competitiveness – they all become an issue but with
different emphases. Diversity is the one that occupies the central position in
the documents as something that can, in the Durkheimian sense, be either
beneficial or detrimental to society. Diversity also appears as something that
needs to be governed in order to ensure societal competitiveness. In the
following, these observations will be discussed in more detail.

From celebratory to managerial discourses

As stated above, diversity is linked to intercultural understanding and multi-
culturalism in both European documents. In such contexts, multilingualism
and diversity clearly have a celebratory tone. For example, according
to the Final Report of the High Level Group on Multilingualism from 2007
(henceforth High Level Report), ‘Europeans’ are encouraged to learn other
languages besides their mother tongue because languages open doors to
other cultures and make people willing to interact with each other. In the
Commission’s Communication Multilingualism: an Asset for Europe and a
Shared Commitment from 2008 (henceforth Commission’s Communication),
the linguistic diversity brought by multilingualism is seen as something
that can be ‘an asset for Europe’, as already suggested by the title of the
document. Multilingualism is referred to as ‘the harmonious coexistence
of many languages in Europe’ and languages are seen as ‘part of a shared
inheritance’. Moreover, the goal of the multilingual EU is to be ‘united in
diversity’. The expressions used present linguistic diversity as something
valuable that can become a ‘precious’ asset in enhancing intercultural dia-
logue and social cohesion, in increasing people’s life opportunities and in
giving them access to different services.
While multilingualism is seen as something of benefit to all EU citizens, the
documents also suggest that for this benefit to be realized, multilingualism
needs to be approached in a certain way: it needs to be controlled and managed.
For example, it is recognized that without an ‘appropriate multilingualism
policy’ multilingualism can create big ‘challenges’, for example giving the
multilingual an advantage over the monolingual and making communica-
tion between citizens and cooperation between the member states more
difficult. Its absence can also reduce companies’ competitiveness. Therefore
the main objective is to overcome these challenges and enable everybody – at
individual, national and European levels – to make the most of multilin-
gualism. According to the Commission’s Communication, multilingualism
is also ‘a shared commitment’ as the document suggests that every EU
citizen has a responsibility to contribute towards making the EU even more
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 49

multilingual and to take advantage of the existing opportunities, thus

benefiting ‘European society as a whole’. Multilingualism also has an
important role in enhancing intercultural dialogue in the external relations
of the EU.
The need to manage multilingualism becomes evident in the ways in
which languages are described in the documents. The canonized descrip-
tion of the diverse linguistic landscape starts with the official languages of
the EU, then goes on to regional and minority languages, and finally to
migrant languages. Although not explicitly stated, this ordering seems to
be based on an inbuilt hierarchical ranking of languages. Such hierarchies
mostly derive from EU legislation but there seem to be cultural rankings
as well. For example, multilingualism is described in the High Level Report
as a demographic fact:

An increasingly large number of people living in the Union are multi-

lingual or even multiliterate because they (i) speak an autochthon
regional or minority language in addition to the (major) national
language, (ii) speak a migrant language in addition to the language of
the host country, or (iii) grew up in mixed language families or other
multilingual environments (the Erasmus phenomenon).

In addition to the usual jargon of EU legislation the High Level Report also
uses concepts like ‘intra-European languages’ or ‘major non-European world
languages’, which further suggests a need to manage and govern linguistic
diversity by grouping and ranking languages.
In the Commission’s Communication the diversity of languages in the
EU is also demonstrated by a large repertoire of terms which effectively
categorize languages into different subgroups. The scale goes from an
individual perspective (e.g. mother tongue, own language, first language,
second language, foreign language) via a local perspective (e.g. regional
language, local language), to the national perspective (e.g. national lan-
guage, host country language) to a more global and European (e.g. EU
and non-EU language) or official perspective on languages (e.g. official
language, business language, the court’s language) not forgetting the
Commission’s advisory group’s (Maalouf et al., 2008) concept of a ‘per-
sonally adopted language’. Thus, there seems to be a constant need to
label languages and language users. These categories serve as instruments
of governmentality: they are used to create order and hierarchies in the
messy reality of multilingual Europe. Figure 3.1 presents how languages
are labelled in the documents, and suggests how they can be grouped
to form a scale where the emphases range from individual to global
Diversity in the European documents thus gets concretized as a ‘shopping
list’ of languages. By ‘shopping list’ we refer to the listing, labelling and

e.g. heritage l., regional l., indigenous
NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE l., autochthon l., local l.
e.g. (major) national l., host-country l., host country’s
l., l. of the host country/community/society, minority
e.g. foreign l., first l., second l., third
l., majority l., migrant l., lesser-used l., the l.of
l., (own) mother tongue, own l.
migrant communities, community l.
e.g. EU l., Community l., non-EU l., non-
Community l., European l., (major) non-
European l., (quasi) lingua franca, (major)
e.g. all (imaginable) l., small l.,
world l., international l.
EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVE additional l., many l., several l.,

e.g. immersion l., long l., short l., l. of more l., multiple l., some l., different

instruction, target l., less widely used l., specific l., (an)other l.

and taught l., lesser-studied l., A l., B or C l.

e.g. official l., working l., court’s l., business l., l. for
business, l. of popular holiday destinations, l. of
culture, l. of their company

Figure 3.1 Terms used to categorize languages

Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 51

categorizing of languages that creates the illusion of a linguistic situation

that is controllable. This may have a dual purpose: firstly, it may serve as a
form of consciousness-raising of the multiple linguistic realities. Secondly,
while the listing of different languages may indeed highlight the need to
promote ‘harmonious coexistence’ between them in society, the fact that
languages are grouped into different categories also suggests that they
have different statuses. As regards multilingualism, it seems to translate
into the enumeration of different languages and their parallel coexistence,
issues of hybridity and multiple identities brought about by multilingual-
ism remaining in the shadows. This kind of listing, in other words, turns
multilingualism into different categories of ‘EU-lingualism’, ‘minority lin-
gualism’, ‘national lingualism’ and so on, which in turn disempowers actual
multilingual practices, as they fit these categories poorly.
One exception to the overall hygienic discourse is the use of the term
‘mother tongue’ in the High Level group document. The mother tongue
is mentioned in connection with both migrants and ‘members of the host
society’ (High Level 2007, p. 11), yet it is explicitly stated that mother
tongue is no longer a valid concept: ‘it would probably be more appropriate
to speak of people’s first language or even first languages, as the case may
be’ (High Level 2007, p. 6).

Social cohesion and migrants as a problematic resource

Besides diversity, social cohesion is another important factor that gets mixed
up in discussions about diversity and multilingualism, especially in settings
where diversity needs to be managed. The High Level Report emphasizes
skills in a variety of languages and argues for multilingualism through
diversity, but it also argues for social cohesion in European societies. In the
report, multilingualism and social cohesion are mostly dealt with when dis-
cussing either migrant communities, integrating migrants into societies, or
‘the coexistence of different language communities’; in other words, cases
which pose a potential threat to social cohesion. Diversity as potentially
threatening social cohesion is also revealed by ‘members of the host society’
being encouraged to learn migrant languages.
One general message conveyed by the Commission’s Communication seems
to be that all languages in Europe are equal: no hierarchies between languages
are explicitly presented. However, the listing, labelling and ranking of lan-
guages described above serves as an implicit indication that hierarchies do exist.
Moreover, when later on in the document valuing all languages is at issue, it is
also pointed out that due to increased migration and mobility, mastery of the
‘national language(s)’ is very important when an immigrant is integrating into
a new home country, which implies that national languages have, in fact, more
value than migrant languages. At the same time, however, there is awareness
of the need to raise the status of different mother tongues and other languages
which are used more informally. When the diversity of the EU is described,
52 Dangerous Multilingualism

migrant languages are also mentioned – but only after the official EU lan-
guages and other languages. The Commission’s Communication also suggests
that migrant children may be a problem for schools because the language of
instruction is a second language for them. This, in turn, necessitates that teach-
ers also acquire teaching skills in teaching their own language as a second or
foreign language. In sum, the ideal presented in the document seems to be that,
on the one hand, migrants need to learn the ‘host-country language’, but on
the other, ‘their heritage or community languages’ should be better taken into
account. In other words, ideally the languages of both the host country and
the migrants need to be respected. Apart from these references to migrants,
however, migrants and their languages do not form a specific focus of attention
in the Commission’s Communication.

Whose multilingualism is being talked about?

Diversity and social cohesion are often conveyed through references to
mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, us and them, especially in discussions
of migrant languages and communities. For example, the High Level Report
states that ‘by giving value to migrant languages in our midst, we may well
enhance migrants’ motivation to learn the language of the host community,
and – indeed – other languages, and enable them to become competent
mediators between different cultures [emphases added]’. The use of the
pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’ in this passage marks a clear boundary between us
and them, as the pronouns are used authoritatively: ‘we’ have the power to
give value to ‘them’, or to exclude ‘them’ as outsiders rather than include
‘them’ (see Íñigo-Mora, 2004 on the different uses of ‘we’ in communities).
One way of concretizing multilingualism is to discuss particular languages.
In the High Level Report, 11 languages are mentioned. It is worth noting
that European languages are not among those mentioned, perhaps to main-
tain an image of equality between the official EU languages. Instead, the
languages referred to are ‘major world languages’, which in practice means
non-European languages. It is, for example, argued that ‘there is a growing
demand for major world languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese
and Russian, which is currently not matched by provision’. Many of these
‘major world languages’ are also migrant languages in Europe, but not
referred to as such. The document seems to suggest that it is EU citizens who
are required to learn these languages; the migrants’ own multiple linguistic
repertoires are not explicitly considered in discussing a broad range of
language skills in formal education.
Thus multilingualism is mainly seen from the perspective of an EU citizen
and the documents are written exclusively to allegedly authentic members
of the EU, rather than inclusively, encompassing a larger population. For
example, in the Commission’s Communication the aim is to describe how
multilingualism can be utilized by an individual living in the EU. In the
document the Barcelona objective (mother tongue plus two languages) is
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 53

described as the goal that needs to be reached in order to realize all the
opportunities that the linguistic diversity of Europe can offer. However,
many ‘citizens’ do not yet have access to these advantages (e.g. mono-
linguals, school dropouts, senior citizens) and a lot of work needs to be
done ‘to raise awareness’ about the advantages of linguistic diversity. On the
other hand, particularly multilingual EU citizens speaking many different
languages are seen as extremely important because they can function as a
link between people coming from different cultures.

English – a special case

While the High Level Report refers to a number of specific languages, in
the Commission’s Communication English is the only language actually
mentioned by name, referred to on two occasions. The first reference is
in connection with competitiveness. English is seen as the leading language
in business, but it is emphasized that also knowing other languages is
the real key to enhancing competitiveness and creating new business
relations. English is mentioned for the second time in the context of life-
long learning. It is said that although many EU countries improved their
language teaching between the late 1990s and 2005, as was recommended
by the two previous Commission’s Communications, it was mainly
English that was taught more in primary and secondary education. More
effort should therefore be directed towards learning other languages. All
in all, English is acknowledged as the leading language in business and
the most commonly taught language in schools in the member states,
but the point is made that other languages are also very much needed as,
for example, they give companies a major economic advantage, one that
will ‘allow them to conquer new markets’. The economic value of English
thus seems to get highlighted even if, as Grin (2001) shows, the extent to
which English in fact has, and will continue to have, economic value is a
highly complex issue.
In the High Level Report English has a more visible role: it is referred to
on several occasions, and closer examination of the occurrences reveals that
the report’s relationship to English is riddled with tensions, which is not
surprising given that the spread of English has recently been hotly debated
the world over (see e.g. Phillipson, 2003; Graddoll, 2006; Pennycook,
2007). An obvious tension is visible in the High Level Report when it rec-
ognizes the usefulness of English as an international lingua franca while
at the same time expressing concern about the threat it poses to European
multilingualism. This resembles Sergeant’s (2008, p. 218) view that discourses
on English often have ‘vacillated between two poles’. To concretize this
vacillation, the High Level Report on the one hand posits that ‘English has
been further gaining ground as a means of non-mediated intra-European
and international communication’ and ‘the fact that many people operating
at a European level now have a good command of English is bound to
54 Dangerous Multilingualism

have an effect on the demand for interpreting at European level’. General

proficiency in English is thus linked to economic gains. However, at the
same time there are concerns relating to the threat that English poses for
both multilingualism and the learning of a wide range of languages: the
document strongly argues in favour of the learning of several languages
and against this background such a big proportion of Europeans studying
English is of course problematic. The fact that ‘many policy-makers and
decision-makers – including parents – firmly believe that all that children
at the beginning of the 21st century need to acquire is a good command
of English’ is also presented in the High Level Report as undermining the
European ideal of multilingualism. Thus it could be argued that while
the wide spread of English would in principle make it a practical tool for
governing linguistic diversity in Europe, it is politically unsuitable as it
does not fit into the ‘harmonious diversity’ image of Europe where all
national languages are treated equally. This resonates with Wright’s (2000,
pp. 129–30) reasoning about why it ‘still remains in the realms of fantasy’
that any single language would ever be imposed top-down as a shared
language in Europe:

A lingua franca, particularly if it were to be English, would be perceived

as a threat, carrying with it the distinct possibility of undermining other
languages and cultures. Anglicisation might worry many Europeans as
much – if not more – than the democratic deficit caused by the lack of a
European community of communication.

In the European-level documents, multilingualism thus poses itself as both

a valuable asset and a challenge. The inherent value of multilingualism
is recognized, but managing diversity to make it both economically and
culturally advantageous to Europe presents itself as a problem. The most
problematic aspect of multilingualism seems to be the one brought about by
migration. However, no particular attention is paid to migrants in the docu-
ments, at the heart of which seems to lie an idealized notion of ‘European
citizens’ which, effectively, excludes migrant populations. Moreover, both
documents seem to treat individuals – both citizens and migrants – mainly
as monolinguals with one ‘mother tongue’. This picture of multilingualism
is what Heller (1999, p. 5) describes as ‘as a set of parallel monolingualisms,
not a hybrid system. What is valued also is a mastery of a standard language,
shared across boundaries and a marker of social status.’ The role of English
as a lingua franca is also problematic as its prevalence brings ‘injustice and
inequality into the situation’ (Wright, 2009, p. 111) and is seen to hamper
rather than foster European multilingualism. In short, then, the European
documents highlight the dissonance between inspirational and cautionary
discourses on multilingualism: making diversity and social cohesion
mutually compatible is not an easy task.
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 55

The Finnish dimension – protecting national interests and

reaching out to global spheres

The Finnish policy documents under examination were produced at around

the same time as the European documents – at the beginning of the new
millennium – and language issues are a shared concern. However, the
Finnish documents do not explicitly focus on multilingualism but are both
documents on education. The Development Plan for Education and Research
(henceforth the Development Plan) looks at education in its entirety; this
analysis deals only with those parts where languages are relevant. In the
Central Recommendations of the National Project on Finnish Language
Education Policies – KIEPO (henceforth the KIEPO recommendations)
the focus is specifically on language education.
As shown above, the European documents responded to the diversity
brought about by multilingualism with both celebratory and alarmist
discourses. The Finnish documents show responses at a national level,
which have some similarities but also some different emphases. Firstly,
the division into positive and problematic, or in Hélot’s and de Mejía’s
(2008, p. 1) terms ‘visible and socially accepted’ and ‘invisible and
undervalued’ forms of multilingualism, is also borne out by the Finnish
documents, with a clear division between Finnish nationals and migrant
groups, and different requirements and expectations as regards languages
for each. Whereas Finnish nationals are expected to attain wide language
repertoires, migrants are faced with pressure to fit in and concentrate on
acquiring the national language, Finnish. The documents also show that
in the era of globalization the protection of national languages is as much
an issue as promoting multilingualism. The documents suggest that in
Finland reconciling the country’s official bilingualism with the increas-
ingly multilingual social reality is not an easy juggling act. There seems to
be a fear, if not explicitly stated at least implied, that the growing multi-
lingualism brought about by super-diversity will threaten and undermine
the national languages which, consequently, need to be supported and
protected. The policy documents that we studied can be seen as a type of
supportive act as they attempt to spell out the characteristics of Finnish
(language) education, in the process making clear the special status of
Finnish and Swedish as national languages, placing them at the top of the
language hierarchy. In the process, the increasingly multilingual reality
of Finland gets little attention and the speakers of ‘other languages’ –
a total of 190,538 people in 2008 according to Statistics Finland (2011),
with speakers of Russian (c.47,000 speakers), Estonian (c.22,000), English
(c.12,000) and Somali (c.10,000) as the biggest groups, followed by
Arabic, Chinese, Kurdish and Albanian, all with 5000–10,000 speakers,
and various other languages with less than 5000 speakers apiece – remain
largely invisible.
56 Dangerous Multilingualism

Janus-faced diversity
As pointed out above, language diversity is a concern in both Finnish
documents: there are obvious tensions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ diversity
(cf. Hélot and de Mejía, 2008). This tension is particularly clear in
the Development Plan, which depicts diversity as both desirable and
threatening. Diversity is constructed as desirable when the speakers
of heritage languages (Sámi, Roma) are mentioned and described as
minority groups whose ‘protection’ requires that their access to their
heritage language and the possibility of maintaining their language and
the associated culture must be ensured – in addition to maintaining the
two national languages. More often, however, desirable diversity in the
Development Plan is associated with developing school curricula that
offer the mainstream population better chances to study a broad selection
of foreign languages. Rather than being seen as threatening, this kind of
multilingualism is depicted as valuable, an important asset that will help
the nation cope in an increasingly international world. Connecting skills
in many languages to internationalization shows, for example, in the argu-
ments that in general ‘international competence rests on good and diverse
linguistic skills’ and that students and staff in higher education in particu-
lar need to be ‘provided with sufficient linguistic skills for international
cooperation in studies and working life’. In other words, while questions
of cultural identity emerge in the multilingualism of minority groups, the
multilingualism of the mainstream population is seen in more instrumen-
tal terms as a useful tool needed in the increasingly international working
life. By implication, an ideal Finnish citizen of the future will thus be a
mobile worker proficient in several languages. Which languages exactly
constitute this desired multilingualism that will help Finns to operate in
the global sphere is left open: the Development Plan refrains from men-
tioning any specific foreign languages in this connection. Instead, there
are general calls for more varied language programmes in schools, and
for encouraging the study of ‘rare’ or ‘less studied’ foreign languages, that
is, by implication, others than the most widely studied foreign language,
English. However, general discourses around language education in Finland
show that knowing various languages is usually conceptualized as skills
in German, French and Russian in particular, in addition to English and
Swedish (e.g. Pöyhönen, 2009; Nikula et al., 2010).
These discourses of multilingualism as desirable are counterbalanced in
the Development Plan by discourses addressing the problematic nature of
increasing diversity. These discourses revolve around immigrant groups in
particular and the challenges that increasingly diverse student populations
pose in education. The emphasis lies on providing students from immigrant
backgrounds with an education which will guarantee ‘sufficient’ skills in
Finnish or in Swedish; what counts as sufficient is not dealt with in the docu-
ments, which of course leaves considerable leeway for organizers of education
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 57

to interpret this requirement as they see fit (see also Suni and Latomaa,
this volume). What also emerges clearly is that knowledge of the national
languages is seen as a prerequisite for the immigrants’ full functioning in
society. For example, it is unequivocally stated that ‘Good Finnish or Swedish
language skills are prerequisites for integration into Finnish society, success
in studies and employment.’ Although the immigrants’ right to maintain
and develop their own languages is also mentioned, the main concern in
the Development Plan is how these groups can adapt to Finnish society;
the impression is that the linguistic diversity brought about by immigrant
groups needs to be subdued rather than encouraged in order to maintain
social cohesion. Cohesion thus seems to be the motivating force when dis-
cussing the language situation of immigrants. Interestingly, studying foreign
languages is not mentioned at all in connection with immigrants; their mul-
tilingualism beyond their mother tongue and one of the national languages
of Finland does not seem to be an aim. It is also worth noting that when
immigrants’ education is discussed there is no mention of what their specific
languages are nor, indeed, is the label ‘immigrant languages’ used; their vari-
ous languages thus do not seem to be considered an asset.
The KIEPO recommendations regard as one of the aims of language
education to enhance and develop multilingualism at both the individual
and the social level. Because an overarching aim of the document is to
affect political decision-making by showing how foreign language educa-
tion in Finland could be made more varied, diversity in this context is seen
as desirable, something required for example by ‘the increasingly techno-
logical and global world’ and in most ‘professions in the knowledge society’
(cf. Durkheim, 1964 and the division of labour as a cohesive mechanism in
society). Because the KIEPO document specifically deals with the provision
of foreign languages and mother tongues in education, and because it makes
recommendations for decision makers in the realm of language education,
it operates on a more practical level than the Development Plan. It specifies
a number of languages that would contribute to the diversification of
Finns’ language repertoires: apart from the national languages, Finnish
and Swedish, and the most frequently studied foreign language English, it
is hoped that more students will in the future study German, French, and
Russian in particular, that is, European languages that have a long history as
school subjects in Finland but that are not studied as extensively as before.
However, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic are also mentioned as
languages for whose users there will probably be an increasing demand in
the globalized labour market.
As regards immigrants, their mother tongues are not specified in
the KIEPO recommendations either. However, more attention than in
the Development Plan is paid to the question of how best to establish
the teaching of immigrants’ native languages in Finnish schools; immi-
grants’ mother tongues are also mentioned as a factor that diversifies the
58 Dangerous Multilingualism

multilingual resources in the country (see also Suni and Latomaa, this
volume). In short, then, diversity does not appear as tension-ridden in the
KIEPO recommendations as in the Development Plan, which can be seen as
evidence of parallel discourses around multilingualism in Finland. On the
one hand, there are discursive positions that seem to undermine the multi-
lingualism brought about by immigration, while, on the other hand, there
are voices that acknowledge immigrant languages as a useful resource. These
somewhat conflicting views seem to reflect the apparent political confusion
regarding attitudes towards immigration in general.

Discourses constructing nation-state interests

As pointed out above, the Development Plan does not specify which foreign
languages belong to the desired ‘broader array of languages’ that Finns
ought to master in the future. Instead, there are references throughout
the document to the two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. This
happens particularly often when the Development Plan is dealing with edu-
cation for students with immigrant backgrounds: the necessity for them to
study either Finnish or Swedish is reiterated several times, as well as the need
for ‘sufficient’ skills in these two languages. That this is done in the spirit of
creating social cohesion in the nation state and advocating the monolingual
norm rather than multilingualism is not only implied but also explicitly
stated: as already pointed out above, knowledge of the national languages
is constructed as a prerequisite for adapting into society and for helping
immigrants find work (see Milani, 2007 for similar developments in Sweden
and Horner, 2009 for a critical perspective on EU policies). There thus seems
to be a strong belief (as is also shown in other chapters in this volume) in
the interconnection between national languages and the nation state, with
other languages forming a threat to social cohesion. The emphasis on the
importance of national languages is accompanied by apparent reluctance
to discuss immigrant languages in any detail: using all-encompassing refer-
ences such as ‘students with immigrant backgrounds’ is a way to downplay
the linguistic heterogeneity within this group, to create a false sense of unity
rather than opening up the inherent diversity involved (see also Suni and
Latomaa, this volume). Thus what Moyer and Martin Rojo (2007, p. 145)
say about the status of immigrant languages in Spain also applies to Finland:
‘Rather than considering them an asset, these languages are treated as an
obstacle to integration.’
The two national languages are, however, discussed not only in relation
to immigrant groups. What is also at issue is the problematic relationship
between Finnish and Swedish as national languages (see also Salo, this
volume). Given that speakers of Finnish clearly outnumber those of Swedish,
a language hierarchy seems to be at play, evident in the protectionist
discourse related to Swedish. While education in the Development Plan is
mostly dealt with in general terms, there are several references to ‘education
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 59

in Swedish’ and to the special conditions or requirements relating to it (e.g.

‘in terms of sectors of education, the need for Swedish-language adult educa-
tion and training is estimated to be slightly above average in polytechnics
and universities’). However, there are no similar references to ‘education in
Finnish’, which implies that Finnish is the ‘unmarked’ choice in education.
Furthermore, there are formulations with protectionist undertones which
express the need to ‘secure’ possibilities for education in Swedish (e.g. ‘the
position of special needs education in Swedish will be secured; the possibili-
ties for Swedish-speaking students to study in their own language will be
secured at the current level’). If something needs to be secured it is under
threat; Swedish, then, is constructed as less powerful than Finnish and as
needing protection.
The emphasis on the two national languages means that multilingual-
ism is mainly dealt with in the Development Plan from the viewpoint of
Finland’s official bilingualism; ‘to strengthen Finland’s bilingualism and
general competence in both national languages’ is indeed explicitly stated
as an aim. This national focus means that the international and global
forces and developments leading to increasing multilingualism are not
really taken into serious consideration in the Development Plan. Instead,
the gaze is directed inwards to Finland’s official bilingualism in ways that
assume close correspondence between the two languages and their groups
of speakers and disregards the presence of more varied multilingualism
and multilingual practices, more difficult to deal with than one language/
one group constellations. In the words of Moyer and Martin Rojo (2007,
p. 156), the willingness to be preoccupied by the existing form of bilingualism
can also be interpreted as ‘the domination of hegemonic, hiding any trace
of difference’.
As regards the KIEPO recommendations, their major concern is how to
broaden foreign language education in Finland, which is why the overall
ethos is more oriented to promoting wider language repertoires than in the
Development Plan. However, as with the Development Plan, when immi-
grant students and their language education are discussed, the importance
of the national languages is made clear, Finnish as a second language in
particular. The role of immigrants’ own mother tongues is also acknowl-
edged, however. That is, while the document recognizes that integration
will be easier with knowledge of Finnish or Swedish, the immigrants’ own
languages are not ignored. However, the special role of the Swedish language
in Finland is also visible in the KIEPO recommendations, albeit in a different
way when compared to the Development Plan. There are no declarations
about the need to uphold the Swedish language, but it is noteworthy how
the use of the term toinen kotimainen (‘the other domestic language’) is
almost invariably used with reference to Swedish, either explicitly as in
‘The learning outcomes of the second domestic language (Swedish) are
weak’ or more implicitly for example when reference is made to ‘immersion
60 Dangerous Multilingualism

education in a second language’, which in the Finnish context almost

invariably refers to immersion in Swedish. In other words, although pro-
tectionist discourses directed at Swedish do not emerge in the same way as
in the Development Plan, there are more subtle references which suggest
that the position of Swedish in Finland is a politically sensitive topic (see
also Salo, this volume; Nikula et al., 2010).
It was pointed out above that the diversity resulting from multilin-
gualism is constructed as less of a threat in the KIEPO recommendations
than in the Development Plan. That this diversity is, nevertheless,
first and foremost constructed as a national concern is suggested by
the frequent use of the metaphorical concept ‘language skill reserves’
(Finnish varanto meaning ‘reserve’, as in ‘gold reserve’), much like natural
resources, throughout the document. Usually this concept co-occurs in
constructions such as ‘Finland’s language skill reserves’ or ‘the language
skills reserves of the country’, which are presented as having increased
over time but as now facing the threat of decline. While probably an
intertextual echo from other policy texts, the concept is interesting in the
way it depicts multilingualism as a valuable resource for the nation in the
era of globalization and internationalization. There is thus an obvious link
to competitiveness, even though the KIEPO recommendations explicitly
mention competitiveness only once, when the following question is
posed: ‘What will happen to Finland’s international competitiveness if
the country does not have enough people who know Spanish, Chinese,
Japanese or Arabic?’ The suggestion thus seems to be that these more
rarely studied and from the Finnish perspective exotic languages would
give Finland an even more competitive edge than the more usual foreign
languages such as English.
Also in the Finnish documents, then, the tension-ridden attitude
towards super-diversity becomes evident. Interestingly, when multi-
lingualism is discussed in celebratory terms, the viewpoint is usually
that of a multilingual individual, whereas increasing multilingualism
in society is less of an issue. Furthermore, due to the nation-state per-
spective of the documents, the national languages have a prominent
role: the position of Finnish and Swedish as necessary components of
multilingualism in Finland is made clear. In sum, the documents point
towards layered discourses around multilingualism. Firstly, Finnish
citizens are expected to have a command of both national languages.
Secondly, multilingualism in the form of additional foreign languages
is a valuable asset in competitive international markets, especially for
Finnish citizens. Thirdly, the existence of migrant groups is recognized,
but their multilingualism tends to be depicted as a problem rather than
as a resource. These parallel and at times conflicting discourses on multi-
lingualism indicate that the increasing diversity of language resources in
Finland is far from a resolved issue.
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 61

Conclusions – bringing order to disorder

The policy documents we have analysed are, essentially, ideological con-

ceptualizations of the many languages and the societies in which these
languages are counted, grouped and ordered (e.g. Blommaert, 1999; Makoni
and Pennycook, 2007; Heller, 2007). Especially the European documents
explicitly celebrate late-modern, hybrid forms of multilingualism, but a
high-modern view of ‘monolingual multilingualism’ emerges implicitly,
painting a different kind of picture in the supranational and especially in
the national level documents. By ‘monolingual multilingualism’ we refer
to the representation of languages as hierarchical entities of our, national,
foreign and so on, which implies that languages are learned and used sepa-
rately, each in their own sphere (see also Heller, 1999). In fact, there seems
to be little evidence in the European and even less in the Finnish policy
documents studied of a recognition of the multilingual everyday realities of
individuals (see e.g. Blommaert et al., 2005; Rampton, 2006; Martin-Jones,
2007). It seems that while societies are becoming linguistically more hybrid
(Vertovec, 2006), policy documents still see multilingualism as a modern
concern, and, in the Finnish case, as still mainly a national concern.
That a hierarchical ordering of languages is used to govern the incoherent
multilingual realities shows in our analysis in the 30-something ways of char-
acterizing different languages in the European documents. It is at the same
time both an indication of an explicit attempt to acknowledge the everyday
multilingual reality and an implicit hierarchization of the said languages and
their speakers. We agree with the observation by Heller and Duchêne (2007,
p. 6) that multilingualism is largely about the ‘management of diversity
within the framework of the opportunities and dangers presented by the glo-
balized new economy’. Even the references to ‘celebratory multilingualism’,
that is, multilingualism as a positive resource for society and the individual,
are presented in a monolingual manner, as national languages and mother
tongues take precedence over non-Community languages, immigrant languages
or foreign languages. This hierarchization downplays ‘diversity’ as hybrid, and
suggests a linear, essentialist view of languages, which, in turn, is strongly
reflected on the national level in views on languages and, consequently,
on language education. The ordering of the disarray of languages serves to
promote an ordered, ‘monolingual’, high-modern kind of understanding of
multilingualism over the hybrid multilingualism of the postmodern.
All this − construing order in disorder, representing languages and multi-
lingualism hierarchically, producing different identity categories and thus
bringing about social order − has societal impacts. As Rose (1996, p. 42) points
out, discussing its effects, governmental rationality works towards establish-
ing ‘divisions between the proper spheres of action of different types of
authority’. The particular kind of governmentality apparent in the documents
produces policies in which a certain kind of multilingualism is more valuable
62 Dangerous Multilingualism

than others, both for society and the individual. Multilingualism as the
knowledge of European national languages may produce more cultural, social
and economic capital (Bourdieu, 1986) and it may fuel prestigious social tra-
jectories. Multilingualism as the knowledge of other languages or immigrant
languages, on the other hand − when they are not made totally invisible −
seems to create a need for remedial language education of the national
languages, as we witness in Finnish language education policy.
While the implicit need to govern diversity and disorder appears in
both the supranational and national level documents, there are also differ-
ences between these documents. At the European level, ‘diversity’ seems
to be subordinate to aspects of cohesion and competitiveness; in other
words, diversity is needed to enhance (global economic) competence and
intercultural dialogue (which is needed to promote the said competitiveness).
Diversity is presented from the viewpoint of expected benefits to both
the individual and society. As far as language education is concerned, it
is interesting that the High Level Report seems to blame schools for the
failure of successful multilingualism, implying that multilingualism is about
‘learning languages’.
In the Finnish documents, on the other hand, two kinds of understandings
of multilingualism emerge. The ‘socially accepted’ form of ‘official bilingual-
ism’ is evident in discussions on language education for immigrants and
their socialization into Finnish society, whereas the multilingualism brought
about by immigrants is invisible and, implicitly, undervalued. Especially
the Development Plan takes a very cautious stand on multilingualism.
However, tensions are also revealed: it seems that multilingualism deriving
from immigration is something that needs to be managed to achieve social
cohesion, and there are also attempts to downplay the diversity inherent
in multilingualism (cf. lumping together numerous languages and cultural
backgrounds under the label of ‘students with immigrant backgrounds’).
Our analysis thus resonates with Milani’s (2007, p. 187) analysis of the
Swedish language policy document Mål i Mun:

Two language ideologies tied to the nation-state seem to be at work here:

(1) the ideology of multilingualism, according to which language diversity
is a positive societal phenomenon, which needs to be supported; and (2)
the ideology of social cohesion, according to which social cohesion is
the foundation of civil society and is achieved by means of one common
language (Swedish), which therefore needs to be preserved.

Finally, it is worth considering what kind of challenges the various

discourses on multilingualism evident in the European and Finnish policy
documents might pose for foreign language education (cf. Nikula, 2009), a
concern that is largely left untouched in the documents analysed. While
the need to adopt anti-essentialized views of languages and multilingualism
Tarja Nikula, Taina Saarinen, Sari Pöyhönen and Teija Kangasvieri 63

that recognize hybridity and the fluidity of boundaries has recently gained
ground in research (e.g. Woolard, 1999; Makoni and Pennycook, 2007;
Heller and Duchêne, 2007), the question of how such views could be
taken into account in language teaching has not been explored to the
same extent. Blommaert (2010) argues that language competences in the
world of globalization ought best to be perceived in terms of people having
‘truncated repertoires’, composed of specialized but partially and unevenly
developed resources, but how the idea of truncated repertoires could be
incorporated into discourses on, and practices of, language education
remains an unresolved issue.
Canagarajah (2007) is among the few who have outlined the possible
implications for language teaching if we accepted that languages are
not discrete codes with strict rights and wrongs, and that people in
multilingual encounters are likely to cross the imagined boundaries of
languages and to use whatever resources they find useful to accomplish their
intended social actions. He (2007, p. 238) suggests that language teaching
should orientate students to sociolinguistic and psychological resources
with which to cope in multilingual realities, which, in turn, would mean
that ‘we have to move away from an obsession with correctness’ in order
to help students ‘shuttle between communities, and not to think of only
joining a community’. Kelly (2009, p. 15) is along the same lines when
discussing language education in the age of growing diversity, arguing
that ‘target language’ pedagogies are no longer sufficient. While language
education has not been problematized much in the documents analysed,
it is inevitable that super-diversity will also have its impact on language
education as the national core curricula are renewed in the near future. The
impact should be research-driven and informed by meaningful connections
between macro-level policies and local practices.

The data

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Dealing with Increasing Linguistic
Diversity in Schools – the Finnish
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa


Europe has undergone major changes, and so has its linguistic landscape.
Increasing population mobility has left no part of Europe untouched, and
has forced several countries to adapt to a variety of challenges. Due to
increasing immigration and the empowerment of established linguistic
minorities, countries that were officially labelled as monolingual are now
recognized as multilingual. Immigration has raised questions typical of
late modernity, due to the fact that the uniformity of the nation state has
gradually broken down. Within this process an obvious tension has emerged
between well-established systems meant for a relatively homogeneous soci-
ety, and the new, more dynamic reality of diverse languages and a more
heterogeneous population.
Some countries were relatively early in building up a reputation as
bilingual or multilingual democracies. With two equal national languages,
Finnish and Swedish, Finland has – since the early 1900s – been praised as
a model example of a modern bilingual society (see Salo in this volume;
McRae, 1999). As in other European countries, during the past few decades
linguistic diversity has increased in Finland. It could be anticipated that prior
experience of managing multilingualism could be of use when linguistic
diversity multiplies, giving Finnish society a head start over other countries
facing similar challenges. This chapter aims at examining whether this is
indeed the case, via a review of the development of language education poli-
cies in Finland, and a report on how they are currently implemented with
respect to immigrant students. In this study, these young people will also be
referred to as plurilingual students or students with an immigrant background,
to emphasize the fact that they all use two or more languages in their daily
lives, and that some of them were born in Finland, thus representing the
second generation of an immigrant family (cf. Rumbaut, 2004).
Our chapter addresses the issues of order and disorder in language prac-
tices amid ongoing linguistic diversification. It provides evidence of a clear

68 Dangerous Multilingualism

discrepancy between, on the one hand, the language education policies

that are aimed at securing language instruction for immigrants, and, on the
other, the actual implementation of these policies. In principle, educational
policies in Finland have succeeded in creating stable and fair guidelines
by which first and second language instruction is available for everyone,
including immigrants; however, the actual experiences of immigrant students
and their teachers speak of a very different kind of reality. In other words,
the ‘order’ aimed at by policy is not always reflected in actual practices
within the classroom – which tend to be much more varied and heterogene-
ous. To illustrate this, this chapter gives voice to the teachers of immigrant
students. On the basis of a survey administered to the teachers, it reports
on their views about how well they believe policy is translated into actual
practice in the classroom. The chapter by Voipio-Huovinen and Martin in
this volume will further elaborate on this theme, taking as data interviews
with the teachers of immigrant children.
In the current national curriculum, functional bilingualism is set as a
goal of immigrant education. Moreover, one of the main missions of basic
education (i.e. grades 1–9) is declared to be to ‘support each pupil’s linguis-
tic and cultural identity and the development of his or her mother tongue’
(National Board of Education, 2004, p. 12). This highly ethical objective
may be considered somewhat ambitious, taking into account the fact that
increasing numbers of students in Finnish schools are plurilingual. Similar
ideals are presented in the most recent development plan for education and
research, published by the Finnish Ministry of Education:

All pupils must be able to maintain and develop their mother tongue
in addition to learning Finnish or Swedish. […] Measures will be taken
to support the equal provision of instruction preparing for basic educa-
tion, the teaching in the mother tongue and the teaching of Finnish or
Swedish as a second language. (Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 47)

As illustrated by these quotations, Finland might seem like an educational

paradise, a place where all students are ensured equal opportunities.
Equality is, in fact, taken as a core value in Finnish society and education –
its centrality was very evident, for example, in the discussion of the much-
praised results achieved by Finnish schools in the PISA evaluations (The
Programme for International Student Assessment, OECD; cf. Välijärvi
et al., 2007; Kupiainen et al., 2009). However, the actual grassroots reality of
immigrant students may be quite different, and one may well ask whether
they really do enjoy a satisfactory level of equality.
In tandem with the increasing linguistic diversity in Finnish schools,
research on the implementation of educational policies has also increased.
So far, however, most studies, using statistical information and other data
provided by the municipalities and headmasters, have concentrated on the
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 69

arrangements that have been set up, and on the educational success – or
failure – of immigrant students. In contrast, less attention has been paid to
the reasons behind the challenges encountered. In the same vein, the teach-
ers of immigrant students have rarely been used as a source of information
in research (but see Voipio-Huovinen and Martin, this volume).
To remedy this lack of grassroots information and in order to map current
practices and to determine the extent to which equality is actually realized
in immigrant education, we conducted a web survey1 among teachers of
immigrant students, as part of our study entitled ‘How is multilingualism
perceived and practised in Finnish schools?’ More specifically, the questions
which our study sought to answer were the following: How do the schools
currently address the needs of plurilingual students? Are all first languages treated
as equal and truly supported? What is the status of second language instruction?
How is students’ plurilingualism taken into account in assessment practices?
A key finding of the study was that, while the national language education
policy on immigrant students aims at plurilingualism, its implementation
does not match the ideals stated. In fact, the practices followed are still
largely monolingually oriented, often putting students with immigrant
background in a problematic position, because their language backgrounds
and educational needs are not consistently taken into consideration. Before
the detailed account of the results of our survey, the following sections will,
however, first give some background, by offering a snapshot of the history
of immigration in Finland and its impact on the attitudinal climate, as well
as an overview of the Finnish language education policy on immigrants.
After this, the opportunities given to immigrant students to develop their
plurilingualism will be highlighted in more detail. Finally, the developments
that have taken place will be discussed, with attention to international com-
parisons and to the local background. In addition, some future challenges
will be pointed out and discussed in the light of the observations made
in the study.

Attitudes towards immigration and linguistic diversity – past

and present

Schools are an integral part of society. Hence, when outlining the develop-
ment of language education policy and teachers’ views on immigration
and multiculturalism, one must also take into consideration the attitudes
that laypersons have, manifested, for example, in ongoing public debate on
immigration. This debate has focused on, among other things, experiences
and memories of mass emigration to America (from the late 1800s to the
early 1900s) and Sweden (1960s and 1970s), the post-war settlement of the
Karelians, who were refugees within their own country, a general fear of
change, and a wish for a better, unified world. Neighbouring countries have
always played an important part in Finnish discussions on this topic.
70 Dangerous Multilingualism

For a long time, Sweden, the multicultural western neighbour, was taken
as a point of comparison, and similar – good and bad – developments were
expected to take place in Finland. Large-scale immigration to Sweden started
shortly after the Second World War. In this period, and for several decades
afterwards, Finland had an almost non-existent immigrant population.
In 1970, for example, the country had only 5483 foreign citizens, which
comprised 0.1 per cent of the population (Leitzinger, 2008). As Hämäläinen
(1982) has pointed out, at that point Finland did not provide newcomers
with any tailor-made language education, as they were so few in number.
She also argued that ‘Finland does not have problems in language teach-
ing such as those encountered by countries that receive high numbers of
immigrants and immigrant workers’ (1982, p. 148). She compared Finland’s
situation with Sweden, where education planners were obliged to design
new curricula that took into consideration a range of learners, from illiter-
ate people to those with an academic education. By contrast, she asserted
that in Finland ‘the educational background of language learners is more
homogeneous, since the teaching of Finnish [for foreigners] has been con-
centrated in the universities’ (ibid.).
This stage of (illusory) order did not last long, however. During the
1980s, as the number of immigrants exceeded that of emigrants for the first
time, Finland turned into an immigrant country. In the 1990s, the number
of foreign-born residents increased rapidly; and since then the number of
immigrants has continued to grow, but at a more even pace. At present, the
number of the immigrant population is approximately 300,000,2 or about
6 per cent of the total population, and the number of languages in use is
over 150 (Statistics Finland, 2011).
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, rapidly increasing immigration
across the eastern border gradually became a special feature of Finnish
multiculturalism. Here it should be noted that the history, going back to
the Second World War and before, that Finland has shared with Russia has
inevitably been a factor in the relationship with Russians. Hence, the attitu-
dinal climate has often been particularly challenging for immigrants from
Russia (cf. Lähteenmäki and Vanhala-Aniszewski, this volume). In addition,
there has been a good deal of discussion of perceived threats connected with
increasing immigration: there have been fears that newcomers from various
corners of the world might exploit the Finnish social security system, fears
of undesirable competition in the labour market and even the marriage
market, and fears in some quarters regarding the potential negative impact
of immigration on the PISA school achievement results. These fears can be
viewed as reflections of the emergence of a more chaotic reality, typical of
societies in late modernity.
The current worldwide economic depression has brought with it challenges
for policies on immigration and language education. As Jaakkola (2009) has
indicated in her longitudinal study, attitudes towards immigration and
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 71

language policy tend to change in parallel with general economic conditions.

This was true of the recession in the early 1990s which clearly contributed to
the hardening attitudes that Finns had towards immigrants.3 On the whole,
over the past two decades, Finns’ attitudes have, however, become more
positive. For example, the majority now find it acceptable that immigrants
maintain their first language and also transfer it to their children. In general,
people living in big cities have more positive attitudes towards immigration
than those in smaller cities or the countryside. Furthermore, a high level of
education and readiness to accept immigration-related phenomena are also
connected with positive attitudes (Jaakkola, 2009, pp. 68–72).
On the other hand, tuition in the immigrants’ L1 gives rise to much more
divided opinion. During the past few years, the readiness to offer such tuition
has decreased, and the view that immigrants should become more like the
majority community has gained in popularity (ibid.). In anonymous exchanges
on web discussion forums, for example, immigration and language-related
topics are often debated in very critical terms. The most common arguments
there follow the general logic of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’, sug-
gesting that all immigrants should become assimilated without any special
support or arrangements. Since Finnish is the native language of the vast
majority (88.9 per cent) of the population of Finland, knowledge of Finnish is
generally taken for granted in public debate. In addition, the country is com-
monly seen as intended for Finnish speakers only. In such discussions, more
positive views on immigration may occasionally also be voiced, but they tend
to be overwhelmed fairly quickly by the more vociferous, critical majority.
Similar tensions are also present in schools and in local policy-making pro-
cedures within municipalities. In the following sections we will shed light
on these tensions, and present an account of what Finland has attempted to
do in order to manage the increasing multilingualism in schools during the
past few decades. On the basis of our study we will also indicate some of the
dangers embedded in the educational arrangements.

Three cornerstones for managing multilingualism

When the number of immigrants began to increase in Finland, it led to

changes in the Finnish language education policy, the purpose of which was
to cater for the immigrants’ new educational needs which were gradually
becoming more clearly recognized. In the following overview of these policy
changes we will only focus on preparatory, native language4 and second
language instruction. This is because these educational levels involve the
central arrangements made for students with an immigrant background.

A survival kit for newcomers – preparatory instruction

For a long time, immigrant students were integrated into mainstream class-
rooms immediately, and they were only offered some remedial instruction
72 Dangerous Multilingualism

in Finnish. However, when in the early 1980s Finland began accepting

refugees on an annual quota basis, more permanent arrangements had to
be developed. From this time on, students with a refugee background were
entitled to a period of preparatory instruction for 12 months before they
moved to a mainstream class. During the preparatory phase, they received
instruction in their second and first languages, as well as in other school
subjects. However, these tailor-made arrangements were not available
to other (non-refugee) immigrants. Thus, Finland followed a policy that
created a hierarchy between various groups of newcomers.5 In 1997, the
right to attend preparatory classes was finally extended to all immigrant
students, irrespective of their reason for coming to Finland.
During the recession of the early 1990s, the period of preparatory instruc-
tion (for refugees) was, however, cut down to six months. After the recession
was over, the legislation was not amended, and the length of the prepara-
tory phase then remained the same for more than ten years. Nevertheless,
several municipalities ended up extending the period to 12 or even to 18
months, because the period of 6 months was found to be too short for
students to make the progress needed. In 2009, the legislation concerning
preparatory classes was also finally amended, in accordance with the sugges-
tions made, for example, in the most recent development plan for education
and research (Ministry of Education, 2008). Currently, the minimum length
of the preparatory phase is once again 12 months. Thus, on the one hand,
certain municipalities could be said to have paved the way for the change
by arranging more instruction than that suggested in the legislation, and by
showing what was actually needed in the education of newcomers. On the
other hand, other municipalities have taken advantage of the obvious loop-
hole in the legislation: they have not arranged any preparatory instruction
at all – since they have not been under any obligation to do so.

At the mercy of economic fluctuations – native language instruction

Native language instruction was first offered to refugee students in the
1970s. The subject was initially called home language instruction. In 1987, the
name of the subject was changed to mother tongue instruction. Since then,
all immigrant students have been entitled to two hours of mother tongue
instruction per week throughout their schooling.6 In 1993–94, due to the
recession, the instruction was reduced to one hour per week. The impact
of the recession was acutely felt; for example, the concerns it gave rise to
were summed up in the headline of an article in the main national news-
paper, Helsingin Sanomat: ‘Mother tongue instruction for foreign children
neglected’ (1993). In the following year, the number of teaching hours was
restored to two, and the guidelines for this instruction were included in the
national core curriculum for basic education.
There were several reforms of educational legislation in the 1990s,
aiming to ensure equality of education in various parts of the country
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 73

and to strengthen the status and rights of minorities. In 1995, educational

legislation was amended to allow the teaching of minority languages as
school subjects as well as their use as a medium of instruction. The com-
prehensive reform of the educational legislation, which came into force
in 1999, continued in the same vein. As a result, in accordance with the
students’ language of instruction, it became possible that students could
be taught Finnish, Swedish or Sámi as their native language. Section 12 of
the Basic Education Act (1998) states the following:

1 As the mother tongue, the pupil shall be taught Finnish, Swedish or

Sámi in keeping with the language of instruction.
2 As the mother tongue, the pupil may also be taught the Roma
language, sign language or some other language which is the pupil’s
native language.

Thus, the Act makes it clear that languages by default have a different status
in Finnish schools: Finnish, Swedish and Sámi shall be taught, whereas
Roma, sign language and other languages may be taught as mother tongues.
Nevertheless, according to the legislation, all students can receive instruc-
tion in their native language.
In Finnish immigration and language education policies, emphasis is
placed on the maintenance of the first language of immigrants. However, the
status of native language instruction was radically changed in connection
with the curriculum reform of 2004, when instruction in the native language
became an extracurricular activity. Currently, L1 instruction comes under a
mere ‘recommendation for the core curriculum’, given as an appendix to the
national curriculum. The opening sentence of the recommendation defines
L1 instruction for immigrants as complementary in nature, offered in addition
to basic education. It is stated that this instruction does not constitute the
kind of education mentioned in section 12 of the Basic Education Act, and
that it is instead supported by a special government subsidy (National Board
of Education, 2004, p. 303). However, two points are important here. Firstly,
instruction in immigrant languages was financed in a similar manner even
before the reform when it was still part of the national curriculum – which
it no longer is. Secondly, instruction in Roma, and also in Sámi outside the
Sámi homeland, is organized with the same state funding, but the curricula
for these languages have nevertheless retained their place in the national core
curriculum. Consequently, it is clear that the Basic Education Act has been
applied differently in the case of immigrant languages, illustrating a hierarchy
of importance among the non-majority languages used in Finland.
Municipalities decide whether and how L1 instruction is to be arranged.
They can receive state funding for groups of at least four students, and
groups can be formed of students from several schools, and even from
various municipalities. The number of students required can be considered
74 Dangerous Multilingualism

relatively small, as compared to the requirements for arranging teaching in

foreign languages, where as many as 16 students may be required to form a
teaching group. Despite this regulation regarding four students, in practice
municipalities sometimes require a much higher number than those four
students for whom they receive state funding.
Altogether, the number of languages used by students from immigrant
backgrounds amounts to more than 100. For about 40 languages, language-
specific curricula have been designed. According to statistics collected by
the National Board of Education, in 2008 instruction was given in approxi-
mately 50 languages by 80 education providers (Opetushallitus, 2011). The
main languages used in these curricula were Russian, Somali, Albanian, Arabic,
Kurdish, Estonian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Persian and Spanish. It appears that
opportunities depend greatly on the locality the student is living in, and
also on the particular native language, as instruction is offered in less than
half of the languages spoken by the students. Inevitably, this will lead to a
hierarchy of provision in the languages, and will make equality within the
immigrant population less likely. The smaller the municipality and lan-
guage community and the number of school-age speakers of the language,
the fewer the opportunities for obtaining tailored L1 instruction. In addi-
tion, the awareness and attitudes of local officials have a role to play: if there
is no interest in organizing such instruction, information on the possibilities
for arranging it is unlikely to be actively disseminated to families.

(Un)available – second language instruction

In addition to native language instruction, Finnish as a second language
(FSL)7 was included in the 1994 national core curriculum for basic educa-
tion. In the current core curriculum, FSL is included under the umbrella
term ‘Finnish language and literature,8 FSL syllabus’ (National Board of
Education, 2004, pp. 95–8). The curriculum states that students should
be taught FSL in the event that their skills in Finnish are judged not to be at
the level of native speakers of Finnish in all areas of language competence.
The FSL syllabus can be taught ‘entirely or partially’, and the extent of the
instruction is decided within curricula at the local level.
Once again, the municipalities have a key role in recognizing the need for
instruction. There is no obligation to arrange FSL instruction in a separate
teaching group or for a minimum number of hours. Instead, municipalities
may choose not to organize FSL instruction at all, or they may arrange it to
the extent they consider necessary. In principle, municipalities may arrange
instruction in FSL as part of normal tuition, using their regular hourly
resources. Alternatively, they may finance it with special resources, either
from their own budget or through resources offered by the state. For this
purpose, municipalities can apply for special state funding for each immi-
grant student who has participated in basic education for six years or less.
Under these circumstances, few municipalities have elected to arrange an FSL
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 75

syllabus in its entirety, but ‘partial’ arrangements do exist. A recent national

survey (Korpela, 2006) showed that 12 per cent of the students in need of FSL
instruction received it for all the weekly teaching hours meant for Finnish,
whereas 60 per cent were given a combination of FSL and Finnish for native
speakers. In about 25 per cent of cases no FSL instruction was given at all.
The national average for FSL instruction was one hour per week, which seems
quite modest in relation to the fact that students are supposed to be able to
use Finnish as a tool for learning all other school subjects (Korpela, 2006).
However, there are additional requirements that apply to the teaching
of immigrant students. According to the criteria for student evaluation
(Opetushallitus, 1999), immigrant students need to be evaluated accord-
ing to an FSL syllabus if their skills are not at the level of native speakers,
irrespective of whether the students receive FSL instruction or not. This
kind of obligation, though perhaps well intended, seems contradictory, as
evaluation should, in principle, be based on what has been taught. On the
other hand, the requirement does oblige teachers to focus on the developing
language skills of immigrant students when doing assessment, and thus to
avoid comparing the immigrants’ school achievements with those of their
Finnish-speaking peers. Since the adoption of the national core curriculum
in 2004, the assessment of FSL has been linked to the Common European
Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), in other words in the same
way as the assessment of foreign languages is generally conducted. This
practice is expected to equalize the basis of assessment and to lead to a func-
tionally oriented view of language skills.
In sum, it is evident that immigrant students are not treated equally: the
opportunities for receiving instruction in FSL depend very much on the
locality they are living in. The currently weak status of Finnish as a second
language gives much responsibility to the municipalities, as is the case also
with the regulations on preparatory and native language instruction. Taken
as a whole, the current system contains loopholes, enabling local decision-
makers to implement the national policy in whatever ways they please,
reducing opportunities for equality and, in worst case, paving the way for
In the section which follows we shall go beyond the official policy and
present some key findings from the web survey. Here we shall focus on the
ways in which plurilingual students are currently encountered in Finnish
schools, from the viewpoint of their teachers. The main threats appear to
relate to the invisibility of multilingualism, the lack of tailored instruction,
and problems related to assessment.

How are plurilingual students encountered in schools?

In our study How is multilingualism perceived and practised in schools, teachers

were chosen as a target group for several reasons. In their daily work, they
76 Dangerous Multilingualism

encounter the practices of the entire school community, and can therefore
provide valuable information beyond the bare statistics. From their position
at the interface between the educational organization and the students,
they can make observations on the attitudes and beliefs present in their
workplace and on the progress made by their immigrant students. They can
further relate these aspects to the practices within the school. In addition,
they often experience tensions and pressures in their role: for example, their
work can involve representing pupils in interactions with educational offi-
cials, and standing behind official policies in interactions with pupils and
their families. Despite their important double role, their experiences and
expertise have not, however, gained much attention in previous studies on
the language education of immigrants in Finland.
In our study, a total of 217 teachers responded to the questionnaire sent to
a number of email lists. All of them had immigrant students in their classes,
and approximately 90 per cent worked in basic education (ages 7–16), the vast
majority of them in primary schools. The majority of those who responded
to our survey were teachers of Finnish as a second language (the most com-
mon occupation), but other types of teachers also gave their viewpoints:
these included class teachers, special educationists, and teachers of Finnish
as a mother tongue. Most of the respondents were working in circumstances
that were fairly new to them: on average, they had taught immigrants for
8 years, but for 33 per cent this period was merely 1–5 years long, and for
15 per cent less than 1 year. For the majority, the numbers taught covered a
wide range, from a few to several dozen. A minority had taught 100 or more
students with an immigrant background. The geographical distribution of
the respondents was similar to that of the immigrant population: most of
them resided in the capital region and other urban areas, but the data also
included answers from small municipalities and from various provinces
around Finland. All in all, the data reflect a wide range of stages of experi-
ence, among individual teachers, schools and municipalities.
The questionnaire consisted of 75 statements9 designed to reflect a wide
variety of concerns and conflicts commonly reported by teachers in various
in-service training courses. The respondents were asked to consider the
familiarity of the phenomena described, and to report on how common
they were in their school environment.10 In addition to reacting to these
statements, the respondents could comment freely on any of the topics and
give additional information according to their own viewpoints – this they
did, in fact, fairly frequently.

Plurilingual students – a source of enrichment and a burden

Students with an immigrant background are still a relatively new phenom-
enon in Finnish educational contexts. This is reflected in the respondents’
answers: they show how immigrant students are generally regarded as a bur-
den in Finnish schools. As many as 67 per cent of the respondents reported
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 77

this to be at least sometimes the case in their schools, and 21 per cent
mentioned this as occurring, but only seldom. Figure 4.1 presents the
percentage distribution of the responses.11
There are, however, a few exceptions, involving some international
schools, and those mainstream schools that have a more experienced staff
and a longer history with plurilingual students than other schools. Teachers
working in such circumstances quite frequently noted that plurilingual
students enrich the daily school activities both linguistically and cultur-
ally, thus echoing the official goals set in the national curriculum (National
Board of Education, 2004, p. 12):

The instruction must also take into account the diversification of Finnish
culture through the arrival of people from other cultures. The instruction
helps to support the formation of the pupil’s own cultural identity, and
his or her part in Finnish society and a globalizing world. The instruction
also helps to promote tolerance and intercultural understanding.

Nevertheless, the practices observed by the majority of the teachers differ

notably from the goals set out in the official guidelines. The frequently
reported ‘burden effect’ was explained, for example, by the teachers’ lack of
knowledge of adequate assessment methods tailored for ‘foreign students’,
and by the need for special arrangements, such as various L1 or religion
classes, and for interpreters in meetings with parents. According to the
respondents, negative attitudes towards both students and their parents
are sometimes quite overtly expressed and supported in staff meetings – for





25 23



10 9

5 3
Not familiar Never Seldom Sometimes Often Always

Figure 4.1 Statement: ‘Students with immigrant background are regarded as a burden’
78 Dangerous Multilingualism

example the wish that all the immigrants would be ‘sent back to their home
countries’. Some teachers had heard from their colleagues complaints such
as ‘your noisy students are doing such and such a thing’. Furthermore, they
reported on having heard questions on whether high school was at all suit-
able as an educational setting for anyone with an immigrant background.
In addition, the need for modified materials for immigrant students may
be acknowledged by the school staff, but this does not necessarily lead
to any concrete efforts in preparing them. Such duties are easily directed
to FSL teachers, who are considered to be the main specialists in matters
concerning plurilingual students, and especially their language-related
problems. The respondents had very often discovered that other teachers
were not willing to share responsibility. Thus, the division of students into
‘our students’ and ‘them’ (i.e. immigrant students) seems to take place quite
frequently in Finnish schools.
Such findings are in accordance with Talib’s (1999) observations on teach-
ers’ beliefs concerning immigrant students in Finnish schools: with time, the
teachers’ initially constructive view of immigrants as constituting an enrich-
ing element tends to turn into a view that they are a burden. According to
Talib, the lack of sufficient education and experience – together with inad-
equate teaching materials and time – contribute to the harsh attitudes and
narrow-mindedness among teachers. This, in turn, can be seen as a factor
having an effect on the immigrant students’ disturbing behaviour and low
school achievement, which for its part confirms the negative connotations
attached to these students.
So far, the most intensive debate on multicultural schools has been the
one initiated by a critical newspaper article, ‘Teachers cannot deal with
multicultural students’ by Talib and Lipponen (2008). The writers expressed
their concern about the increasing inequality among students and status
differences between schools; they noted that schools with a high number of
immigrant students tended to have the lowest status in the capital region.
Many teachers and parents immediately responded with the view that
Finnish schools should stand for Finnish culture and not promote other
cultures, and that equality should primarily be understood as the application
of similar criteria and learning conditions for all. The frequently repeated
comment ‘it is time to put an end to all the fuss about immigrant students’
could be regarded as the main message received from the general public
during the stormy debate. The tension was obvious when the ideologies of the
allegedly well-ordered society of the past were set against the linguistically
and culturally more diverse reality of an emerging, more ill-defined society
(cf. Usher and Edwards, 1994).

Plurilingual students’ first languages – invisible and unrecognized

It seems justified to assume that one effect of increasing immigration could
also be that the visibility and recognition of various languages in Finnish
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 79

schools increase in parallel. According to our data, this is not the case. As
many as 68 per cent of the respondents reported that it sometimes, often,
or always happens that schools do not possess enough information on the
language background of their students (see Figure 4.2).
In addition, more than half of the respondents reported that the schools
had provided teachers with too little information on the students’ language
background. In fact, the schools may have this information somewhere, but
for some reason it never reaches the teachers who are in need of it. It also
appears to be common that the information in the possession of the schools
is false.
One explanation given for this situation is the computer program that is
used to register the students’ background information: it does not have an
option for all the immigrant languages (nor, as one respondent remarked,
on Roma). One might well ask whether this state of affairs is acceptable in a
modern society: whether a computer program can really decide whether the
schools are to promote plurilingualism? This practice is also at odds with the
goals set in the national curriculum according to which the development
of each student’s native language should be supported. Nevertheless, there
are other problematic practices as well. In the city of Tampere, for example,
information on the student’s language background and on the time of
arrival is received from the Population Register Centre, and this information
is supplemented later with information given by the family. In practice, the
local register contains information on the language indicated in the popula-
tion register and on other languages used at home. However, this system,
like any other, relies very much on self-reporting. The parents have the right

31 31





Not familiar Never Seldom Sometimes Often Always

Figure 4.2 Statement: ‘The school has too little information on the language
background of its students’
80 Dangerous Multilingualism

to declare any language in the official register and also to the municipality.
Some respondents knew families in which the parents actually concealed
the language used at home, giving, instead, Finnish as their children’s first
language – for fear that the children’s true L1 could have a negative effect
on their school achievement. For the municipalities, this concealment of
the students’ languages has undesirable consequences, since they receive a
special government subsidy for all the students with a language other than
Finnish or Swedish as their L1. Clearly, it would be in the municipalities’
interest to inform parents on the significance of reporting the true language
situation of the family.
As many as 59 per cent of the respondents declared it to be quite common
that the school showed no interest in immigrant students’ prior linguistic
or cultural skills. This is not surprising: if the information on the students’
language background is insufficient, it is difficult to make use of any special
knowledge possessed by the students. The high percentage of cases with
missing information also has other consequences for the students’ educa-
tion. Most significantly, it is difficult to arrange relevant L1 instruction if
accurate information on the students’ language background is unavailable.

Negotiating space for first languages

In the spring of 2006, a German school in Berlin launched a policy accord-
ing to which only German was to be used as the language of communication
during school recesses. The decision met with both praise and criticism:
those in favour saw it as a model for other schools, whereas those against
it called it ‘forced Germanization’ (Ahtiainen, 2006). A year later, it was
reported that one particular school in Helsinki had prevented immigrant
students from using their own language in the classroom. After this, the
school received counter-instructions from the Education Department of the
City of Helsinki (Vähäsarja, 2007). In the public debate that followed, it was
emphasized that this incident was rare.12 It could be asked, however, how
rare this denial was and is in practice. Are immigrant students allowed to
use all their languages within the school premises, and for all the functions
for which they might wish to use that language?
Over half of the respondents (55 per cent) claimed that it never happened
that students were forbidden to use their native language during recesses,
and 18 per cent had no experience of this phenomenon. Nevertheless,
approximately every fourth respondent had encountered the phenomenon
in their school (Figure 4.3).
On this point, the respondents were fairly unanimous. Thus, the grassroots
language policy of Finnish schools seems to include the following ‘rule’: it
is not permitted to openly restrict the use of other languages. However, it
appears to be acceptable to guide students to ‘practise their Finnish’ during
school recesses. In the classroom, the use of native languages can be forbid-
den more openly: as many as 41 per cent of the respondents declared that at
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 81





20 18 16

10 8
Not familiar Never Seldom Sometimes Often Always

Figure 4.3 Statement: ‘The students are forbidden to use their native language with
speakers of the same language during school recesses’

least sometimes students were prevented from using their L1 in group work
or when giving advice to other students. Some respondents pointed out that
the restrictions on the use of the L1 were well motivated, for example, as in
the case when it was suspected that students had been bullying each other
or using their language as a tool of power in other ways.
Furthermore, in cases where the immigrant students did not speak their
own language at school, the respondents explained that this is because the
students did not want to, not because they did not dare to. In the respond-
ents’ opinion, students almost always dared to speak their own language
freely, and it happened only rarely that they were teased for their use of the
L1 or their participation in L1 instruction.13 On the whole, the linguistic
climate of Finnish schools is portrayed as an extremely tolerant one.
Equality is one of the core values of Finnish society. In the respondents’
view, hardly any signs of language hierarchies exist at their schools. Less
than a third (27 per cent) of the teachers were of the opinion that immi-
grant languages with a large number of speakers were more highly valued
than other languages; the rest disagreed or indicated that this did occur,
but very rarely. Interestingly, the respondents also disagreed strongly with
some other statements about L1 instruction. More than half of them were
of the opinion that students were never advised to reject L1 instruction
with such arguments as the following: ‘it is more useful to study other
subjects than the L1’, ‘participation in L1 instruction is too much of a bur-
den’, ‘Finnish is the students’ new native language’ or ‘teaching the L1 is
the parents’ responsibility’. The teachers also reported that L1 instruction
was seen in the schools as having value per se, and not merely because of
82 Dangerous Multilingualism

the extra support it provided for L2 learning. Here one should note that
during the 1980s in particular, it was common for immigrant languages
to be regarded as auxiliary languages, enabling a transition period on the
way to Finnishization: it was assumed that instruction in them would
not be needed after the pupil had learned enough Finnish. Thirty years
later, about a third of the teachers (34 per cent) had also encountered
this view.
On the basis of the teachers’ answers, the Finnish school would appear to
have excellent arguments for arranging L1 instruction. Since the linguistic
climate is very tolerant and since, according to the survey, no unequal hier-
archies of languages exist, it could be argued that it would be easy to offer
L1 instruction in any of the languages entitled to a state subsidy within
each municipality. However, this does not seem to match the reality. It was
reported by two-thirds of the respondents (65 per cent) that in their schools
it happens at least sometimes that students do not take part in L1 instruction,
even though it is organized. According to the teachers, the students refuse
to participate in L1 instruction, because their parents want them to
study Finnish instead. More than half of the respondents (52 per cent)
agreed with this statement. In other words, while the school makes an effort
to promote its students’ plurilingualism, the parents’ aspirations seem to
work against this idea.
Schools also face a range of other challenges when they strive to support
and acknowledge the languages of students with an immigrant background.
Firstly, it may be difficult for them to identify the language/s requiring
support, as in the case when the languages used by the immigrant families
are not identical with the codified, standardized language with which they
may, nevertheless, share a name. This is the case with ‘Arabic’, for example,
which consists of numerous varieties several of which are strongly divergent
from each other. Secondly, the providers of education are sometimes chal-
lenged by the fact that, as an outcome of ethnic or political allegiances, two
languages which are linguistically similar may actually be considered differ-
ent languages (e.g. Dari, Farsi). Another example of this kind of challenge
could be parental attitudes to teaching Vietnamese: a Nordic study based on
interviews of immigrant parents (Latomaa, 1993) showed how the parents’
mistrust in instruction in the Vietnamese language derived from the former
political division of Vietnam. The parents complained that children could
not understand what the teacher was telling them and that the teacher
was teaching the students ‘in the wrong way’, using ‘the wrong books’.
Political disputes were also implied by such comments as ‘I don’t want my
child to mix dialects’. Thirdly, the school’s attempts at giving support may
be made difficult by the fact that parents may occasionally demand that
their children should receive instruction in the official school language
of the parents’ former home country, even though the first language of
children has nothing else in common with it except its geographical origin
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 83

(e.g. Bengali, Sylheti; Urdu, Mirpuri). Finally, it may be very difficult for
the school to offer language support, when the first language learnt by the
students has no written form.
On the other hand, the students’ unwillingness to participate in L1
instruction and their parents’ doubts about its value can be explained by the
low status of L1. In practice, starting from the early days of immigration to
Finland, immigrant students have always studied their native language on
a voluntary basis and the instruction has commonly been given late in the
afternoon. In this way, the practices have kept such instruction apart from
the instruction in compulsory languages (Finnish, English and Swedish).
However, the status of L1 instruction is now even lower than before, since
the students’ skills in the L1 are no longer evaluated in annual report
cards. It is possible that this change in status functions as a signal for some
parents: since the language of the home is not part of regular school hours
and since skills in it are not given any credit in the Finnish school system,
it does not seem to be worth much. They may wonder why they should
bother sending their child to a faraway school for a late afternoon language
‘club’ if there is no reward for it.
As far as the implementation of L1 instruction is concerned, there are some
shared problems throughout the country. The teachers admitted that it is
difficult for the L1 teacher to become a member of the school community
(Figure 4.4). The overwhelming majority reported that the phenomenon was
familiar, whereas only 12 per cent stated that L1 teachers could become equal
members of the school community. According to the teachers, the reason
for this problem has to do with the teaching arrangements: the L1 teachers






15 14
12 12

Not familiar Never Seldom Sometimes Often Always

Figure 4.4 Statement: ‘It is hard for the L1 teacher to become a member of the school
84 Dangerous Multilingualism

work in several schools and they usually come to their workplace after
school hours, ‘together with the cleaning personnel’. Consequently, they
cannot take part in regular school activities and do not get acquainted with
their colleagues.
Another flaw in the otherwise perfect picture is the language barrier
between the school and the parents. According to the majority of the
respondents (71 per cent), Finnish schools most often send their infor-
mation leaflets to homes only in Finnish. In addition, meetings with
immigrant parents are sometimes organized without an interpreter, despite
the obvious demand for interpretation. Overall, more information on the
use of interpreters at school is clearly needed. In other words, the school
exercises linguistic power in many ways, and in doing so, it prevents the
parents from actively taking part in their children’s education.

The majority language at the top of the hierarchy

Typically, everyone living in Finland is expected to speak and understand
Finnish. Such a view is also prevalent in administrative reports. Adequate
skills in Finnish are mentioned as a prerequisite for secondary education
and employment, but the need to clarify what ‘adequate’ actually means in
each field has only recently been acknowledged – for example, in the official
report focusing on immigrant employment and incentive traps, published
by the Ministry of the Interior (cf. Sisäasiainministeriö, 2009; Nikula et al.,
this volume).
The fact that knowledge of Finnish is necessary does not automatically
mean that FSL is offered in the schools for all the students who are in need
of it. More than one respondent in four (29 per cent) reported that at least
sometimes in their schools a student who obviously needed FSL instruction
had not received it. As a finding this is quite worrying, even if 42 per cent
of the respondents could report a quite different situation in their schools,
as Figure 4.5 shows.
Especially in smaller towns and municipalities, large numbers of immi-
grant students receive neither preparatory nor FSL instruction, and are,
instead, forced to manage in the mainstream without any tailored aid. As
one of the respondents concluded, ‘in our municipality, no FSL instruction
has been arranged this year, although some ten students have migrated
here during the past few years. People trust that their kids will learn Finnish
in their daily encounters, during the lessons and breaks.’ Such practices
echo typical views of earlier times when it was commonplace to think that
immigrant children would acquire the new language easily, without any
special support.
These results also confirm the findings of Korpela (2006) and Kuusela et al.
(2008), who estimated in their survey report that one-quarter of immigrant
students receive no FSL instruction at all. The explanations suggested for this
situation are twofold: in the bigger cities a large number of plurilingual students
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 85





15 13 14

Not familiar Never Seldom Sometimes Often Always

Figure 4.5 Statement: ‘A student obviously needs FSL instruction, but does not
receive it’

are assessed as fluent enough to manage without such instruction, while

elsewhere the main reason is simply a lack of resources. On the one hand, it has
been a common trend to take the student’s spoken fluency as a sign of a fully
fledged skill in that language. On the other hand, the current legislative status
of FSL enables – and perhaps even encourages – the providers of education to
think that students can be assumed to quickly develop or already possess suffi-
cient skills in Finnish. Hence, very little or no FSL teaching has to be offered.
In general, teachers are of the opinion that assessment is often made with-
out due consideration. In our survey, as many as 61 per cent of the teachers
reported that their colleagues tended to overestimate their students’ lan-
guage skills. This, in turn, can easily lead to a failure to adjust one’s teaching
in relation to lessons, tasks and assessment practices. Excessively optimistic
views of the students’ language skills thus work against the interests of indi-
vidual students. They can mean that the students are denied the educational
arrangements that are most appropriate for them.
That said, it should also be noted that it is a real challenge for any FSL
professional to assess the language skill profiles of plurilingual students. In
late-modern societies the students’ individual trajectories can vary a great
deal. In addition, there are also a variety of subcultures and membership
opportunities available to them, which will also be reflected in their use and
mastery of linguistic varieties. As a result, there is a serious risk that only
those language skills that are relevant in school are recognized and valued,
in the same way as, more generally, there is a risk that certain current lin-
guistic practices are regarded as anomalies.
Another issue to be taken into account is that FSL is not valued highly
by all the parents and teachers. As was suggested above, our respondents
86 Dangerous Multilingualism

frequently reported that many immigrant parents would prefer their

children to study Finnish together with native speakers of Finnish, within
regular Finnish classes, and not within separate FSL classes. A differentiated
curriculum is thus regarded as a stigmatizing setting that can lead to lower
school achievement and worsen the opportunities for further studies. Such
a fear might reflect some prior experiences, for example in the parents’
country of origin, but it might equally well be rooted in the Finnish reality.
If immigrant students generally feel that they are a neglected group or an
extra burden for teachers, they may consider the tailor-made arrangements
offered to them in good faith as something that is meant for poor learn-
ers only. The simplest explanation for the avoidance of second language
classes might be the immigrant students’ generally strong desire to be like
the majority. The roots of this desire lie, in turn, mostly in the attitudes of
the surrounding community, but also the students’ young age may be a
factor contributing to their unwillingness to participate in second language
instruction (cf. Iskanius, 2006).
According to most of the respondents, the status of FSL instruction is
still somewhat unclear even within schools. Such tuition may be regarded
as a support to other subjects only: 55 per cent had witnessed this view. In
addition, 41 per cent had the feeling that their colleagues tended to rate
FSL instruction lower than the Finnish instruction given to native speakers.
This is shown, for example, in the following two comments: ‘the class teacher
takes the student away from the Finnish L2 lesson every now and then,
because s/he has more important activities to offer’, and ‘colleagues may
say that the student has to be present in the “real Finnish L1 classes” to
avoid lagging behind’. Thus, if FSL instruction is regarded within the school
community as a lower-level alternative offered only to less capable students,
it is no wonder that the learners themselves, and their parents, have cor-
responding views.
In contrast to many L1 teachers (see Figure 4.4 above), FSL teachers are
in principle well-accepted members of their working community; 47 per cent
have not faced any problems in this – even though some feel that they are
treated more like outsiders. However, FSL teachers commonly experience
that they are considered to be the only staff members who can plan
the arrangements and solve the conflicts and communication prob-
lems related to immigrant students in schools. Yet many respondents
acknowledged that they themselves were partially responsible for the
present unfair situation involving numerous extra duties. Sharing the
responsibility would be the solution; however, based on the responses,
it appears to be difficult for teachers to trust their colleagues in issues
concerning immigrant students, since they show a clear tendency to
avoid any adaptations and rearrangements. This is illustrated by the
following comment: ‘I really take the responsibility for sorting out all
the school-related problems for all the immigrant students.’ However,
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 87

the situation was far from uniform: some respondents noted that the
main responsibility was placed on the shoulders of the class teacher,
the preparatory class teacher or the special educationist. In contrast, in
schools with a long history of immigrant education the responsibilities
were well shared between all staff members.
Many parents expect Finland to be an educational paradise which ‘offers
equal opportunities for everyone’, as defined in educational policy. This
kind of view is echoed in comments such as the following: ‘Most parents are
not aware of the actual potential of their own child. They are all supposed
to become medical doctors and lawyers, since that’s reportedly possible in
Finland.’ This respondent thus suggests how the parents tend to dream of a
better life for their children and have a great deal of faith in the good reputa-
tion of the Finnish school system, without necessarily acknowledging such
barriers as a lack of prior schooling or skills in Finnish. These viewpoints
were all too familiar to the respondents (Figure 4.6).
The parents may set the upper secondary school and university-level
studies as the child’s goal even at the time of arrival, despite the fact
that it usually takes more than 3–4 years to reach the skill level at which
classroom interaction can be followed with a reasonable degree of ease
and textbooks read independently (Suni, 1996). This kind of obvious
discrepancy between the actual skill level and the expectations set by the
parents causes extra stress and pressure for the students, and it also puts
the teachers in a position where their professionalism in efficient language
education can be overtly questioned. Such observations as these point to
some more general questions concerning the assessment practices applied
to plurilingual students.

45 43

35 34




5 5
Not familiar Never Seldom Sometimes Often Always

Figure 4.6 Statement: ‘Parents have unrealistic expectations regarding the progress
and future education of the student (e.g. a desire to get to upper secondary school)’
88 Dangerous Multilingualism

Assessment as the main challenge

Any type of assessment is a site for the use of power. This is the case with
the evaluation of immigrant students: inadequate assessment practices
undoubtedly endanger their equality and legal protection. Thus, it is alarm-
ing that assessment is the most common challenge reported on in the
present survey: 76 per cent of the respondents agreed that more information
about the assessment of plurilingual students was often or always needed in
their school communities, and 17 per cent stated this to be the case some-
times. The distribution of responses is presented in Figure 4.7.
Correspondingly, 56 per cent shared the view that assessment was often
or always experienced as problematic, and 24 per cent acknowledged that
this problem had been faced sometimes. Overall, such a clear majority can
be seen as expressing a strong opinion: it does seem to be the case that
adequate guidelines are lacking, and that equitable assessment criteria and
practices should be both created and effectively disseminated.14 Taken as
a whole, the problems of assessment cover an entire spectrum, relating to
language skills, success in school subjects, and the diagnosis of learning
difficulties or language impairments. Poor assessment practices may also
complicate the understanding of the phenomena that are normally present
in bilingual development and second language acquisition.
For example, it is often the case that immigrant students are over-
diagnosed as suffering from language impairments: 34 per cent of the
respondents had observed this either sometimes or relatively frequently.
Immigrant students are also easily moved into special education classes.
Although officially a lack of language skills is an unacceptable reason for


35 34





5 3 4
Not familiar Never Seldom Sometimes Often Always

Figure 4.7 Statement: ‘More information on the assessment of plurilingual students

is needed in the school community’
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 89

making such a decision, 37 per cent of the respondents had witnessed this
(cf. Laaksonen, 2008). Furthermore, the students who truly need special
education may not get it in time, because their learning difficulties have
not been diagnosed properly and because they are confused with their
deficient language skills. Another facet of this problem – as 70 per cent of
the respondents had noted – is that teachers are unwilling to adapt their
assessment methods to meet the needs of immigrant students. The follow-
ing comments illustrate some of these problems:

Teachers cannot adjust their teaching and assessment of students, if they

have not obtained information (e.g. in training) on how to teach stu-
dents with an immigrant background. The whole issue is new for them,
and it causes embarrassment. Language skills are mixed up with the
mastery of the school subject.
When it is difficult to recognize whether the problems of the child are
due to his/her weak Finnish language skills or special learning difficulties,
the child tends to get moved into special education because of linguistic
On the other hand, it is hard for immigrant students to get special edu-
cation, since it is so demanding to diagnose them, due to their language

According to the national core curriculum (National Board of Education,

2004), it is recommended that immigrant parents should be familiarized
with assessment practices. Nevertheless, more than two-thirds (71 per cent)
of the respondents reported that it was still common that parents did not
understand the assessment principles and practices of Finnish schools. Here
it should be noted that the national curriculum sets out the following prin-
ciples for school assessment:

The assessment of immigrant pupils in different school subjects takes

account of the pupil’s background and his/her gradually improving skills
in Finnish or Swedish. In the assessment of the pupil the teacher needs to
use diversified, flexible assessment methods which are adapted to the
pupil’s situation, so that s/he is able to demonstrate his or her perform-
ance regardless of possible deficiencies in Finnish or Swedish language
skills. The assessment of immigrant pupils may be verbal throughout
basic education, with the exception of the final assessment. (National
Board of Education, 2004, p. 263)

Compared with these general guidelines, the final assessment at the end of
basic education is in sharp contrast with the practices previously applied,
since at this point of schooling everyone is placed on the same footing. The
90 Dangerous Multilingualism

only exception involves students following an individual study plan. This

leads to a situation in which the immigrant students are abruptly forced
to face a harsh reality: the only norm followed is that for native speakers.
Consequently, native speakers have a clear advantage over students with
an immigrant background in terms of further education opportunities.
Together with any remaining language problems, poor grades at the end of
basic education may ruin an immigrant student’s motivation to continue
his or her studies. According to Kuusela et al. (2008), 15.4 per cent of
students with an immigrant background are, in fact, excluded from second-
ary education, which amounts to 10 per cent more than the figure among
majority students. Effective measures for preventing marginalization are thus
clearly needed.
Unprofessional assessment can take various forms, all of which contribute
to the risk of marginalization. On the one hand, if assessment is neglected
merely by turning a blind eye to the students’ performance, or if it is
implemented in an extremely sensitive way throughout the school years,
the grades given at the end of basic education may come as a shock. On the
other hand, if the evaluation in various school subjects is not adapted to
the student’s situation at all, his/her performance may constantly remain
far below the actual skill level achieved.
These outcomes could, however, be avoided by appropriate methods
of assessment. The obvious discrepancy between the principles set in
the curriculum and the practices regularly followed in schools cannot be
overlooked, in terms of the dangers it poses. It seems that equality is still fre-
quently interpreted according to a modernist ideology, as involving equal,
identical arrangements, but not equal opportunities for showing what one
knows and can do. Furthermore, whenever such ‘equal’ criteria are set, they
are set out according to native speaker norms. In the current situation of
late modernity, however, it could be argued that nativeness can no longer
be an adequate and appropriate point of comparison in the assessment of a
diverse student population.

Concluding remarks

The idea of functional bilingualism has been set as the official goal of
immigrant education arranged in Finnish schools for 18 years. During
these 18 years, this progressive language policy has directed at least some
attention to the diversified linguistic repertoires now present in Finnish
society. In international terms, Finland has adhered to a relatively stable
language education policy, due to the fact that the planning, administra-
tion and direction of the policy has for the most part been controlled
by civil servants who are not elected on political grounds. Consequently,
developments in education have not directly reflected political changes
(cf. the sudden changes that have taken place in immigrant education in
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 91

e.g. Denmark and the Netherlands), but they reflect, instead, the views of
leading educational administrators. This has meant that language education
policies have been relatively well protected from rapid changes in general
attitudes and power relations. A positive outcome of such a system is that it
has allowed a degree of continuity. In addition, Finland’s history as an offi-
cially bilingual country may have contributed to, for example, attempts to
offer both first and second language instruction for immigrants, and to the
willingness, at least in principle, to recognize the significance of immigrant
languages at the policy level.
On the other hand, one may wonder whether the stability of the policy
may, at least in part, be connected with the small percentage of immigrants
in Finland, and the short history of immigration to Finland, as compared to
several other European countries (cf. OECD, 2008). During the 1990s, the
number of immigrants grew rapidly, and the pressure for more systematic
planning and goal-setting gradually led to changes in immigrant education.
Now, at the start of the 2010s, new challenges are looming, since schools
are bound to receive even more immigrants and, especially, the descend-
ants of immigrants. Again, as educational planning has so far been targeted
mostly at first-generation immigrants, Finnish schools are not necessarily
prepared for this change. With a growing number of immigrants, and with
increasingly diversifying immigration and multilingualism, the problems
will become even more difficult to manage than at present.
The challenges for the future include learning to deal with the linguis-
tic hybridity typical of a second generation, and recognizing immigrant
languages as a valuable resource for society as a whole (cf. Nikula et al.,
this volume). Until now, immigrant languages have been acknowledged as
significant primarily for the individuals concerned and their ethnic groups.
Much less attention has been paid to their value as a versatile form of human
capital in global markets (cf. McPake et al., 2007), let alone as an important
component of the collective linguistic repertoire of Finnish society.
As shown by our analysis of various documents, Finland seems to manage
the current form of multilingualism fairly well at the policy level (cf. Nikula
et al., this volume). However, as our survey revealed, there is considerable
variation in the implementation of the policies. The balance, equality and
order codified by language educational policy cannot control or organize
the actual reality that exists within classrooms – a reality that is continually
diversifying as more and more immigrant students with complex linguistic
backgrounds enter the Finnish school system. The survey results clearly
showed that plurilingual students in Finnish schools are treated far from
equally. In their answers, the respondents indicated the kinds of oppor-
tunities that are (not) provided for studying languages, the other forms
of support that are (not) given, and the kinds of practical arrangements
that make it (im)possible to actively use the languages in question, also
indicating why all of this may be happening.
92 Dangerous Multilingualism

It is only natural that in areas with a large number of plurilingual stu-

dents, there will be more resources and opportunities to develop good
practices. It is also to be expected that schools in the Helsinki metropolitan
region with a relatively long history of dealing with immigrant education
will have well-developed practices in their work with plurilingual students,
as compared to schools in rural areas and smaller communities that have
only recently received their first immigrants. However, exceptions to this
pattern exist: tailored educational support can be completely absent in
areas with large numbers of immigrant students (cf. Korpela, 2006). The
reason for this is the fact that it is the municipalities and even individual
schools that are entrusted to execute official language education policy, and
the bodies in question can take different practical measures. A substantial
government subsidy for immigrant education is available if applied for, but
since it is currently not obligatory to make any special arrangements, not
all local authorities show any interest in offering anything but mainstream
education for all. This means that in defining the educational settings in
which plurilingual students go to school, it is the local authorities’ aware-
ness of, and attitudes towards, immigration-related issues that play a central
role. And it is here where the actual danger lies.
The experiences reported by our respondents indicate that many teachers
in Finnish schools are still more or less unprepared to encounter and deal
with plurilingual students in their classes. In part, this is an obvious con-
sequence of the current legislation, since it does not force the providers of
education to take the special needs of immigrant students into account. At
the same time, following the logic of modernity, a kind of passive resistance
to the need to change can be observed behind the practices. One should
bear in mind that most of the teachers and officials of today have been
educated to implement the ideal of equality according to bygone practices.
They have not been equipped with the kinds of tools that are needed in the
multicultural and multilingual schools of late modernity. The confusion
thus caused leads to a certain degree of passivity – and this may be consid-
ered an understandable or even inevitable reaction to the drastic changes
that have occurred in the daily working environment.
When successful integration is discussed, it is easy to forget what it is like
to be a young individual with needs and plans, surrounded by partially con-
flicting expectations that have been set by the family, the school and the
Finnish-speaking community. This chapter has highlighted some discrepan-
cies between principles and practices in immigrant education, discrepancies
noted by the teachers themselves. The perspective does have limitations, given
that we have so far only addressed the views of the teachers. The voices of stu-
dents themselves are not present, nor are those of their parents, nor those of
their L1 teachers. However, even a partial look of this kind can shed some light
on issues and problems which, in part, explain why numerous Finnish schools
currently fail to promote plurilingualism among their immigrant students.
Minna Suni and Sirkku Latomaa 93

1. We would like to thank Mari Honko (University of Tampere) and Sanna Voipio-
Huovinen (University of Jyväskylä) for their valuable comments on the first draft
of the web questionnaire. The statistical processing of the survey data was sup-
ported by the School of Language, Translation and Literary Studies, University
of Tampere, and the research project Dialogues of Appropriation: Dialogical
Approaches to Language Learning and Teaching (Department of Languages,
University of Jyväskylä), funded by the Academy of Finland.
2. This is an estimate, including the foreign-born population and those born in
Finland with at least one foreign-born parent, i.e. combining statistics from two
generations (Saari, 2009).
3. Likewise, a survey carried out by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum in
2009 showed that anti-immigration attitudes have become more prominent
since the beginning of the most recent depression (Haavisto and Kiljunen,
4. We acknowledge the difficulty in choosing the right term for the language in
which schoolchildren from an immigrant background have been raised. In this
chapter, ‘native language’ and ‘first language’ have been preferred to ‘mother
tongue’ and ‘home language’. However, these terms also occur in this chapter, as
they have been used in the documents quoted.
5. Latvia, a country of recent immigration, seems to be following the same hierar-
chical pattern in its current policy (see Eurydice, 2004).
6. Thus, whereas preparatory instruction was given only to refugee students until
1997, L1 instruction was given to all immigrant students during 1987–97.
7. In Swedish or bilingual municipalities, the second language for students from an
immigrant background can also be Swedish, but we will not repeat this option in
the description of the policy.
8. The name of the subject translates literally as ‘mother tongue and literature’,
which can be seen as an ethnocentric concept, echoing ideas of the nation
9. The statements were organized within six thematic sections: status of the languages
and plurilingualism, evaluation criteria used for plurilingual students, teaching arrange-
ments, L1 instruction, the students and their languages, and parental viewpoints on
teaching arrangements.
10. The scale used was 1 = never, 2 = seldom, 3 = sometimes, 4 = often and 5 = always.
In addition, one category was labelled 0; the respondents could select this when
they were not familiar with the phenomenon in question.
11. For the sake of clarity, the quantitative results of the survey are presented as
rounded percentages.
12. Interestingly, when the use of Finnish has been restricted in the neighbouring
country Sweden, the tone of the discussion has been quite different. For example,
in 2007, a stormy debate took place in Finland when employees in the city of
Uppsala were forbidden to use Finnish during their coffee breaks. For Finns, this
evoked memories of the 1960s, when schoolchildren speaking Tornedal Finnish
in Sweden were not allowed to use their language in the playground.
13. However, see Tanttu (2008) on the bullying which Russian-speaking students
commonly experience in their daily lives.
14. Some assessment manuals have recently been published by the National Board of
94 Dangerous Multilingualism

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U. Rönnberg and M. Siniharju (2008) Maahanmuuttajaoppilaat ja koulutus –
tutkimus oppimistuloksista, koulutusvalinnoista ja työllistymisestä [Immigrant Pupils and
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Valuing All Languages in Europe. Graz: ECML.
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National Board of Education (2004) National Core Curriculum for Basic Education 2004.
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Problematic Plurilingualism –
Teachers’ Views
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin


Once upon a time there was order in Finnish schools. All the students and
teachers spoke the same language at school and at home, and shared many
cultural habits and values. The only linguistic question ever discussed was
the extent to which it was desirable to allow the use of the students’ home
dialects within the educational system. For an officially bilingual country the
school system was extremely monolingual: the Finnish and Swedish language
schools lived (and still live) totally separate lives, under separate administra-
tive systems. The only contact to anything foreign was the teaching of foreign
languages such as English and German, and the mandatory second domestic
language (see Salo, this volume). Language classes, however, were not really a
place to use a foreign language, only to learn its grammar and words.
The linguistic situation in Finnish schools changed visibly in the early
1990s. In the 1980s Finland had changed from a country of emigration into
a country of immigration (see
2010_2011-04-29_kuv_001_en.html). All of a sudden it became common
to have foreign students in the previously monolingual classrooms. Many
teachers were confused and had no tools for dealing with these students. As
early as in 1994, however, there was the first attempt to create new order:
the new core curricula for primary and secondary schools provided guide-
lines for teaching Finnish or Swedish as a second language (FSL, L2) for the
immigrant schools and also introduced the teaching of the students’ first
language (L1) within the school hours.
Over the past two decades many surveys of the situation of the immigrant
students in schools have been conducted (e.g. Suni, 1996; Korpela, 2006;
Kuusela et al., 2008). The 1994 core curricula1 were followed by more
specific and binding ones in 2004. The teaching of L2 then became more
established, while the L1 of immigrant students was moved out of regular
school hours into an extracurricular activity. In addition, the Finnish
National Board of Education published numerous guidebooks for teachers

Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 97

to help them with the new situation. Currently the Ministry of Education
and Culture is working on the next core curricula, which are supposed to be
published in 2014 (Nissilä, 2009), but the preparation has been postponed
due to too many mutually conflicting suggestions for changes.
The national policies thus attempt to bring back and impose order, or cre-
ate new order, in Finnish schools. The difficulties of agreeing on the new
curricula, however, can be seen as a symptom of a problematic situation.
This is also revealed by the haphazard and varying grassroots practices within
classrooms. The main theme of this chapter is to illustrate how well (or badly)
the official policies are implemented in classrooms and in interactions with
students who are an increasingly diverse group both linguistically and cultur-
ally. This chapter thus complements the quantitative survey study of teachers’
views of the ways plurilingual students are encountered in schools (see Suni
and Latomaa, this volume) by analysing individual teacher interviews. As data
it draws on 14 interviews of 14 teachers in the upper level (grades 7–10) of
the Finnish comprehensive school.2 The teachers quoted here teach different
school subjects but they are all also supervisors of classes including, besides
Finnish-speaking students, some plurilingual3 immigrant students.
The key questions of the interviews relate to how the teachers perceive
their immigrant students’ plurilingualism and their overall language
resources and whether they are aware of and interested in the students’
plurilingualism. With the extracts from the teacher interviews we will
show how, despite the existence of policy guidelines, schools and teach-
ers are struggling with coming to terms with the new challenges posed
by the changed situation. We will also discuss the reasons for the teach-
ers’ uncertainty and inability to fully convert the policies into practice in
their own work. Finally, we will argue that in their actual practices they are
still relying on the old, pre-immigration order against which the current
situation in many schools with immigrant students appears to them as
problematic. Here we concentrate on those interview sections which display
plurilingualism as somehow challenging or problematic in terms of how the
teachers and schools are actually prepared and willing to accommodate the
linguistic needs of immigrant students. We want to emphasize, however,
that the interview material as a whole also contains many examples of
teachers’ positive views of the growing linguistic diversity in schools.
The starting point of our analysis is the following quotation from a
teacher in a Helsinki school: ‘Immigrant students cause extra work and
I have no time for or interest in the problems they have because of their
plurilingualism.’ This opinion summarizes the challenges ordinary teachers
currently face with immigrant students and their languages in the middle
of all the other changes taking place in language education policies and
practices in Finland. This quotation also brings forth several key issues: the
teachers’ workload, time constraints and interest. As we will show below,
these issues, among others, also surface in many of the interviews analysed
98 Dangerous Multilingualism

below. Before this, to frame the discussion of the data, some information on
the extent and nature of the changes in Finnish schools, and on the core
curriculum for language studies and the organization of immigrant students’
language education is, however, in order.

A transitional period in the Finnish educational system

The teachers and immigrant students in Finnish schools are facing a

tremendous change, as the number of students with a first or second
generation immigrant background has risen significantly in the past decade.
For example, while in 1998 there were about 12,000 speakers of foreign
languages4 in grades 1–9 (7–15 years) of comprehensive education, in 2010
the corresponding figure was 22,730 (National Board of Education, 2012).
This trend is also visible in secondary education where the number of speak-
ers of foreign languages has risen from c.12,500 in 2005 to c.17,300 in 2009
(National Board of Education, 2011a).
One effect of these changes is that the number of immigrant students
in L1 instruction has also increased considerably. The biggest groups among
these students were Russian speakers (c.3300) and Somali speakers (c.2030).
In comparison, the number of Finland’s traditional linguistic minorities
studying their L1 remains very small with, for example, only 129 learners
of the Roma language, and 25 learners of Sámi (National Board of
Education, 2011b).
The current organization of immigrant students’ L1 instruction is
described in a survey conducted by the Finnish National Board of Education
in 2007. The survey results were only distributed to civil servants of the
central educational administration, but the recommendations based on
them were made publicly available (Ikonen, 2007, p. 41, pp. 52–3):

1. L1 studies have to be re-included in the core curriculum for the basic

education as a sub-subject of mother tongue and literature studies. In
addition, the number of lessons has to be specified.
2. To unify the different arrangements for the obligatory and voluntary
study of the second domestic language in different parts of the country,
it needs to be specified what the requirement for the study of the second
domestic language5 is for immigrant students. The availability of financial
resources for this also needs to be clarified.
3. The immigrant students’ needs for content development in their
L1 have to be determined. Information should be gathered on both
the problem areas and the best pedagogical practices supporting their
linguistic development.
4. The educational needs of the teachers of immigrant students’ L1s have to
be determined. In particular, their needs for both pre-service and in-service
teacher training and teachers’ qualifications need to be specified.
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 99

These suggestions are very much in line with how L1 teachers see the
situation. The Finnish National Board of Education thus seems to be well
aware of the main problems to be solved in immigrant education, but so
far the willingness and political pressure to develop FSL instruction have
been far greater than the actual interest shown in immigrant students’ L1
instruction and plurilingualism. The situation is further complicated by the
fact that the Finnish National Board of Education has only limited authority
over local educational arrangements in cities and municipalities regarding
the education of immigrant students. The independence of the local city
and municipality authorities is, in fact, often emphasized by the National
Board of Education, especially when the topic of the invalid implementation
of immigrant students’ education surfaces in public discussions.

The role of the core curriculum and the class supervisor in

immigrant students’ language education

In the current national core curriculum for basic education in Finland

(National Board of Education, 2004, p. 95) the objective for immigrant
students’ bilingualism is spelt out as follows: ‘together with instruction
in his or her own native language, instruction in Finnish as a second
language strengthens the pupil’s cultural identity and builds a foundation
for functional bilingualism’. (For a description of the core elements of the
basic curriculum for the instruction of immigrant students’ FSL and native
language,6 see Suni and Latomaa, this volume). This definition of functional
bilingualism has not, unfortunately, been clarified thoroughly in any
document published by the Finnish National Board of Education. The situa-
tion is further complicated by the fact that the teachers are often unable or
lack the time to reflect on the different definitions of functional bilingualism
suggested in research literature. In addition, compared to the 1990s, there
has recently been very little discussion in Finnish schools on how to reach
the objective of functional bilingualism in the case of immigrant students.
In the same vein, little attention has been paid to the crucial role of class
supervisors in the education of immigrant students. It is the task of the
class supervisor to follow and support the studies of all his/her students at
the upper level of the comprehensive school (grades 7–9 plus the voluntary
extra grade 10). Usually there are approximately 15–25 students in each class
supervisor’s group. In principle, class supervisors are expected to pay extra
attention to guiding the immigrant students in their group. For example,
the core curriculum for basic education assigns a great deal of responsibility
to class supervisors as regards the instruction of immigrant students; it
stipulates that the educational arrangements in school

must support the pupil’s growth into active and balanced membership of
both the Finnish linguistic and cultural community and the pupil’s own
100 Dangerous Multilingualism

linguistic and cultural community. […] In addition to instruction in the

pupil’s language [L1, if instruction is organized locally] and Finnish or
Swedish, immigrants must be supported in other areas of learning so as
to acquire learning abilities equivalent to those of non-immigrant students. […]
In home–school cooperation, attention is given to the family’s cultural
background and experiences with the school system in the country of
departure. The parents or guardians receive an introduction to the Finnish
school system, the school’s operating idea, the curriculum, assessment,
teaching methods, and the student’s learning plan. The instruction utilizes
the knowledge the pupil and his or her parents or guardians possess of the
natural environment, ways of life, languages, and cultures of their own
cultural and language region. (National Board of Education, 2004, p. 34)

These guidelines have often been interpreted as including a recommenda-

tion for frequent face-to-face meetings between the class supervisor and the
parent(s) or guardian(s) and at least a certain interest by the class supervisor
in the students’ language situation. In reality, however, not many class
supervisors have actually read these instructions, despite their wish that
they get very precise local and school-specific instructions about how to
deal with immigrant students. What also often happens is that, although it
is the task of the class supervisors to report to parents or guardians on the
students’ success in their learning of their first and other languages, they –
nearly always native speakers of Finnish – fail to do this.
Another crucial task for the classroom supervisor is to give guidance to
students and parents about choosing appropriate L1 lessons. Again, the way
in which this is done varies a great deal according to the local resources in
cities and municipalities. In bigger cities class supervisors are assisted in this
task by contact persons for immigrant education who are in charge of L1
instruction and additional support for immigrant students in each school.
In many ways, class supervisors are expected to play a key role in guiding
and supporting the immigrant students in their language learning. In real
life, however, the situation is far from ideal.

Class supervisors’ perceptions of immigrant students’

plurilingual education

In this section our focus shifts onto teachers and their experiences in the midst
of a constantly changing situation with an increasing number of immigrant
students with different language backgrounds entering the Finnish educa-
tional system. In particular, attention will be paid to the ways in which the
teachers depict their students’ plurilingualism as problematic, sometimes even
disruptive, for the order illustrated by the educational policies and practices
of a pre-immigration era. The discussion of the data is divided by the problem
sources the teachers express or which become evident by their comments.
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 101

The data – ethnographic interviews

The data investigated here consist of ethnographic interviews of class super-
visors. To illustrate the complexities and diversity of the situations of different
students, we will here discuss the teacher interviews of seven students.7 The
class supervisors interviewed and the students they discuss are listed in
Table 5.1. All class supervisors have Finnish as their L1. One of the students,
Ivan, is bilingual in Russian and Ukrainian. The three Somali sisters, Amal,
Hani and Salma, are Somali speakers, but they are also functional Arabic
users: they had lived in an Arabic neighbourhood during their refugee time in
Kenya. The students were 13–17 years of age when the data were collected.
All the teachers work in three upper comprehensive schools in Helsinki,
the city with the highest number of residents with an immigrant back-
ground in Finland. All three schools are situated in the eastern and northern
suburbs of Helsinki where the immigrant population is the highest. Large-
scale immigration has been typical of these areas since the beginning of the
1990s. Hence these schools, as opposed to many others in Finland, have had
plenty of time to come to terms with their students’ plurilingualism and
organize support for them.
In addition, this chapter draws on some comments by teachers who
participated in several in-service teacher training courses on students’
bi- and plurilingualism in 2006–11. These teachers had chosen to join these
courses as part of their annual in-service teacher training. They acted as class
supervisors as well, and reflected their views of the implementation of the
support for students’ plurilingualism. Voipio-Huovinen has been (one of)
the responsible teacher trainer(s) on these courses.

Lack of time
The heavy workload and lack of time are constant sources of stress for
teachers. This has consequences for the use of different languages as the
non-fluent linguistic interaction with FSL students takes more time than
fluent monolingual communication with monolingual native speakers of

Table 5.1 Class supervisors, students, their L1(s) and grades

Class Student L1(s) Grade

Mari Viktor Russian 8th grade

Mari Ivan Ukrainian and 8th grade
Pekka Salma Somali 8th grade
Pekka Hani Somali 8th grade
Annikki Amal Somali 7th grade
Jorma Pavel Russian 10th grade
(voluntary extra grade)
Minna Yasin Somali 8th grade
102 Dangerous Multilingualism

Finnish. The choice of language needs to be negotiated, and L2 production

is naturally slower and more fragmentary than L1 production, requiring
frequent repetition and clarification.
Time constraints affect both attitudes and the actual use and choice of
languages (see e.g. Blommaert et al., this volume; for discussion and exam-
ples from working life, see Jäppinen, 2011). In the class supervisors’ view, in
the middle of the hectic school days it is very difficult to find enough time
to give extra support to plurilingual students. Some of the supervisors even
hoped that the responsibility for helping the plurilingual students would not
fall on them at all, but that someone else, the Finnish as a Second Language
(FSL) teacher, in particular, would be totally responsible for dealing with
these ‘problematic’ students.
One class supervisor explained his unwillingness to deal with plurilingual
students by claiming that he already has so many other problems – he has
innumerable tasks to perform, he has students with special needs or difficult
family situations, new regulations from the principal, collaboration with
several teacher teams in the school, for example – to take care of each day
that he simply has no time for plurilingual students. The comment reveals
that, in the hierarchy of priorities of the teachers, the students’ linguistic
situations and needs do not rate very high. The plurilingualism of a student
is not seen as a natural part of his or her personal properties, similar to some
special characteristic of a monolingual Finnish student.
The shortage of time and difficulties of setting priorities pushes teachers
to look for ways of lightening the burden. Teachers would happily pass the
responsibility for the immigrant students on to the FSL teacher. More generally,
this view of the possible division of labour between class supervisors and
FSL teachers brings into focus the feelings expressed by many class supervisors.
They are not willing to take on the responsibility to intervene and try to solve
problems that the students may have in learning Finnish, other languages
or content subjects in their second language. Class supervisors seem to be
unaware of the fact that, according to the core curriculum, all teachers are
expected to help the development of the students’ plurilingualism.

Ignorance of immigrant students’ languages and

plurilingual resources
Many of the interviewed teachers were openly surprised at the interview-
er’s detailed questions about their immigrant students’ plurilingualism.
Excluding a few who were quite well informed about a particular immigrant
student’s situation, the majority of them confessed to be totally ignorant
of their students’ plurilingualism. They had clearly not given it much
thought before and had apparently never realized that, according to official
instructions, they were expected to be aware of and support their immigrant
students’ bi- or plurilingualism. If anything, they had concentrated on sup-
porting and assessing their students’ FSL competence. This lack of awareness
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 103

is, in fact, symptomatic of a more general problem in schools: if the class

supervisors who in principle should have the closest contact with and
the most detailed information about their students are not aware of the
immigrant students’ plurilingualism, it is very likely that the other teachers
know even less about it.
When asked about their perceptions of plurilingualism, many class super-
visors mainly reflected on the number of immigrant students’ languages and
the teaching arrangements in school. These aspects of plurilingualism are
naturally most visible to the teachers in their everyday working life. However,
the teachers may be totally ignorant of other aspects of the students’ plurilin-
gualism, such as the role of different languages in their daily life and their level
of L1 skills. Nor do they know about the parents’ language skills. For example,
Amal’s class supervisor Annikki, a teacher of history, had never met or spoken
with Amal’s mother during the first eight months of the seventh grade – even
though meeting the parents or guardians of students is required of class
supervisors. When told about Amal’s mother’s interview by the researcher,
Annikki’s first response was9 ‘Does she [the mother] speak some language?’
(‘Puhuuks se jotain kieltä se äiti?’). The formulation of the comment suggests
that only Finnish or some other language that Finnish teachers often have
competence in or regard as prestigious counts as a language. Her comment also
shows that she was completely ignorant of the languages of the student and
her family.
Minna, Yasin’s class supervisor and a teacher of Swedish and English,
reported what she knows about his linguistic situation: ‘I know what [Yasin]
thinks about school but I have never thought about it from the perspective of his
languages’ (‘mä tiedän, mikä on [pojan] suhtautuminen koulunkäyntiin mut
mä en oo kyllä koskaan sitä ajatellut kielelliseltä kannalta’). Even if Minna
is a language teacher herself, she does not seem to see the effect of language
skills in school life in general.
Some class supervisors could reflect on the student’s language skills
on a general level, but seemed unsure of the concepts and definitions of
plurilingualism. For example, Mari, Viktor’s class supervisor and a teacher of
chemistry and physics, talked about Viktor’s bilingualism as follows:

Excerpt 1
Interviewer In basic education we have this goal of constructing bilingual-
ism (of students), so do you think that Viktor is bilingual?
Mari I don’t know, he copes pretty well in Finnish in my opinion. You
could almost call him bilingual; but I wouldn’t call him bilin-
gual all the way. It may be that the issue is that obviously this
learning of foreign languages is more difficult for him. Perhaps
this is the case of other bilingual students, too. He may well turn
into a bilingual; in my opinion he may have the basis for it.
104 Dangerous Multilingualism

Haastattelija Kun perusopetuksessa on tavoitteena kaksikielisyyden

rakentaminen, niin onko Viktor mielestäsi kaksikielinen?
Mari En mä tiedä, mun mielestä hän pärjää aika hyvin suomenk-
ielellä. Vois melkein sanoo kakskieliseksi, että en mä ihan
loppuun asti sanois. Se voi olla, että sit kysymys on siitä, että
tota hänellä ilmeisesti nää vieraiden kielten oppiminen on
hankalampaa, että ehkä se on sitten muillakin kaksikielisillä
oppilailla. Kyllä hänestä varmaan kehittyy kaksikielinen,
että kyllä musta hänessä olis ainesta sellaseen.

To Mari, it is Viktor’s skills in Finnish and his ability to learn other languages
that his bilingualism depends on. The level of his L1 Russian skills does not
come into the picture, but is taken for granted. Nor are his skills in Russian
considered an asset or resource in any way.
Pekka, Hani’s and Salma’s class supervisor and a teacher of mathematics
and physics, was quite confident that his students can be considered bilingual
but had only a very vague impression of their plurilingual competence:

Excerpt 2
Interviewer When the objective is bilingualism among immigrants, functional
bilingualism, how would you assess the girls’ potential for it?
Pekka You mean Finnish–Somali? It is probably pretty good, judging
by how they speak in their own language as soon as they have
an opportunity to do so. At least they are very fluent in their
own mother tongue.
Interviewer Well how about Finnish, are they able to cope in two languages
in every situation?
Pekka I think they can, at least Salma. Hani is more quiet.
Interviewer Do you think that Hani’s weaker skills show in her silence?
Pekka Yeah, and in her shyness.
Haastattelija Mites, kun tavoitteena on maahanmuuttajataustaisilla tää
kaksikielisyys, toiminnallinen, niin miten sä arvioisit sen
mahdollisuutta tyttöjen kohdalla?
Pekka Siis suomi-somali? Kyllä se varmaan ihan hyvä on, päätellen
just siitä, että he puhuu omalla kielellään heti, jos on tilaisuus.
Ainakin oma äidinkieli menee niin että ei mitään.
Haastattelija No mites suomen puoli, pystyykö he toimiin kaikissa
tilanteissa kahdella kielellä?
Pekka Kyllä pystyy mun mielestä, ainakin Salma, Hani taas on
Haastattelija Sun mielestä se Hanin vähän huonompi taso on sitä
Pekka Joo, ja ujoutta.
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 105

For the teacher, Somali appears here as something the students resort to
whenever they can, which he interprets as fluency and competence. His
assessment of Hani’s skills in Finnish is clouded by her personality: the
teacher equates shyness with a weak language proficiency.
Amal’s class supervisor Annikki had taught Amal’s older sisters Hani and
Salma, too:

Excerpt 3
Annikki the older sisters’ mother tongue skills [ ⫽ Finnish skills] were
quite miserable. Last year you couldn’t even communicate
with them, not even give instructions during the Arts lesson.
I couldn’t have ever believed that this Amal is their sister, because
they were totally lost in a way. I couldn’t first believe that this Amal
is their sister, because she is so smart and manages so wonderfully
well in comparison…
Annikki se vanhempien sisarusten äidinkielen taito [ ⫽ suomen kielen
taito] oli edellisenä vuonna ihan surkee. Että viime vuonna nii-
den kanssa ei oikein voinut edes kommunikoida eli edes antaa
ohjeita kuvistuntien aikana. Mä en ois ikinä edes uskonut, että
tää Amal on niiden sisko, koska ne oli aivan pallo hukassa
tavallaan. Mä en alkuun edes uskonut, että tää on niiden sisko,
koska tää on niin fiksu ja selviytyy niin todella hyvin verrat-
tuna [...]

Not only does Annikki equate Finnish with the mother tongue – a very
common misnomer when discussing these issues in Finland where for a
long time the school subject called mother tongue really was always either
Finnish or Swedish – but her comment also confuses language skills with
intelligence. Both Pekka and Annikki show inability to discuss language
skills separately from the students’ personality or overall cognitive skills.
Issues of multiculturalism are discussed daily in schools but this discus-
sion does not seem to extend to languages. Concepts such as multi- and
plurilingualism seemed to be totally new for many teachers. That this is
a common problem in Finnish schools was confirmed by several young
teachers on an in-service teacher training course in spring 2011: they also
complained of a lack of information regarding immigrant students’ first
languages. One of them stated that they had no idea and no information
about what their students’ first languages are. Nobody had ever discussed
them at school, and the students had not told about them either. These
young teachers work in an officially bilingual city in the Helsinki metropoli-
tan area. On the basis of their experiences, it also seems that there clearly
is a need for clarification of concepts of pluri- and multilingualism among
all teachers.
106 Dangerous Multilingualism

Ignorance of the language learning process

The interviews with the class supervisors showed that many teachers do not
even have a basic knowledge of normal second language development (SLD)
and its trajectory, or of language competence in general. They also seemed to
be unfamiliar with the concepts with which to analyse and discuss language
learning. Although the detailed assessment of language proficiency can be
considered a part of the professional competence of language teachers only,
lacking even the most basic understanding of SLD and its concepts may
prevent the class supervisors from following their students’ plurilingual
development and reporting about it to teacher colleagues, students and
their parents/guardians.
For example, Mari, Ivan’s class supervisor and a teacher of chemistry
and physics, was asked about Ivan’s school achievement. In her reply, she
repeated the good news she had heard from the teacher of Russian. Russian
is Ivan’s L1 together with Ukrainian.

Excerpt 4
Mari I believe that, according to the teacher of Russian, he knows Russian
awfully well and that (he does well in it) although it is a foreign
language for him, he is still very good in it.
Mari Mulla on semmonen käsitys, että venäjänopettajan mielestä hän
osaa hirveen hyvin venäjää että hän on sitä (tosi hyvä venäjässä)
vaikka se on hänelle vieras kieli, niin silti hän on hyvä siinä.

This excerpt shows how the teacher seems to equal Ivan’s Ukrainian
nationality with his Ukrainian skills, assuming that Russian must be a foreign
language to him. This suggests that she observes her student’s languages
based on the ethnolinguistic assumption (see Blommaert et al., this volume).
She does not realize that Russian is, in fact, one of Ivan’s first languages, and
that therefore his good competence in it is only to be expected. Further, she
does not realize that evaluating Ivan’s Russian skills as if the language was
a foreign language is unfounded. She is thus confused about the distinction
between a foreign language and a first language, and she does not seem to
understand the idea that a person can have two first languages. As a conse-
quence, despite her good intentions, the teacher was basically incapable of
keeping track of and understanding her student’s language development.
Mari also commented on Viktor’s mother’s ‘weak Finnish language skills’
which have necessitated the use of an interpreter in their meetings.

Excerpt 5
Mari Yes, in the parent–teacher meeting I have met Viktor’s mother and
sister, who acted as an interpreter, and there was also a third person in
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 107

the meeting, must have been a sister, too. The mother has pretty poor
language skills.
Mari Oon, vanhempainvartissa olen tavannut Viktorin äidin ja sisaren,
joka toimi tulkkina ja siellä oli vielä kolmaskin henkilö, joku sisar
myös. Äidillä on aika huono kielitaito.

The expression ‘poor language skills’ is typically used in the interviews

to describe the immigrants’ low proficiency in Finnish. The use of this
general term implies that it is only the proficiency in Finnish that is
considered important whereas the immigrants’ skills in other languages
have no value at all. This may be due to thoughtlessness, but repeated
small comments like this may actually influence the students’ and teachers’
understanding of immigrant parents: they are displayed as ignorant and lin-
guistically deficient even if they often are more plurilingual than the teachers
Another teacher, Jorma, also discusses a student of his, Pavel’s, bilingualism,
language skills and learning of FSL using the concept of semilingualism:

Excerpt 6

Jorma I doubt that his Finnish competence has become much better. It has
become a bit better, but it is useless to even speak about bilingualism.
Is the Finnish language a foreign language for him? It may be so, but,
well, if you put it really rudely, he is semilingual as far as the Finnish
language is concerned. […] Well, I shouldn’t put it so categorically,
perhaps it is a bit too categorical to say, that he is semilingual, but
Finnish is a foreign language for him. It is quite clear. […] The most
important thing in learning the language is that there is time for
it every day, and an environment and people with whom to use it.
When they (the people) are mainly Russian, as it is for all immigrant
Russians, their language skills [meaning Finnish competence] are
obviously weak.
Jorma mä epäilen, että hänen suomenkielen taitonsa ei ole kovin paljon
parantunut. Jonkin verran se kyllä on (parantunut), ja kaksik-
ielisyydestä on kyllä ihan turha puhuakaan. Että suomen kieli
on hänelle vieras kieli, ja se voi olla, no jos oikein rumasti sanoo,
niin suomen kielen suhteen hän on kyllä puolikielinen. [...] Ei
nyt sanota ihan noin jyrkästi, ehkä se on vähän liian jyrkkä tuo
puolikielinen, mutta suomi on hänelle vieras kieli. Se on ihan
selvää. [...] Tärkeintä siinä kielen oppimisessa on ennen kaikkea
se arkiaika, se lähiympäristö ja se piiri, minkä kanssa joutuu
tekemisiin. Kun venäjänkielisillä se valtaosin on venäjänkielinen,
niin se on kautta linjan maahanmuuttajavenäläisillä, se kielitaito
jää pakostakin heikonlaiseksi.
108 Dangerous Multilingualism

Jorma knows the term semilingual and is aware of its unpleasant connotations
but uses it nevertheless. Although semilingual (first launched by Hansegård,
1968) originally referred to the lack of skills in both L1 and in L2, Jorma uses
the term in a derogatory way to characterize his student’s poor proficiency
in L2, Finnish. Bilingualism for him seems to indicate very good skills in
at least Finnish, and he attributes Pavel’s shortcomings in achieving this to
his social environment which is predominantly Russian speaking. After this
he quickly corrects himself, perhaps realizing that his characterization is
too condemning. In the end of his turn he nevertheless blames the student
and the Russian-speaking community for the student’s – all the Russian
students’ – lack of language skills. Like Mari in Excerpt 5, he thus equates
‘language skills’ with Finnish – and implies that without Finnish, the
student thus has no capacity to communicate at all.
However, even without accurate terminology, the teachers’ linguistic
observations can sometimes be fairly detailed. For instance, this is how Mari,
who had followed Ivan’s and Viktor’s learning of Finnish, reports on how
she notices that the students had difficulties in expressing themselves when
writing about such subject matters as physics and chemistry.

Excerpt 7
Mari What I’ve noticed of the other immigrant students in particular, is that
even when they write pretty good Finnish in FSL-lessons and sometimes
even in Finnish mother tongue lessons where they study Finnish [as L1].
However, when they are in a situation in which they don’t pay attention
to their Finnish but for example try to answer questions in physics and
chemistry, they make grammar errors and spelling mistakes much more
often than there would be in other texts. Ivan has this problem, too.
I don’t know how he manages in Finnish in other situations. According
to my experiences, his writing skills aren’t as good as his spoken skills
in normal spoken language.
Mari Varsinkin mä oon tehnyt saman havainnon muidenkin maahan-
muuttajaoppilaiden kohdalla, että vaikka ne kirjoittaa ihan
hyvää suomea suomi kakkosen tunnilla ja tai jos ne on ollut
jopa äidinkielessä, opiskelee suomee, niin sitten kun tilanne, että
siinä ei niin kiinnitä huomiota suomen kieleen vaan yrittää vaan
vastata fysiikan ja kemian kysymyksiin. Niistä tulee sellasia, niissä on
kielioppivirheitä ja kirjoitusvirheitä paljon enemmän kuin ehkä muissa
teksteissä olis. Ivanilla on myöskin. Sitä mä en tiedä muuten, mil-
lainen hänen suomentaitonsa on. Sen mukaan hänen kirjottamisensa
ei ole niin hyvää kuin puhuttu, tää normaali puhekieli.

Here Mari is able to make valid observations of her students’ linguistic

performance, distinguishing between speaking and writing skills, as well
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 109

as between the products where the focus is on language from those where
the focus is on the subject matter. This kind of perceptiveness is, however,
quite exceptional among the interviewed teachers. Mari’s comments show
nevertheless that it is quite possible for teachers of other subjects beside
languages to understand and, consequently, support the language learning
of their immigrant students. As language is the medium of teaching and
learning, all teachers are language teachers. However, currently not much
attention has been paid to this issue in teacher training, nor is it taken into
account in core curricula.

Ignorance of teachers’ responsibilities in guiding immigrant students

It is the class supervisors’ responsibility to follow all the studies of each
pupil in their group. However, the immigrant students’ L1 studies and the
development of their L1 and bi- or plurilingualism are very rarely included
in the class supervisors’ top priorities. This may be due to ignorance of their
responsibilities or to their lack of interest. One of the teachers, Pekka, for
example, describes his lack of interest quite openly:

Excerpt 8
Interviewer Have you received any information regarding their [Hani’s and
Salma’s] proficiency in Somali from the teacher?
Pekka No, the grade is there [on the report card], I haven’t even
looked at it.
Haastattelija Ootsä saanut jotain tietoja heidän somalin taidostaan,
somalin opettajalta tai?
Pekka Ei, se on se numero siellä [todistuksessa], en mä ole edes
katsonut sitä.

His lack of interest also shows in his lack of contact with his students’ fam-
ily. In principle, Pekka has fulfilled his responsibilities as a class supervisor
and contacted Hani’s and Salma’s family by asking the Somali language
teacher to convey his messages to the girls’ mother. However, due to the
lack of shared language, he never contacted any of the Somali students’
families himself:

Excerpt 9
Pekka I haven’t contacted their families at all. Usually, if any of my Somali
students has difficulties, I contact the Somali teacher, who will then
sort things out. […] I have thought that if there is a problem, I tell
him [the Somali teacher] in Finnish and he will then speak with the
family in their own language.
Pekka Mä en oo minkäännäkösessä yhteydessä ollut koteihin. Yleensä,
jos mun somalioppilailla on jotain vaikeutta, niin mä otan
110 Dangerous Multilingualism

siihen somaliopettajaan yhteyttä, se saa sitten selvittää. [...]

Mä olen ajatellut, että jos tulee joku ongelma, niin mä selitän
hänelle suomeksi ja hän sitten puhuu omalla kielellä perheen

This arrangement is by no means in accordance with the advice given in

the core curriculum (see above) about home–school cooperation. In this
case, Pekka was fortunate enough to have the Somali teacher at the school
to whom he could pass on the task of getting in touch with the
Somali-speaking students and their families. However, by transferring the
responsibility for parent contacts to the Somali language teacher, Pekka
missed an opportunity to talk with and to hear the mother. By doing so, he
also failed to recruit the mother as a possible ally who could have supported
the girls and their learning in a significant way.
Mari also resorted to similar tactics when she wanted to deliver a message
to her students’ families. Like Pekka, she asked other members of the school
staff to contact the family. In her school the duty of contacting immigrant
students’ families has been given to an immigrant co-worker:

Excerpt 10
Interviewer Have you met Ivan’s father in a parent–teacher meeting? Or
have you been in contact with him in other ways?
Mari No, because he [Ivan’s father] doesn’t speak Finnish, so the
immigrant co-worker calls the father whenever it is necessary.
Usually Ivan takes care of the things before the co-worker has
to call the father. For him it is almost a threat that if he doesn’t
bring the document [about schools absences], they will call
his father to get the document. There has been no need to call
the father many times. The co-worker speaks Russian, so that
he takes care of contacts of this kind.
Haastattelija Oletko tavannut Ivanin isän vanhempainvartissa? Oletko
muuten ollut yhteydessä?
Mari Ei, kun hän [Ivanin isä] ei puhu suomea, niin maahan-
muuttajatyöntekijä soittaa sitten isälle, jos on tarpeen.
Yleensä Ivan hoitaa asiat ennen kuin työntekijän tarvitsee
soittaa isälle, että se on vähän melkein tämmönen uhkaus,
että jos et tuo sitä lappua [poissaolosta], niin työntekijä
soittaa isälle ja lappu tulee sillä. Isälle ei ole tarvinnut
monta kertaa soittaa. Työntekijä puhuu venäjää, niin hän
hoitaa tämmöset yhteydet.

This kind of seemingly useful immigrant co-worker arrangements may, in

fact, obscure the fact that the class supervisors are expected to contact and
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 111

communicate with the students’ families themselves. For example, Mari

reports on an unsuccessful meeting with Ivan’s father and the immigrant
co-worker in which she got confused about her role and no longer knew
how to continue taking care of the student’s studies:

Excerpt 11
Interviewer What do you think, did Ivan’s father tell you anything about
his hopes of Ivan’s schooling or language skills?
Mari No, not much really; what happened was that the co-worker
and the father talked a lot in Russian with each other. Also
Ivan participated in it. They talked with each other and at times
I tried to interrupt them to ask what it was that they were
talking about ((laughing)). It didn’t become clear to me, they
didn’t seem to be talking that much about language skills but
rather about studies in general, and about how Ivan should do
a lot better and how he could achieve it, and the reasons behind
his poor performance and so on. In my opinion this situation
was much worse than the one in which there was also the inter-
preter with us. They just kept talking and the co-worker didn’t
interpret everything [to me], so that part of the time I couldn’t
follow what was happening.
Haastattelija Mitenkä minkälainen kuva sulla on, kertoiko isä jotakin
toiveistaan Ivanin koulunkäynnin tai kielitaidon suhteen?
Mari Ei oikeestaan paljon, että se meni vähän sillä lailla,
että maahanmuuttajatyöntekijä ja isä puhui keskenään
hirveesti venäjää ja Ivan oli mukana ja ne keskusteli
keskenään ja mä yritin aina välillä kysyä, että mistä on
kysymys. ((nauraa)). Mulle ei oikein tullut (selvää), ei siitä
puhuttu niinkään kielitaidosta, vaan yleisestä opiskelusta
ja siitä, että Ivanilla olis aika paljon parantamisen varaa
ja miten sitä voisi tehdä ja mistä se ehkä johtuu ja
tällasesta. Se oli mun mielestä pahempi tilanne kuin tää
toinen, missä oli tulkki mukana, kun ne puhu ja maahan-
muuttajatyöntekijä ei kaikkee kääntänyt ja mä olin vähän
ulkona aina välillä siitä tilanteesta.

In the same vein, Jorma told in his interview that he had had no meetings
with Pavel’s family during his tenth additional school year.

Excerpt 12
Interviewer Have you contacted Pavel’s family?
Jorma No I haven’t. I believe that the family is totally Russian. In
addition, he has attended school regularly, so there hasn’t been
112 Dangerous Multilingualism

any need to make a contact. Of course there is the problem with

immigrant students that if and when the parents don’t (know
Finnish), the student very often has to act as an interpreter.
The parents most likely know no Finnish, this is what I believe.
I can’t guarantee it, but with 90 per cent certainty I could
claim this.
Haastattelija Oletko ollut yhteydessä Pavelin perheeseen?
Jorma En ole ollut. Minulla on semmonen käsitys, että perhe on
täysin venäjänkielinen ja hän on käynyt hyvin koulua,
että ei ole oikeastaan ollut mitään syytä ottaa yhteyttä.
Tietysti maahanmuuttajaoppilaiden kohdalla on semmo-
nen ongelma, kun tai sanotaan jos ja kun vanhemmat ei
(osaa suomea) niin oppilas toimii sitten tulkkina hyvin
usein. Vanhemmathan ei osaa suomen kieltä todennäköis-
esti, näin minä uskoisin. En mene sitä vannomaan, mutta
90 prosentin varmuudella voisin näin väittää.

Jorma evaluates Pavel’s parents’ Finnish skills negatively without actually

having met them. This is particularly striking as Pavel’s mother was one of
the two parents participating in the study who did not need an interpreter for
the interview, because she was familiar with using Finnish language at work.
Another problematic issue surfacing in Jorma’s comment is that, contrary to
the stipulations in the official guidelines, the students themselves or other
family members are often used as interpreters between parents and teachers.
As a practice this is problematic, because the use of children as interpreters
may result in dramatic and disruptive reversals of the power relationship
and responsibilities within the family. As Suni and Latomaa (this volume)
point out, if proper interpretation is not provided, the school is exercising
linguistic power and thoughtlessly endangering family relations.
On the whole, only two of the teachers interviewed had, in fact, any
direct contact with their students’ parents and other family members. It
seems clear that without such a contact, the teachers have lost a valuable
opportunity to strengthen their immigrant students’ commitment to
school and to enhance their school achievement and success in general.
That such contacts are valuable is also confirmed by Haglund (2003,
pp. 21–5): in her study of plurilingual immigrant students in Sweden
she has shown how teachers and school leaders have a strong impact
on students’ self-esteem, their multilingual development and their
multicultural identification.


The official educational policy in Finland has in principle created order

in the instruction of immigrant students: it has suggested clear guidelines
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 113

for supporting their plurilingualism, and their learning of the language of

instruction (Finnish or Swedish), their L1, the second domestic language
and a number of foreign languages. The duties of the different parties are
fairly clearly defined in legislation and guidelines. This situation has been
confirmed by several studies (see e.g. Korpela, 2006; Kuusela et al., 2008;
Tanttu, 2008).
The interviews and observations presented in this chapter tell a different
story. All the teachers interviewed for this study act as class supervisors in
the metropolitan Helsinki area, and can be assumed to form a good sample
of Finnish lower-secondary-level teachers. They also represent a variety of
school subjects. About half of the participants expressed views which on
the whole were positive, interested or aware of their immigrant students’
plurilingualism. The other half, quoted here, seem more or less indifferent,
ignorant, even outright hostile. Despite their negative attitudes or indiffer-
ence, all the interviewed class supervisors discussed in this chapter express
a desire, typical of high-modern societies, to receive clear regulations and
instructions about immigrant education and wish that their immigrant
students have a clear and understandable language identity, instead of a
confusing plurilingual one. Yet they seem ignorant of the attempts of the
educational policy-makers to provide a new order, and unwilling to apply
themselves in the matter of immigrant students. They may also perceive the
new order to be too complex and tiresome to implement. A common way
to cope with the situation is to ignore it.
Thus it is safe to claim that the knowledge of Finnish teachers of the
official guidelines and recommended practices is quite deficient, even when
students with an immigrant background have constituted a large part of
the school population for a couple of decades. The situation in the rest
of the country, outside the Helsinki metropolitan area, is likely to be even
worse, due to the teachers’ lack of contact with plurilingual students.
This unwillingness of the teachers to familiarize themselves with the new
order, let alone to implement it in daily work, has many causes. As was seen
above, most of them have to do either with the organization of school work
or their personal attitudes and habits. Analogously, the lack of time and
knowledge the teachers frequently complained about has both systemic and
attitudinal causes, which need to be addressed so that the official objective –
securing immigrant students’ functional bi- or multilingualism – can be
reached in practice.
Teachers’ insufficient time to deal with the challenges of their immigrant
students also tells of a pervasive problem in the Finnish school system:
the overall workload of teachers is too heavy. It is very common that their
classes are very large and heterogeneous and that the teachers are required to
have a lot of teaching hours. In these demanding circumstances, many
teachers struggle. On the one hand, they are doing their best to support
their students, but, on the other, have to deal with too many demands and
114 Dangerous Multilingualism

expectations from all the stakeholders in the educational system. In practice

this can mean that a class supervisor’s contact time with his/her own group
may be as little as 15–45 minutes per week. One indication of this was
perhaps the fact that when the material for the present study reported on
here was collected, the researcher often gained more information on the
student’s linguistic resources in a few hours than the class supervisor had
been able to collect during several years.
The teachers’ impression of their chronic lack of time can also be a
matter of their personal priorities. In the same way as any students with
needs deviating from the average, immigrant students can seem to the
teachers either as an extra burden or as welcome variety, and this choice
of viewpoint naturally affects the teachers’ time allocation decisions.
Sometimes the teacher’s perceived lack of time can even have to do with
their lack of patience: the energetic and efficient ones, such as many of the
teachers interviewed in this study, can sometimes find it difficult to interact
with people who require patience and time, due to the frequent need for
repetition and breakdowns in fluency.
The teachers’ lack of knowledge of crucial issues related to the learning of
plurilingual immigrant students includes, firstly, their ignorance of appro-
priate concepts for understanding and discussing plurilingualism, and the
different facets of language proficiency, development and the process of
language learning. Secondly, they have little information about the current
guidelines and good practices for multilingual education. Again, reasons
for their ignorance derive both from the system and the individual. Not
having ever read the curricula and other guidelines is clearly negligence on
the part of the teachers. Not having good examples of how to cope with
the needs of the immigrant students can also tell of the fact that school
officials have not provided them with enough opportunities to acquire
good practices. Even when relevant information is made available to teach-
ers, it may be sought by only a few. For example, in-service training tends
to be attended by only those who consciously recognize their need for new
information, and who have the opportunity and motivation to use some
of their spare time to attend courses. Indifferent or hostile teachers rarely
belong to this group.
Yet another factor contributing to teachers’ lack of knowledge is teacher
education. Most of the teachers currently employed in Finnish schools
studied at a time when schools were still monolingual and monocultural.
Even after the situation changed it took the teacher training departments
many years to introduce any studies on the issues relating to immigrant
students. Even today, teacher trainees can get their credentials with almost
no knowledge of multiculturalism, let alone multilingualism. If we bear
in mind that thinking, learning and teaching are all heavily dependent
on language, this situation is an extremely problematic, even a dangerous
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 115

one. The crucial role that language plays in education in general, and in
the education of the increasingly varied student population with a variety
of linguistic resources in particular, demands much more attention not
only in the curricula for language teachers but for all teachers at all levels
of education.
Many class supervisors only seem to worry about their students’ lacking
FSL competence and its impact on their future studies and opportunities. In
contrast, they show little interest in their plurilingualism. This is partly due
to the fact that immigrant students are very often seen only as students of
the FSL teacher (see also Suni and Latomaa, this volume). Some class super-
visors even consider themselves to be less responsible for the immigrant
students than for the mainstream students, since, in their opinion, FSL
teachers often know the immigrant students better. Yet immigrant students’
educational language rights and plurilingualism can be achieved only if they
receive attention from all teachers. One or two interested, well-informed
and motivated teachers are not enough if the overall goal is to improve
immigrant students’ language education.
Officially, the linguistic resources of the immigrant students and
their family members are not disqualified by the Finnish school system.
However, as our interview data have demonstrated, many teachers voice
a different view and do not always acknowledge the students L1(s).
To give one more example, in 2007 a lower comprehensive school in
Helsinki had implemented a policy according to which their immigrant
students should use only Finnish at school during the lessons and the
school lunch, thus going against the official policy (see also Suni and
Latomaa, this volume). Fortunately, the Education Department of the
City of Helsinki quickly responded and stated that schools are not allowed
to prevent their immigrant students from using their L1s in the lessons
(Vähäsarja, 2007).
The number of immigrant students is growing rapidly in the whole of
Finland and especially in Helsinki and the surrounding cities. It has been
estimated that by the year 2025 almost 20 per cent of the children and
adolescents (7–15 years of age) living in the Helsinki metropolitan area
will have a mother tongue other than Finnish or Swedish (Board for the
Metropolitan Area of Helsinki, 2007, p. 16). This is a major challenge for
Finnish schools. In order to maintain and develop immigrant students’
plurilingualism in the midst of increasing immigration and varied linguistic
needs, more attention, resources and interest are clearly needed.
The monolingual order and the search for intralanguage purity (the
advocation and protection of a particular language variety, clean of foreign
influences) are both long-standing ideals of the Finnish school system.
Accepting anything different, let alone foreign, seems to be particularly
difficult for people who have for centuries lived in close-knit, self-sufficient
116 Dangerous Multilingualism

and monocultural communities. To make matters worse, the recent changes

in the political climate within the country have accentuated and promoted
this kind of purist and conservative view in public. A large fraction of
Finns have now converted the old saying ‘nothing human is foreign to
me’ into ‘nothing foreign is human to me’ as Akkanen (2011), a journalist
in Helsingin Sanomat, the largest and most influential Finnish newspaper,
put it. Sadly, this view is not totally foreign even to the educators of the
future citizens.

1. In the Finnish educational system, governmental steering is provided through core
curricula that are updated approximately once a decade. Individual schools and
municipalities produce their own local curricula based on the regulations, objec-
tives and rules stated in the core curriculum.
2. The present data are a part of a larger data set which consists of interviews of 14 immi-
grant students, their L1 and FSL teachers and class supervisors, friends and parents.
3. This chapter is based on the ongoing doctoral study of the first author (Voipio-
Huovinen, in progress) which focuses on Russian- and Somali-speaking immigrant
students’ bilingualism and how it is supported by the school.
4. The category ‘speaker of a foreign language’ refers to native speakers of languages
other than Finnish or Swedish and native speakers of Finnish who are maintaining
their language skills in other languages after having resided permanently abroad.
This category is used in Finnish educational statistics.
5. The second official language is Swedish for students in Finnish-speaking schools,
and Finnish for students in Swedish-speaking schools.
6. The Finnish core curriculum for basic education emphasizes the migrant pupils’
functional bilingualism, but in many cases migrant pupils are actually multilin-
gual. The European terms ‘plurilingual’ and ‘plurilingualism’ are used here to refer
to all forms of individual pupils’ bi- and multilingualism. When the focus is on the
core curriculum, the terms ‘bilingual’ and ‘bilingualism’ are used.
7. Voipio-Huovinen started her PhD study before the current core curriculum caused
a deterioration of the situation of L1 instruction (see Suni and Latomaa, this
volume). In 2003, L1 instruction was still included in the core curriculum as one
of the syllabi of the subject Finnish language and literature, and the grades of L1
instruction were included in the report cards that pupils received at the end of
each semester or period (2–5 report cards/school year). Altogether 14 students and
12 class supervisors were interviewed in spring semesters 2003 and 2004.
8. All the names of the participants have been changed.
9. In the interview excerpts, the English translations are first given in italics followed
by the original Finnish citations.

Akkanen, J. (2011) Soinin porukasta ei olisi ollut hallitukseen [Soini’s gang wouldn’t
have made it in the government]. Helsingin Sanomat, 2 June 2011, p. A2.
Board for the Metropolitan Area of Helsinki (2007) Pääkaupunkiseudun väestö ja
palvelutarveselvitys 2015 ja 2025 [Survey of Population and Service Demand in the
Sanna Voipio-Huovinen and Maisa Martin 117

Metropolitan Area of Helsinki 2015 and 2025]. [Online.] Available at <http://www.>, date accessed 14 June 2011.
Haglund, C. (2003) Skolan och de flerspråkiga eleverna [School and the multilingual
students]. Invandrare och minoriteter [Immigrants and Minorities], February 2003, 30,
pp. 21–5.
Hansegård, N.E. (1968) Tvåspråkighet eller halvspråkighet? [Bilingualism or
semilingualism?]. Stockholm: Aldus/Bonnier.
Ikonen, K. (2007) Oman äidinkielen opetuksen kehityksestä Suomessa [On the devel-
opment of L1 instruction in Finland]. In S. Latomaa (ed.) Oma kieli kullan kallis.
Opas oman äidinkielen opetukseen [Guide for L1 Instruction]. Helsinki: Finnish National
Board of Education, pp. 41–56.
Jäppinen, T. (2011) Suomen kielen taidon riittävyys yritysten aikapaineisissa
puhetilanteissa esimiesten ja työharjoittelijoiden kuvaamana [Sufficient oral
skills in Finnish under time constraints: perspectives by company trainees and
supervisors]. Puhe ja kieli, 4/2011, pp. 193–214.
Korpela, H. (2006) Suomi tai ruotsi toisena kielenä -opetuksen järjestäminen perusopetuksessa
[Arrangements for the Instruction of Finnish or Swedish as a Second Language in Basic
Education]. Briefing 2005. Helsinki: Ministry of Education.
Kuusela, J., A. Etelälahti, Å. Hagman, R. Hievanen, K. Karppinen, L. Nissilä, U. Rönnberg
and M. Siniharju (2008) Maahanmuuttajaoppilaat ja koulutus – tutkimus oppimistulok-
sista, koulutusvalinnoista ja työllistymisestä [Immigrant Pupils and Education – a Study
on Learning Achievements, Educational Choices and Employment]. Helsinki: Ministry
of Education.
National Board of Education (2004) National Core Curriculum for Basic Education Intended
for Students in Compulsory Education. Helsinki: National Board of Education.
National Board of Education (2011a) Vieraskieliset opiskelijat lukiossa ja vieraskieliset
opiskelijat ammatillisessa koulutuksessa 1998–2009 [High School and Vocational School
Students of Foreign Language 1998–2009]. [Online.] Data available for collecting
through National Board of Education’s data portal at <
wera/wera>, source Statistics Finland, date accessed 31 May 2011.
National Board of Education (2011b) Omana äidinkielenä opetetut kielet ja opetukseen osal-
listuneiden määrät vuonna 2008 [Languages Studied as L1s and Students who Participated in
the Instruction in 2008]. [Online.] Available at <
oma_aidinkieli_2008_syksy_kevat.pdf>, date accessed 18 January 2012.
National Board of Education (2012) Vieraskieliset ikäryhmät 1998–2010 [School Students
Speaking a Foreign Language by Age Group 1998–2010]. [Online.] Data available for
collecting through National Board of Education’s data portal at <>, source Statistics Finland, date accessed 18 January 2012.
Nissilä, L. (2009) Avauspuheenvuoro S2-kehittämispäivillä 5.10.2009 Helsingissä
[Opening speech at the conference for the development of Finnish as a second
language instruction]. 5 October 2009, Helsinki.
Statistics Finland (2010) Immigration, Emigration and Net Immigration in 1971–2010.
[Online.] Available at <
29_kuv_001_en.html>, date accessed 14 June 2011.
Suni, M. (1996) Maahanmuuttajaoppilaiden suomen kielen taito peruskoulun päättövai-
heessa [Finnish Language Skills of Immigrant Pupils at the End of Comprehensive School].
Helsinki: Ministry of Education.
Tanttu, J. (2008) Venäjänkielisenä Suomessa 2008. Selvitys vähemmistövaltuutetulle
[Living as a Russian Speaking Person in Finland in 2008. Report to the Ombudsman for
Minorities]. Helsinki: Edita.
118 Dangerous Multilingualism

Vähäsarja, I. (2007) Koulu kielsi kotikielen puhumisen tunneilla [The school

prohibited the use of home language in lessons]. Helsingin Sanomat, 21 December
2007, p. A13.
Voipio-Huovinen, S. (In progress) Maahanmuuttajataustaisten oppilaiden
kaksikielisyyden toteutuminen ja tukeminen. Oppilaiden, opettajien ja vanhempien
käsityksiä [Bilingualism and support for bilingualism among teenager immigrant
students in Finnish schools. Students’, teachers’ and parents’ perceptions]. [PhD
thesis.] University of Jyväskylä and University of Helsinki.
Part II
Purity – Impurity
Hard Currency or a Stigma –
Russian–Finnish Bilingualism
among Young Russian-Speaking
Immigrants in Finland
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski


During the last 20 years the number of the Russian-speaking population in

Finland has increased rapidly and they have become the biggest linguistic
minority in Finland after the Swedish-speaking population. While in 1990
there were 3884 Russian-speaking people living in Finland, in 2010 their
number had reached 51,683 (31 December 2010). Factually the number is
even bigger, because all bilingualism does not show in the official statistics.
Despite the growing Russian-speaking population, the Russian language has
not been granted the status of a minority language in Finland irrespective of
the efforts of the Russian-speaking population and the recommendations
of the EU. According to Finnish legislation, the official status of a minority
language entitles the speakers of the language to have instruction and
administrative services in their native tongue.
The Russian-speaking population of Finland has migrated to Finland in
four waves. This group is both ethnically and culturally heterogeneous
and it is usually divided into the ‘Old Russians’ and ‘New Russians’. The
ancestors of the Old Russians moved to Finland in three waves1 (see e.g.
Niemi, 2007; Pietari, 2006), the first of which took place in the early eight-
eenth century comprising serfs and farmers who relocated to the province
of Karelia which was part of the Swedish Empire at that time. The second
wave of immigration involved civil servants, merchants, military and so on,
who migrated in the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in the period of
autonomy. The third wave of migration comprised people who fled Soviet
Russia after the October Revolution in 1917. In 1922, there were 33,500
Russian people living in Finland. The majority of the Old Russians have
assimilated into the Finnish-speaking or Swedish-speaking population.
Finally, the fourth wave, the ‘New Russians’, refers to more recent immi-
grants who migrated to Finland from the republics of the former Soviet
Union after perestroika. The largest group within the Russian-speaking
122 Dangerous Multilingualism

population comprises Ingrian Finns, ethnically Finno-Ugric people whose

knowledge of the Finnish language was limited or non-existent when they
moved to Finland starting from the early 1990s. The majority of ethnic
Russians have moved to Finland as a result of Finnish–Russian marriages or
work opportunities. Within the Russian-speaking population there are also
members of other ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union whose main
language was Russian.
The aim of the present chapter is to discuss the linguistic situation of
the fourth wave of Russian-speaking migrants and shed light on the roles
and functions of different languages in the daily life of young Russian-
speaking immigrants (for a discussion of the linguistic identity of the
Russian-speaking youth, see Iskanius, 2006; Rynkänen, 2004). What is
more, our chapter focuses on both the experiences of the Russian-speaking
youth about their use of Russian and Finnish in various contexts and their
reports of others’ attitudes towards their multilingual activity. In our dis-
cussion, we emphasize the dual nature of multilingualism: it can be seen
as both a resource and problem for both the individual and the society
(see Blommaert et al., this volume). It will be argued that the problematic
and negative dimension of multilingualism, as experienced by young
Russian-speaking immigrants in Finland today, derives, at least in part,
from the discourses which have been used in the construction of the
common history of Finland and Russia. In these discourses Russia has been
represented as a potential threat to Finland and ‘Finnishness’, as recently
demonstrated by the notorious speech by the then Finnish Minister of
Defence Jyri Häkämies.2 The discursive representations of Russia as a threat
are deeply rooted in the Herderian holy trinity of language, culture and eth-
nicity which cherishes the unity, self-containedness and purity of Finland,
the Finnish language and culture.

Historical context – Russia as a threat

The current discourses and attitudes towards ‘Russian and Russians’ in Finland
can be seen as part of a broader debate in which ideologies concerning lan-
guage and culture become articulated (see Blommaert, 1999). In this view,
all acts of ideological construction are embedded in a wider sociocultural
context and can be seen as a part of more general sociopolitical processes
taking place in a particular society (Blommaert, 1999, p. 2). This implies
that in order to account for the ideological underpinnings that underlie
contemporary discourses and Finns’ attitudes towards the Russian language,
it is necessary to focus on the historical development of the ideologies
by analysing the sociocultural, historical and political contexts of their
One officially held ideological claim is that ‘knowing Russian is very
important’ in Finland and therefore the study of Russian in schools and
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 123

universities should be promoted (Mustajoki, 2007). This claim has been

argued for by referring, for instance, to the geographical location of Finland
next to Russia and the importance of the Russian market for the develop-
ment of the Finnish national economy. The official ideological position
boils down to the assumption that knowing Russian is an important
social, cultural and economic capital, offering advantages to the individual
(e.g. better career opportunities) as well as Finnish society as a whole. Within
this system of beliefs the only logical conclusion would be to see Russian-
speaking migrants as a potential resource for Finnish society. However, as a
recent report on the problems of the Russian-speaking population in Finland
(Tanttu, 2008) commissioned by the Ombudsman for Minorities shows,
there is a clash between the official position and the actual experiences of
Russian-speaking migrants. The informants interviewed for the report feel
that their linguistic and cultural expertise as well as their education and
professional skills form a potential which has been left unrealized in Finnish
society. In addition, they have experienced prejudice and even racism in
their daily life.
Prejudice and suspicious attitudes towards Russia and Russians are not
a recent phenomenon in Finland, but derive from the common history of
the countries. Finland is a relatively young nation state which belonged to
Sweden for almost 500 years and then to Russia for more than 100 years
before establishing its independence in 1917 (see e.g. Karonen, 2008).
While the first 90 years under Russian rule are generally seen as the era
of freedom and autonomy, the situation changed radically at the turn of
the century after which Russia was experienced as a threat to Finland and
Finnish culture. During the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II national-
ism and Russian chauvinism became stronger in the Russian Empire which
also threatened the extensive autonomy and privileges Finland had been
granted earlier. The aim of Russian chauvinist politics was to obliterate
‘Finnish separatism’ and the growing nationalist movement in Finland.
The periods of Russification in Finland are known as the first (1899–1905)
and second (1909–17) eras of oppression. Despite the Russification
policies Finland established its independence in December 1917 after the
October Revolution and the collapse of the Russian Empire ( Jussila, 2004;
Zetterberg, 2005).
A more recent historical event that has significantly affected the atti-
tudes of Finns towards Russia and Russians is the ‘Winter War’ which
started in November 1939, when Soviet troops attacked Finland. The war
ended in three months in the peace treaty which gave the Soviet Union
large territories in south-eastern Finland. The Winter War was followed
by the ‘Continuation War’ when Finland entered the Second World War
seeking revenge as a cobelligerent with Germany. After the war, Finland
ceded more territories to the Soviet Union and had to pay significant war
indemnity which was confirmed in the Paris Peace Treaty. The Treaty of
124 Dangerous Multilingualism

Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance was concluded between the

countries in 1948 (Zetterberg, 1995, pp. 78–108; Jutikkala and Pirinen, 1984,
pp. 248–66). During the post-war period Finnish foreign and domestic
politics were dominated by Finlandization which meant that Finland chose
not to challenge the interests of the Soviet Union.
As a result of the common history with Sweden and Russia, ‘Finnishness’
and the Finnish national identity have often been historically constructed
in disjunctive terms as something opposed to both ‘Swedishness’ and
‘Russianness’, as demonstrated by the famous expression ‘we are not Swedes
and do not want to become Russians, therefore let us be Finns’, which
has frequently been attributed to Adolf Ivar Arwidsson (1791–1858). This
expression became a slogan of the nationalist Fennoman movement, the
chief aim of which was the promotion of the Finnish language and culture.
It is somewhat paradoxical that while a significant number of Fennomans,
many of whom started to Finnicize their surnames in the late nineteenth
century, spoke Swedish as their mother tongue, their slogan represents an
attempt to suppress the social, cultural and linguistic diversity and multi-
voicedness deriving from history in order to propagate the homogeneity and
purity of the Finnish nation (see also Leppänen and Pahta in this volume).
The ideal of purity is intimately connected to the idea of natural order
(Bauman, 1997, p. 6), from which it follows that ‘Finnishness’, ‘Russianness’
and ‘Swedishness’ are conceived of as natural categories which are mutually
exclusive. Thus, cultures, nations and languages are seen in essentialist
terms as autonomous and self-contained units, while any influence ‘from
the outside’ presents a potential threat to their purity and the natural order
of things which supposedly underlies various acts of meaning-making in a
particular culture.
An important role in the construction of the Finnish national identity in
the nineteenth century was played by the creation and standardization of
the Finnish language. The existence of a national language different from
both Swedish and Russian was considered not only as a necessary prerequi-
site for promoting national unity among Finns but also as a proof of such
unity, thus forming an essential part of the grand narrative of Finnishness
which was being created in various political and cultural spheres at that
time (see also Leppänen and Pahta, this volume). In addition to unification,
another important aim of language standardization is to promote and guard
the purity of a particular language by producing prescriptive tools – for
example dictionaries and grammar books – as part of linguistic codification.
It can be argued that the pervasiveness of the ideal of linguistic purity is
based on the assumption that linguistic features of a particular language
are not historically contingent but derive from the essences of a particular
nation (or other grouping of people, for that matter) (Gal and Irvine, 2000),
thus directly reflecting the natural order of things. The complex interplay
of various ethnic, national, political, cultural and linguistic factors in the
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 125

creation of Finnish national identity reflects the Herderian idea of the union
of ethnicity, language and state underlying the modernist conception of the
nation state (for discussion, see Bauman and Briggs, 2003) which has played
a significant role in the development of nation states in Central Europe in
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The pervasiveness of the Herderian holy trinity in the Finnish context
becomes especially evident in case of Ingrian Finns who are the biggest
subgroup within the Russian-speaking population. In 1990, President Mauno
Koivisto stated that Ingrian Finns living in the territory of the former Soviet
Union are considered as repatriates, which led to rapidly increasing migra-
tion of Ingrian Finns to Finland in the early 1990s (see Jasinskaja-Lahti
and Liebkind, 2000, p. 124; Shenshin, 2008, p. 46). The main criterion for
granting expatriate status was ethnicity: those who could document their
Finnish origin were given the opportunity to move to Finland irrespective
of their linguistic and cultural identity. Despite the fact that in the official
discourse Ingrian Finns were considered as ethnic Finns, they were treated
as ‘Russians’ and excluded from ‘us’ by Finns after they moved to Finland.
Thus, in assigning the identity to the new group of migrants, ethnicity –
which was the official criterion for the expatriate status of Ingrian Finns –
was disregarded, and they were often labelled as Russians on the basis of the
fact that they came from the territory of the former Soviet Union and many
of them were linguistically and culturally Russian, while their knowledge of
Finnish was sometimes non-existent.
The above-mentioned categorization of Ingrian Finns as ‘Russians’ can
be seen as an identity claim involving a process of exclusion in which
Ingrian Finns are made ‘others’ and separated from ‘us’ by labelling them
as ‘Russians’. The categorization demonstrates that in various processes of
inclusion and exclusion such categories as language, ethnicity and state
are inseparably interlinked. The categorization and identity construction
may also involve the misconceived idea of Russia as a state or geographi-
cal space which comprises the territory of the former Soviet Union. This is
reflected in cases in which, for instance, an Ingrian Finn who has moved to
Finland from Estonia and whose mother tongue is Estonian is categorized
as ‘Russian’ by Finns. This categorization is clearly based on the Romantic
notion of an ethnically, culturally and linguistically homogeneous nation
state which is then mistakenly equated with the former Soviet Union as a
geographical space.
It can be argued that the attitude of Finns towards Russia and Russians
has been and still is characterized by Ryssäviha, the hatred of Russians –
the specifically Finnish version of Russophobia – which has a prominent
place in the collective memory of Finns. According to Vilkuna’s (2006)
interpretation, Russia has been seen as a primordial aggressive enemy, and
consequently, the fear of Russia and Russian is reflected in Finnish folklore
and local history (see also Leppänen and Pahta, this volume). Klinge (1983),
126 Dangerous Multilingualism

in turn, sees the hatred of Russians as a more recent phenomenon and

argues that it was deliberately propagated during the Civil War in 1917–18
in order to create the fear of communism as part of the ideological confron-
tation between the ‘Whites’ and ‘Reds’. Thus, despite the official liturgy of
foreign politics Russia and the Soviet Union have been seen as a potential
threat to Finland which – at least in part – explains the ways in which the
ideological position concerning Russia, Russians and the Russian language
are articulated in contemporary discourses as well as the attitudes and
prejudices towards them.

Between different cultures and languages

Against the background of the tenacious fear and mistrust of Russia in

Finland, the present study looks at multilingualism among young Russian-
speaking immigrants in Finland from the point of view of the roles and
functions of different languages in their daily life. More importantly, the
study investigates their experiences of the use of Russian and Finnish in vari-
ous domains and contexts, as well as others’ attitudes to their multilingual
activity encountered in daily life in order to reveal prejudices and negative
attitudes that underlie contemporary discourses about Russians and the
Russian language. To do this, a web questionnaire was designed utilizing
Webropol software. An e-mail containing a link to the questionnaire was
sent out to 44 subjects3 of whom 22 completed the questionnaire.
The subjects were university students whose native tongue is Russian
and who had studied the Russian language as their major subject at the
universities of Jyväskylä and Joensuu. University students were chosen for
the present case study, because the fact that they had selected Russian as
their major subject suggests that they were interested in the Russian lan-
guage and culture as well as in the maintenance of their cultural heritage.
It can also be assumed that as language students they are sensitive to how
and to what extent the languages which their linguistic repertoire consists
of differ in terms of functions, domains of use and so forth.
The questionnaire identified five thematic areas relating to various roles
of different languages in the daily life of the subjects. The areas included (1)
general background information, (2) different languages and their domains
of use, (3) attitudes to different languages and their use, (4) evaluation
of one’s own language skills and (5) experiences regarding the use of
Finnish and Russian in different contexts. The questionnaire consisted of
37 questions utilizing different question types, including multiple choice
questions, open-ended questions and scaled multiple choice questions. The
instructions and questions in the questionnaire were in Finnish.
The question relating to the general background of the subjects revealed
that 20 subjects were born in the former Soviet Union, while only one of
them was born in Finland. Three subjects had Finnish citizenship, while five
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 127

had Russian citizenship. The majority (11) had dual citizenship, consisting
of Finnish citizenship and the citizenship of Russia or a former republic
of the Soviet Union. Two subjects were Estonian citizens. The reasons
for migration among the subjects were also diverse. The largest group (7)
consisted of those who had moved to Finland together with both of their
parents. The marriage of one of the parents with a Finn was the reason
for migration in four cases. Two subjects had moved to Finland after they
themselves had married a Finn. Six subjects stated an unspecified other
reason. Only one subject had lived in Finland less than five years, while the
majority (20) of the subjects had lived in Finland between 6 and 20 years.
The subjects also had different educational histories. Eighteen of them
had studied in comprehensive school in Russia or the Soviet Union before
moving to Finland. The time studied in comprehensive school varied
from less than a year to a full ten years. Five subjects had completed their
comprehensive school in Russia, while six had completed the whole syllabus
(nine or more years) in a Finnish comprehensive school. Only three subjects
had not studied in a Russian comprehensive school at all, while five had no
experience of studying in a Finnish comprehensive school. Sixteen subjects
had taken the Finnish matriculation exam. Eight subjects had gained a
professional qualification or a university degree in Russia or the former
Soviet Union.
In addition to indicating their citizenship, the subjects were also asked
which country they considered as their home country. Six subjects felt
that their country of origin – in other words Russia or other republic of
the former Soviet Union – was their home country, while ten considered
Finland their home country. Three subjects regarded both Finland and
Russia as their home countries. Some subjects found it difficult to define
their home country, because they felt that they had different identities in
different contexts. The formation of identity could also be seen as a process,
as exemplified by one answer ‘by now my home country is already Finland’.
According to one subject,

I mainly consider myself a Finn. In Estonia I feel I’m Estonian, while in

Russia I feel I’m Russian. It really depends on the situation. However, in
the end my home country is Estonia.

This answer demonstrates that the self-identity of an individual does not

necessarily represent a monolithic whole, but can be characterized as a
heterogeneous and dynamic hybrid which is constructed and emerges in
a concrete situation in interaction with others and the environment. As
pointed out by Giddens (1991, p. 75), in high modernity the construction
of self-identity can be seen as a reflexive project in which the individual
is conscious of the potential trajectories of development as well as of the
interplay of various factors which condition the process of building and
128 Dangerous Multilingualism

rebuilding self-identity. The process of identity construction is embedded

in multiple contexts including, for instance, historical, socio-economic,
political, ideological and situational contexts, from which it follows
that self-identity may contain contradictory elements or different voices
(see Bakhtin, 1984; Lähteenmäki, 2010) as a result of which the self-identity
of an individual defies an essentialist definition.
The subjects were also asked which language was their mother tongue
or which languages they had learnt first. Sixteen subjects answered that
they considered Russian as their mother tongue, while three felt that they
had two mother tongues, Russian and Finnish. One subject reported that
s/he is bilingual in Russian and Karelian, while one bilingual person was of
the opinion that Estonian, rather than Russian, was his/her mother tongue.
While the mother tongue is generally considered a significant part of
the identity of an individual, it appeared that it is not necessarily a stable
property that could be defined in essentialist terms, as demonstrated by the
following reply:

I feel that Finnish is my mother tongue, but Russian is the language

I learnt first.

Thus, the language a person regards as his/her mother tongue is not

necessarily the language s/he had first learnt, but it can be the language
which s/he knows best and which dominates his/her daily life. However,
another subject who stated Russian is his/her mother tongue replied that

At the moment I know Finnish better than Russian; in my opinion

I know Finnish as well as any native speaker.

This response suggests that at some point a bilingual person may feel that
his/her mother tongue is not necessarily the language s/he knows best. In
contrast, the mother tongue can also be understood as the language the
person identifies him/herself with and to which s/he feels to be closest
both emotionally and ideologically, while it may not be the language in
which proficiency is highest. The subjects also made a distinction between
the institutional and experiential dimensions of the concept of the mother
tongue, as shown by the following example:

My mother spoke Estonian to me and my father spoke Russian. Officially

Estonian is my mother tongue and that’s also how I feel.

Thus, the mother tongue can be seen as a multi-layered concept which

can be viewed from different points of view. While it can be seen as an
official institutional category, it can also refer to the language with which
the person identifies emotionally. The reply also suggests that these two
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 129

understandings of the mother tongue are ideologically distinct categories

which do not necessarily coincide in the case of young Russian-speaking

Language diversity in the daily life of young

Russian-speaking immigrants

In analysing the role of Russian and Finnish in the daily life of the Russian-
speaking migrants it is important to pay attention to the different status
of the languages. Finnish with its 5 million speakers is a small language by
all accounts and its value as a means of communication outside Finnish
territory is rather limited. Russian, in turn, is one of the ‘world languages’.
It has approximately 164 million native speakers, and it is the second
language for approximately 114 million people. In addition to Russia, it has
the status of an official language in several former republics of the Soviet
Union including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova and it also
is one of the official languages of the UN. It can also be argued that the
prominent status of the ‘Great Russian Language’ [velikii russkii iazyk] among
the languages of the world is a significant part of Russian national identity
(see Bragina, 2007; Vanhala-Aniszewski and Siilin, 2008). Moreover, the aim
of the official language politics of the former Soviet Union as well as present-
day Russia has been to make Russian the lingua franca of the state, which
means that good proficiency in Russian is a prerequisite for career opportu-
nities and so forth. However, while in the former Soviet Union and Russia
the Russian language was located in the cultural centre and represented
important social, cultural and economic capital, it is significantly devalued
and becomes a peripheral phenomenon in Finnish society where Russian is
just a language spoken by a minority.
In order to solicit more detailed information about the role of different
languages in the daily life of subjects, they were asked to indicate what
other languages they knew in addition to their mother tongue(s). Naturally,
all the subjects knew Finnish. Twenty subjects reported that they also
knew English, while there were only two people in the group who did not
know any English. Those who did not know any English had finished their
comprehensive school in Russia or the former Soviet Union which shows
that the role of English in the curriculum in Russia is not as prominent as
in Finland. There also was a correlation between the low self-assessment
of knowledge of English and a short history of studying in the Finnish
educational system. The subjects who had studied the whole curriculum in
Finnish comprehensive school knew both English and Swedish. Although
Swedish – which is the second official language of Finland – is a compulsory
subject in comprehensive school, even those subjects who had studied in
Finnish comprehensive school reported that they did not know Swedish
very well. Other languages which are reportedly known in varying degrees
130 Dangerous Multilingualism

included German (4), French (3), Italian (1), Spanish (1), Danish (1), Thai
(1) and Czech (1).
As regards domains of use, 16 subjects explicitly mentioned that they use
Russian at home with their family members. However, if the person is married
to a Finn, s/he prefers to use Finnish at home, while Russian is used for com-
munication with one’s parents and relatives. Two subjects reported that they
speak English with their spouse. Fourteen subjects replied that they spend
most of their time with Finnish-speaking people, while Russian dominates
the daily life of three people only. However, most subjects (14) preferred to
use Russian when communicating with their friends, while Finnish is used
for that purpose by five subjects only. The Russian-speaking students mainly
use Russian with each other and Russian is often used as the language of
instruction at the university, while Finnish is used in communication with
Finnish-speaking students of Russian in the majority of cases. This suggests
that for some reason Finnish-speaking students of Russian prefer to use
Finnish, despite the fact that by communicating in Russian with native
speaker students, they could easily improve their language skills.
The subjects were also requested to evaluate their own language skills in
both Finnish and Russian. The results of the self-evaluation of their language
skills in Finnish are presented in Table 6.1.
As Table 6.1 shows, the majority of subjects feel that they can speak
Finnish as well as understand spoken Finnish fluently, while they evaluate
their writing skills as less fluent. The high self-evaluation of one’s language
skills seems to correlate positively with the number of years spent in Finnish
comprehensive school. Those who had not studied in Finnish comprehen-
sive school felt that they were less fluent than those who had done so. This
is reflected especially in the students’ self-evaluations of their writing skills.
The subjects without Finnish schooling felt that their writing skills were
‘relatively fluent’ or ‘average’, while students who had studied in Finnish
comprehensive school (from 2 to 9 years) evaluated their writing skills
mainly as ‘fluent’ (only one person being ‘relatively fluent’). Similar findings
have been reported by Rynkänen (2004, p. 201), according to whom those
Russian-speaking migrants who had moved to Finland as adolescents or

Table 6.1 Subjects’ self-evaluation of their language skills in Finnish

Fluent Relatively Average Satisfactory Only None

fluent individual

Speak 16 4 1 0 1 0
Write 13 7 1 0 1 0
Read 15 6 1 0 0 0
Understand spoken 16 5 0 0 1 0
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 131

later – and may have finished comprehensive school already in Russia – often
had insufficient language skills.
Table 6.2 presents the results of the subjects’ self-evaluation of their know-
ledge of Russian. Table 6.2 shows that the number of subjects who evaluated
their Russian skills (including speaking, reading and understanding spoken
Russian) as ‘fluent’ is higher than the number of those who felt ‘fluent’
in Finnish. This seems natural given the fact that the majority of subjects
reported Russian as their native tongue. However, it is surprising that the
number of subjects evaluating their writing skills in Russian as ‘fluent’ is
exactly the same as the number of subjects evaluating their writing skills in
Finnish as ‘fluent’ (13). Moreover, there were four subjects who evaluated
their writing skills in Russian as ‘average’, while only one subject evaluated
his/her writing skills in Finnish as ‘average’. The high level of writing skills
in Russian seems to correlate with the number of years studied in Russian
comprehensive school. Those subjects who had finished comprehensive
school in Russia or studied less than five years in Finnish comprehensive
school evaluated their writing skills as ‘fluent’, while those who had studied
more than five years in Finnish comprehensive schools – and consequently
had spent a shorter period in Russian comprehensive school – considered
their writing skills in Russian less than ‘fluent’. These subjects are more
likely to experience problems in contexts which require highly complex
task-specific literacy skills such as academic writing.
To sum up, those subjects who had some schooling experience in Russia
and studied in Finnish comprehensive school for less than five years felt that
they were equally fluent in both Finnish and Russian (in all the skill areas).
Those who had studied in Finnish comprehensive school for more than five
years felt that their Russian skills were not as good as those with a longer
history in the Russian school system. However, their self-evaluation of their
Finnish skills was quite positive. As regards Russian, the high self-evaluation
of speaking, reading and understanding spoken language can be explained
by the fact that these skills play an important role in the subjects’ daily
life. They speak Russian at home, watch Russian TV programmes via satel-
lite channels and have online contacts (chat, e-mail, Skype, etc.) with the

Table 6.2 Students’ self-evaluation of their language skills in Russian

Fluent Relatively Average Satisfactory Only None

fluent individual

Speak 17 3 2 0 0 0
Write 13 5 4 0 0 0
Read 18 1 2 1 0 0
Understand spoken 19 2 1 0 0 0
132 Dangerous Multilingualism

Russian-speaking community, which helps them to maintain the language

skills required in these types of activity (see also Tanttu, 2008). However,
formal writing is a highly specialized skill which is learnt at school, which
explains why subjects with a short history in Russian comprehensive school
experience problems with their writing skills.
As for the functional role of Russian and Finnish in the linguistic reper-
toire of young Russian-speaking immigrants, it seems that the choice of a
particular language is conditioned by the domain or concrete context of use,
as shown by the following examples:

– it is easier to talk about feelings in Russian,

– the mother tongue [Russian] is always the mother tongue.

– I like to read newspapers and literature in the mother tongue or watch

Russian TV programmes, but it is easier to talk about studies and
hobbies in Finnish.

These examples suggest that Russian and Finnish are functionally differ-
entiated, and there also is a preference for using one or another language
in a particular domain of interaction. The functional differentiation of
Russian and Finnish in the daily life of young Russian-speaking immigrants
can be characterized as an instance of Joshua Fishman’s (1967) extended
diglossia, because Russian and Finnish are unrelated languages which
differ in terms of their prestige status. Subjects reported that Russian is
preferred when one wants to express one’s feelings or communicate with
relatives and family members, while the use of Finnish feels more natural
when discussing various phenomena associated with Finnish society and
the Finnish way of life. This is also supported by the findings of Iskanius
(2006), according to whom the Russian-speaking youth living in Finland
prefer to use Finnish mass media including Finnish TV channels, although
they also have access to Russian TV channels. It can be argued that in the
repertoires of most subjects the two languages complement each other
and form a communicative resource from which the individual can pick
suitable linguistic means depending on the domain of use and a particular
communicative situation.

Experiences of and attitudes to the use of Finnish and Russian

One of our aims was also to analyse the subjects’ own experiences – both
positive and negative – of the uses of Russian and Finnish in different
contexts. In addition, we were interested in their attitudes to these two
languages. Six subjects felt that for them Finnish is the most intimate
and ‘beloved’ language, whereas Russian was mentioned only four times.
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 133

Sometimes, however, the choice of which language they considered the

most ‘beloved’ was conditioned by the situation or broader context:

Russian feels the most beloved language when I visit Russia, it brings me
memories from my childhood; Finnish, in turn, I value in a situation in
which it is heard all the time.

The subjects were also asked if any of the languages they know feels
‘foreign’ to them. English and Swedish were mentioned four times, while
six subjects thought that none of the languages they speak feels ‘foreign
to them’. Interestingly, one subject responded that Russian feels ‘foreign’ to
him/her. However, it appeared that it was not the language as such which
felt foreign, but this feeling derived from other people’s reactions to his/her
use of Russian in contexts in which

there were a lot of Finns around. They used to shoot hostile glances at me
every time I opened my mouth.

The subjects were also asked what kind of experiences they have regarding
their use of Finnish and Russian in their daily life. Four subjects responded
that they have never had any problems using either of the languages, while
others had experienced problems with their use of either Finnish or Russian.
As regards the positive experiences and potential benefits, ten subjects
responded that knowing Russian is useful in working life and that it had
already helped or will help them to find a job. Other positive experiences
were associated with studying at the university, travelling, being able to read
books in Russian and being able to communicate with Russian-speaking
relatives. Similar findings have been reported in Pietari (2006, pp. 50–3)
who studied Russian-speaking young people in the south-western Lahti and
Turku areas. On the whole, it seems that for the majority of the subjects
their knowledge of Russian represents an important resource and social
capital which makes certain types of activities affordable which a monolin-
gual person could not access.
When asked about potential disadvantages or negative effects of knowing
several languages, four subjects responded that there were none. In general,
subjects did not regard multilingualism as a disadvantage. Nevertheless,
they mentioned several negative effects that multilingualism had had in
their daily life: these included the mixing of languages, prejudice towards
Russians held especially by the older generation of Finns, and the loss of
one’s own identity.
The respondents had fewer negative experiences and problems associ-
ated with their use of Finnish than with their use of Russian. Nine subjects
responded that they had never had any problems with using Finnish, and
only one subject had experienced problems associated with the Finnish
134 Dangerous Multilingualism

language on a daily basis. Those who had experienced problems mentioned

the following sources of linguistic problems: insufficient vocabulary,
orthographic mistakes, inability to understand conversational language or
foreign words, and difficulties in reading professional literature.
In addition, the use of Finnish was experienced as troublesome when one is

– tired,

– reading professional literature,

– trying to explicate a complex thought to defend one’s opinion,

– unable to express one’s thoughts in a situation where other people use

spoken vernacular or slang.

When asked about the attitudes towards their use of Finnish, none of the
respondents reported any negative experiences. Sixteen respondents felt
that in a situation in which they used Finnish, other people’s attitudes had
been positive, while four respondents felt that the attitudes had been neu-
tral. This, however, seems to contradict the answers given to the questions
regarding the subjects’ own experiences of using Finnish in which it was
mentioned that speaking Finnish with Russian accent could be stigmatizing
when applying for a job, for instance (see also Tanttu, 2008). This negative
effect is probably due to the fact that a Russian accent may be interpreted by
the potential employer as an indication of insufficient knowledge of Finnish
and thus it may hinder the employment opportunities of the migrant. In
other words, the Russian accent functions as an indexical sign which catego-
rizes the person as a ‘Russian’ on the basis of the linguistic features of his/her
speech, irrespective of his/her ethnic or cultural identity. A foreign accent is
interpreted as a two-sided sign, which both functions to exclude the speaker
from ‘us’ and to include him/her in ‘them’. In addition, in order to appear as
‘foreign’, it needs to be perceived as somehow fundamentally different from
pure Finnish represented by the varieties produced by ethnic Finns.
It seems that in many cases the problems encountered by the subjects
were associated with specific communicative tasks rather than with the
language per se. For instance, an individual may feel that s/he is perfectly
fluent in everyday conversation in a particular language, but may experience
problems with more elaborated communicative tasks requiring highly
specialized skills such as academic writing. This demonstrates that in
many cases the linguistic resources the individual possesses are not evenly
distributed across the different languages s/he knows, but one language can
dominate over another depending on the domain and the context of use.
Those cases in which the repertoire of the individual consists of task-specific
pieces of different languages have been coined as truncated multilingualism
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 135

(Blommaert, 2005), to emphasize the fact that the languages do not possess
equal semiotic potential but are used to do different things. However, the
other side of the coin is that in a relatively monolingual environment
truncated multilingualism may appear as highly problematic from the
immigrant’s point of view. For instance, an individual may be perfectly
fluent in one genre or style (e.g. colloquial speech), while s/he may expe-
rience problems in other genres involving writing skills (e.g. academic
writing). However, the environment often assumes that if an individual is
indistinguishable from a native speaker in one genre, s/he automatically
masters all other genres equally well. From this it follows that when the
individual has linguistic problems with a particular genre, the problems
are not interpreted as linguistic problems by others, but rather as problems
associated with intellectual capacity, for instance.
It can be argued that the problems associated with truncated multilingual-
ism derive from our common-sense notions of language which have been
heavily influenced by the modernist conception of language which assumes
that a language is an object-like like entity which is known in its totality
by the speakers of the language. This idea was also cherished by Noam
Chomsky (1965, p. 3, emphasis added) who defined the competence of the
ideal speaker-listener ‘who knows its (the speech community’s) language
perfectly’ as the object of linguistic theory. The modernist conception of
language which sees a language as a monolithic whole has been challenged,
for instance, by Bakhtin (1981) who argues that a language is to be seen in
terms of heteroglossia, that is, a diversity of language forms representing
different social and ideological points of view. In this view, a perfect mono-
lithic competence of a language shared by all speakers is a myth, because
competence consists of a repertoire of registers, varieties, dialects, styles,
task- and modality-specific usages (see also Rothman, 2008).
While the subjects’ experiences regarding the use of Finnish in various
communicative situations and different domains can be characterized as
mainly positive, the situation with Russian is radically different. Despite the
fact that the subjects considered their knowledge of Russian an advantage,
they also brought out negative experiences or problems associated with
their use of Russian in various situations. The negative experiences found in
our data can be divided into two groups: linguistic problems and negative
attitudes of others. The linguistic problems they had typically derived from
their perceived insufficient language skills some of which were highly task-
specific. These included:

– problems with writing,

– forgetting words and terms when speaking Russian,

– using Russian in an academic university setting,

136 Dangerous Multilingualism

– discussing the Russian foreign politics in Russia with inadequate


Thus, the subjects felt that there were several domains and settings in which
their knowledge of Russian was not sufficient, although they were treated by
others as native speakers of the language.
While linguistic problems are common among the subjects, the problems
associated with the negative and even hostile attitudes towards Russian-
speaking people in Finland were experienced as much more severe (see also
Rynkänen, 2004, pp. 211–12). The negative experiences encountered by the
subjects included the following:

– in small places people often start staring and whispering,

– when we moved to Finland, people stared at us with hostility,

– on the lower and upper levels of the comprehensive school I was

bullied when I spoke Russian.

As these examples show, the subjects had encountered suspicion and open
hostility on the part of Finns in different situations. Speaking Russian
at school had also led to psychological and physical violence towards
the Russian-speaking person. Thus, speaking Russian in Finland can be
stigmatizing, and Russian-speaking people may encounter ‘racism’ in
their daily life (on racism in the daily life of migrants, see Liebkind and
Jasinskaja-Lahti, 2000, pp. 80–92), as explicitly mentioned by one subject.
Consequently, Russian-speaking people may feel uncomfortable using their
native tongue in the public sphere and thus decide to use Finnish instead to
avoid potential conflicts. This was reported by several respondents:

– I do not want to speak Russian in public on all occasions, because Russians

have a certain reputation and I do not want be identified with them,

– many parents do not speak Russian to their children, but want to forget
the language,

– I speak Russian to my children and sometimes in public situations

I feel uncomfortable doing that. People look at me differently when
I speak Russian.

As a consequence of the hostile attitudes towards Russians, the pressure

from outside may be so strong that a person feels forced to deny his/her lin-
guistic, cultural and national identity and try to assimilate with the majority
as quickly as possible. Despite the fact that in the era of high modernity
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 137

the self-identity of an individual can be characterized as a dynamic and

reflexive project in which narratives are reconstructed and potential future
trajectories are anticipated (Giddens, 1991, pp. 75–6), the examples above
show that the construction of self-identity among Russian-speaking immi-
grants lacks one essential property. This is control over the process, because
it is conditioned by the negative attitudes of others to such a great extent.
As a consequence of external pressure, they are deprived of the authorship
of the narratives utilized in the process of constructing self-identity and also
lose responsibility over the outcome of the process. The negative attitudes
encountered by a Russian-speaking person may also lead to the develop-
ment of private and public identities. A person may prefer to use Russian
with family members and with Russian-speaking friends only, while in the
public sphere s/he may avoid being identified as Russian and therefore
chooses to use Finnish there.
While a Russian-speaking parent may choose not to speak Russian to
his/her children in public settings due to their previous negative experiences,
a recent study by Protassova (2008) also suggests that parents want their
children to learn Russian at school. Approximately 36 per cent of the parents
would choose a bilingual Finnish–Russian school, while 56 per cent would
prefer a school in which Russian is taught as a native language; 8 per cent of
the parents – mainly respondents with a lower socio-economic background –
considered teaching Russian not important and assumed that linguistic and
cultural assimilation is best for the future of their children.
It was also pointed out that the attitudes towards speaking Russian in
public can vary in different parts of Finland:

– in western and central parts of Finland people look at me as if I were

a stranger,

– when I moved to a small place, not everyone was unprejudiced; after

realizing this, I have felt that I must be careful.

It should be emphasized that although many respondents reported on

their negative experiences associated with using Russian in public, the
use of Russian had been encouraged by their parents or spouse who had a
positive attitude to the promotion of Russian language and culture. Only
one subject reported that her husband was against her speaking Russian
to their daughter. While most respondents reported that they have felt
uncomfortable using Russian or have even avoided speaking Russian in
public, seven subjects responded that they had never felt that they should
not use Russian. Given the large number of negative experiences, it is rather
surprising that when we asked the respondents about other people’s atti-
tudes to their use of Russian, as many as 15 subjects responded that they
have been generally positive.
138 Dangerous Multilingualism


The Russian–Finnish bilingualism among young Russian-speaking immigrants

can be characterized as a two-sided coin, because it can have both positive
and negative impacts on their daily life. On the one hand, knowing Russian
can be seen as important social and cultural capital which can promote
opportunities for education and a professional career provided that the
job requires expertise in Russian. In addition, knowing two languages can
enrich the subjects’ daily life in the sense that they are able to read fiction,
listen to music, watch TV programmes in both languages and so forth.
On the other hand, in certain domains and social settings the negative
dimension of Russian–Finnish bilingualism may overpower its positive
dimensions. For the bilingual individual, Russian–Finnish bilingualism is
not always empowering, but may be experienced as a potential danger or
threat, as demonstrated by subjects’ accounts of their negative experiences,
some of which had been rather dramatic. As a result of the hostile attitudes
towards Russians and the Russian language encountered by the subjects in
various contexts and in order to avoid conflict, they sometimes preferred
to give up the right to their own language and identity. A Russian-speaking
immigrant may also feel that his/her linguistic and cultural capital is
rendered worthless in Finnish society, from which it follows that s/he
chooses not to maintain his/her language and culture and to pass it on to
their children. Instead, s/he tries to assimilate into Finnish culture and soci-
ety. Thus, there is a dissonance between the official discourses declaring the
importance of Russian and emphasizing its positive value as an important
cultural, social and economic resource and negative grassroots-level experi-
ences encountered by young Russian-speaking immigrants.
The hostile attitudes to Russian and speakers of Russian encountered by
the subjects seem to derive from historical discourses in which Russia has
been represented as a threat and primordial enemy in two distinct senses.
On the one hand, the rapid increase in the number of Russian-speaking
migrants may have been interpreted as a potential threat to the purity of
‘Finnishness’, because the essence of ‘Finnishness’ has been discursively
constructed in disjunctive terms as something distinct from ‘Russianness’
and ‘Swedishness’. Seeing Russian-speaking immigrants as ‘them’ and a
potential threat to the unity of ‘us’ suggests that in the context of globali-
zation the Finnish identity is still deeply rooted in the Herderian idea of
purity and the union of language, nation and state typical of the era of
high modernity. On the other hand, it is important that linguistic, cultural
and ethnic unity is not treated as the fundamental feature of the majority
population only, but that it is also ascribed to the Russian-speaking minority
and treated as the most significant attribute of their identity. By this we
mean that irrespective of their linguistic, ethnic and cultural heterogeneity,
the Russian-speaking population of Finland is treated as a homogeneous
Mika Lähteenmäki and Marjatta Vanhala-Aniszewski 139

group on the basis of the fact that they share a common language (see also
Voipio-Huovinen and Martin in this volume). This shows that language can
play a decisive role in identity claims and categorizations, the aim of which
is to impose unity – such as a particular ethnic identity – on a particular
group of people by overriding ethnic, cultural and so forth factors which
may play an important role in the construction of the self-identity of that
group. However, recognition of the unity of a minority group is seldom
motivated by a willingness to emphasize its equal status, but, as pointed
out by Gal and Irvine (2000), the internal diversity and variation within the
minority group are erased to essentialize ‘the Other’ and to emphasize the
fundamental difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ which is seen as deriving
from the natural order of things.

1. Many Russian researchers use a different classification of the waves of immi-
gration, according to which the first wave took place in the aftermath of the
October Revolution after Finland had already gained its independence (see e.g.
Zemskaia, 2001; Shenshin, 2008). This definition emphasizes that before 1917
Finland did not exist as an independent state but was part of the Russian
Empire and, therefore, it makes little or no sense to speak about ‘immigration’
or ‘emigration’ when people were actually moving within one country. The
Finnish classification, in turn, is loaded with a very different political and ideo-
logical agenda which assumes that Finland existed as a distinct geographical,
political and administrative space before the actual declaration of independence
in 1917.
2. In a speech in 2007, Häkämies, the Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs at the
time, stated that the three biggest challenges for Finland have been and still are
‘Russia, Russia and Russia’.
3. The majority of the subjects were women (19), and there were only three men in
the group which reflects the general gender distribution among language students.
Some of the students had received their MA during 2008. The subjects who were
20–24 and 25–29 years old formed the biggest age groups with nine subjects in
both groups. There was only one person in all other age groups (under 20 years,
30–34 years, 35–39 years and 40 years or older).
4. This answer must be a mistake, because the subjects have studied in Finnish com-
prehensive school for nine years.

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Finnish Culture and Language
Endangered – Language Ideological
Debates on English in the Finnish
Press from 1995 to 2007
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta


In Finland, foreign languages have frequently been the focus of impassioned

public debates – this is evinced in many of the chapters in this volume. In
this attitudinal climate English is no exception. In the press, for example,
this anxiety manifests itself in frequent avalanches of worry, suspicion and
irritation. In these, English is typically depicted as a clear and present danger
that can seriously disrupt the purity of the Finnish language and culture.
What often seems to lie behind these concerns is a deep-rooted language
ideology of the national language/s as a key defining the nation state and
determining national and cultural identity and integrity.
In this chapter we hope to anatomize these discourses of danger about
the English language, in order to show the role English has in the hier-
archical valorization of languages in Finland. The public discourse we
focus on here is newspapers – an institutional discourse arena whose
representations of language ideologies can be consequential in the wider
society. It is a particularly visible and influential societal forum where the
voices, arguments and attitudes of civil society are expressed, and where
‘the polity gets involved in shaping policies’ (Blommaert, 1999, p. 8).
Language ideological issues and debates on the allegedly dangerous impact
of English on Finnish culture and language are at the core of our chapter.
More specifically, we look at recurrent themes and topics in the language
ideological debates on the dangerousness of English, uncovering some of
the recurrent patterns and instalments in these debates. In our discussion
of the findings we hope to show how the concerns voiced about English
in public intertwine with a worry about the end of the nation, the nation
state and national culture in an inevitable but reluctant transition towards
late modernity. As we will show in detail, these issues and debates also
bring into focus questions of purity – the foreign language is repeatedly
pictured as a force threatening to tarnish the purity of not only the Finnish
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 143

language and culture, but also that of the nation state, national identity
and even Finns’ minds.
In our analysis we draw on a database consisting of newspaper genres
which typically provide a point of entry to language ideological views and
debates by a range of social actors: editorials representing the authorita-
tive voice of the newspaper, and letters to the editor in the voice of the
reading public. The data were collected within the time span of 12 years
extending from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s from Helsingin Sanomat, the
leading national newspaper. As a time period in the unwinding of language
ideological debates in Finland, this was a particularly interesting one. During
this period Finland underwent a series of major political, economic, cultural
and linguistic changes which had an impact on the language situation in
different societal domains. One of these changes was joining the EU in
1995. For society as well as for many Finns, this represented a major turning
point in the ways in which Finland defined its identity and political role in
Europe, marked by a new openness to and allegiance with Western Europe.
As an event, it generated a great deal of discussion of the implications of
the political Europeanization for Finnish society, culture and language/s. At
the same time, in the 1990s and early 2000s, processes of economic, politi-
cal and cultural globalization contributed to the increase of the popularity,
visibility, uses and significance of English in such key societal domains as
education, media, work and everyday life (see Leppänen and Nikula, 2007,
2008; Taavitsainen and Pahta, 2003, 2008; Leppänen et al., 2011).

Language ideologies and language ideological debates

Language ideologies refer to cultural or subcultural systems of morally and

politically loaded ideas and beliefs about what a language is, how it works
and how it should work, which are widely accepted in particular communi-
ties and which can have consequences for the way in which languages are
used and judged, as well as for social and linguistic relationships (Woolard,
1998; Irvine, 1989). They are indexical of social groups, in other words, the
ways in which language ideological notions are formulated can index ways
in which a particular social community sees itself and its language, as well
as its relationships to, and view of, other communities and their language/s
(Irvine and Gal, 2000; Blackledge, 2002, p. 199).
Language ideologies are seldom unified, unchangeable or straightforward –
on the contrary, they are multiple, mutable, conflicting and contestable
(Blackledge, 2005, p. 32; Milani, 2010). As shown in recent research,
language ideologies are always linked to relations, particular historical
moments and the power and political arrangements in societies (Blackledge,
2005; Blackledge and Pavlenko, 2002; Blommaert, 1999; Blommaert and
Verschueren, 1998; Gal, 1998; Gal and Woolard, 1995; Kroskrity, 1998;
Woolard, 1998). They contribute to the production and reproduction of
144 Dangerous Multilingualism

social difference, whereby some languages and varieties are taken to have
greater worth than other languages and varieties (Blackledge, 2005, p. 33).
According to Blackledge and Pavlenko (2002), language ideologies continue
to act as gatekeeping practices to create, maintain and reinforce boundaries
between people in a broad range of contexts, including community, nation,
nation state, state and global levels.
Language ideologies are formulated, expressed and debated in a range of
discourses: they occur in institutional discourses of, for example, the media,
education, politics, advertising, the economy, academic texts and the law
(Blackledge, 2005, p. 44). They are also part of many non-institutional,
everyday contexts of language use on occasions where it becomes expedient
and necessary to establish a shared normative framework for communica-
tion and interaction, and to regulate and discipline language use (Leppänen
and Piirainen-Marsh, 2009).
As suggested by previous research on language ideological debates (see e.g.
Gal, 2006; Blackledge, 2010), particularly persistent touchstones in them
are that monolingualism is taken to be the natural state of human life, and
that languages are seen as homogeneous to the extent that they are taken to
be expressions of the distinct spirit of a particular group (Gal, 2006, p. 15).
Very often, multilingual societies which apparently tolerate or promote
heterogeneity in fact undervalue or appear to ignore the linguistic diversity
of their populace. A liberal orientation to equality of opportunity for all
may mask an ideological drive towards homogeneity, a drive which poten-
tially marginalizes or excludes those who either refuse, or are unwilling, to
conform (Blackledge, 2005, pp. 34–5). As suggested by Blackledge (2010,
p. 305), one implication of this kind of view is that ‘ideally the nation
should be monolingual, with adherence to another language often (mis)read
as a lack of loyalty to the national identity’. A similar point is also made by
Verschueren and Blommaert (1998, p. 207) in their analysis of the European
newspaper press which, according to their analysis, operates on the
basis of a theory which ‘revolves around the impossibility of heterogeneous
communities and the naturalness of homogeneous communities’. In this
ideology of homogeneity, ‘language is the essence of identity’ (Blommaert
and Verschueren, 1998, p. 128): language is taken to express and encapsu-
late the cultural identity of the nation.

English in the changing sociolinguistic terrain of Finland

From the late 1990s onwards, Finns were explicitly facing a situation where
older notions of the nation and the nation state which were in principle
(Finnish–Swedish) bilingual, but in practice largely (Finnish) monolingual,
were challenged by the spread of English in many discourse domains within
society itself. In just 20 years English has become the foreign language par
excellence that practically every young Finn studies at some point during
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 145

their schooling, that is visible in its linguistic landscape and mediascapes,

and that is increasingly used in various domains of globalized Finnish
society, media and everyday life at work, at home and in leisure time.
With the increase in the use and importance of English in global commu-
nication all over the world during the past 60 years, the overall presence of
English has also dramatically increased in Finnish society at large. Research
accumulating over the past 25 years indicates that the role of English
in Finland has undergone a complex and rapidly accelerating change,
involving several key domains of society (e.g. Sajavaara, 1983; Haarmann,
1989; Haarman and Holman, 2001; Battarbee, 2002; Louhiala-Salminen,
2002; Hiidenmaa, 2003; Taavitsainen and Pahta, 2003, 2008; Pahta and
Taavitsainen, 2004, 2011; Kankaanranta, 2005; Latomaa and Nuolijärvi,
2005; Moore and Varantola, 2005; Leppänen, 2007; Nikula, 2007; Leppänen
and Nikula, 2007; Leppänen et al., 2008, 2011). This sociolinguistic change
is interlinked with extensive societal and cultural changes taking place since
the Second World War, including a whole-scale modernization of society,
rapid urbanization, technologization and internationalization. An impor-
tant factor contributing to the status of English was the educational reform
in the early 1970s, introducing the comprehensive school, where studying
a foreign language became compulsory for everyone: as a consequence,
every age group of Finns began to learn a foreign language at the age of
nine. From the very beginning, for most pupils the first foreign language
has been English, although other languages have also been made available,
particularly in urban schools. For example, according to recent statistics
most students start studying English from grade three (in 2008, 91 per cent
of grade three students study English as their first foreign language, with
corresponding figures of 1.2 per cent for German, 0.8 per cent for French
and 0.2 per cent for Russian) (SUKOL, 2010). During the past 15 years in par-
ticular, English has also gained position not only as an object of education
but as a medium of education on all levels of education from day nurseries
to polytechnics and universities. Largely as a result of learning English in
formal contexts, according to the latest statistics, c.60 per cent of all Finns
speak English fluently in everyday communicative situations; the percent-
age is considerably higher among the younger generations (Eurobarometer,
2006; Leppänen et al., 2011).
With increasing internationalization, English has become an essential
part of the professional life of a steadily growing number of Finns in
various fields requiring communication with speakers of other languages –
in politics and government, science and education, business, communica-
tion and media, transportation, tourism, sports, culture or entertainment.
The mobility of many Finns has increased: politicians, businessmen and
students, for example, have been catapulted into international contexts in
which they had to cope with linguistically and pragmatically demanding
communicative situations and settings, often ridden with acute feelings of
146 Dangerous Multilingualism

communicative anxiety and inadequacy. Parallel to these developments,

immigration to Finland has also increased, leading to more visible linguistic
diversity, particularly in the big cities. Transnational economic and political
interdependencies increasing demographic mobility and flexible cross-
border migration and the politics of Europeanization, an important aspect
of internationalization in the frame of political, economic and cultural
integration within the EU, have also contributed to the use of English in
several public spheres. Like the rest of the globalized world, Finland is also
affected by transcultural flows and lifestyle trends where English has a key
role; various kinds of youth and subcultures as well as sports are cases in
point. Those Finns who are not actively involved in international affairs or
in English-intensive lifestyles, are also heavily exposed to English through
the mass media, thus being passive consumers (and learners) of English. The
fact that English is accessible enough to be intelligible to the majority of
the population also makes it possible to use it in intranational functions in
communicative contexts traditionally reserved for the domestic languages.
The use of English in commercial advertising and naming practices is one
of the trends visible in the linguistic landscape; the prominence of English
in posters, billboards, electric displays and shop signs is now one of the
most noticeable manifestations of the position that English has gained in
Finnish society.
As witnessed by the data in our study, the presence and impact of English
has caught the attention of laymen. Interestingly enough, the results of a
recent nationwide survey of Finns’ attitudes to English show, however, that
the great majority of Finns have no real concerns about this, but regard
English as a useful and pleasant language which every Finn in principle
should be able to use (Leppänen et al., 2011). Broadly speaking, the survey
respondents’ views on the current situation are thus at odds with the public
language ideological debates under investigation in this chapter. In the same
way, the general opinion Finns have about English also seems to be at odds
with what has been suggested, for example, in the recent language policy
programme put forward by the Research Institute for the Languages of
Finland (Hakulinen et al., 2009). According to this programme, in a number
of societal domains, including science, academic publishing and higher
education, the Finnish language is now in competition with English. Thus
it is argued that active protective measures are needed to enforce the right of
Finnish citizens (stipulated by the Finnish language law) to use and be served
in their own language (ibid., pp. 11–12). Here one can see a dichotomy:
while the general public expresses permissive attitudes to English, language
policy-makers – perhaps partly due to their awareness of such attitudes – see
a genuine, and harmful, process of change under way. Finns, they believe,
need to actively prefer their own language over English within the Finnish
society, while, to manage international communication, they also need a
parallel competence in English. Something of this concern that Finns are not
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 147

sufficiently aware of the danger lurking in the spread and popularity of

English may, in fact, also ignite the opinions and attitudes voiced in the
public forum of the press.

Language ideologies in editorials and letters to the editor

Editorials and letters to the editor provide a window into the ways in which
public newspaper discourse constitutes, and is constitutive of, language
ideologies (Blackledge, 2005, p. 89). An examination of items representing
these two genres published in 1995–2007 in the leading Finnish daily news-
paper, Helsingin Sanomat, shows that language issues are a recurrent theme,
inciting expressions of opinion from people representing various walks of
life, including both language professionals and ordinary people. The focus
of the writings varies, so that opinions are expressed on topics ranging from
the importance of education and competence in foreign languages, typically
for various practical reasons affecting the economic or intellectual future
of subjects from individuals to the entire nation, to concerns about and
annoyance with the poor language skills, in Finnish or any other languages,
of particular social groups using language in public contexts. Several writ-
ers express their concern about the narrowing of Finns’ foreign language
skills repertoire, as the numbers of students studying European languages
like French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian in Finnish schools are
very low. A great number of writings have been sparked by the underlying
ongoing changes in the sociolinguistic situation of the country. The nature,
quality and status of Finnish, the majority mother tongue, receives a lot of
attention, with writers expressing their worries or anger over its decline,
brought about by uneducated, uncultured, negligent or careless language
users misusing, abusing or underusing it. On the other hand, its importance,
beauty, richness, expressive capacity and versatility, and its closeness to
every Finn’s heart are frequently emphasized. The dual role of Swedish as a
part of the cultural heritage on the one hand and as a compulsory school
subject – almost a cultural burden – on the other is a common topic (see
also Salo, this volume). As expected, however, the majority of opinions
are concerned with the role of English, so much so that often English in
one way or another also figures in writings primarily dealing with other
languages, often providing a point of comparison or contrast. The attitudes
towards English expressed in the writings vary from positive, advocating the
importance of English skills in the globalized economy, through pragmatic,
accepting English as a self-evident means of participation in today’s world,
to negative, portraying English as a threat or danger to other languages and
cultures, in this case notably Finnish.
Our focus in the rest of this chapter is on textual occurrences and formu-
lations of English as a danger: on points in which – following the dictionary
definition (OED) – English makes Finnish society or some of its parts liable
148 Dangerous Multilingualism

or exposed to harm, injury, evil, risk or peril. More specifically, we will show
what specific types of danger English is perceived to present to the Finnish
language situation, society and culture, to what or whom these dangers are
particularly imminent, what kinds of arguments are used to establish the
dangerousness of English, and why – in response to what kind of histori-
cal situations – the issue of the dangerousness of English is raised in the
opinion writings.
Hence, our analysis is necessarily slanted in that it only pays attention
to ‘alarmist’ views of English and excludes the ‘celebrationist’ views by
not paying attention to textual occurrences and formulations in which
English is depicted as something positive, advantageous and helpful. In our
opinion, this kind of bias is, however, justified: when English is perceived
as a danger, it brings into focus the sociolinguistic crisis Finland has been
undergoing from the 1990s onwards during which the modernist notion
of a nation and a nation state defined by its national language/s has had
to give way to a more heterogeneous, late-modern sociolinguistic reality
brought about by Europeanization, internationalization and globalization
of society.
The data we draw on consist of editorials and letters to the editor discuss-
ing language issues, published in Helsingin Sanomat, the leading national
daily in Finland.1 The data come from two focus periods within a 12-year
time span: from 1995–99 and 2005–7. The material contains 106 separate
texts and amounts to just over 30,000 words of running text (see Table 7.1).
In order to identify the loci where the English language was mentioned
in the editorials and letters to the editor, we analysed the electronically
stored data with a corpus tool called AntConc,2 using a truncated form of
the Finnish lexeme for ‘English’ (englanti) as a search term. The passages
identified by the systematic computerized search were then subjected to a
discourse analytic examination, where passages portraying English as a dan-
ger were selected for a closer scrutiny. In analysing these passages, we aimed
at investigating the linguistic and rhetorical ways in which the writers –
ranging from experts to voices of the general public – construct their
particular scenarios about the dangerousness of English: in what way, in
which context and historical situation and to whom the danger is perceived
to manifest, and what effects it is argued to have.

Table 7.1 Editorials and letters to the editor discussing language

issues in Helsingin Sanomat in 1995–99 and 2005–7
Period Texts Words

1995–99 66 19,645
2005–7 40 11,222
Total 106 30,867
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 149

Dangerous English

In order to diagnose the danger that English is seen to pose in the scenarios
painted in editorials and letters to the editor in Helsingin Sanomat, we discuss
the discourses of endangerment using the following questions:

• As what kind of danger is English seen and how it is verbalized?

• To whom is it argued to be a danger and how are these parties

What kind of danger is English?

English as an intruder
In our data, English is often portrayed as an intruder which does not belong
in Finland. As an intruder, English overshadows, undermines or displaces
the indigenous native language. Often, the intrusion of English into Finnish
territory is portrayed as non-patriotic, and its users as disloyal, in betrayal
of true Finnishness. This view is illustrated in Example 1, an extract of a
letter to the editor criticizing the use of English by the Finnish coastguard –
a state authority. The writer expresses his surprise at the English name
‘frontier guard’ that is painted on the patrol boats instead of the Finnish
and Swedish names of the institution. He expresses his concern over the
lack of ‘healthy patriotism’ in the ‘officials in charge of state security’ and
worries that the use of English gives an impression to Finns that Finland is
not a sovereign country, but needs to resort to the help of others, specifically
‘NATO or the British’, to guard its frontiers.3

Example 1
Are our coast guards English?
We drove past the coast guard station in Haapasaari on August 4th, and
to my big surprise I noticed that all the patrol boats had ‘frontier guard’
written on them. No Finnish or Swedish text was in sight.
In an ordinary Finn this sort of internationalization raises a whole lot
of questions. Even though our businesses have adopted a lot of English
terminology, one would expect officials in charge of state security to
show healthy patriotism emphasizing Finnishness with elegance.
The appreciation of our official languages is an important part of our
Finnish identity. English is not yet officially our third language.
Now ‘frontier guard’ on a Finnish coast guard patrol boat gives to us
Finns an impression that Finland is not an entirely independent, a sover-
eign state, but that Nato or the British have come to guard our borders.
(Letter to the editor, 9 August 1996)

As an intruder, English is also seen as an agent creating linguistic home-

lessness, especially when it is used as a medium of education in content
150 Dangerous Multilingualism

and language integrated learning (CLIL) environments. Such views as these

were inspired by the passing of a law in 1991 which made CLIL instruction
possible in Finnish schools – for many, this innovation represented a step
towards a deliberate succumbing to English as a language of education,
and towards displacing teaching in L1. Against this background, ‘linguistic
homelessness’ most likely means that English was seen to possess the
power to sever the connection between identity and the L1, leading to
lack of belonging and of shared heritage. Example 2 represents a case in
point; this is the voice of an expert – a professor of Finnish. For him/her
the impact of the introduction of English as the language of instruction in
some subjects is so serious that s/he categorically asserts that there simply
is ‘no need for it’:

Example 2
NN, professor of Finnish language argues in Helsingin Sanomat on August
18th that there is no need for English-language teaching in Finnish
schools. According to her, it creates linguistic homelessness. (Letter to the
editor, 1 September 1996)

English as a destructive natural force

The power that English is believed to have over other languages and cul-
tures is often emphasized by comparing it to an uncontrollable natural
force, springing from the technological and economic supremacy of the
Anglo-American world. For example, the impact of English is seen as
overwhelming as a flood or as inevitable as global warming sweeping over
the native language. In the middle of this ‘natural’ disaster Finnish is, in
contrast, seen as an undeveloped, defenceless victim at the mercy of the
overpowering, external force. Two editorials from the late 1990s illustrate
this view as follows:

Example 3
Loan words have flooded into the language for the past 6000 years, as
long as we know, and they will keep flooding in […] Words enter and
they are adapted into our language and that’s it. […] But the real danger
to the Finnish language comes precisely from the prevailing technically
advanced culture, and at the moment that is the Anglo-American culture.
(Editorial, 18 January 1998)

Example 4
The appreciation of Anglo-American culture is leading to the diminish-
ing of the use of Finnish as opposed to English in various functions. The
business world, especially commercial advertising, has opened the flood
gates. […] The process is slow but it advances as inevitably as the green-
house effect. (Editorial, 30 June 1996)
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 151

Interestingly, this kind of metaphorical view of English as a cause or factor

in an ‘ecological’ catastrophe is not unknown in more scholarly discussions
either. For example, linguistic diversity has been seen as a particular type of
biocultural diversity which is susceptible to sweeping external forces which
can radically reduce the vitality of small, indigeneous, traditional and local
languages (see e.g. Terralingua, <
html>, date accessed 7 September 2011).

English as a violent actor

In the same way as some scholars have seen English as a killer language (see
e.g. Phillipson, 2004; McArthur, 1998), in our data English is also likened to a
violent actor which has the capacity to burden and suffocate – and even kill the
Finnish language. It is seen as a supreme and malicious force of cultural domi-
nance, spreading the Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-American culture, oppressing ‘our
language’. The damage caused by English is, however, at least partly aided by
Finns themselves who are claimed to willingly subject themselves to its harm-
ful effects. Examples 5–8 all illustrate such a conceptualization of English:

Example 5
Almost as big a burden to the Finnish language [as compulsory Swedish]
is the second language of the bilingual world, English. (Letter to the
editor, 30 December 1998)

Example 6
To prevent the threat one might consider giving English the position
that Latin used to have along with the Finnish language. Then it would
not cause pressure to oppress our language […]. (Letter to the editor,
7 June 2005)

Example 7
[…] the real danger to the Finnish language comes precisely from the
prevailing technically advanced culture, and at the moment that is the
Anglo-American culture. We suffocate our language ourselves. (Editorial,
18 January 1998)

Example 8
English is the globally shared language of ICT professionals, regardless
of their nationality. This is all well and good, but because of the grow-
ing significance of ICT, the increased use of English will be the death of
Finnish. (Letter to the editor, 16 October 1996)

English as morally wrong

English is also a morally wrong choice; this has already become clear in the
examples discussed above. Its use is seen as non-patriotic, it undermines
152 Dangerous Multilingualism

Finnish national identity and leads Finns to abandon their own language
and culture. Its advocacy and use can even be compared to heresy:

Example 9
The article describes the problem as a value-free choice between English
and the mother tongue and indirectly labels as heretics those who use
English in their teaching. (Letter to the editor, 4 May 2005)

However, it is not only the Finns whose moral values are called into question,
but also the English language itself is believed to be in some way morally
dubious. Because of its omnipresence, it is argued, it can seduce and trick
people into thinking that they can actually speak it, when, in reality, they
cannot, for it is a complex language whose nuances are difficult to master:

Example 10
There is a trap lurking in English. There are many who fall into it,
thinking that they know how to speak the language, because it is heard
everywhere. On the level of nuances, however, English is an extremely
difficult language. (Letter to the editor, 21 October 2005)

English by Finns – bad, contaminated

When Finns do use English, they sound awful – this seems to be a very
typical evaluation voiced by many commentators. Typical lamentations
include that Finns’ English is vulgar, uneducated, ridiculous and ugly,
i.e. it is not pure but contaminated. As was already suggested above, its use
is a non-patriotic act jeopardizing the consistency and authenticity of genu-
ine national identity. An interesting variation on this theme is also that it
is suggested that the badness of English spoken by Finns is actually caused
by Swedish: this is because ‘the obligatory status of Swedish as a school
subject […] takes up the limited resources which should be used in learning
more important things [including English] required by the changed world’
(letter to the editor, 15 February 1998). Another letter to the editor on 20
January 1996 spells out the badness of Finns’ English by establishing it as
multiply problematic:

Example 11
My British friend told me that the litanies of swearwords learnt from
Yankee movies by some loud-mouths first startled him and then made
him laugh, because when they are sloppily mixed with Finnish in a thick
accent, they sound so ridiculous. (Letter to the editor, 1 January 1996)

This evaluation is mediated to readers via the point of view of an English

native speaker, with whom the Finnish writer, however, seems to agree
wholeheartedly. What is put forward here is that Finns do bad things to
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 153

English, because they are the bad kind of Finns (‘loud mouths’) who have
picked up their English from a bad source (from ‘Yankee movies’), learnt a
bad register (‘litanies of swearwords’), and pronounce these English items in
a bad way (in a ‘thick accent’), by sloppily mixing it with Finnish. It could
even be argued that such comments as in Example 11 imply that the way
in which the English used by Finns is evaluated as bad is an example of
distinction at work (Bourdieu, 1984): their ‘bad’ English distinguishes the
speakers as a particular social group or class. The social class so categorized
is clearly a lower one of people who have not learnt their English at school,
but through popular culture, and, instead of for higher aspirations, use it for
vulgar and mundane purposes. The danger implicitly suggested in this kind
of scenario seems to be that the lower classes, with their subversive lower-
class English, trespass on social and cultural territory which, in principle,
they are seen not to have any right to – the territory of native-speaker(-like)
educated English.
Code-switching and loanwords also trigger alarm and resentment. As phe-
nomena they are often taken to be concrete examples of the ways in which
the English language is destroying the Finnish language. Such language
practices are considered as a facile and superficial fashion, striving for inter-
nationalization and totally lacking creativity and originality. Furthermore,
as they are taken to contribute to the emergence of an ugly and unaccept-
able mongrel language, they actually are argued to violate not one, but two
languages, Finnish and English. Example 12 represents a typical comment:

Example 12
Finland goes English
I have observed with great admiration how English and Finnish
are fluently combined when major cultural events have been named.
What exceptional creativity and originality these skilfully used words
demonstrate! Down by the4 Laituri [‘Pier’], how exquisite. [In the] Art
goes Kapakassa [‘to the bar’], today Classic Sunday (HS August 31st),
how international they sound. What I would like to suggest is that the
same policy be applied on an even higher societal level. Down by the
Hallituksen Iltakoulu [‘the Government evening session’]. [President]
Ahtisaari goes Maakunnat [‘the provinces’]. Let no one, never, be allowed
to say that we Finns wouldn’t be part of the internationalizing and
unifying world. Let us throw our national language, culture and currency
into the trash at the threshold of this new and illustrious era. N.N. goes
hulluksi [‘crazy’]. (Letter to the editor, 8 September 1997)

In this letter to the editor the writer imitates, repeats and exaggerates
code-switching practices that he has come across in the media. With the
help of these strategies he constructs an ironic and parodic account of
these practices and thus conveys an explicit condemnation of them as
154 Dangerous Multilingualism

fundamentally dangerous. Thus, he is really suggesting that code-switching

will lead to ruin – to the opposite of ‘exceptional creativity and originality’,
skill and exquisiteness.
What is also often at the core of language ideological assertions of this
particular type is that, again, Finns are taken to be partly responsible for the
crime of destroying their own national language. Accordingly, the writer
here lays the blame on ‘us Finns’ who are destroying ‘our national language,
culture and currency’. It is thus the actions of those Finns ignorant, careless
or superficial enough to make such a decision to use mixed language which
are being targeted. Again one can read a great deal of indirect, metonymic
social criticism here: modern Finns who do code-switch are being nega-
tively evaluated because of their ideologically corrupt language practices. In
addition, this example also illustrates how language practices are assigned
a great deal of symbolic power: language ideological assumptions are not
only speaking of people’s views of language per se, but also of their attitudes
to more general social changes and practices. In this particular example,
the way in which the writer lumps together Finnish ‘language, culture and
currency’ as equally lost causes shows how the language practices s/he
resents are actually a part of the equally problematic social and economic
changes, following from Finland’s joining of the EU.

Finns’ English as excessive and, therefore, wrong

Besides assertions of Finns’ English as fundamentally bad and wrong, it is
also seen as excessive and superfluous in a variety of ways – and therefore
dangerous. Firstly, there are complaints that there simply is too much of
English in the Finnish linguistic and media landscapes and that English is
thus force-fed to Finns. Secondly, it is deplored that English is too popular,
too easy, too fashionable and too modern. In short, thanks to its attractive-
ness, it actually seduces Finns into learning and using it too much. In this
task, it is claimed, it is aided by Finns’ poor self-esteem which causes them
to underestimate their own language and culture.
In addition, it is also complained that too good a competence in English
makes it difficult for Finns to spot misunderstandings in communication – it
is thus implied that a good proficiency in English in reality hampers success-
ful communication (letter to the editor, 23 August 2007). In Example 13 the
writer compares the language situation in Finland to that in Germany, and
complains that the situation in Finland is worse, because English (or what
appears to be English) is used too much and without any real purpose. S/he
complains that English is, in fact, too popular and that it is used because for
Finns, contrary to Finnish, it appears as a fashionable and modern language.

Example 13
The situation in Finland is worse. English is used in all situations: in
spoken youth language the most common swearword is fuck5 and in
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 155

advertisements everything is cool or new. Companies pick an English name

for themselves, tradenoms [Bachelors of Business Administration] graduate
from vocational schools and rural communities develop international
survival strategies for themselves. What is wrong with Finnish or Finnish
words? Not everything that is new or youthful needs to be in English;
being fashionable can also be expressed in Finnish. (Letter to the editor,
14 July 1999)

As was seen in connection with the previous example, in complaints of this

kind, writers often cite and repeat the uses of English that they claim are
allegedly overused by Finns. It seems that often the mere repetition of the
offending practices is enough to convey to readers a sense of their ridicu-
lousness; no detailed evaluation is therefore deemed necessary. Also Example
14 is an illustration of this strategy: here the writer begins his/her letter to
the editor by a categorical statement that Finns have actually rejected their
own language, and then proceeds to build up his/her exposition on this by
weaving English loanwords within his/her own text without actually com-
menting on them in detail:

Example 14
[Finns’] low self-esteem explains the [low] status of Finnish
XX made a very good point in the letters-to-the-editor section (May 9th)
about the rejection of the Finnish language. I have also observed with
sadness the same development for years in my main work as a secretary
and in my second job as a Finnish translator. An abstract (via email, for
example) needs to be sent to a conference by a speaker. In the confer-
ence the presentation of posters is naturally in order, and the sessions are
chaired by moderators, and sometimes even by the speakers. In the course
of the event participants agree upon missions and visions, and work
in workshops.
The primary goal is of course a consensus. The ‘right’ concepts need to
be mastered, even when the event is arranged in Finland. This was just
one example out of many. […] The reason for the underestimation of the
Finnish language may be Finns’ low self-esteem (probably because of this,
such words are called ‘civilised’ terms), laziness, or a laissez-faire attitude,
or, at its worst, all three of these.
‘When everyone else talks about posters and abstracts, how do I dare to
speak about them by using the corresponding Finnish terms?’
Finnish is a beautiful, nuanced, and infinitely rich language, but if
it is not appreciated, it is difficult to protect it. (Letter to the editor,
13 May 2007)

Example 14 also illustrates that from the 1990s to the early 2000s nothing
much has changed in language attitudes: in the 2000s, English continues to
156 Dangerous Multilingualism

be the source of a great deal of irritation to many Finns. In this example,

the particular domain the writer is concerned with is conference register. In
his/her view, it is full of terminology uncritically borrowed from English.
Interestingly, s/he does not directly brand them as inappropriate or incor-
rect, but, like many other writers, uses more indirect strategies to do so. On
the one hand, s/he implies that this happens because of social pressure by
including a fabricated citation of someone who actually uses such termino-
logy, also suggesting that it would be socially unacceptable to use Finnish
terminology instead of the English word. On the other hand, by describing
Finnish as a ‘beautiful, nuanced and infinitely rich’ language, s/he is also,
indirectly, suggesting that the English terminology (over)used by Finns is
the opposite – ugly, poor in nuances and expressive potential. In this way,
like the writer of Example 13 who claimed that Finns falsely believe English
to be a fashionable and modern language, s/he also presents a succinct
evaluation of the two languages.

To whom or what is English seen as posing a danger?

According to our data, English is seen by Finns as posing a danger to practi-
cally everything and everyone in Finland.

Danger to the native language

Firstly, English is a serious threat to the Finnish language, its purity, integrity
and beauty (see Example 15 below). A particular worry here is that English
is gradually taking over communicative functions previously served by
Finnish, thus reducing its functional range and causing it to regress (see
Example 16 below), to become underdeveloped or to prove inadequate,
especially with regard to its conceptual apparatus (see Example 17 below).
The vulnerability of the Finnish language in the face of this threat is often
underlined by characterizing it as a small language of a small nation which
needs to be actively protected, because it is seen as vital for the small nation
and its freedom and independence. A recurrent additional theme in this
danger scenario is that English is seen to jeopardize the teaching of the
native language.

Example 15
The English language is a clear threat to the Finnish language. It has a
sort of ruling position in the world, and this gives it considerable power
in Finland, too. (Letter to the editor, 7 June 2005)

Example 16
In those fields where [English] totally dominates, the functional range of
the mother tongue naturally becomes more narrow. [Finnish] regresses
and in the long run it will only be suitable to less important functions.
(Editorial, 1 January 1998)
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 157

Example 17
The most important preconditions for the life of a small nation are
freedom and a language of its own. […] The language of a small nation
needs to be looked after particularly well and be consciously developed
in education. This is because, with increasing internationalization, the
language selected for use in for example research is ever more frequently
some other language than Finnish. If Finnish is not used in theoretical
and scientific discussion, its concepts remain undeveloped and the pro-
duction of texts becomes muddled. (Letter to the editor, 3 March 1999)

In professional registers, English jargon is seen as a more specific threat to the

Finnish language. For example, triggered by the rapid development of ICTs
in Finland in the 1980s and 1990s, a great deal of anxiety surfaced in public
as the evolving field turned to English as a quick solution to the lack of exact
terminology with which to describe the technologies. In several writings,
including those by both language professionals and laymen, computing is
highlighted as an area of expertise where the language of the professionals
has, for this reason, become incomprehensible to the layman:

Example 18
[…] in some fields of computing Finnish terminology is in danger of
becoming displaced by English terminology […]. (Letter to the editor,
9 April 1998)

Example 19
XX has commented on the language by ICT people (HS October 16th) […]
he argues that there is a communicative gap between the ICT people and
the laymen. In his opinion, this gap would disappear if topics related to
ICT were talked about using the everyday language. (Letter to the editor,
28 October 1996)

However, Finnish is not the only language English threatens. It is also seen
as a danger to the Swedish language in Finland, and Swedish-speaking Finns
are argued also to be concerned about its supremacy. Although Swedish is
in public debates often placed in the role of the language of the elite and
regarded with suspicion and resentment (see Salo, this volume), in relation
to English it is seen to occupy a similarly endangered position. Example 20
illustrates this; with the help of expert opinions by linguists, it argues that
the two national languages are both falling victim to English:

Example 20
XX and YY noted (HS May 22nd) that internationalization should not
mean the killing of small languages. [...] The Finnish language is not the
only one under threat. In the world, ca 6900 different languages are spoken.
158 Dangerous Multilingualism

About 90 per cent of people speak the hundred ‘biggest’ languages. The
rest of the 6800 languages in the world are under the threat of extinction
during the next hundred years – such an argument is voiced by Suzanne
Romaine and Daniel Nettle, both researchers in Oxford. […] English lan-
guage skills are needed, but the Finnish and Swedish languages should not
be sacrificed for the English language. (Letter to the editor, 29 May 2005)

Analogously, English is also seen to endanger skandinaviska – the Scandinavian

variety used in many Nordic meetings and seminars (see Martin, this
volume) – thus placing pan-Nordic culture and cooperation in a vulnerable
position and robbing Nordic citizens of the expression of Nordic solidarity
and identity.

Example 21
Our neighbourly relations to other Nordic countries will be affected as
well. They will lose their unique character if we shift to English. (Letter
to the editor, 31 August 2005)

It is an interesting point, however, that not many commentators express

much worry about the possibility that English may pose a threat to European
multilingualism, thus perhaps replicating a traditional Finnish notion that
Europe is a different and faraway reality with which Finns have had diffi-
culty identifying themselves. A notable exception to this is the following:

Example 22
Mr XX, 60, who directs the main office of the translation section of the
EU commission in Brussels, worries about the vitality of multilingualism
within the Union. More and more officials speak English, but not as their
mother tongue. (Letter to the editor, 25 October 2005)

Danger to national identity

Besides the languages of Finland, English is also argued to endanger other
aspects of Finnishness which are seen as crucial to the identity of the nation
state and its citizens. Here, English is often portrayed as a mischievous agent
working on behalf of the Anglo-American hegemonic culture, aiming at
disruption and destruction of the integrity of the Finnish national language
and culture. In such comments, the uniqueness and richness of Finnish
culture and the need to cherish and protect it are often strongly emphasized.
A typical opinion is illustrated by Example 23 – it argues that English endan-
gers not only the Finnish language and culture, but also our know-how:

Example 23
The admiration of English can be dangerous not only to our language and
culture but also to Finnish know-how. (Letter to the editor, 9 April 1998)
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 159

Danger to social equality

English also endangers the democratic structure of society: it is believed
that the fact that some people manage to acquire good proficiency in
English enforces social inequality and difference. Those who are proficient
in English are seen to form a new, privileged elite and those who are not,
a new marginalized underclass (cf. Bourdieu, 1984). Example 24, an
editorial, depicts a scene in which the adoption of English as the lingua
franca in some domains and services is seen to espouse social inequality and
unequal opportunities to access knowledge:

Example 24
Language does not change and develop via the official channels only.
One question concerning people all over Europe is what the role of the
native language is in science and economy. Will the citizens’ equality and
equal access to information be possible if in some fields we only operate
in English? Along with international success, will one outcome of this
be the shrivelling of the native-language culture and general knowledge?
(Editorial, 27 July 2006)

Interestingly, this anxiety also surfaced in the national survey on Finns’

attitudes about English (Leppänen et al., 2011). According to its findings it
appeared that while ignorance of the English language and inability to use
it are not directly linked to social exclusion or relegation to the fringes of
society, they do indicate a certain detachment from the urban, international
and multicultural society in which work is becoming increasingly globalized
and in which the capacity to use English is a valued skill.
In addition to threatening Finnish society at large, some groups are
singled out in the writings. One of these groups is children. The popular-
ity of English, witnessed in the alleged widespread enthusiasm for English
language immersion education, creates a danger, as children want to have
English as their mother tongue. It is also interesting that the primary
importance of learning the mother tongue through formal education is
emphasized, whereas English, the foreign language, is seen as something
that can be acquired in informal learning contexts through channels like
TV, commercials and the Internet. It is thus implied that learning English is
easy and requires no formal instruction, whereas learning the first language
is difficult because it needs to be learnt well. English is thus not important –
it can be picked up without any real effort – but Finnish is, because it is
taken by many writers as the foundation necessary for thinking, for culture
and for identity. Example 25 formulates these views as follows:

Example 25
Also the National Board of Education is finally beginning to understand
what the results of the over-enthusiasm about immersion and other
160 Dangerous Multilingualism

languages, especially English, can be. It is a really serious issue, if children

prefer to have English as their mother tongue. It is understandable that
parents wish that their children have a good [educational] foundation
in their lives. However, in language learning it is important to see to it
that Finnish is learnt properly first. English is acquired almost without
an effort via TV, commercials, the internet, etc. (Letter to the editor,
5 September 1998)

English as a danger to the development of competences

The use of English as a medium of instruction in immersion and content
and language integrated learning environments, addressed in the previous
example, seems to be one of the topics causing the most worry in writings
in the 1990s, in particular. What seems particularly disconcerting for many
is that the development of learners’ proficiency in Finnish may be at risk
because all responsibility for the teaching of the mother tongue is left to
parents. According to the writer of our next example, for instance, learning
in English will lead to the loss of concepts in the native language. Learning
in one language – even when it takes place in certain specific lessons only –
can thus lead to the loss of the students’ native language:

Example 26
The impact of English-medium instruction on the mother tongue triggers
a variety of opinions. People are not worried about language mixing, but
very extensive instruction in the foreign language can be harmful: some
students complain that they have to search for mother tongue expres-
sions even when they have revived English-medium instruction for only
for a year. (Editorial, 1 January 1998)

According to some writers, English also poses a threat to deep and nuanced
thinking. The lack of terminology and concepts in Finnish leads to situa-
tions where the Finns’ cognitive skills are endangered:

Example 27
As a professional lexicographer I know, too, that fluent Finnish termino-
logy does not emerge on its own and that in some fields it is in danger by
being displaced by English terminology. Despite this, I myself and many
others wish to speak and write about things, including topics related to
ICT, primarily in our own language. The admiration for English fanned
up by XX can be dangerous, not only for our language and culture, but
also for the Finnish know-how. Hopefully not all university teachers will
succumb [to the dominance of English] with him, but are smart enough
to turn to terminology experts.
[…] Good language skills and language awareness are of course needed,
but professional competencies are not improved by the removal of the
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 161

tools for thinking which are based on the mother tongue. (Letter to the
editor, 9 April 1998)

An even more harmful impact of English-medium instruction is that it

is taken to risk the development of Finnish children’s cognitive skills. In
Example 28 the writer utilizes a familiar Finnish idiom of ‘losing the child
with the bathwater’ and coins a new metaphor, ‘the net of semi-lingualism’,
to drive home the point that the outcome of English-medium instruction
is hazardous. You may end up losing the child, that is, failing to educate
him/her properly, and causing the child to lose something essential: his/
her right to a full competence in his/her mother tongue. In addition, the
writer resorts to the by now familiar strategy of critique and questioning
what s/he considers an excessive use of English by mimicking English(-like)
terminology as part of his/her otherwise Finnish message (e.g. ‘alarmisti’;
‘defenssiaktiiviteettejä’; ‘intensifioitava’; ‘happy ending’) to emphasize the
silliness and absurdity of such uses of English by Finns. Besides arguing
that English-medium instruction can be harmful to the development of
the child’s native language proficiency, the writer also suggests that such
pedagogic practice also produces imperfect English. In sum, the whole of the
enterprise of English-medium instruction is futile and harmful, endangering
the child’s development, his/her native language, and his/her proficiency
in English.

Example 28
The situation in Finland is of course quite different from that in India,
but we also need to be careful that the child does not slip into the sewer
with the language bathwater or get caught in the net of semi-lingualism.
I wish by no means to be an alarmist, but the defence activities of the
mother tongue competence need to be intensified, or the story of our inter-
nationalization remains without its happy ending. (Letter to the editor,
31 March 1999)


In our analysis we have shown how English was multiply conceptualized as

a danger, how various social groups, entities and phenomena were seen as
endangered by it, and how its dangerousness was seen to arise from a range
of factors. Table 7.2 summarizes our main findings.
As Table 7.2 indicates, the dangerousness of English in our data is con-
structed with the help of a range of metaphors which liken its impact on
Finland, Finnish and Finns to a range of destructive, disruptive, harmful and
violent phenomena and entities. Similarly, the impact of English is argued
to be pervasive, seductive, corruptive and harmful, affecting individuals
and social groups and their minds and language practices. It can even do
162 Dangerous Multilingualism

Table 7.2 Ideological constructions of English as a danger in Finland

English is a danger because it is:

An intruder English as something that does not belong to Finland

A destructive English as a flood
natural force English as global warming
English as a cause of erosion
A violent actor English suffocates Finnish
English is a cause of regression
English erodes Finns’ cognitive abilities
English is a source of anxiety and worry
English as a killer language
A supreme force English is an oppressor of ‘our language’
English is an expression of the dominance of Anglo-Saxon
language and culture
English is a threat to independence and sovereignty
A moral wrong Use of English undermines Finnishness
Use of English as heresy
Use of English as non-patriotic treason
English as a cause of the abandonment of Finnish culture
English as a cause for linguistic homelessness
Bad, contaminated English is unimportant, ugly, valueless, superficial and
falsely fashionable
English spoken by Finns is consistently bad
English spoken by Finns is bad, because of compulsory
English spoken by Finns is ridiculous, vulgar, low class
Code mixing as bad
English is violated by Finns: lacks creativity and
Use of English is superficial internationalization
Excessive, therefore English is too popular
wrong English is too easy
English is excessive
English is unnecessary
English is fashionable in the wrong way
English is youthful and modern in the wrong way

English is a danger to … everyone and everything:

To language English endangers the Finnish language, its integrity and

beauty, and communicative functions
English endangers the teaching of mother tongue
English endangers Finland Swedish
To national culture English endangers Finnish culture
and identity English endangers Finnish know-how
English endangers national freedom, sovereignty and
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 163

To society English endangers equality

English endangers the social structure, by creating and
enforcing social difference: Finns’ English is bad because
it is too widely used in a vulgar way
To social groups English is attractive to too many Finns
English puts children at risk
To the development English hampers the development of proficiency in
of competences Finnish
English endangers Finns’ cognitive skills
Finns’ use of English produces imperfect English
To other countries English robs Nordic citizens of the expression of Nordic
English endangers Nordic culture and cooperation
English threatens European multilingualism

damage to the fabric, purity and integrity of Finnish society and culture. In
all of these conceptualizations there is, as Gal (2006, p. 15) has suggested
as typical of language ideologies on the whole, a ‘characteristic persistence
that monolingualism is taken to be the natural state of human life, that
languages are seen as homogeneous to the extent that they are taken to be
expressions of the distinct spirit of a particular group’.
However, as our analysis has shown, as a social index English is quite com-
plex and ambiguous, for it can be seen to communicate both an elite, expert
status as well as vulgarity and low social class of its speakers. It is depicted
as very difficult, and too easy; complex and nuanced, as well as ugly, poor
in nuances and superficial. In a way, it could be argued that the debates
actually constitute several Englishes. Firstly, there are at least two ‘good’ and
‘correct’ Englishes: one which is the exclusive property of native speakers,
and another which is the exclusive property of non-native speakers who
index their non-nativeness through a non-native accent. Analogously, there
are at least two ‘bad’ Englishes. One of these is the English that is like a natu-
ral force which has the capacity to crush Finnish language, society, culture,
nation and the nation state. Another bad English is the one mutilated in a
vulgar and profane way by low-class non-native speakers who have in prin-
ciple no right to usurp and to possess the language in the first place.
Language ideological debates can be triggered by, and resonate with,
a range of events, actions, experiences or discourses which have in common
that they in some way are objectionable to writers, be they journalists or
lay people. Firstly, there are major societal changes or political decisions, as
reported in the media, which explicitly offer textual and political material
for writers to comment on or criticize. During the time period covered in our
data such events included Finland joining the EU in 1995 – which gave rise
to anxiety over whether the national language and Finns’ linguistic rights
would be marginalized because of the fact that the EU was seen to operate
164 Dangerous Multilingualism

in Euro English. For example, in 1998 a piece of news in Helsingin Sanomat

(1998) reported that the Ministry of Environmental Affairs was planning to
send a formal query to the EU Commission as to why the so-called Natura
forms (forms used for registering nature reserves) were not available in
Finnish or Swedish. On this issue a government official was reported to
be arguing that ‘this issue is, in principle, important. Finland is a member
state in the EU and we have a right to work in our own mother tongue.’ On
the other hand, the English used in the EU was also ridiculed as corrupted
and low quality, compared to native-speaker English/es: for example in
a letter to the editor of Helsingin Sanomat (23 March 1995), a language
professional argued that ‘The English spoken in Brussels makes Oxford
and Cambridge smile, with pity.’ So, although the English imposed on the
Finnish state and citizens was seen as menacing the national languages, it
was also taken to be inferior and ludicrous, because it does not belong to
Europeans, and, therefore, they are in principle incapable of managing
in English without making both themselves and the language ridiculous.
Another major political issue stimulating language ideological debates
during the time period under investigation was clearly the government deci-
sion to strengthen the role of content and language integrated education in
Finnish primary and secondary schools. As was already shown above, in the
1990s this was, in fact, one of the topics that ignited most debate and also
gave rise to extensive danger scenarios ranging from threats of corruption of
Finns’ minds, to the deterioration of the educational system, and eventually
the languages of Finland. Also experiences that individuals have had with
English in public places, with the media, or in their private lives sometimes
gave rise to language ideological debates. In such texts, it was often apparent
how language – especially the first language – was felt to be a private and
personal issue about which people have very strong feelings. In this kind of
framework English tends to be seen as a hostile agent threatening the very
core of one’s identity.
Secondly, it is not surprising that in many of the conceptualizations of
English as a danger one can detect the impact of national history and of
discursive frameworks for telling the grand narrative of Finnish history.
In particular, the colonial past of the country, the fact that it has been a
part of two empires – Sweden (from the eleventh century to 1808–9) and
Russia (1808–1917) – still seems to give some of the language ideological
debates direction and shape. The resentment against the Swedish language
apparent in our data in arguments against Swedish as an obligatory school
subject and as a factor which jeopardizes Finns’ capacity to learn other
languages, can partly derive from the cultural suspicion that some members
of the Finnish majority have had against Swedish influence in Finland,
and what they see as the Swedish-speaking elite in Finland (see Salo in this
volume). Even more importantly, the relationship Finland has had with
Russia and the USSR seems to have a great deal to do with some of the
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 165

ways in which the dangerousness of English is established (cf. Lähteenmäki

and Vanhala-Aniszewski in this volume). For instance, an editorial, while
discussing Irish society and culture, also manages to suggest through a
comparison between Finland and Ireland that, despite difficult times and a
sensitive geopolitical position, Finland has nevertheless managed to retain
its culture and language:

Example 29
Finland and Ireland have a lot in common
One of the curiosities in this world is that Finns should feel at home in
Ireland, at the other edge of Europe, a long way away on this nearly tree-
less island with the roaring Atlantic Ocean, endless rain and green grass.
This is so, despite the fact that in principle Finns and Irish knew nothing
of each other a few years ago when both were struggling against their
own isolation while also deriving much of their power from it. There
are lot of similarities. A big neighbour keen on getting supremacy, a reli-
gious borderland, poverty, the protection of one’s own culture based on
storytelling even during difficult times, a strange small language, similar
drinking habits – the list is endless. (Editorial, 4 October 1998)

On an even more general level, the dangerousness of English often seems

to be constructed with the help of a very specific historical–ideological nar-
rative depicting the Finnish nation state, culture and language as under
attack and which dates back to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century
political battles for national independence, and to the establishment and
solidification of the nation state in the twentieth century (see Blommaert
et al. in this volume). To illustrate this narrative, consider The Attack
(‘Hyökkäys’) (1905), a painting by Eetu Isto which is a very well-known,
iconic representation of the image of Finland in danger (see Figure 7.1).
In the painting, the Russian double-headed eagle is attacking the maiden
symbolizing Finland, tearing her law book. In the battle for independence,
the painting became the symbol of protest against Russification.
It could be argued that this picture also captures something crucial of the
current national imagery, in other words, of the ways in which Finns have
long looked at forces, powers and influences external to its borders as men-
acing the integrity and sovereignty of the nation, culture, the nation state
and even the minds of its citizens.
As was shown above, in the language ideological debates about English
this view was clearly visible. In this debate English was cast in the role
of the Other – both the malicious attacker and the corruptive seducer. From
this perspective, the language ideological debates about English are thus not
simply indexical – pointing to and expressing assumptions about English in
relation to and opposed to Finnish, about Finns as speakers of English and
Finnish, and about the significance of the ‘national’ language. Importantly,
166 Dangerous Multilingualism

Figure 7.1 The Attack (1905) by Eetu Isto (photograph by Rauno Traskelin, published
with the permission of Traskelin and Finnish National Museum)

the debates and views they foreground are also iconic – they offer an image
of what are taken to be the essential ingredients of nation, nation state,
language and culture (see also Gal, 1998, 2002).
Finally, on the basis of the language ideological debates analysed in this
chapter, it could be argued that the Herderian notion of language as the
essence of the nation is still very much alive and well in Finland.6 Why it is
still doing well in the early 2000s, has a lot to do with the fact that in the
era of globalization and internationalization which Finland has also recently
entered, English has become an easily available symbol of the anxieties
associated with globalization and internationalization. These anxieties – the
sense of menace imposed by the global language, included – are, however,
not unique to Finland. They are typical of what for example Ulrich Beck
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 167

(1992) has referred to as the crisis in societies which are moving from an era
of ‘first modernity’ to late modernity. This crisis entails an uneasy, jagged
transition from thinking about and operating in the world in terms of
national societies limited to geographical territory, national container states,
nation-state concerns and national identities, towards a world of new flows
of economics, challenges of national identities, radical individualization,
labour-market challenges of the old life span, citizens without countries,
and the rise of political failures of nation-state politics and unaccountability
of global patterns (Beck, 1992, 2002). In periods of crisis like those depicted
by Beck, language ideologies which fall back on national language as the
essence of a nation and nation state have a certain appeal of keeping the
inevitable changes, at least for some time and for some people, at bay.

1. Circulation 470, 657 in 1995 and 419, 791 in 2007.
2. A freeware concordance program created by Laurence Anthony, available
for download at <>, date
accessed 7 September 2011.
3. The original Finnish texts have been translated into English by the authors. The
extracts in Finnish are listed at the end of this chapter.
4. The italics are added here by us to indicate the actual English expressions used in
the otherwise Finnish text.
5. Again, the words indicated by italics mark the original English used in the original
Finnish text.
6. In his Philosophical Writings, von Herder argued ‘For every distinct community is
a nation having its own national culture as it has its own language’ (von Herder,
2002, p. 284).

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List of the data examples in Finnish

Example 1
Merivartijamme englantilaisia?
Ajoimme 4.8. Haapasaaren merivartioaseman ohi ja hämmästykseni oli
suuri, kun huomasin, että kaikkiin merivartioaluksiin oli kirjoitettu ‘frontier
guard’. Mitään suomen- tai ruotsinkielistä tekstiä ei näkynyt.
Tavallisessa suomalaisessa tällainen kansainvälistyminen herättää koko
joukon kysymyksiä. Vaikka liike-elämämme onkin omaksunut paljon eng-
lanninkielistä terminologiaa, odottaisi valtion turvallisuudesta vastuussa
olevilta virkamiehiltä tervettä isänmaallisuutta suomalaisuuden profiilia
tyylikkäästi korostaen.
Virallisten kieliemme arvostus on tärkeä osa suomalaista identiteet-
tiämme. Englanti ei vielä ole virallinen kolmas kielemme.
Nyt ‘frontier guard’ suomalaisessa merivartioaluksessa antaa maastamme
meille suomalaisille sellaisen lässähtäneen vaikutelman, että Suomi ei
olisikaan täysin itsenäinen, suvereeni valtio, vaan rajojamme ovatkin tulleet
valvomaan Naton joukot tai britit. (Mielipide, 9.8.1996)

Example 2
Suomen kielen professori NN sanoo Helsingin Sanomissa 18.8. että Suomessa
ei tarvita englanninkielistä kouluopetusta. Se luo hänen mielestään kielel-
listä kodittomuutta. (Mielipide, 2.9.1996)

Example 3
Lainasanoja on tulvinut kieleen viimeisen kuuden tuhannen vuoden ajan,
sen ajan, josta jotain tiedetään, ja tulvii vastakin. [...] Sanat tulevat ja ne
mukautetaan omaan kieleen ja thats it. [...] Varsinainen uhka suomen kiele-
lle sen sijaan tulee juuri tuosta teknisesti etevästä kulttuurista, joka tällä
hetkellä on angloamerikkalainen. (Pääkirjoitus, 18.1.1998)

Example 4
Angloamerikkalaisen kulttuurin arvostus on johtamassa siihen, että suomi
väistyy englannin tieltä erilaisten käyttötilanteiden kielenä. Sulun on avannut
talouselämä, erityisesti kaupallinen mainonta. [...] Prosessi on hidas, mutta se
etenee yhtä vääjäämättä kuin kasvihuoneilmiö. (Pääkirjoitus, 30.6.1996)
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 171

Example 5
Lähes yhtä suuri rasitus suomen kielelle [kuin pakkoruotsi] on kaksikielisen
maailmanosan varsinainen kakkoskieli englanti. (Mielipide, 30.12.1998)

Example 6
Uhan välttämiseksi voitaneen ajatella englannin kielelle vanhan latinan
asemaa suomen kielen rinnalle. Silloin se ei aiheuttaisi paineita kielemme
sortamisen suuntaan, vaan loisi selvän kahdennetun jaon kielten välille.
(Mielipide, 7.6.2005)

Example 7
Varsinainen uhka suomen kielelle sen sijaan tulee juuri tuosta teknisesti
etevästä kulttuurista, joka tällä hetkellä on angloamerikkalainen. Me tukah-
dutamme kielemme itse. (Pääkirjoitus, 18.1.1998)

Example 8
Englannin kieli on yleismaailmallinen atk-ammattilaisten yhteinen kieli
kansallisuudesta riippumatta. Hyvä niin, mutta atk:n kasvavan merkityksen
vuoksi laajeneva englannin käyttö on suomen kielen surma. (Mielipide,
16.10.1996 – kaupunginvaltuustoehdokas)

Example 9
Kirjoitus tyytyy kuvailemaan ongelmaa vapaana arvovalintana englanti
vastaan äidinkieli ja epäsuorasti leimaa englantia opetuskielenä käyttävät
jotenkin harhaoppineiksi. (Mielipide, 4.5.2005)

Example 10
Englannissa vaanii myös ansa. Moni lankeaa siihen, että luulee osaavansa
kieltä, koska sitä kuulee kaikkialla. Nyanssien tasolla englanti on kuitenkin
erittäin vaikea. (Mielipide, 21.10.2005)

Example 11
Brittiläinen ystäväni kertoi joidenkin rääväsuiden jenkkileffoista oppimat
kirouslitaniat saavan ensin hätkähtämään ja sitten nauramaan, sillä paksulla
aksentilla suomenkielen seassa solkotettuina ne kuullostavat niin nauret-
tavilta. Pidetään kielemme kauniina! (Mielipide, 20.1.1996)

Example 12
Suomi goes englanniksi
Olen ihastuneena seurannut englannin ja suomen kielen sujuvaa yhdis-
tämistä suurten kulttuuritapahtumien nimeämisessä. Mitä poikkeuksellista
luovuutta ja omaperäisyyttä osoittavatkaan nuo taidokkaasti kiteytetyt sanat.
Down by the Laituri, kuinka hienoa. Art goes Kapakassa tänään Classic Sunday
(HS 31.8.), kuinka kansainväliseltä se kuulostaakaan. Ehdotankin saman
172 Dangerous Multilingualism

linjan jatkamista entistä suuremmassa yhteiskunnallisessa mittakaavassa.

Down by the Hallituksen Iltakoulu. Ahtisaari goes Maakunnat. Älköön
kukaan, never, pääskö sanomaan että me suomalaiset emme olisi osa kan-
sainvälistyvää ja yhdistyvää maailmaa. Heittäkäämme kansallinen kieli,
kulttuuri ja valuutta historian romukoppaan tämän uuden ja uljaan ajan
kynnyksellä. ‘N.N. goes hulluksi.’ (Mielipide, 8.9.1997)

Example 13
Tilanne Suomessa on pahempi. Englantia käytetään joka yhteydessä: nuorison
puhekielessä yleisin kirosana on fuck ja mainoksissa kaikki on cool tai new.
Yritykset muokkaavat nimensä englanninkieliseen asuun, ammattikoulusta
valmistuu tradenomeja ja maaseutukunnat kehittävät itselleen kansain-
välisiä selviytymisstrategioita. Mitä vikaa on suomessa tai suomenkielisissä
sanoissa? Ei kaiken uuden ja nuorekkaan tarvitse olla englanniksi, muo-
dikkuutta voi ilmentää suomeksikin. (Mielipide, 14.7.1999)

Example 14
Huono itsetunto selittää kielen aseman
XX kirjoitti Helsingin Sanomien mielipidesivulla (9.5.) täyttä asiaa suomen
kielen heitteillejätöstä. Olen itsekin surullisena seurannut samaa kehitystä
jo vuosikaudet sekä päätyössäni sihteerinä että sivutyössäni suomentajana.
Konferenssia varten puhujan on lähetettävä abstrakti (vaikka emaililla). Itse
konferenssissa postereiden presentaatio tietenkin kuuluu asiaan, ja sessioissa
puhetta johtavat moderaattorit, joskus on ihan vain speakerit. Tapahtuman
kuluessa sovitaan missioista ja visioista ja työskennellään workshopeissa.
Primääritavoitteena on tietenkin konsensus. ‘Oikeat’ käsitteet pitää hallita,
vaikka kyse olisi Suomessa toteutettavasta suomenkielisestä tapahtumasta.
Tämä oli vain yksi esimerkki lukuisista. [...] Syy suomen kielen väheksymiseen
lienee suomalaisten huono itsetunto (siksi kai vierasperäisiä käsitteitä sano-
taankin sivistyssanoiksi), laiskuus tai välinpitämättömyys – pahimmillaan
kaikki kolme yhdessä. ‘Kun kaikki muut puhuvat postereista ja abstrak-
teista, enhän minäkään kehtaa puhua julisteista enkä luentotiivistelmistä.’
Suomi on kaunis, vivahteikas ja loppumattoman rikas kieli, mutta jos sitä ei
arvosta, sitä on vaikea vaalia. (Mielipide, 13.5.2007)

Example 15
Englannin kieli on tietty uhka suomen kielelle. Sillä on eräänlainen mahtiasema
maailmassa, mikä antaa sille huomattavan painoarvon myös Suomessa.
(Mielipide, 7.6.2005)

Example 16
Niillä aloilla, joita [englannin] kieli näin totaalisesti hallitsee, äidinkielen
käyttöala luonnollisesti kapenee. Se taantuu ja kelpaa ennen pitkää vain
toisarvoisiin tehtäviin. (Pääkirjoitus, 18.1.1998)
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 173

Example 17
Pienen kansakunnan tärkeimmät elämän edellytykset ovat vapaus ja oma
kieli. [...] Pienen kansan kieltä on vaalittava erityisesti ja sitä on kehitet-
tävä tietoisesti kaikessa koulutuksessa, sillä kansainvälistymisen lisääntyessä
mm. tutkimusten kieleksi valikoituu yhä useammin muu kuin suomi. Jos
teoreettista ja tieteellistä pohdintaa ei harjoiteta suomeksi, jäävät käsit-
teet kehittymättä ja selkeän tekstin tuottaminen vaikeutuu. (Mielipide,

Example 18
[...] suomenkielinen termistö [...] muun muassa tietotekniikan eräillä alueilla
uhkaa jäädä englanninkielisen varjoon. (Mielipide, 9.4.1998)

Example 19
XX on puuttunut (HS 16.10.) atk-väen kielenkäyttöön. [--] hän tuo esille atk-
ihmisten ja maallikoiden välisen ymmärryskatkon, joka hänen mukaansa
poistuisi, jos atk-asioista puhuttaisiin jokapäiväisellä kielellä. (Mielipide,

Example 20
XX ja YY totesivat (HS 22.5.), ettei kansainvälistyminen saisi olla pieniä
kieliä tappavaa. [...] Uhan alla ei ole ainoastaan suomen kieli. Maailmassa
puhutaan noin 6900 eri kieltä. Noin 90 prosenttia ihmisistä puhuu
sataa ‘suurinta’ kieltä. Loput 6800 maailman kielistä ovat uhan alla kadota
seuraavan sadan vuoden aikana, näin väittävät Oxfordissa toimivat tutkijat
Suzanne Romaine ja Daniel Nettle. [...] Englannin kielen taitoa tarvitaan,
mutta suomen tai ruotsin kieltä ei saa uhrata englannin kielen eteen.
(Mielipide, 29.5.2005)

Example 21
Samoin käy myös pohjoismaisten naapurisuhteitten. Ne menettävät
erikoisluonteensa, jos siirrytään englannin kielen käyttöön. (Mielipide,

Example 22
EU:n komission käännöstoimen pääosastoa Brysselissä johtava Juhani
Lönnroth, 60, kantaa huolta monikielisyyden säilymisestä unionissa. Yhä
useampi virkamies puhuu englantia, mutta ei äidinkielenään. (Mielipide,

Example 23
englannin ihannointi voi olla vaarallista, ei vain kielemme ja kulttu-
urimme kannalta, vaan myös suomalaisen osaamisen kannalta. (Mielipide,
174 Dangerous Multilingualism

Example 24
Kieli ei muutu ja kehity pelkästään virallisia teitä
Kaikkialla Euroopassa pohditaan, mikä on oman kielen asema tieteessä
ja taloudessa. Toteutuuko kansalaisten yhdenvertaisuus ja tiedonsaanti,
jos joillakin aloilla toimitaan vain englanniksi? Onko kansainvälisen
menestyksen rinnalla odotettavissa omakielisen kulttuurin ja yleissivistyksen
kutistuminen? (Pääkirjoitus, 27.7.2006)

Example 25
[...] Opetushallituksessakin aletaan tajuta, mitä voi olla seurauksena, kun
innostutaan liiaksi kielikylvyistä ja muista kielistä, lähinnä englannista.
On jo vakavaa, jos lapset haluavat äidinkielekseen pikemmin englannin.
On ymmärrettävää, että vanhemmat haluavat antaa lapsilleen mahdollisim-
man hyvät lähtökohdat. Kielten opiskelussa on kuitenkin syytä pitää huolta
siitä, että suomi opitaan ensin kunnolla. Englanti tulee miltei itsestään tv:n,
mainosten, internetin ym. kautta. (Mielipide, 5.9.1998)

Example 26
Vieraskielisen opetuksen vaikutuksesta äidinkieleen ollaan monta mieltä.
Kielten sekoittumista ei juuri pelätä, mutta hyvin kattavasta vieraskielisestä
opetuksesta voi kuitenkin olla haittaa: jotkut oppilaat valittivat, että äidink-
ielisiä ilmauksia saa joskus hakea jo vuodenkin kestäneen vieraskielisen
opetuksen jälkeen. (Mielipide, 27.1.1998)

Example 27
[...] Sanastotyön ammattilaisena minäkin tiedän, ettei sujuva suomenk-
ielinen termistö synny itsestään ja että se muun muassa tietotekniikan
eräillä alueilla uhkaa jäädä englanninkielisen varjoon. Silti minä ja monet
muut suomalaiset haluamme puhua ja kirjoittaa asioista, myös tietoliiken-
neasioista, ensisijaisesti omalla kielellämme. Halmeen lietsoma englannin
ihannointi voi olla vaarallista, ei vain kielemme ja kulttuurimme kannalta,
vaan myös suomalaisen osaamisen kannalta. Toivottavasti kaikki korkeakou-
lujemme opettajat eivät alistu hänen kanssaan, vaan hoksaavat tarvittaessa
kääntyä esimerkiksi terminologian asiantuntijoiden puoleen. [...] Hyvää
kielitaitoa ja tajua tarvitaan ilman muuta, mutta ammatillista osaamista
ei edistä se, että otetaan äidinkieleen perustuvat ajattelun välineet pois.
(Mielipide, 9.4.1998)

Example 28
Tilanne Suomessa on tietysti aivan toinen kuin Intiassa, mutta mekin
saamme pitää varamme, ettei vain lapsi pääsisi livahtamaan viemäriin
kielikylpyveden mukana tai takertumaan puolikielisyyden nettiin. En toki
halua olla alarmisti, mutta äidinkielen kompetenssin defenssiaktiviteettejä
Sirpa Leppänen and Päivi Pahta 175

olisi kyllä intensifioitava, tai kansainvälistymisemme stoori jää happy

endittä. (Mielipide, 31.3.1999)

Example 29
Suomella ja Irlannilla paljon yhteistä
Maailman menon kummallisuuksiin kuuluu, että suomalainen tuntee olonsa
kotoisaksi juuri Irlannissa, Euroopan toisella äärellä, kaukana pauhaavan
Atlantin, loputtoman sateen ja vihreän nurmikon liki puuttomalla
saarella. Näin siitä huolimatta, että suomalaiset ja irlantilaiset eivät
pääsääntöisesti tienneet toisistaan mitään vielä muutama vuosi sitten, kun
molemmat kamppailivat omaa eristyneisyyttään vastaan ja imivät siitä
samalla voimansa.
Yhdistäviä tekijöitä on paljon. Suuri ylivaltaan pyrkivä naapuri, uskonto-
jen rajamaa, köyhyys, tarinan kertomiseen nojaava oman kulttuurin suojelu
vaikeinakin aikoina, kummallinen pieni kieli, samanlaiset juopottelutavat –
listaa riittää loputtomiin. (Pääkirjoitus, 4.10.1998)
Multilingualism in Nordic
Cooperation – a View from
the Margin
Maisa Martin

Languages in the Nordic countries

The unit of the North

The Nordic area is often seen as culturally and politically quite homogeneous,
not only from the outside but also by the Nordic people themselves.
Democratic traditions, Lutheran ethics, avoidance of extremes, and close
relationship with nature are all attributes associated with us. Of course we
vie for victory in ice hockey or Nordic skiing, consider some of the tradi-
tional foods of our neighbours disgusting, and tell jokes where Finns put
down Swedes or Norwegians make fun of Finns, but nevertheless support
many joint activities and stick together in the crowd of nationalities in the
larger international arena.
Linguistically, however, the Nordic1 countries are far from homogeneous.
This is not always acknowledged in Nordic contexts such as pan-Nordic con-
ferences or meetings of political bodies where skandinaviska (‘Scandinavian’)
is used as the common language. In this chapter the linguistic diversity and
its consequences are discussed from the viewpoint of a speaker of a non-
Scandinavian language.
This brings up one of the central themes of the book, namely, the ideolog-
ical notion of purity at the service of unity. Within the Nordic context, an
insistence on a shared language policy in Nordic activities and encounters is
officially purported to enhance the sense of the Nordic area as a culturally
and ideologically unified territory where all the nationalities can alleg-
edly meet, communicate and act together equally. In practice, however,
what happens is that the choice of skandinaviska creates a new kind of
inequality, a situation in which some participants – the native speakers
of Scandinavian languages – end up, in fact, being more equal than those
participants with a completely different language background – such as
Finns and immigrant participants – for whom a Scandinavian language
is a second or foreign language. A new category – skandinaviska as the
lingua franca – which is actively preferred for its assumed democratic and
Maisa Martin 177

egalitarian potential – thus creates new kinds of divisions and hierarchies

and ends up marginalizing some participants as fully active members in
the Nordic forums. In addition, the fact that most Nordic citizens are
now relatively proficient in English further complicates the picture. This
is because English is seen as an intruding language which threatens to
jeopardize the unity that is taken to partly derive from the universal use
of skandinaviska.
What this chapter hopes to offer is a critical analysis of the ideological
notion of skandinaviska as an emblem of unity. It shows how the Nordic
language policy helps to set ‘us’ apart from ‘others’, but how it, in reality,
ends up creating new inequalities because not everyone shares the language
equally well. The policy thus limits the agency of some participants in
communication and assigns more power to others who are in a position to
use their first language and set limits to what extent linguistic variation or
detours to other languages are allowed.
Historically, Nordic cooperation has deep roots but its current institu-
tions date back mainly to the early 1950s (Nordic Institutions, 31 August
2011). The period during which the author has gathered her observations
described in this chapter is about a decade before and after the millennium.
Recent changes and trends have had little effect on the Nordic institutions
so far, leaving operational practices mainly unchanged. It remains to be
seen whether globalization, late modernity (see Blommaert et al., this
volume) and super-diversity (Vertovec, 2006) will strengthen or demolish
these institutions.
In the following the languages of the North and some Nordic institutions
will be briefly presented. This will provide the backdrop against which the
use, status and role of three languages – English, skandinaviska and suomi
(Finnish) – as well as attitudes and language policy issues of the individual
countries and the Nordic institutions will be discussed. In this section of
the chapter the pros and cons of each of the choices which can be made in
the actual meeting contexts with speakers from the various Nordic linguistic
communities will be investigated in detail. Finally some conclusions are
drawn on the effects of language choices on Nordic cooperation.

The rainbow of languages and Nordic institutions

There are five Nordic countries: Denmark (population 5,534,738), Finland
(5,351,427), Iceland (317, 630), Norway (4,858,199) and Sweden (9,256,347).
The population of the Faroe Islands is 48,650, Greenland 56,194 and Åland
27,734.2 The national languages are respectively Danish, Finnish, Icelandic,
Norwegian and Swedish. Danish, Finnish and Swedish are also official
languages of the European Union, while Norway and Iceland have stayed
outside the EU, even if in practice they participate in many of its activities,
making it possible for all the Nordic countries to act together in EU projects
when necessary.
178 Dangerous Multilingualism

Of the national majority languages Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are

closely related and mutually comprehensible, more so in writing than in
speech, but at least educated native speakers of these languages usually seem
to be able to communicate also orally, albeit not without some difficulty,
repetitions and negotiations of meaning. (For further discussion on the
issue and the actual extent of receptive multilingualism in Scandinavia see
Delsing, 2007; Doetjes, 2007; Zeevaert, 2007; Goskeens and Hilton, 2010.)
Icelandic is historically related to these languages but structurally more
complex, with many indigenous or conservative features no longer present
in the modern versions of the others, and not comprehensible without con-
siderable practice and/or study. Sweden, Denmark and Iceland each have
their own national written standard. Norway has two official languages,
Bokmål (‘Book Language’) and Nynorsk (‘New Norwegian’). Bokmål is based
on Danish, Nynorsk on Norwegian dialects. Both are taught as school
subjects and the dominance between the two is regionally determined.
While other major Nordic languages are Germanic in origin, Finnish is
not a member of the Indo-European language family at all but a Finno-
Ugric language, with a very different typological structure and vocabulary.
However, the long shared history with Sweden has influenced Finnish
conceptually and stylistically, making translating between Finnish and
Swedish fairly easy, as the meanings of particularly abstract concepts
relating to administration and social life are often semantically equivalent.
Even some structural features are influenced (see Dahl, 2008 for arguments
for some similarities between Finnish and its neighbours), but the sound
structure, words and grammar are different enough to make the language
completely opaque (and weird or exotic, depending on attitudes) for the
speakers of Scandinavian languages.
National majority languages, however, are not the whole picture. In
Finland the local standard variety of Swedish (291,153 speakers, Statistics
Finland, 31 August 2011) is the second official3 language in the mainland
and the only official language of Åland. In Sweden it is estimated4 that there
are 450,000 speakers of Finnish (National Association of Finns in Sweden,
31 August 2011). Speakers of Swedish in Finland consider themselves as
Finns and are a part of the ‘original’ population of the country, while
most Finns in Sweden are immigrants and their descendants. In addition,
a language called Meän kieli is an indigenous form of speech in northern
Sweden and in western parts of northern Finland. It is considered a language
in its own right, separate from Finnish, in Sweden, and a dialect of Finnish
on the Finnish side of the river Tornio/Torneå, which since 1809 has been
the border between Sweden and Finland (see Vaattovaara, 2009; also for the
debate on the status of Meän kieli see Meän kieli, 31 August 2011). It is easily
comprehensible for Finns. In northern Norway another form of Finnish
called Kveeni is spoken (Kveeni, 31 August 2011) and has some official
recognition as a minority language.
Maisa Martin 179

The Faroe Islands are a part of Denmark with their own language, Faroese,
which in turn is somewhat similar to Icelandic, although not immediately
totally comprehensible to Icelanders (Faroese, 31 August 2011). Another
part of Denmark, Greenland, has, besides Danish, Greenlandic Inuktitut,
a member of the Eskimo-Aleut or Inuit language family, as its official language
(Greenlandic Inuktitut, 31 August 2011). Inuktitut is another non-Germanic,
non-Indo-European language not related to any of the other languages spoken
in the Nordic area. There are also native speakers of German in Denmark.
The Sámi languages (Sámi, 31 August 2011; see also Pietikäinen and Kelly-
Holmes, this volume) are spoken in three of the Nordic countries, as they
span across northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Sámi languages
are a part of the Finno-Ugric language family, but not comprehensible to
speakers of Finnish. Not all Sámi speakers understand the different forms
of Sámi either, and the group is usually divided into ten languages/dialects,
many if not all of them endangered due to the small number of native
speakers, although revival efforts have been somewhat successful in parts
of the Sámi area.
In addition to these minority languages definable by geographical area,
there are indigenous minority languages spoken by populations dispersed
across the Nordic countries, such as the speakers of the Roma language
(Romany, 31 August 2011) – with different versions in different Nordic
countries – and sign language users. Contrary to common belief, all signers
do not understand each other. A user of Swedish Sign Language does not
automatically understand Finnish Sign Language (Finnish Sign Language,
31 August 2011), although close historical and educational contacts have
brought these languages closer to each other than for example American
Sign Language.
In recent decades increased mobility has brought yet another set of
languages into the Nordic Babel: the immigrant languages. Some of these
are not completely new, like Russian in Finland (see Lähteenmäki and
Vanhala-Aniszewski, this volume) or Finnish in Sweden or Norway, where
Finnish is both an original local language in some rural areas and a new
immigrant language. Others are more exotic to the local population, such
as Vietnamese or Somali. Even if these groups gradually integrate in Nordic
societies, they bring another aspect to the Nordic linguistic rainbow (see
Suni and Latomaa, this volume for the situation in Finland) and add to the
number of non-native speakers of Nordic languages – a question in focus
later in this chapter.
Nordic institutions (Nordic Council, Nordic Council of Ministers, and all
the offices and programmes supported by them) may use any Scandinavian
language, in other words Danish, Norwegian or Swedish, in their official doc-
uments or speeches. Finnish and Icelandic are not used in this manner, but
the speakers of these languages are assumed to use one of the Scandinavian
languages or request for translation or interpretation. As Copenhagen is
180 Dangerous Multilingualism

the home base of the Councils, Danish tends to be preferred, but as many
activities are also located in the other countries, it provides opportunities for
the use of Swedish and Norwegian (but not the other languages).
The language question is a fundamental element of Nordic fellowship. The
language policy work is coordinated and run by an Advisory Committee, the
Nordic Language Council, with the following main objectives (see Nordic
Institutions, 31 August 2011). Interestingly enough, the aims are only avail-
able in Danish.

• To promote inter-Nordic language understanding

• To strengthen knowledge of languages in the Nordic countries
• To promote democratic language policy and outlook on language in the
Nordic countries
• To strengthen the status of the Nordic languages within and outside the
Nordic countries

In spite of such elevated ideals, English is also used with increasing

frequency in Nordic gatherings. The use of Icelandic or Finnish (or Sámi,
for that matter) leads to the use of interpreters. While interpretation can be
provided, it is not always an unproblematic solution. The three alternative
media of communication are discussed below.
Each of the five Nordic countries has its own more or less official language
policy. They are not discussed in detail here, but some characteristic features
are pointed out as they bear on the way people from each of the Nordic
countries view the joint linguistic policies, as well as on the actual choices
made in their encounters. Unless there is a reference to a specific source,
the data discussed in this chapter refer to the ethnographic observations the
present author has gathered in connection with her active participation for
over 25 years in numerous Nordic encounters, including for example work-
ing groups in the area of language learning and teaching and joint research
ventures, some exclusively Nordic, some European or North American
with members from several Nordic countries. Because the data drawn on
here have been retrieved in connection with meetings in which the author
happened to be a member, they are admittedly somewhat random and
anecdotal in nature. Nevertheless, thanks to the author’s long-term active
involvement, they can offer valuable emic (analysing cultural phenomena
from the perspective of a participant), first-hand insights into what can be
taken as typical grassroots practices of language policing in institutional and
academic Nordic contexts.

Skandinaviska, a lingua franca?

Skandinaviska is a hybrid language based on Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.

It has no standard form and it is not normally written. Each speaker uses the
Maisa Martin 181

Scandinavian language with which s/he is most familiar, tries to pronounce

it clearly, and replaces the most language-specific words, expressions and
forms with more widely known variants. The extent of such replacements
varies by speaker, as the process requires both knowledge of the differences
between the languages and the metalinguistic ability to monitor one’s speech
even in the heat of discussion. With time, certain recurrent strategies have,
however, emerged. For example, one of the most common adjustments
is the replacement of the complicated Danish numbers with the simpler
Swedish ones.
Skandinaviska sounds like the ideal solution to the linguistic problems of
Nordic cooperation. It is nobody’s first language, so all users are equal – in
theory. It has no standard or norms, so you cannot be made to feel that
you are using it incorrectly. As it is based on the languages which everyone
in the Nordic countries has either as a first language (in Sweden, Norway
and Denmark as well as a part of the population of Finland) or is learn-
ing at school (Danish in Iceland, Faroe Islands and Greenland; Swedish in
Finland), everyone is assumed to know it. Skandinaviska is also an interesting
example of inherent and acceptable hybridity. Even those who demand
linguistic purity and stability in their own language never criticize the users
of skandinaviska for the variability and mixing involved.
However, for Finns skandinaviska poses many problems. This is because
their school-learnt Swedish is often simply not enough to follow a meeting,
let alone to fully participate in it. Furthermore, standard Swedish spoken in
Sweden differs a great deal from the variety spoken in Finland, particularly
the pronunciation and some of the vocabulary. Many dialects of Swedish
can be even more difficult to understand. Tests of mutual comprehension in
Nordic communication show that understanding dialects or closely related
languages is easier for those who speak a Scandinavian language as a first
language (Delsing, 2007, p. 238). Thus Finns’ participation in a meeting in
Swedish can be very exhausting, even for those with relatively good school-
acquired skills in Swedish. What often happens, then, is that they end up
simply sitting silent, rather than trying actively to follow the conversation
or formulate a comment or question.
In addition to language proficiency issues, Finns experience difficulty
in situations where skandinaviska is used for reasons related to attitudes.
Their productive ability is hampered by the strong Finnish normative tradi-
tion whereby in official contexts at least, one needs to strive for linguistic
purity and adhere to norms and a prescribed standard. This attitude dates
back to the 1800s when Finns had to fight for their language to become
the medium of education and government. A great deal of effort was spent
creating evidence of the independence of the Finnish language by designing
grammar rules and actively avoiding loanwords. The development of the
folk school at the same time made it possible to plant the ideas of purity
in the entire population. Even today there is a Language Board in Finland
182 Dangerous Multilingualism

which makes official pronouncements on acceptable structures and words

for written Finnish. These attitudes have also coloured the teaching of
Swedish (and other languages), in which limited but error-free production
has often been valued over fluency and comprehensibility.
Another attitudinal factor which may make it harder for Finns to acquire
both the productive and the receptive skills of Swedish – and thereby
skandinaviska – is related to the role of Swedish in Finnish schools. Swedish
is a mandatory school subject in Finland for those whose first language is
Finnish – as is Finnish for those who belong to the Swedish-speaking section
of the population. As a result, those from Swedish-speaking homes are
usually quite bilingual, as they see the need to become fluent in the majority
language and have plenty of opportunities to use it. At the same time, many
speakers of the majority language subjected to ‘forced Swedish’, as it is
commonly called, learn hardly any Swedish during their school years, due
to lack of motivation and general opinion: in monolingual Finnish regions
it may be social suicide for a pupil to admit to liking learning Swedish. (For
further discussion of this issue, see Salo in this volume.)
The often heated media discussion on the mandatory status of Swedish in
Finnish schools colours the attitudes of many Finns.5 Swedish is seen as a
nuisance, even a danger to the overall level of educational achievement in
Finland: it takes up time which many feel should be used for more ‘useful’
or ‘important’ subjects at school or university. Mandatory Swedish is also
seen as a danger to ‘true’ multilingualism: if only we did not need to study
Swedish, we would become truly multilingual, in other words learn English
better, or even some German or French! Finns’ attitudes vis-à-vis Swedish
were also affected by the lower social status of the speakers of Finnish, as
compared to the Swedish-speaking ruling class, until the early 1900s, even
if there no longer are any significant socio-economic differences between
the two linguistic groups. Swedish speakers are often considered as having
unfair advantages, as most of them are bilingual, and in the Nordic contexts
they find it easier to deal with skandinaviska.
Nevertheless, a working knowledge of Swedish is a required part of
all academic degrees in Finland. In the eyes of other Nordic people this
official requirement, whether adhered to or not, leads to the belief that
any educated Finnish person is able to participate in Nordic cooperation
in skandinaviska. In reality, however, it is English that is spoken by most
members of the younger generation, and with much more ease than
Swedish (Leppänen et al., 2008).
The great variability of skandinaviska creates another set of problems,
not only for Finns but also for all Nordic people. Norwegians are better at
understanding Danish and Swedish than vice versa (Delsing, 2007). This is
partly because they take more advantage of the media of their neighbours
and thus have more exposure to their languages. Another reason for the
variability is Norwegian language policy. Norwegians take pride in their
Maisa Martin 183

own dialects and use them in all contexts. In their view, it is up to the
listeners to understand them. In this manner they themselves naturally
become quite proficient in understanding many different ways of speaking.
For an outsider, however, this freedom of linguistic form seems admirably
unlimited, but also demanding, as one has to adjust to a new way of talking
with each speaker. A non-native speaker of Scandinavian languages is thus
faced with a formidable task.
While listening to Norwegian variants of skandinaviska is taxing for a Finn,
Danish presents an even bigger challenge: it is practically impenetrable.
Reading Danish is fairly easy with a reasonable level of proficiency in
Swedish, but spoken Danish is characterized by considerable contrac-
tions of word forms. This makes spoken Danish quite incomprehensible
for most people outside Denmark. Even native speakers of Swedish have
difficulty with it (Maurud, 1976; Delsing, 2007). Norwegians do better, as
do Swedes living in southern Sweden. Most Icelanders have learnt Danish
as a mandatory school subject and thus have a headstart, as do people from
Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Many have also had their higher education
in Denmark, Sweden or Norway, and have thus had a chance to become
accustomed to several varieties of skandinaviska.
Both Norwegians and Danes are usually quite easygoing about their
language and they are, in principle, willing to make an effort to understand
others and to adapt their own speech by attempting to speak more clearly,
to use common Scandinavian or Swedish words instead of less well-known
local ones. Unfortunately, few people manage to keep this up for more
than the first minute or so, after which the subject matter becomes the
sole focus and language their normal way of speaking. Normally, Icelanders
speaking Danish are somewhat easier to understand, as they speak
skandinaviska as a foreign language, hence usually more slowly and with
less reduction.
Most Scandinavians understand the Finnish variety of Swedish very
well; some even claim that it is easier to understand than the native varie-
ties. However, this, too, gives rise to yet another problem: it is that most
people strongly believe that comprehension precedes production in foreign
languages. Thus a person who can produce Finnish Swedish reasonably
fluently is also deemed to be a competent user of skandinaviska. Even
linguists find it almost impossible to believe that a Finnish person who
can actually speak quite understandable Swedish, understands practically
nothing of what is said in Danish, Norwegian or even rapid Stockholm
Swedish. As a result, they can mistake Finns’ sheer linguistic inability for
a lack of willingness to use skandinaviska, to be a member of the great
Scandinavian family. Finns thus face a constant dilemma between unity
and the opportunity to express themselves fully: staggering along in halting
skandinaviska is a symbol of togetherness, but usually involves a trade-off in
the content of the interaction.
184 Dangerous Multilingualism

The equality issues related to the use of skandinaviska are not limited
to native speakers of national languages like Finnish and Icelandic. The
indigenous minority groups discussed above, such as Greenlandic Inuit
and Sámi, not only have to learn the national language to function in their
home country, but to exercise their rights as Nordic citizens they may also
be required to learn one of the Scandinavian languages. The same is true
of immigrants. For an immigrant child in Finland it is possible that s/he
is exempted from learning Swedish at school, as many of them are already
learning Finnish, English and perhaps also literacy skills in their home
language. While this may be seen as a relief at the time, lacking even a basic
knowledge of Swedish can, in fact, disadvantage people with an immigrant
background not only in higher education, where Swedish is required for all
degrees, but also in the competition for positions in Nordic institutions.
Immigration issues are commonly discussed on the Nordic level, but rarely
with immigrants present.
The use of skandinaviska limits the communication of most Finns, leading
to the dilution of the message they aim at conveying to their Scandinavian
interlocutors (for the concept in a broadcasting context cf. Pietikäinen
and Kelly-Holmes, this volume). While they may be able to express a basic
opinion, or to make a comment or a suggestion, they may not be able to
do so in a way which would help the argument to be accepted. Important
nuances may be lost, and requests or proposals may be interpreted as com-
mands, leading to emotional opposition. For reasons such as these, Finnish
participants in Nordic gatherings often feel, share and talk with one another
of feelings of acute communicative anxiety and inadequacy.
The use of skandinaviska also has properties of symbolic production. It is
something ‘we’ all allegedly share. It is informal, just like we like to think
ourselves to be, with no unnecessary rules or standards. Yet few people speak
it without some loss of quality of the message, as even native speakers of
Scandinavian languages have to concentrate on the linguistic form of their
speech, rather than the content alone. The crucial role as a symbol of unity
is highlighted even in situations in which it is clear from the beginning
that a meeting cannot be conducted in skandinaviska. In such cases, some
phrases in skandinaviska are always used, as a reminder to the participants
of what Nordic people have in common. Skandinaviska thus symbolizes the
ideals of Nordic cooperation: we are alike, we share culture, we understand
each other. It is an emblem of unity, an emblem of Northern identity.

English, practical but foreign

Most Finns and Icelanders who participate in Nordic activities, be they

exchanges between schools, political gatherings or academic events, are
more comfortable with English than they are with skandinaviska. Sometimes
this is true of Scandinavians as well. In specific working contexts, such as
Maisa Martin 185

business and academia, for example, daily activities are conducted in English
so often that many feel that they know the terminology and other specific
language better in English than in their mother tongue. For these reasons
resorting to English also in Nordic contexts is increasingly common.
The inclusion of the Baltic countries in Nordic activities, as has widely
happened after Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania gained independence in the
early 1990s, has given new impetus and justification to the use of English.
Unlike officially bilingual Finns who can be expected to know Swedish, the
Baltic people, who rarely study Scandinavian languages, cannot be expected
to switch to skandinaviska in Nordic contexts.
Despite the fact that most Scandinavians in business and science find
using English quite natural as far as the official part of the meeting goes,
these very same people tend to strike up conversations in their own language
as soon as the coffee break or dinner time arrives, leaving the Finns talking
to each other. This practice usually remains unchallenged, as most Finns feel
that they should be able to participate in such conversations in Swedish and
are ashamed of admitting that they actually cannot. Nor can Scandinavians
be deemed impolite, as most of them are under the assumption that the
official bilingualism of Finland means that all Finns are actually bilingual.
Nevertheless, one result of this is that an important part of the event, the
informal networking, remains out of reach for many participants.
In practice, in many contexts, especially within institutionalized Nordic
meetings,6 the use of English is frowned upon. For example, the Nordic
Council and its suborganizations as well as the publications of Pohjola-
Norden (a non-governmental organization which aims to promote Nordic
cooperation) often publish surveys on their websites on the increasing use
of English or the lack of skills in Nordic languages as bad news. In the same
vein, while the interest of Finnish youth in Nordic affairs is applauded, their
unwillingness to learn and use Swedish is lamented at the same time.
That the interest in Scandinavian languages is generally waning also
shows in the fact that young Scandinavians are claimed to have more dif-
ficulties in understanding the languages of their neighbours than their
elders have (for evidence, see e.g. Maurud, 1976; and Delsing, 2007 for
comparative analyses). As a result, there have been calls for measures to
correct this situation, but with not much success. For example, the formerly
popular summer courses for Nordic students to study each others’ languages
(see Nordic Institutions, 31 August 2011) have fewer applicants each year, in
spite of the free tuition, room and board offered.
For some, the increasing difficulties involved in the requirement for
skandinaviska as the lingua franca in Nordic encounters have also given
rise to a more liberal policy. One example of this is the resolution of the
Nordic Youth Council (NYC), a forum of young Nordic politicians in 2008
( nordic- youth-council-nyc/
resolutions/unr-s-resolutioner-2008) that it is, in principle, acceptable to
186 Dangerous Multilingualism

use English in situations where it is not possible to understand each other

in the Nordic languages. This decision was, however, met with a great deal
of resistance: for instance, Nordic ministers and MPs were strongly against
it. According to them, understanding the Nordic languages is fundamental
to Nordic cooperation. They also swiftly provided the NYC money so that
they can hire interpreters and translators for their meetings. Any supporter
of multilingualism would obviously hail granting money for translation
services for youth events as a measure to counteract the increasing use
of English. The young people themselves may not, however, see it in the
same way, as for them asking and waiting for interpretation may seem
ridiculous when everyone is fluent in English and uses it as soon as no one
in authority is listening.
This kind of opposition to the use of English stems from two main sources:
on the one hand, English lacks the emblematic character of skandinaviska
described above; on the other, it is seen as a danger to very existence of the
small Nordic languages (see e.g. Mål i mun, 2002; Suomen kielen toimintao-
hjelma, 2009). Seeing English as ‘the killer language’ (the term is borrowed
from Skutnabb-Kangas, 31 August 2011) is common in the public opinion of
all Nordic countries. English expressions, business and product names, and
the use of English in media are disapproved of, as is also evidenced by letters
to editors striking up the discussion over and over again (see Leppänen and
Pahta in this volume for many examples of such media content in Finland).
The situation is quite similar in Sweden: even if Swedish has more speakers
than any other Nordic language, there is a great deal of worry that it might
decline and English take over. Educated Swedes generally speak English very
well, sprinkle their speech liberally with English expressions without even
seeming to notice it themselves. For those whose Swedish skills are lacking
it could also be liberating. In practice, it could mean for them that as long
as you frame your sentence with something resembling Swedish, and fill
vocabulary gaps with English words: Voilà – you pass as a user of Swedish!
For purists, the increasing use of English clearly is a problem. The
opponents of English argue that the purity or very existence of their native
language is endangered. At the same time, schools teaching all or several
subjects in English grow in popularity, enterprises choose to use English as
their working language and universities offer whole programmes in English.
Most linguists agree that English poses no real danger to the national
languages at the moment in everyday usage (see also Leppänen et al., 2011).
It may cause the languages to change, or add to them, but it does not seem
likely that they would disappear altogether. However, there is reason to be
concerned that in academic contexts the Nordic languages may fall into
decay, as in some disciplines all publications are written in English and
consequently no terminology or expressions are developed for new con-
cepts and issues (Hiidenmaa, 2003; Leppänen and Nikula, 2007). Against
this background, Nordic academic cooperation could help to fight this
Maisa Martin 187

development by offering an international scientific forum for the use of

Nordic languages, but this only seems to function in areas where language
is the focus of study, and even there English is often allowed.7
The two views about the use of English in Nordic contexts are in constant
contradiction with one another. It is not only that different people or groups
of people hold different opinions, but even those who argue strongly for
the use of Nordic languages often actually use English, either because it
is often so much more convenient or because they bend under the demands
of those who find linguistic diversity a nuisance and a cost factor. In this
view language is seen as a tool, a set of machinery for communication with
no intrinsic, symbolic or emotional value.
In Nordic contexts, English may sometimes be preferred, because it is
seen as connected with modernity and progress. Admiration of the English
language may also be based on political allegiances or attachment with
English-speaking popular culture. While such attitudes may be more typical
of those involved in commerce or science than in arts and humanities,
many different views on the nature of language exist side by side in all
groups involved in Nordic cooperation.
Fighting against the use of English, in words if not in deeds, however, is
another issue which unifies speakers of Nordic languages. While the use of
English is practical and widely spread, it does not carry the same symbolic
notions and values as does the use of skandinaviska or even the use of inter-
preters. English marks the gathering as international, but not as specifically
Nordic. For this reason at least, it is believed that some formal or ritual parts
of the event must be conducted in skandinaviska or provided with inter-

Suomi, the poor cousin

While the Nordic languages are technically equal in Nordic contexts, there
is the notable exception of Finnish. There is no point trying to use Finnish,
as apart from those of Finnish descent in Sweden and Norway, very few
people in the other Nordic countries actually understand Finnish. The
Nordkurs organization (Nordic Institutions, 31 August 2011) which funds
summer courses in all Nordic languages, also invests in summer courses in
Finnish, but demand for these has, in practice, dwindled to almost zero. As
a consequence, speakers of Finnish face the choice of having to cope with
whatever Swedish they managed to learn at school, using English, or asking
for an interpreter. For them, none of the choices is good.
As was described above, the fact that Finns often have to struggle to
express themselves in Swedish or to overextend their capacities in order to
understand Norwegian or Danish means a serious reduction of the message
and a weakening of the power of their speech. Not only are their arguments
less persuasively formulated but the sheer cognitive burden makes them less
188 Dangerous Multilingualism

likely to ask for the floor. Also, never being sure of what, say, the Dane just
said and not being able to function at the level of their L1 performance,
erodes their self-confidence. In this situation, they might find English a far
easier language to use accurately and effectively, but, if they do so, its use
marks them as infidels, undermining Nordic unity, and this may exclude
them from the informal parts of the conversation.
At least among the most Nordic-minded, the pull towards unity expressed
by the choice of skandinaviska over interpretation or English often overrides
the quality of the interaction. Sometimes this also means that people who are
perfectly aware of the deficiencies in Finns’ ability to use skandinaviska will
repeatedly strike up conversation in it, enduring the halting speech and the
need to repeat their own utterances, even when both parties are aware that
the exchange could easily be conducted in English. A critical interpreta-
tion of this practice could be that the native speakers of Scandinavian
languages like to torture the less linguistically capable Finns. A less drastic
interpretation, also backed up by the present author’s experiences, is that,
in addition to kindly allowing the Finns to practise their Swedish and to
patiently suffer its inadequacies, they genuinely feel that this is what makes
us Nordic friends.
Another example of what kind of complex communicative and linguistic
outcomes the consensus over skandinaviska in Nordic meetings can produce
is highlighted by a grassroots decision by some of the participants in a small
long-term working group. In this group each time a Danish member sug-
gested or commented on something in skandinaviska, either the Swedish or
Icelandic members, who clearly knew that the Finns were unsure of what
had just been said, asked for the floor and briefly summarized the previous
turn in clear Swedish before adding their own contributions. Interestingly,
this practice was never discussed, and it is not clear whether all the group
members ever noticed it, but it actually made full participation of the
Finnish members possible.
When the participants who are less proficient in skandinaviska exercise
their right to use an interpreter in a Nordic meeting, this clearly has the
advantage that it allows them to concentrate on the issues being discussed
instead of the language. At the same time, it also has definite disadvantages.
For example, in big meetings interpretation may be easily provided for the
official parts, but is not available for each individual during informal gather-
ings. In small meetings, in turn, it may not be available at all or asking for it
is not welcome. This is illustrated by a recent e-mail discussion among the
members of a Nordic working group which revealed rather strong attitudes
against interpreting which a Finnish member of the group had suggested
for an upcoming conference. Even people with a long experience of work-
ing together with people from all the Nordic countries expressed concern
not only about the extra expense but also because they felt that interpreting
sets people apart. The implied message in this discussion was that a member
Maisa Martin 189

who requires interpretation is not one of ‘us’ if we need to talk with him/her
using an interpreter. In addition, as on many previous occasions, in this
discussion the official bilingualism of Finland was used as an additional
argument – or a weapon – against the use of interpreters in two ways. On
the one hand, it was clearly assumed that all Finns really are bilingual and,
if they do not act accordingly, they are just causing trouble or being lazy.
On the other hand, it was suggested that Finland should only send delegates
who are fluent in skandinaviska. In practice, this would mean that those
Finns with Swedish as their L1 are much more likely to participate in Nordic
cooperation than Finnish-speaking Finns, not to mention those with some
other L1, Finnish as L2 and with very marginal skills, if any, in Swedish.
Once again, the choice of language thus became an equality issue, and a
simple request for interpretation led to a situation in which some members
of the group assumed the power to determine the languages which define
the group and offer the appropriate way to display group membership.

Conclusions: no perfect alternative

The linguistic situation in the Nordic contexts described in this chapter

could be seen as a conventional multilingual situation in which individuals
are assumed to have a firm ethnic identity which is, in turn, connected to
a relatively monocultural national background and a national language.
In this sense, this situation is not an example of the diversified diversity,
or super-diversity, described by Vertovec (2006). Nevertheless, one of the
characteristic goals of multi-ethnic communities, as described by Vertovec,
pertains for the Nordic contexts discussed here as well: this is the coexistence
of cohesion and separateness. In Nordic encounters the goal of cohesion is
manifest in the ideological consensus which pulls everyone towards the
use of Scandinavian languages as a means to maintain unity. The goal of
separateness, in turn, is related to the individual needs of the participants to
be able to express themselves as fully as possible and to maintain whatever
professional, cultural or personal identity they associate with their linguistic
The fact that all the Nordic countries separately and all together have seen
it necessary to either legislate or otherwise attempt to influence the status of
their various languages at the beginning of the new millennium reveals that
problems exist. Partly, they are due to the global tendency whereby English
tends to be selected as the lingua franca in supranational encounters.
Partly, the problems derive from the fact that the group of people participa-
ting in Nordic activities has also changed. With the growth of exchange
programmes, on the one hand, and the pressures of acting together with
others with similar regional interests both in European and worldwide
organizations, on the other, it is no longer only the small culturally and
linguistically minded group of academics and civil servants who need to
190 Dangerous Multilingualism

cope with the Nordic languages on a higher than tourist level of proficiency.
Furthermore, pressures for democratic practices make it impossible to send
only Swedish-speaking delegates to Nordic events, although fewer and fewer
of even highly educated Finns or Icelanders are willing or able to cope with
skandinaviska (see e.g. Delsing, 2007).
There seems to be a degree of structural and ideological denial of the
changing reality, at least in the situations where skandinaviska is expected.
The norm stipulates that everyone must at least pretend to understand
what is going on, and the goal of togetherness overrides the need for actual
participation. In relation to the parameters presented in Blommaert et al.
(in this volume), it could be argued that skandinaviska represents order and
normality, interpretation or the use of English, disorder and abnormality.
The closer to the cultural and political core of Nordic cooperation the dis-
course context is located, the stronger the demand for the unity and order
skandinaviska symbolizes. On the outskirts, when the issues are technical or
trivial, or when the Nordic family is extended to include the Baltic coun-
tries, English becomes more acceptable.
The third parameter – purity and impurity – suggested by Blommaert et al.
is, however, the most interesting one in the Nordic context. Skandinaviska
itself is impure and non-orderly, as it involves crossing, code-switching,
variability, instability and hybridity, not only across the Scandinavian
languages but also across other languages, as some ways of using English
are rapidly becoming a part of the spoken norm in these languages, and
even French appears here and there, as a traditional part of Swedish. Yet
the use of skandinaviska represents the purity of the Nordic identity, and
in a way acts as a means for separating ‘us’ from the others, the non-
The case of Nordic cooperation is, in fact, a good example of the current
challenges of multilingualism. The circumstances for flourishing multilin-
gualism are ideal: the political will exists (at least in official speeches and
publications), the governments finance language teaching and language
policy-making, there is goodwill and tolerance among the participants in
cooperation to make allowances and to understand each other. Yet not
everybody is comfortable and linguistically at home in the Nordic region.
There is no perfect solution in sight, unless it is an open discussion of
the problems and new ways of communication combining languages and
discarding whatever purist notions hold us back from creative use of our
linguistic and extralinguistic resources.

1. Nordic refers to the Nordic area, which includes the states of Denmark, Finland,
Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and their more or less autonomous parts, the Faroe
Islands and Greenland (which belong to Denmark) and Åland (a part of Finland).
Maisa Martin 191

Scandinavia refers to Sweden, Norway and mainland Denmark, Scandinavian to the

(non-immigrant) people or the national languages of these three countries.
2. All the population figures from Nordic Statistics as of 1 January 2010 (2009
for Sweden and Greenland). See <
3. In administrative and educational contexts the term used in Finland is toinen
kotimainen kieli ‘second domestic language’ which refers to both Swedish for the
speakers of Finnish, or to Finnish, when the point of view is that of the Swedish-
speaking population. For more information about the linguistic situation in
Finland see Salo (this volume).
4. There are no official statistics of languages in Sweden, as the question about
the mother tongue is not asked when information for population statistics is
5. The popularity of this attitude was evinced by the landslide victory of a populist
party Perussuomalaiset (The Finns) in the parliamentary elections of April 2011.
The removal of mandatory Swedish from the Finnish school system is one of their
major aims.
6. An anecdotal example: the president of Iceland herself once scolded me and an
Icelandic colleague, educated in the USA, for speaking English during a coffee
break at a Nordic conference.
7. For example Nordand, the Nordic journal of second language acquisition research,
actively promotes the use of Nordic languages, but allows articles to be written in
English, too.

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The Dangers of Normativity – the
Case of Minority Language Media
Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes


Minority language media are often a focal site for particular normative logics
and practices of minoritized language communities. Being highly regu-
lated and ordered, ideologically invested in terms of prestige, visibility and
voice, and central for minority language practices, innovations and markets,
minority media are at the heart of normativity (cf. Jaffe, 2007; Moriarty,
2009; Kelly-Holmes et al., 2009; Pietikäinen, 2008). Normativity is an
intrinsic feature of every multilingual situation; it can be seen as an attempt
to bring order to the potential disorder of multilingualism and heteroglossia
and sometimes also as an attempt to delineate linguistic practices from each
other in an attempt to demarcate languages and ‘purify’ them, as part of
a modernizing project. But how does this normativity impact on speakers
and on languages? In this chapter,1 we want to explore whether and how
normativity can be both dangerous and protective for languages and
speakers, using the case of minority language media, and drawing on our
own long-standing work in Sámi and Irish language media.
The normative logics in mediated language practices manifest them-
selves in a variety of ways: for example, in overt and covert language
policies (Shohamy, 2006), in prescriptions of language choices and hierar-
chies created from the linguistic repertoire of a speech community, and in
the order and logic of allocation of media space to specific languages and
their variants. As Spitulnik (1998) concludes in relation to her work on
radio in Zambia, national media ‘build the communicative space for the
nation’, necessarily bringing all of the nation’s languages into hierarchical
and power relations with each other – and this applies not just to the
languages that are present in the media, but also to those languages that are
not present, that are excluded. However, alongside these norm-regulated
and reinforcing activities driven by aims of stability and standardization,
there is always norm-challenging creativity and innovation taking place,
too. To examine this dialectic and the possible tensions arising from it, we

Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes 195

start by looking at the dangers of the former, the ‘stabilizing norms’, which
are aimed at standardization and regulation of and between languages,
and which can be seen as a feature of ‘high modernity’, as discussed in
Blommaert et al. (this volume). We then go on to look at the latter, the
‘fluid norms’, which arise from challenges to the ‘stable norms’, and which
in turn come to take the place of previously stable norms. Fluid norms with
their situated character can be seen as a feature of postmodern practices,
which challenge the stable norms of modernity. Using the examples of Irish
and Sámi media, we want to show how normativity is both dangerous and
protective in multilingual situations, and how all normative practices have
the potential to be both.

Dangers of stabilizing norms

We can identify a practical and ideological concern with ‘stabilizing norms’

(i.e. standardization, purism, corpus planning) as a starting point and guiding
principle for much minority language media engagement and programming.
This normativity is born out of and informed by the modernist project of
constructing a coherent homogeneous nation linked to the concept of
territoriality and linguistic purity (Heller, 2006; Jaffe, 2007; Pujolar, 2007).
In this context, language is not seen as a socially bounded, relational, situ-
ated resource (Blommaert et al., 2005; Heller, 2007; Pietikäinen et al., 2008)
but instead constructed as a closed, bounded system that can be counted,
kept pure, codified and standardized. The aim of stabilizing norms is to fix
language borders and create a particular hierarchy between languages and a
pattern to use them in order to secure and protect a particular variant and
ways of using languages. In the media context, the stabilizing norms are also
used to regulate and secure scarce resources, such as media space.
As Moschonas (2004, p. 177) points out, purity and standardization
are needed in order for the language to ‘be thought of as a manageable
communication means’, and the concern with developing norms is a
necessary means of achieving media in these languages. Norms are always
ecological – not absolute – and are inevitably created by practical issues and
political aspirations. At the time when Sámi radio was founded (1938) the
aspiration was to change and challenge the monolingual norm of majority
media and create new rules for the media space within the nation state.
The mission was – and continues to be – to produce media by Sámi in
Sámi for Sámi (Pietikäinen, 2008). Similarly, when Raidió Éireann was set
up in the 1920s, in the newly independent Irish state, it had a policy of
monolingualism and language purism in an attempt to reverse the prevail-
ing language situation of English language dominance. Even though Raidió
Éireann gradually switched to making English the normal language of media
in Ireland, this monolingual and purist policy was adopted by Raidió na
Gaeltachta (RnaG), which is primarily aimed at first language speakers living
196 Dangerous Multilingualism

in the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht areas and which was set up as a result of a

linguistic human rights campaign in the late 1960s.
This norm of language purity and protection still regulates the use of lin-
guistic resources and language choices in media programming and practices.
The minority language-only norm, developed and adopted in a specific
social and political context of modernization, standardizes the minority
language as the only or main legitimate language in the daily practices of
producing minority programmes (cf. Pietikäinen and Kelly-Holmes, 2011).
This norm prescribes the daily working practices of the journalists in
minority language media and many have adopted this norm as part of their
professional identity as a minority language journalist: to use and promote
minority language is an ‘unwritten rule’ or a normative practice.
This can lead to shortcomings in terms of journalistic practices and
audience. For example, in Sámi radio, majority languages are dubbed and
translated into Sámi in a language situation where everyone could under-
stand Finnish but few can understand Sámi. This is done in order to follow
the purist norm; to create a Sámi-only media space and erase multilingual
practices and repertoires, both of journalistic work and within the com-
munity itself, from the final products broadcast. These practices require
lots of time and effort, putting an extra burden on the scarce resources of
often understaffed and underfunded minority media. In terms of audience,
the puristic norm leads to particular patterns of giving media access to, and
voicing opinions and concerns of, the community. The same people (those
listed or known as fluent minority language speakers) get interviewed over
and over again, while others (those with limited or non-existing minority
language skill) rarely get access to minority media, leading potentially to a
narrower perspective. For example in Ireland, politicians, academics, and so
on, who are competent speakers, are inevitably interviewed in preference
to speakers who lack this competence, in order to avoid diluting the broad-
casting norm with more English. In the media profile of the staff of the
University of Limerick, the faculty are asked, along with expertise, if they
are able to be interviewed in Irish.
These stabilizing norms tend to disregard multilingual repertoires, which
are an inevitable part of the linguistic capabilities of speakers of minoritized
languages, and the complexities within the concept of the speaker itself
(cf. Moore et al., 2010). Stabilizing norms can lead to an ever-diminishing
circle where the media producers search for the real native speaker and
the (predominantly) minority-language-speaking audience, a concept that
is extremely difficult in minority language contexts, which in practice are
multilingual and where the competence in the minoritized language varies
(cf. Pietikäinen and Kelly-Holmes, 2011). An unintended consequence of
these standardizing norms is a loss of voice and agency in that language for
many potential minority language speakers, since ownership is then vested in
the ideal speaker. For example in Sámi radio, when examining the journalistic
Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes 197

practices of Sámi media production, journalists commented on the difficulties

of getting people to phone into Sámi radio programmes or be interviewed,
as people felt their skills were not fluent enough (Pietikäinen, 2008). Also
the Internet services in Sámi languages have been affected by the fact that
few Sámi consider themselves fluent writers in their minority languages.
Furthermore, the fact that Irish is taught as a subject for all of the compulsory
period of schooling (as part of the acquisition policy) has reinforced the purity
norm, and the association of Irish as a school language rather than a living
language for many L2 speakers. This has compounded a sense of alienation
from a media norm and a reluctance to use the language in media contexts,
even informal, bottom-up media contexts such as a discussion on YouTube
about an advertisement in Irish by Carlsberg (7 December 2009). Contributors
to the discussion apologized for their poor Irish, and its unsuitability for use
on the site, in Irish (cf. Kelly-Holmes, 2010).
These conceptions of language can result in diglossic situations, and
speakers may not identify with or see themselves reflected in media that
are provided for them. Instead, such media norms may reinforce a sense of
inferiority and failure by presenting speakers with an unachievable ideal. In
the extreme case this can lead to a situation where the stabilizing norma-
tivity results in media products that are targeted at the whole community
but consumed only by a few. Outside RnaG, Irish language programming
features on the main national television and radio stations as a reflection of
the constitutional status of Irish as the first official language of the country.
The norm of such programming has up to relatively recently been that those
who use Irish are fluent or native speakers. In fact, such speakers were often
accused of condescension when they attempted to ‘simplify their speech to
reach a wider audience’. Thus, the message was that to speak Irish in a media
context meant that one was a fluent speaker.
This purism norm also plays a role in hiring people to work in these media.
Both Sámi Radio and RnaG adopted a native speaker model of recruitment,
reinforcing this ideal as a norm. Furthermore, the ideology behind this is
the belief that a ‘native’ speaker comes with the pure and full linguistic
competence as well as an ‘authentic’ worldview, knowledge and network
needed for an essentialist construction of ‘nativeness’. However, such ‘native
speakers’ are hard to find within minoritized language communities, which
are so often characterized by language shift and truncated competence in
the minority language. Thus, both Sámi media and RnaG have gradually
moved to hiring fluent second language speakers. In addition, in both Sámi
and Irish media, this norm also regulated the choice of music: until recently,
priority was given to music with minority language lyrics.
However, normativity is not only for fixing language relations between
minority and majority languages, but also operates for management of
internal heteroglossia (cf. Pietikäinen and Kelly-Holmes, 2011). Just as
national governments have to make decisions about managing internal
198 Dangerous Multilingualism

multilingualism and balancing it against the pressure to appear externally

homogeneous, minority language media actors have to decide how to
manage and create norms for their internal multilingualism while coping
with the need to appear a coherent and homogeneous linguistic group in
terms of its dealings with the state. Normativity arises from such processes.
Sámi radio, for instance, has to balance issues of politics, rights, equality
and viability in decisions on programming for 35,000 Northern Sámi speakers
compared with 350 Inari Sámi and Skolts Sámi speakers. We can see this
as an example of fractal recursivity (Irvine and Gal, 2000), whereby the
processes and normativity that resulted in the marginalizing of the Sámi
language within the frame of nation state, are reproduced now in the
internal hierarchy that prioritizes one language (Northern Sámi) over the
others. Significantly, however, despite the fact that RnaG did not reflect
bilingual practice in relation to mixing English and Irish, it did foster inter-
nal heteroglossia and multilingualism in Irish, by giving media space and
time to all of the dialects.

Dangers of fluid norms

While normative frameworks of stability and purism still persist, at least part
of contemporary minority language media practice has moved away from
these normativities to encompass heteroglossia, multilingualism, hybrid-
ity and multimodality (Busch, 2006; Kelly-Holmes et al., 2009; Pietikäinen
and Kelly-Holmes, 2011). Many of these new practices have come about
as a result of a challenge to prevailing norms outlined above; however,
this shift of course creates new kinds of normativity – what we are calling
norms of fluidity. We can identify many reasons for this shift: technological
change in the form of digital media has resulted in a multiplicity of media
actors, practices and formats; a shift in language rights from a focus on the
group and the territory to a focus on the individual; postmodern notions of
audience and voice, which enable the individual to pick and choose from
and play with a wider, but possibly shallower, linguistic repertoire; and the
new economy and its practices, which exploit these truncated practices
(cf. Heller, 2003; Pietikäinen and Kelly-Holmes, 2011). These and other
factors have led to a situation where old, stabilizing norms are challenged,
changed, adjusted, mobilized and appropriated in order to come to terms
with the new possibilities and constraints.
The arrival of new technology has had a number of effects. It is no coinci-
dence that a move away from both purity and stabilizing normativity has been
witnessed at the same time that digital technology has made the question of
resource allocation less crucial. For example, the deregulation of broadcast-
ing that has accompanied these technological changes means that where
speakers are economically powerful, they can demand and receive products
in the language of their choice from private producers (cf. Kelly-Holmes,
Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes 199

2005 re the ‘multilingualizing’ of Eurosport as a result of consumer pressure).

Being a speaker of a minority language then becomes similar to having an
interest in sport and subscribing to a particular sports channel. Lower media
production costs and decentred and deregulated sites of production and
producers can introduce new norms and challenge the old ones. Speakers
no longer need to wait to be provided with media products by a powerful
actor such as a national or community media station, instead they can create
their own. For example, Facebook has introduced a ‘community translation’
service, which allows users to produce and regulate their own translations in
a range of languages, including Irish and Northern Sámi (cf. Lenihan, 2011).
Thus, fluid norms are derived in a polycentric and fragmented way. Speakers
can make media products in their own voice, resisting the standardizing and
prescriptivism necessarily inherent in the stabilizing processes, and regard-
less of the completeness of their competences. It is not just that the distance
between the media speaker and the everyday speaker has been shortened;
media are now expected to speak in the language of the user (cf. Fairclough,
2006), which necessarily implies multivoicedness and fluidity in norms.
The introduction of the Irish language television channel TG4 in 1996 has
challenged many of the stabilizing norms of Irish language media practices
outlined earlier. The station uses English language subtitles for programmes,
automatically changing the norms of who is an authentic viewer of such a
programme. The station’s presenters have developed a type of ‘cool’ Irish,
designed to appeal to younger audiences. One of the most successful of
these new, cool presenters, Hector O hEochagain, is an L2 speaker from
Navan (not from the Gaeltacht), who has been criticized for using Irish
in a non-L1 and even far from perfect way. He uses a high degree of code-
mixing and English loanwords in his Irish, and in a media context in which
viewers are used to the ‘native speaker’ norm, his approach has certainly
challenged and destabilized established norms of Irish language broadcasting.
In fact, one of the recommendations of a MORI poll on Irish language
broadcasting, which identified ‘Generation Hector’ as a potential new
audience group for Irish language programmes, was that Irish language
programming should ‘reflect the heterogeneity of Irish language radio
listeners, who are not necessarily proficient Irish speakers nor are they
necessarily involved in Irish language activities’ (MORI, 2005).
Even more than this, the professional media speaker has been supple-
mented – and in some cases completely supplanted – by non-professional
speakers who may bring with them varied linguistic repertoires. Such practices
inevitably challenge existing boundaries and hierarchies between languages
and their speakers, as well as opening up opportunities for language and
genre innovations, which may include play with language ideologies and
standards of previous eras. A good example here is the use by Carlsberg, an
international brand and by definition not a member of the Irish language
community and without any claim of ownership of the language, of Irish in
200 Dangerous Multilingualism

a 2001 advertisement. The advertisement’s slogan involved four unrelated

words of Irish spoken by a typical school Irish speaker, intended to index
school learners’ imperfect command of the language, traditionally a source
of inferiority for such speakers. The slogan was then reprinted on t-shirts
which are worn by young people in Ireland, both fluent speakers living
in the Gaeltacht and non-fluent school speakers. On YouTube, where the
advertisement is reproduced, over 300 comments have been posted about
the advertisement using both English and Irish, some trying out their
school or ‘imperfect’ Irish on this global media forum. It is fair to say that
these speakers would never feature on RnaG. This example shows how the
era of digital media together with the consumption model of media users
and global flows present a challenge to norms, and also to issues of owner-
ship, authentic and native speakers, expression, and definitions of language
and multilingualism. The language can be used by anybody as a flexible
resource as it is needed, and it cannot be controlled by being confined to a
particular territory or media space or a particular style or idea: in this way
it can be argued that there has been a relaxation from the constraints of
stabilizing norms.
Another example illustrates the development towards performativity in
new hybrid minority language engagement. Under these conditions, Sámi
rapper Amoc practises a playful language innovation that involves mixing
the global genre of rap, the global language of English, the national language
of Finnish and the highly localized Inari Sámi language and culture. This
combination challenges some of the previous norms since new normative
frameworks are introduced both by the demands of being a credible rapper
and marketable requirements of differentiation and uniqueness. With his
combination of using Inari Sámi for his lyrics, Finnish and English for inter-
action with his audience and fellow rappers and his clothing which mixes
indexes of Sáminess (parts of the Sámi dress and/or colours) with those of
a ‘rapper’ (baggy trousers, cap hat), Amoc performs a new way of owning,
using and playing with his resources and the previous norms (Leppänen and
Pietikäinen, 2010). Amoc’s very deliberate and conscious choices and per-
formances can be seen as related to a particular socio-economic shift from
tradition and purity to commodification of tradition and heritage. Under
such circumstances, there is a need to adapt to this new situation and to
reinvent and reproduce an identity that is both authentic and ‘real’, but also
multilingual and hybrid (Pietikäinen, 2008). Amoc is performing himself
clearly as a Sámi, but a Sámi with a postmodern twist.
The Carlsberg advertisement referred to above (cf. Kelly-Holmes, 2010
for extensive discussion) or use of Sámi words in naming places, items
and activities within Finnish or English marketing discourses are exam-
ples of the truncated use of language in the practices of the ‘globalized
new economy’ (Heller, 2003), which places language at the heart of both
products and processes of production, and which consequently creates
Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes 201

new norms. Emblematic or fetishized (Kelly-Holmes, 2005) language use

is a characteristic of such practices, and languages in such a scheme have
more in common with graphics or music than with instrumental use of
language. But although there is freedom in this usage from prescriptive
usage, there is also danger. It is important to ask whether this emblematic
usage is sufficient. Does it make languages into a type of Latin, a visual or
sonic resource for ‘adding colour’, or can it be an opportunity for revival and
revitalization? Also, are the norms created by these new processes enabling
or restricting? Norms in advertising language tend to be derived through
imitation – thus a norm may well evolve around the use of Irish in advertise-
ments for beers, restricting its usage to this product type, and inevitably also
creating this association for the language, which is limiting.
Although purism may persist in some media spaces, emblematic,
performative and truncated usages pose a challenge to this, as does the
commodification of the language and its use by individuals, groups and
corporations who would not in previous eras have been seen as ‘authentic
speakers’ or members of the minority language speech community, as we
saw in the case of Carlsberg mentioned above. Although we now have free-
dom, in some domains, from prescribed norms and standards, we also have
to ask whether this truncated and emblematic use is enough. What might
happen if states that grant rights, including media rights, on the basis of
being a defined language began to adopt these conceptions of language
and use them to take away rights since ‘anything goes’ and there are no
languages, simply genres and registers (Makoni and Pennycook, 2007)?
Stabilizing norms of purism and homogeneity – presenting a unified front
to the outside world – are clearly necessary in order to win the right to scarce
media resources, and standardization may be needed in order to maximize
these scarce resources. While corpus, status and acquisition planning may
stifle creativity and individual multilingualism, we need to wonder what
might happen without them. Furthermore, while people may now have
access to a wider linguistic repertoire, primarily as a result of global media
and marketing processes and greater mobility, we need to ask perhaps the
difficult question of whether there has also been a loss of depth in the rep-
ertoire, and what the final result of this thinning but expanding process
might be?


As highlighted at the start of the chapter, minority media were themselves

created out of a need to change the prevailing norms of media (i.e. the
idea that only important, big and powerful languages can have media
space), and also from a desire to challenge the idea that the normal state
of affairs for a modern nation state, a great nation, was to have only one
standard language. The emergence of minority language media necessarily
202 Dangerous Multilingualism

challenges the abnormal status accorded to multilingualism by the official

policies of most nation states. However, as the Sámi and Irish cases show,
in order for media to be published and broadcast in minority languages, it
was often necessary to adopt many of the ‘typical high-modern measures’
as identified by Blommaert et al. (this volume), namely ‘the denying or
combating hybridity, multiplicity, crossing and related expressions of impu-
rity’. So, the safeguarding of one particular dimension of multilingualism
(small language versus big national language) can often involve a small lan-
guage endangering even smaller languages. Blommaert et al. (this volume)
identify the problematic of dangerous multilingualism as an example of the
‘anachronisms that reflect the ongoing and unresolved tensions between
high modernity and post- or late modernity’. We can see in the context of
Irish and Sámi media, that stabilizing norms reflect a desire to fix fluidity at
a certain point in time and keep it stable. However it is important, certainly
in the current consideration of minority language media, to recognize the
necessity of stabilizing norms, which were needed in order to achieve the
goal of such media. Furthermore, although the ‘anachronisms’ of high
modernity have been challenged by postmodern notions of fluidity and
fragmentation, we would argue that it is important to recognize that stabiliz-
ing norms are not outworn; they persist and they are necessary, particularly
in the context of maintaining or safeguarding language rights, resources and
provisions for minority language speakers and communities.
This chapter has shown how minority language media are constantly
engaged in a cycle of norms and reactions, and constant tension between
the drive for stability (top-down) and the pressure for fluidity (bottom-up).
New media contexts for minority language media increase the pressure on
stabilizing norms. However, in order to have fluidity, there needs to be
stabilization against which to measure fluidity. Furthermore, in the context
of minority languages, without stabilizing norms and ‘typical modern
measures’, Irish and Sámi may perhaps have declined in terms of numbers
of speakers and domains of usage.
As highlighted above, challenges to norms become norms in themselves.
The practices outlined above as ‘fluidity’ not only challenge prevailing
norms, they also create new, stabilizing norms. As the examples from Sámi
and Irish media context show, norms are ecological, not absolute; they are
both dangerous and protective.

1. This chapter is produced in the context of a research project ‘Peripheral
Multilingualism: Sociolinguistic Ethnography of Contestation and Innovation in
Multilingual Sámi, Corsican, Irish and Welsh Indigenous and Minority Language
Contexts’, funded by the Academy of Finland.
Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes 203

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Part III
Normality – Abnormality
Discourses of Proficiency and
Normality – Endangering Aspects of
English in an Individual’s Biography
of Language Use
Tiina Räisänen


Individuals’ life-worlds and their experiences with languages are important
in sociolinguistic analyses of multilingualism. Studies of the possibilities
and constraints caused by languages shed light on the sociolinguistic reali-
ties of people’s lives today (Heller, 2001; Pietikäinen et al., 2008). Dealing
with individual multilingualism (Blommaert et al., this volume), this
chapter focuses on an individual’s biography of language use in the context
of globalized Finland. From within an ethnographic, discourse analytic
and sociolinguistic framework1 it looks at the problems and dangers
that language causes to a person’s life. As part of a larger study2 of five
Finnish engineers’ trajectories from educational and stay abroad contexts
to globalized working life, this chapter explores three interviews with an
individual who has learned English as a foreign language at school, has his
first daily experiences in using it during a four-month stay abroad period in
Germany as a student, and to whom the language finally becomes a routine
tool in doing business with the Chinese.
The interview data analysed in this chapter were gathered in three
different stages: before and after the participant’s stay in Germany in 2003
and in 2008 when he was employed full-time in an international company.
The theme interviews were conducted in Finnish and they resembled casual
conversations, focusing on the interviewee’s uses of English in different
contexts, his feelings about using English, his perceptions of himself as a
language user and self-evaluations of his language proficiency. The analysis
of the interviews aims at answering the following questions: What is prob-
lematic and dangerous about English for the individual and how? What
social functions cannot be reached because of English? In order to answer
these questions, particular attention will be paid to discourses emergent in

208 Dangerous Multilingualism

the data which focus on the use of English and the proficiency in it, and
their relation to language and linguistic behaviour as problematic.
In this study, problematic aspects of English manifest, in particular,
in the individual’s positions within discourses of using English. In his
discursive orientations to language proficiency, conceptualizations of norms,
of normality and abnormality (Foucault, 2003) come to the fore. More specifi-
cally, by investigating the individual’s trajectories of socialization (Wortham,
2005) into globalized working life, the present chapter will discuss what kinds
of possibilities for action, social participation and identification with English
evolve during these trajectories, and the ways in which language at times
prevents the individual from reaching these social functions. The chapter also
shows how the individual’s linguistic repertoire and the meanings and values
of his linguistic resources change over time. These, often unexpected, changes
imply trouble and pose him new challenges which he needs to address.

English as a problem
In the globalized Finnish society, Finns have relatively easy access to English.
As the most popular foreign language in Finland, English is a valuable
resource which Finns acquire from a relatively early age onwards and it can
be studied in most educational domains (see e.g. Leppänen and Nikula, 2007;
Leppänen et al. 2011; Salo, this volume). At the age of nine, most Finnish
pupils begin to learn English and continue doing so throughout their
education, at least until coming of age. English is part of the core curricu-
lum and particularly in higher education there are plenty of opportunities
to learn English for example through student exchange abroad.3 In fact, an
increasing number of students nowadays enrol in exchange programmes to
learn more about foreign cultures and languages (CIMO, accessed 22 June
2009). For many future professionals, the investment in English is crucial,
since it functions increasingly as the lingua franca in today’s working life
(Louhiala-Salminen et al., 2005). In globalized business it is seen as an
indispensable asset, although other foreign languages are needed, too.
This image of English may indicate that Finns’ relationship with it is an easy
and straightforward one. However, when it is investigated from an individual’s
perspective, problems and dangers often emerge. This is true of our present
individual, too: although he has studied English throughout his life and gained
access to English, during his trajectory as a learner and user of English, he has
also had phases and experiences of regression and failure. Firstly, he feels that
he cannot develop his language skills abroad in the way he wants. Secondly,
even though he is working in international business with English as the daily
working language – which initially represented his dream come true profes-
sionally, he needs to use it in ways which he considers problematic. Below,
these problematic aspects of his language situation will be investigated in
detail. In this analysis, the notion of repertoire involving the collection of dif-
ferent linguistic resources with uneven values provides a useful starting point.
Tiina Räisänen 209

Dangerous resources
For an individual with a long learning trajectory with English, such as the
young engineer under investigation in this chapter, the meaning of the
language is bound to change over time and across contexts. At this point
it is important to understand that when we refer to the English Language
here, we are really talking about a collection of various resources – bits
of language people use for different purposes. Linguistic resources are
unevenly distributed in societies, domains and groups, and their value
is determined by their power and currency in different markets. The
same resources do not have equal value everywhere. People’s individual
linguistic repertoires consist of different resource constellations which
determine what people can do with language in each situation (Hymes,
1996; Blommaert, 2005; Blommaert and Backus, 2012). For example, if
success in the job market is defined by specific language skills, without
such resources one is not able to compete in those markets. This is a
practical problem for certain people, but the lack of particular resources
may also mean that the person lacking a resource can have low self-
esteem, and his/her abilities in negotiating desirable identities can be
limited. In such cases, the problem is that the person has an inadequate
linguistic repertoire: it either cannot be used in a desired way due to
for example contextual constraints or the lack of resources needed in a
particular space.
Another aspect of the dangerousness of English lies in its power to dis-
criminate between people in social encounters. For example, if two people
speak a language that is not known to the third party, the person left out
is being discriminated against through the choice of language. In such a
situation the resources are thus unevenly distributed, which can also mean
that power in the social encounter is uneven (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 648; 1991).
Access and ability to use particular resources are thus consequential in terms
of the participants’ agency and voice (Hymes, 1996).
Power can also be exercised by means of institutions and language poli-
cies which can for instance determine what kind of language is required.
Institutions thus use power by imposing particular norms and thereby
restricting people’s access to other resources. They are important sites of
socialization into linguistic resources – an example of this is how education
socializes students to the use of Standard English (Agha, 2003, 2007). Often
this means that individuals tend to see their language use through the
lenses of the socializing institution – this will be demonstrated by the case
analysed in this chapter, too.
Discourses as a tool in examining the problems of English
Power can also be manifested in people’s positions within discourses. An
individual can exercise power through discursively positioning him/herself
and others as particular kinds of people with particular kinds of linguistic
210 Dangerous Multilingualism

resources. For instance, when interviewees talk about themselves and others
as language users and do so by drawing on discourses, they at the same
time produce typifications of people and of what is normal or abnormal in
their linguistic behaviour, i.e. metapragmatic typifications (e.g. Agha, 2003,
2007). In the case under investigation here, these typifications stem from
conceptions of, and attitudes to, the use of English. When people repro-
duce them in discourses, they also draw on their own earlier experiences in
contexts where they have used the language. These discursive strategies are
powerful resources which people draw on to make sense of their lives with
language. However, a danger encompassed by the potential and power of
linguistic resources, represented in discourses, is that they can delimit the
particular desired social functions available to individuals, in terms of both
their actual behaviour and on the ideological level. Discourses of language
and proficiency are hence tools of normalization and abnormalization.
An investigation of discursive practices such as typifications helps explain
how language can be dangerous, how resource production and distribution
are regulated by people and how these put constraints on people’s access
to social functions (Heller, 2001; Blommaert, 2010). As will be shown
below, who gets access to which resources is a source of problems in social
encounters involving English (see also Kytölä, this volume). Linguistic
resources have the power to position people in various ways and thereby
endanger an individual’s opportunities for action, participation and identi-
fication in different contexts.

Oskari’s journey with English

Analysing the case

The case explored here is Oskari (a pseudonym), a young Finnish engineer.
His educational background is very typical: he began school at the age of
seven and his English studies at the age of nine. After studying English for
seven years at junior and secondary school, he continued to study it for
three years in high school and at polytechnic during his studies in machine
engineering. At the time of his work practice in Germany in 2003, he was in
his early twenties and halfway through his engineering studies. This is when
I became acquainted with him and a dozen other Finns who had moved to
work in Germany for four to six months. While in Germany, I was able to
get to know Oskari, spend time and have informal discussions with him at
work and in his free time. Prior to his internship Oskari had not travelled
abroad for more than two weeks and had not used English in Finland apart
from at school, to which his experience of using English was almost entirely
limited. In Germany he worked as an industrial production worker in a fac-
tory with mostly German and Portuguese employees and lived in a student
dormitory which accommodated people with varied cultural backgrounds
(e.g. German, Greek, Chinese and Indian). Except for communicating with
Tiina Räisänen 211

other Finns and for work, where all the employees were advised to use
German, Oskari used English. He knew very little German. Oskari graduated
in 2005. At the time of the third interview, he was working as a project
manager in an international engineering company with a global business
network in Europe and Asia. In addition, he travelled regularly to China.
Oskari’s biography is divided into three different stages which reveal
two main types of trajectory. Firstly, there is a trajectory of mobility which
became manifest through the data collection and which encompasses the
different stages of Oskari’s life. Secondly, another trajectory is the analytical
observation which distinguished three stages in Oskari’s life with English
and his repertoire. During the three stages – education, stay abroad and
working life – Oskari, in the same way as many other Finns, gradually gains
access to English.
In my analysis, I will pay attention to Oskari’s talk about language and
about the problematic aspects of language use by himself and his inter-
actants, particularly in metapragmatic comments and typifications about
language use. There are, for instance, evaluations and descriptions of
one’s own and other people’s language in small stories which function
as positioning cues (Georgakopoulou, 2007, p. 126). Oskari’s orientations
to language as a problem with various linguistic choices (e.g. vocabulary,
emotion verbs) are investigated micro-discourse analytically in the stories.
For instance, instances where he talks about his negative experiences in
using the language are seen as an emic (the interviewee’s) perspective on the
problems of language use. As not all problems are explicitly talked about,
my analytic interpretation becomes important when, from an etic (the
interviewer’s) perspective, I try to identify and make sense of the implicit
problems in the interviewee’s talk.
By telling small stories and choosing the ways in which he represents
his and other people’s repertoires, Oskari draws on different discourses of
language use and proficiency in the axis of normality–abnormality where he
is discursively subjected to and positions himself and other people (Davies
and Harré, 1990; Harré and van Langenhove, 1999). Oskari’s positions
can be characterized as positive or negative (Bucholtz, 1999, pp. 211–12).
Over time, Oskari moves across different positions which are invested
with different degrees of power. By means of a discursive struggle (Heller,
2001), Oskari either accepts or resists certain discourses and their associated
positions. In other words, he struggles to produce particular discourses and
to impose them, as well as to deal with discourses produced by others. The
ways in which he thus engages with positioning is a dialogical and active
process whereby social discourses are drawn on to create one’s own position.
Through identifying prominent discourses and their associated position-
ing in his talk, the analyst can also contextualize them to macro issues of
language policies, ideologies and issues of globalization from the perspective
of the distribution and value of linguistic resources (Heller, 2001). The impact
212 Dangerous Multilingualism

of context is significant: it affects the ways in which an individual views

his/her own linguistic repertoire, attaches values to different resources and
discursively positions him/herself as a language user. Hence, by looking at
contextual differences across timescales, one can begin to understand the
value and the politics of access to resources. The following section presents
the analysis stage by stage and the problems Oskari has with English.

Stage 1 – stories from home

In the first stage Oskari draws on discourses of using English in Finland and
at school. Rather than focusing on the English he knows, Oskari orients to
his problems. His talk echoes school values, which is understandable con-
sidering his history of ten years of formal school learning. It also reflects
what Oskari sees as normal linguistic behaviour and, in contrast, what he
views as abnormal. At this stage, Oskari struggles amidst different norms
shown on the one hand in the way he evaluates his own language use
and, on the other, in how he sees language proficiency in general. Good
language proficiency for him means surviving in real life, but he does not
relate his own proficiency to that norm at all. Instead, judged by his self-
evaluations, he relies on another norm, that of linguistic correctness, which
leads him to evaluate his own language as deviant, rudimentary and simple,
thus obviously not good. It appears that some norms have more power
than others and thus the value Oskari attaches to his own language is low.
As Oskari ranks his language as a lower-scale language compared to a norm
of linguistic correctness, he is not granted what he desires, such as feelings
of competence and courage (see also Virkkula and Nikula, 2010).
Such discourses of proficiency clearly endanger Oskari as a language-using
subject, and because of his lack of proficiency he has a restricted voice, which
means that he is incapable of making himself understood in a desired way
and of accomplishing desired functions through language (Hymes, 1996;
Blommaert, 2005, p. 68). Further, there is a link between his subjective
experience and the Finnish and school contexts. The way in which this
link manifests can be explained with reference to the scale hierarchy
within which Oskari is positioned. Scale is a sociolinguistic concept for
understanding linguistic stratification in society. It is a social phenomenon
and a form of power: because of their inadequate repertoires, some people
are not entitled to higher scales in a social hierarchy (cf. Silverstein, 2006 as
cited in Blommaert, 2007). Oskari is a case in point: due to his limited
resources and inadequate repertoire, he is not able to jump to a higher, more
desired social scale where linguistic correctness has power because he lacks
the resources valued on that scale. In this view, a restricted voice is about
not being able to move to a scale where desired functions would be possible.
Hence his actual resources fail to fulfil the desired functions. The implicit
norm Oskari orients to acts as a powerful tool in regulating Oskari’s access to
particular social functions. The first example illustrates how Oskari evaluates
Tiina Räisänen 213

his own English proficiency. All the examples in this chapter are translations
of interviews that were originally conducted in Finnish.

Example 1.4 Oskari’s evaluation of his own language proficiency

1 T well do you think you have good language proficiency in English
2 O well I wouldn’t say it’s good since speaking really isn’t that (2.0)
3 so (.) especially a new and unfamiliar situation (2.0)
4 for example getting the phone extension
5 an odd situation (.) one [that I have] never encountered before
6 then it is totally about searching for words and like that (2.0)
7 so I wouldn’t say it’s good
10 T how about speaking English then (.) what kind of sentences you
11 produce and words so how well do you think it works
12 O (3.0) well (2.0) speaking does not work so well (.) I think (3.0)
13 especially if I have to like (3.0) like explain something (.)
14 I don’t know (.) if the situation creates a kind of pressure or what (.)
15 you like know it or if you think about it later and you would have
16 known the word (.) but in the situation in which I explain it I use
17 those substitute words (2.0) which kind of do not exactly mean it
18 but something like that (2.0) like (2.0) I can’t give you an
19 now but I have just noticed it that it becomes this kind of like
20 rudimentary kind of talk
21 I mean very simple words
22 T yeah (.) why do you think that is (.) can you say
23 O well I think it’s because I haven’t talked
24 I haven’t been in situations in which I would have needed to speak
25 you kind of don’t give yourself enough time to think about the
26 and you feel a kind of (2.0) pressure to talk there (.) and mm (.)
27 those those easiest words come out which we have dealt with from
the start

Directed by the interviewer’s question, Oskari orients to language profi-

ciency through a story of his actual experiences in situations where he
needs to speak English. This marks his authentic position as an incompetent
speaker. From the beginning on (line 2) he orients to negative aspects of his
language skills: I wouldn’t say it’s good. Self-mockery and an orientation to
problems are manifested in his word choices such as rudimentary and very
simple. Furthermore, speaking has high value and for him proficiency really
is about being proficient in speaking: this comes out in his reference to hav-
ing to search for words, which, in fact, is typical for language learners when
they speak a foreign language. Oskari views himself as a bad speaker with
214 Dangerous Multilingualism

attributes such as speaking does not work so well (line 12), rudimentary kind of
talk (line 20), very simple words (line 21).
Furthermore, vocabulary is problematic for Oskari and it causes feelings of
frustration and pressure. Although it points towards pragmatic proficiency,
using substitute words (lines 16–18) does not constitute a skill for him.
In his opinion, the reasons behind his lack of proficiency and a restricted
voice are not having spoken English (line 24), which could be described as
speechlessness, and the fact that he has not been in situations where speaking
is required (line 26). Restricted voice also speaks of his position in the local
context, which he thinks has not provided him with enough opportunities
to speak. It is also possible that Oskari himself has not actively sought oppor-
tunities to speak English in Finland. Even though he has learned English at
school for over ten years, he thus still sees himself as inexperienced in speak-
ing, and stresses the fact that he uses English only seldom in Finland.
In the last lines (26–27), the expression those easiest words come out that
we have dealt with from the start might refer to the first days of learning
English at school which implies that Oskari sees language learning in
classrooms (we refers to pupils) as something that begins with the easiest
words. Using only the easiest words, which practically everyone knows,
even at this stage constitutes a problem and something not normal for a
language user who should in principle progress with language skills and
thus gradually use more complex words. This implicit norm of gradual
development from the easiest to advanced words is a yardstick on which
Oskari relies when problematizing his own ‘abnormal’ proficiency. In
other words, he is not at all highlighting what he knows, but emphasizing
what he does not know. Example 2 illustrates explicitly what Oskari thinks
about language learning at school and how problematic he considers what
he has got from it.

Example 2. Language learning at school

1 O no you don’t achieve good proficiency only at school
2 I think (.)
3 for example in my case (.) I would say that I can read English (.)
4 quite well but compared to speaking it is (.)
5 the gap is big (.)
6 and speaking is not nearly on the level as it should be
7 T why do you think that is
8 O I think it’s because maybe (.) it’s because of the lack of speaking
9 you don’t encounter situations where you would have to speak
10 well at school there’s some (.) well we did speak at school
11 but they were always the kind of situations that you basically
didn’t have to
12 you didn’t sort of get enough guidance or
13 or otherwise it was like (.) I think there’s little
Tiina Räisänen 215

14 that that (.) maybe it’d be good for everyone to take a language
course somewhere
15 or something

Here Oskari explicitly argues how good language skills are not entirely
learned at school. He makes a distinction between reading and speaking
skills and how there are not enough opportunities to practise speaking at
school. Again, he thus refers to the lack of opportunities: speaking should be
rehearsed precisely at school, but this is not clearly the case in his opinion.
By arguing that there is not enough guidance at school (line 12), Oskari
seems to blame it for his poor speaking skills. Interestingly, out-of-school
contexts are not mentioned as potential contexts for learning. Hence, the
roots of Oskari’s discursive position as speechless lie in the school context.
In spelling this out, he is drawing on a norm, an ideal way of using language
which is defined in terms of speaking. According to this norm, in order to
be normal, one should have a particular kind of language proficiency and
speak in a certain way.
However, Oskari seems to rely on other norms of speaking as well. In the
interview his speech also echoes public discourses about the use of English.
For instance, in the press, Finns’ skill in speaking English is a frequently
discussed topic. As an illustration of a widely typical theme in discussions
of accents in mass media (Cavanaugh, 2005, p. 131), these public discus-
sions are marked with evaluations of Finns’ speech as diverging from that
of natives (see Leppänen and Pahta, this volume). The very same view
also surfaces in Oskari’s talk. The reliance on institutional norms of this
type might be typical of individuals, like Oskari in this stage of his trajec-
tory, who do not have experience in using language outside institutional
The discourses characterizing the first stage have a strong individual
dimension: Oskari evaluates himself with reference to norms but not to
actual communicative situations in which the pragmatic proficiency of
being able to use substitute words would count as successful communi-
cation. These discourses about normal linguistic behaviour seem to be
dangerous for the individual’s desired social functions and identity options.
In the later stages of Oskari’s biography, in contrast, very different discourses
and norms become prominent.

Stage 2 – stories from abroad

The second stage in Oskari’s biography illustrates his experience of using
English in Germany. During his four months’ visit there, Oskari was in
daily contact with other international students and Germans. Both at work
and during free time English was most often used as the language of com-
munication. In this phase, Oskari’s repertoire gains new elements, but also
new problems emerge. When comparing this stage to the previous one, the
216 Dangerous Multilingualism

assumption that there is a correct way of using a language persists, but also
norms about what kind of English is needed in everyday encounters come
to the fore. As a result, Oskari begins to dissociate himself from the norm
of grammatical correctness. His position is thus changing and he has access
to new discursive resources. Importantly, his individual linguistic repertoire
has not necessarily changed at all because of the short amount of time spent
abroad, but the social meaning of his repertoire and his resources has.
The following extract is from the first interview when Oskari had already
stayed for two weeks in Germany. In this extract, he explains how he feels
about speaking English and points out that there have already been some
significant changes. The norms about using language correctly are losing
their power, as norms about speaking in real life begin to take over.

Example 3. Crossing the border – speaking skills in a test

1 T how do you feel now about speaking English more as you haven’t
2 used it that much in Finland
3 O well (2.0) it is really (2.0) there was a threshold at the beginning but
4 it does go down all the time and will come down
5 so so (3.0) it doesn’t like anymore (2.0) make me feel annoyed
6 if it doesn’t come out exactly right (.) the threshold has
diminished (.)
7 but at the beginning (3.0) it was pretty high
8 T it was at the airport right [when we lost our luggage]
9 O yeah at the airport
10 T how did it make you feel when you weren’t really able to [speak]
11 O well it was just that as it came so suddenly the situation (.)
12 must say that (.) I almost totally froze (.) I wasn’t prepared for
that (.)
13 but I managed

Oskari distinguishes the situation before and at present (line 3 there was
a threshold at the beginning). The term ‘threshold’ shows his initial feeling
when facing the need to speak English. From the first to the second stage a
trajectory of feelings emerges: in lines 5–6 Oskari explains how it does not
make him annoyed anymore if his speech does not come out exactly right
(i.e. if he does not speak correctly), implying that this is how he felt before
when he strived for correctness. Earlier, the demand for correctness triggered
in him such negative feelings as anxiety to speak and annoyance about
deficient language use; this is illustrated by his anecdote about the airport
incident when his luggage was lost. This incident also signals communica-
tive norms of real life where one has to, and eventually can, manage even
with what Oskari described as rudimentary kind of talk (see Example 1).
As Oskari’s experience of using language outside school begins to accu-
mulate, so do his stories about using English with others. The interlocutor
Tiina Räisänen 217

and the language used in a more global context begin to gain importance
in the discourses Oskari draws on. At the same time, he gains access to new
discursive resources also involving a certain power to evaluate other people’s
language. This, in turn, allows him to jump onto a higher social scale. In fact,
access to this new order is being granted to him through the local norms
that he has relied on earlier. Norms about what is appropriate still exist, but
English begins to have new social functions which, again, contribute to the
emergence of new problems. Oskari still continues to have a restricted voice,
but at this stage it is mainly due to others’ inappropriate language. Thus,
normal and acceptable language and abnormal and unacceptable language
are being reconceptualized. This shows clearly in Example 4 where the topic
is Oskari’s adjustment to Germany with the help of his English skills.

Example 4. My language is not worse than the locals’ language

1 O well yes it [linguistic proficiency] has helped to some extent
2 [in my adjusting to Germany]
3 since at least it’s not worse than the locals’ […]
4 I don’t believe that if it were a lot better
5 that it would have helped here (.) in coping
6 because there isn’t anyone that you could have
7 talked to anything else except this basic stuff

In line 3 my language is not worse than the locals’ points towards Oskari’s
negative evaluation of his language proficiency with reference to others, in
other words ‘my skills are bad but so are those by the locals’. Oskari seems to
downgrade other people’s skills as he has not been able to talk anything else
except basic stuff. The word basic denotes something that is viewed as easy. It
resembles his earlier views where basic language was seen as abnormal since
it was the kind of language he had been dealing with from the beginning.
However, not only others’ language proficiency, but also Oskari’s own lan-
guage continues to be a problem.
The following extract, Example 5, introduces yet another, and more
specific, problem: his accent. This particular aspect of speaking creates
problems for Oskari; because of his accent he cannot fully participate in
certain situations and gain access to desired social functions. He has to face
the situation that there seem to be different markets of accents (Blommaert,
2009) where the value of his own accent varies.

Example 5. Problem with my accent

1 O well maybe pronunciation [has made the adjustment more difficult]
2 sometimes the mind moves faster than the mouth
3 and it has caused problems every now and then
4 T has it occurred that the other person has not understood you
5 O yeah the other hasn’t understood me or
218 Dangerous Multilingualism

6 I’ve had to say it a few times

7 but then again I’m not sure
8 whether the problem is me and my unclear pronunciation
9 or the fact that he doesn’t know the word

As part of Oskari’s language proficiency, pronunciation is a problem

(characterized as unclear in line 8) which has caused trouble for him in
communication with other people. However, he is not sure where the
actual communication problems lie: whether it is his unclear pronuncia-
tion or other people’s insufficient vocabulary. Oskari not only positions
himself with these metapragmatic evaluations, but he also positions
others in relation to himself, thus illustrating the fact how metapragmatic
typifications are not only statements about language but also, implicitly
or explicitly, statements about human beings in the world (e.g. Yngve,
1996 as cited in Makoni and Pennycook, 2007, p. 27; Williams, 1977,
p. 21 as cited in Woolard, 1998, p. 3). Such typifications also echo
discourses of otherness (see also Kytölä, this volume): this shows, for
example, in how Oskari talks about himself in relation to other people.
This example also shows how discourses about language use are associated
with specific groups and types of situations (e.g. Bucholtz and Hall, 2005).
Rather than his own incapacity to understand, it is others’ accent which
endangers Oskari’s social participation. Following Agha (2003), it could be
argued that this ideological work by Oskari converts his perceived sound
variation into a contrast in language proficiency. He uses accent as a social
currency to position himself and others (Cavanaugh, 2005, p. 132). This is
particularly visible in the following Example 6 in which Oskari discusses
communication with Indians, one of the cultural groups housed in the
student dormitory.

Example 6. Their accent is so difficult

1 O well (.) communication has been really difficult at times
2 Indians have a good vocabulary
3 and they don’t have to think much about paraphrases or anything
4 but then their accent is so so difficult
5 I’ve had to ask three times even a basic question like
6 how are you or something (.) @what does he say@ […]
7 well some of them have focused on that a little
8 and they focus on their pronunciation a bit more
9 but then I’ve noticed that when they speak English with each
10 they don’t have to pay attention to their pronunciation
11 practically at all since they speak it with the same style
12 seem to understand it
13 although for a bystander it doesn’t sound like English at all
Tiina Räisänen 219

In this example, Oskari positions himself through other-positioning. He

focuses on the Indians’ extensive vocabulary (lines 2–3), and the way in
which they do not have to search for alternative expressions when speaking.
Nevertheless, he still sees their accent as a problem (it is defined as difficult
in line 4). Oskari’s position in the actual situation he refers to is notably
authentic as he echoes his own words in the situation he is talking about:
he cannot understand at all what they are saying. This type of authenticity
has a particular structure: ‘I was just doing X . . . when Y’ (Wooffitt, 1991). Here
Oskari uses this recognizable and culturally available resource to make his
point. X here refers to a mundane activity, a simple greeting targeted at the
Indian interlocutors (how are you). Y is an extraordinary event or experi-
ence: Oskari not being able to understand a simple greeting. This structure
is a positioning clue portraying Oskari as an ordinary person taking part
in an ordinary activity interrupted by something extraordinary. Following
Wooffitt (1991), portraying a normal event in this way is yet another means
of highlighting the contrast between normal and abnormal language use.
The last line in Example 6 is significant in terms of Oskari’s view of lan-
guage: it [Indians’ speech] doesn’t sound like English at all. His delicate and
subtle descriptions of the situation in lines 5–6 and 13–14 could, in fact,
be seen as instances of encountering foreignness. Oskari’s behaviour here
echoes typical reactions by Westerners listening to foreigners whose English
sounds odd: they often attribute it to grammatical inadequacies or to pho-
nological characteristics, that is, accent (Young, 1982, p. 73; Pihko, 1997). As
Lippi-Green (1997, p. 72) notes, Oskari is here repeating a familiar practice:
the accent he hears goes through his own language ideology filters. His talk
about language hence reflects language ideologies and norms.

Stage 3 – stories about socialization into the Chinese workplace

After graduating, Oskari has worked in international business as a project
engineer and a project manager. His company has a subsidiary in China
which was launched after Oskari began working in the company. At the
time of writing, Oskari had worked in this company for about a third of his
career. Using English with the Chinese is a significant part of his work and,
consequently, the third stage in his trajectory highlights the problematic
aspects it has given rise to. In Example 7 Oskari tells a story about his first
arrival in Shanghai and about an encounter with a Chinese colleague with
whom he was about to do business. Once more, he uses the strategy ‘I was
just doing X when Y’, similar to Example 6.

Example 7. Entering China – no language

1 O I remember when going to Shanghai for the first time
2 this Chen picked me up with the taxi driver
3 it took me at least the first half an hour
4 or half the trip that we drove
220 Dangerous Multilingualism

5 I didn’t understand a word he said

6 before I grasped the sort of accent and tone
7 I was like no way
8 and I had been told that much that
9 @yes yes he speaks very good English@
10 and that he’s just excellent
11 I was totally astonished and thought what is going on here that
12 this guy doesn’t speak any language

In this extract there is a clash between what Oskari had heard about the
Chinese English skills (very good) and what he noticed upon arrival: I was
totally astonished what’s going on here, this guy doesn’t speak any language
(lines 11–12). Compared to the second stage, when accent was a minor
problem in the casual, everyday use of English, it has now become much
more serious as it is now used for professional reasons. A closer look at
Oskari’s evaluations of other people’s language reveals, in fact, that he
thinks that unfamiliar and incomprehensible accents are not English at
all, especially when he encounters them for the first time. It should be
noted, however, that such an evaluation focuses on a strange language,
and not necessarily on the person speaking. At the same time, this view
of his brings in the notion of scales again and the value of resources
across them.
Throughout his biography, Oskari, paying attention to accent, ranks many
people’s languages as lower in scale. By implication, he is thus relying on a
norm, a standard which he ranks as higher. However, it is not clear where
Oskari situates his own linguistic repertoire and, in particular, his accent in
this hierarchy. It is probable that it is somewhere between the highest- and
the lowest-scale accents, when scales are seen as a fluid phenomenon which
is always defined anew when people interact and use their resources. As
Oskari moves across spaces, the value of his resources changes because of
the differences between the scales of social structure. In a certain space, at a
certain time, one resource is needed more than another to achieve particular
social functions. Linguistic resources shift meanings and functions when
they are mobile (see Blommaert, 2010) – for example, the value of Oskari’s
initially insufficient skills is higher when they enter global contexts (see also
Virkkula and Nikula, 2010).
Working in a new environment requires socializing into new forms of
language, and as Example 7 indicates, into new phonological forms of
language. In a sense Oskari’s comments about Chinese English can be seen
as part of a process of enregisterment through which Chinese English, in
some similar ways as Standard English in Britain (Agha, 2003), becomes a
socially recognized, differentiable phonolexical register for Oskari, a target
Tiina Räisänen 221

of metapragmatic typifications and a yardstick for comparison. With time,

during the process of settling into the Chinese workplace, Oskari has had to
learn to cope with this register, as Example 8 illustrates:

Example 8. On the process of socialization into an unfamiliar register

1 O and in general it took some time to (.)
2 our Chinese workers
3 that you learned to listen to them
4 and to sort of understood some of the words they said
5 because some words are not bent in their mouths at all
6 or they pronounce English in a very different way from Finns

Learning to understand Chinese English has taken time because of its lexical
and phonological peculiarities: words are not bent in their mouths at all (this
is a literal translation of his Finnish expression the meaning of which can
be linked to the difficulty in understanding the other party’s pronuncia-
tion). Although Oskari focuses on others’ deficiencies, there still seem to
be two different discursive positions for him: one that disqualifies Chinese
pronunciation as not being according to norms at all, and another that
contrasts the pronunciation of Chinese and Finns. Initially, Oskari’s typi-
fications of Chinese English as being ‘no language’ show his unfamiliarity
with it. However, being socialized into the new environment and becoming
acquainted with this new register, he begins to acknowledge and understand
registers and their differences. But from the point of view of one’s
own language proficiency, using English with the Chinese continues to
create problems:

Example 9. Regressing language skills

1 O but otherwise I don’t know (1.0)
2 in China it feels like (.) in contrast it regresses
3 well language proficiency (.) occasionally
4 because it (.)
5 I don’t know if I have mentioned it to you earlier
6 but sometimes you have to go with the kind of
7 very basic (.) basic words and kind of
8 that it’s just putting words after one another and
9 and the guy either understands or not
10 that sometimes they have even said (.)
11 well that that you should use kind of simpler words
12 and this (.) manager of our China office
13 once told me among other things that
14 @noh you shouldn’t use too fa-@fancy@ words@
15 sort of in quotation marks that they aren’t
16 and yes I kind of noticed it too
222 Dangerous Multilingualism

17 but then you would like to diversify your own (.) language
18 kind of in some level

There is a clash between Oskari’s desires and needs in his job: he needs a
simple lexical register (basic words line 7, simpler words line 11, not too fancy
words line 14), although he would like to use more versatile language (line 17).
The use of simple language is beyond his control, since the purpose of com-
municating in the workplace is to get the job done. As the Chinese workers do
not understand too complex language, it cannot be used. When comparing
these accounts to those in the first stage during which Oskari’s repertoire was
restricted to a simple lexical register, because it was all he knew, after socializing
into international working life, his repertoire has expanded and gained in
value when used in the Chinese context. A simple lexical register still remains
in his repertoire, but now it functions on a different scale of social structure
where its value is different: he has to simplify his language because of others.
A clear distinction exists in the social capital of that language across stages
and contexts. Entering into China means entering into new social orders and
discourses, which also results in the loss of the value of the resources one
already possesses. In other words, in the new order, where Oskari needs to
develop a context-appropriate register, his current repertoire is no longer
valuable. His metapragmatic typifications show his struggles between different
discourses and registers. Without being able to use the language he wants, or
failing to use locally appropriate language, he loses authenticity and voice.
The difference between English1 (English on ideological level) and English2
(English used in real practices) (Blommaert, 2010, p. 100) can here explain
the clash in Oskari’s wants and needs: ‘English1 [is] an ideologically conceived
homogeneous and idealized notion of “English-the-language-of-success”, and
English2 [is] a situationally and locally organized pragmatics of using “English”
in ways rather distant from English1.’
Oskari’s life is about socializing into new language forms, making his rep-
ertoire appropriate and fitting it for specific purposes and spaces where he
moves. His story shows how one does not necessarily have agency for choosing
particular, for himself favourable, language varieties in each situation
(Hymes, 1996). Oskari’s repertoire is closely tied with his life as an engineer
(-to-be) and he seems to have a truncated repertoire, which characterizes
his trajectory of language use: his repertoire is restricted to a simple
register either because of his own proficiency or because of the register of
others. Thus, even if his repertoire did not change much, the contextual
constraints determine what kind of effect, meanings and functions
particular linguistic resources have. Although linguistic structures may be
identical, their functions can differ in accordance with the place of linguis-
tic resources in people’s repertoires (Hymes, 1996; Blommaert, 2005, p. 70;
2010). There is thus a trajectory in the value of the resources.
Tiina Räisänen 223

Oskari’s story thus shows how through his mobility, resources change
their value depending on his location and history. This is also why they
represent a problem for Oskari: having too few resources in one space and
not being able to use one’s full linguistic potential in another. Oskari’s
trajectories meant that he moved from the local space, the educational
environment and Finland where he positioned himself as an ‘incompetent’
user of English without valuable linguistic resources, to global spaces where
his linguistic resources had value but where problems emerged because
he could not use all of his resources in a desired way. Socialization into the
global workplace meant that his repertoire gained in value on a global scale,
compared to the local one. The values of the resources seemed to be locked
into specific scale levels in particular spaces (see Blommaert, 2010) which
resulted in a truncated repertoire or a truncated competence and a restricted
voice. Repertoire thus indexed changes in time and space.


Although Finns have an easy access to English and the language is seen
as enabling different functions in social life, it has both potential for, and
gives rise to, real problems: what the context defines as appropriate can
clash with individual wants, needs, abilities and expectations (see also
Pitkänen-Huhta and Hujo, this volume; Kytölä, this volume). In its explora-
tion of problematic and endangering aspects that English can present for an
individual, this chapter has shown that there are features of English which
are not ‘productive, empowering and nice to contemplate’ (Blommaert
et al., this volume).
With the help of an ethnographically and sociolinguistically informed dis-
course analysis, the present chapter identified the focal participant’s positive
and negative self- and other-positioning in discourses which reflected
his movement across contexts. His sociolinguistic background, power
structures, institutions, environment and situational factors were shown
to influence the value of his resources and the discourses that he drew on
(e.g. Agha, 2005, 2007). Institutional and contextual factors partly explained
the changes in his repertoire. Along the lines of Bourdieu (1977, p. 657), it
could be argued that the participant’s repertoire depended on the available
linguistic resources which, in turn, depended on the relationship between
his positions ‘in the structure of the distribution of specifically linguistic
capital and, even more, the other forms of capital’.
In the analysis of this story of one individual, this chapter has also
captured some high-modern values in his production of discourses of
language use and proficiency. It showed how while a context is governed
by certain specific norms, an individual may not, nevertheless, be able to
act according to these norms. The discourses drawn on in making sense
and explaining linguistic behaviour displayed the interplay of different
224 Dangerous Multilingualism

institutional actors in what was perceived as normal and abnormal in

globalized environments. The participant’s attitudes about his own and
other people’s language proficiency both reflected norms as well as created
them (see also Blommaert, 2009).
The discourses which Oskari exemplified showed how norms are devel-
oped, conceptualized and enforced in interaction, and how they can also
be endangering to people. They can become tools for sanctioning oneself
and others. In the process of socialization, the localization of norms can
create problems for individual subjectivity and for the ability to have a voice
(see Blommaert, 2010). The power to choose what kind of language is and
should be used could, in fact, be described in Agha’s (2007, p. 166) words,
as ‘thresholds of fluency depend[ing] on trajectories of extended socializa-
tion mediated by access to criterial institutions’. Lack of practice, because
of situational factors as well as of socialization into unfamiliar language
forms, can result in thresholds and problems. Although one can gain power
to evaluate others, one can at the same time struggle with language. Hence
language proficiency from the individual perspective can also move towards
regression, instead of progressing, or remaining constant. In other words,
although proficiency can function as an empowering tool in one context, its
value is not the same in another. Blommaert et al. (2005, p. 197) crystallize
this view as follows:

Multilingualism is not what individuals have and don’t have, but what
the environment, as structured determinations and interactional emer-
gence, enables and disables. Consequently, multilingualism often occurs
as truncated competence, which depending on scalar judgments may be
declared ‘valued assets’ or dismissed as ‘having no language’.

In Oskari’s case, ‘valued assets’ refer to language which has value for him,
such as the more complicated language than what he has to use with the
Chinese. Furthermore, Oskari’s story shows that although he has a language
to communicate with people, in a sense he does not have language – he does
not have the kind of language he desires. Hence ‘having no language’ is seen
from the perspective of the participant’s discursive position.
As a concluding remark, it could be argued that a study like the present
one, an ethnographic and sociolinguistic study of human life in its complex
multilingual contexts, represents not only a way to gain knowledge about
the sociolinguistic realities in which people live and the possibilities and
constraints in their mobile trajectories, but also a method for giving voice to
individual language users to create more complex subject positions than those
traditionally created for them in most discourses. In Heller’s (2001) words,

the relationship of language practices to the production and distribution

of symbolic and material resources has been shifting because of some
Tiina Räisänen 225

fundamental political economic transformations which position people

differently with respect to the impact on their lives, especially in terms of
the changing value of the resources they possess, and their relative ease
of access to these and other resources.

The resources that we have change their value in different spaces. Because
of different social, historical and economic changes, some resources can
become more valuable than others in often unexpected ways. Importantly,
however, different resources and their values not only cause problems, but
they also provide discursive tools for constructing a sense of oneself, one’s
identity in the globalized world.

1. See e.g. Hymes (1996), Blommaert (2005, 2010), Rampton (2006), Wortham
(2005), Agha (2003, 2007) and Gee (2005).
2. Working title: ‘Language, Identity and Trajectories of Socialization into Globalized
Professional Life: a Multidisciplinary Approach to Finnish Engineers’ Linguistic
and Discursive Repertoires across Multiple Timescales’.
3. On the whole, the Finnish educational system has been praised for its efficiency
and high quality (see e.g. PISA studies on 15-year-olds’ school performance and
comments thereon: (OECD, accessed 22 June 2009).
4. Finnish examples are excluded for reasons of space. In the transcript, bold is used
to mark speaker emphasis, (2.0) length of pause, @ modified speech, dots in square
brackets [...] omitted speech that is not relevant for analysis, and words in square
brackets [linguistic proficiency] provide additional information for the reader
about the topic.

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Peer Normativity and Sanctioning
of Linguistic Resources-in-Use – on
Non-Standard Englishes in Finnish
Football Forums Online1
Samu Kytölä


While the previous chapters in this volume have dealt with more
institutionally constructed language-ideological discourses, this chapter
shifts the lens to language ideologies at play on a markedly ‘grassroots’ level
of language use. The sociocultural and technological context of this chapter
is interactive, multi-authored discussion forums of the web that allow
participants an extent of anonymity. Web forums are a distinctive format
of computer-mediated discourse (CMD), most often a discourse domain
with little institutional control, and thus relatively free of high-modernist
constraints and demands for ‘purity’ of language use. Instead, late-modern
hybridity, freedom of stylized expression, and identity play enable a differ-
ent order of peer regulation and normativity, on which this chapter aims at
opening a conceptual and empirical window.
The internet, especially recent, increasingly interactive developments of
‘web 2.0’ (see Androutsopoulos, 2011), has often been praised as a mediator of
enhanced democracy as considerably larger numbers of people or communi-
ties have increased opportunities for agency and voice online. In the Western
world, indeed, the internet has activated participation; even globally many
pro-democratic, pro-equality projects and enterprises blossom through the
mediating means of the web, and the specific communication formats such as
web forums, wikis, blogs, Twitter or Facebook. While institutional language-
ideological discourses can have power in the ‘structural denial’ of hybridity
and diversity (see other chapters in this volume) and in the stratification of
the ‘unmanageable’, informal ‘grassroots’ domains such as much of web 2.0
can, in theory, enable the formation of discourse spaces where hybridity and
diversity are welcomed (Leppänen, 2012; Androutsopoulos, 2011).
This chapter, however, documents and analyses two cases where the
use of particular linguistic (and semiotic) resources by a particular social

Samu Kytölä 229

actor entering or occupying the discourse space (community) is severely

sanctioned through a process of negotiation, regulation and peer normativity
(cf. Leppänen, 2009 on policing) that is markedly different from the
institutionally stratified processes of normativity. These cases illustrate
individual, (more or less) multilingual subjects operating on multilingual
spaces, where their specific, idiosyncratic multilingualism becomes
an obstacle to particular, desired social trajectories as well as a cause of
abnormalization (the shared theme of this section). The communication
format researched – asynchronous web forums with the affordance of
archived discussions and traceability of text trajectories – enables a
chronological, sequential analysis of how particular language-ideological
discourses unfold and emerge in situ. The practical methodology of this
chapter is therefore informed by interactional sociolinguistics, albeit with
important caveats spelled out by Blommaert (2005, pp. 50–67): interlocu-
tors enter interactional exchanges with personal histories and sociocultural
loads that readily affect the constellation of the exchange – before it
even begins.
The data selection for this chapter includes abundant mixing of Finnish
and idiosyncratic uses of markedly non-Standard2 English(es) that acquire
social meaning loaded with connotations and evaluation. In contrast to
the ‘neat order’ of high modernity (see Blommart et al., this volume), late
modernity is characterized by increasing hybridity, ambiguity and ‘chaos’
of recycling and revolving discourses. Even if the default audience of the
web-based Finnish football communities is – explicitly and implicitly –
framed as Finnish-speaking Finns, they have developed explicitly multi-
lingual, mixed and hybrid discursive practices (cf. the pioneering works by
Androutsopoulos, 2006, 2007; Hinrichs, 2006). Due to its specific trajectory
as a world language that has spread to Finnish society through various
channels (see Leppänen et al., 2011), English has a very distinctive role
in these practices. The two football forums researched here (Futisforum and
Futisforum2) can be seen as stratified discourse spaces with several languages,
their varieties, semiotic means (e.g. affordances offered by the use of emoti-
cons or pictures), registers, genres and styles (Kytölä, 2012, forthcoming).
The notion of super-diversity coined by Vertovec (2006) and developed fur-
ther in Blommaert (2010) lends itself well to describe the communicative
‘mutations’ (Jacquemet, 2005) that emerge in the form of ‘memes’ (e.g.
Shifman and Thelwall, 2009), ‘fads’ and innovations in computer-mediated
settings. However, these important works contain little in the way of actual
analyses of computer-mediated chains of interactive communicative events
(but see Blommaert, 2010, pp. 54–6). This gap is duly noted and theoreti-
cally discussed in Blommaert and Rampton (2011), and here I offer a detailed
case study that can shed more light on ways in which super-diversity can be
manifest and ways how transidiomatic practices may evolve.
230 Dangerous Multilingualism

Linguistic resources-in-use in online performance – from

shortage to excess

This chapter illustrates the sociolinguistic dimension of the dynamics of

‘abnormalization’ with two cases where messages written in non-Standard
English within the discourse space become targets of extended meta-
linguistic, language-ideological discourse, both explicit and implicit. The
two cases stand in contrast to each other: in the first sequence of events, an
online actor is considered to lack resources to acceptably participate on equal
terms, while in the other, a displayed excess of an individual’s repertoire is
deemed unacceptable by a ‘gatekeeper’ majority of interlocutors. Both
chains of events lead to an overload of discriminative discourse targeted at
the abnormal ‘freak’ and, more or less, to the exclusion of these users of ‘the
wrong codes’. Drawing from Hymes (1996) and Blommaert (2005), I suggest
that an imbalance of linguistic-semiotic resources in these interactions in
‘language’ brings about an imbalance of power between the participants.
In the ‘endangering’ cases here the imbalance becomes manifest in the lack
of voice, and downright discrimination. While these cases are delimited by
factors such as register/genre (informal football discourse), locality (Finland-
based), or discourse format (interactive web forum), they are ‘telling cases’
with a great degree of indexicality, where the micro-level dynamics of
the emergence of meta-talk points us to plausible interpretation lines
about the larger scheme of language ideology at work in our time frame
of late modernity.
In the cases studied here, uses of different ‘codes’ (i.e. not pure ‘languages’,
or even their ‘whole’ varieties, but rather very emblematic, strongly indexi-
cal ‘bits and pieces’, cf. Blommaert, 2005, 2010) become discussed, regulated
and sanctioned, a means of demarcation, embedded within the overall
discourse on mostly football-related topics. The two cases are contrasting,
each casting a different light on the dynamics of normativity as negotiated,
co-constructed and performed (cf. Rampton, 1999; Pennycook, 2007; Danet
and Herring, 2007, pp. 8–13; Leppänen, 2009) on a level of informal, peer-
regulated ‘grassroots’ context. The first case represents a situation where an
individual (I rename him Altan), attempting to be an acceptable social actor
within the selected discourse space, lacks some of the required or acceptable
resources to succeed. It is made salient that a non-Finn (‘other’, ‘them’) is
entering a virtual space framed for Finns (‘us’), which becomes an issue in
its own right (cf. the review of mainly pre-web ‘text and talk about “them”’
by van Dijk et al., 1997, pp. 164–5). Altan’s observed deficiency in written
English (together with an insufficient knowledge of the factual topics of
discussion and meta-knowledge of the forum’s practices) causes a consider-
able wave of mockery and, subsequently, screen persona Altan’s exit from
the community. Anfield_mate (nickname changed), in contrast, is a case
where the performance/display of particular multilingual repertoires in an
Samu Kytölä 231

‘inappropriate’ space or manner forms obstacles to full participation and

approval within the discourse (sub)space. It is part of the story of a Finnish
fan of Liverpool FC3 who builds a remarkable reputation as such a fan on
the Finnish Futisforum (a site where Finnish football has had louder and more
influential advocates than international football). Anfield_mate’s prolific
contributions are largely read, discussed, debated and mostly tolerated, even
appreciated for years, but it is his activity in a British LFC fan forum (con-
nected to the discovery of his offline identity) that triggers a wave of ruthless
disapproval and mockery. Closely tied to the demolition of Anfield_mate’s
online reputation is the overuse of a dialectal/sociolectal variety of English,
working-class Scouse, deemed ‘fake’ and unacceptable for a middle-class well-
off young Finn. While Altan’s non-Standard English is stigmatized as ‘bad’
and emblematic of absolute ‘otherness’ (cf. van Dijk et al., 1997; Leppänen
and Häkkinen, forthcoming), Anfield_mate’s working-class vernacular
Scouse becomes dislodged from its ‘natural habitat’ and emblematic of ‘the
man whore’ [sic; a distinguish emic category within the Futisforums].

Methodological considerations on discourse-centred

online ethnography

As Blommaert and Rampton (2011) aptly argue, linguistic ethnography is

well equipped for the study of such sociolinguistic diversity that is becoming
accumulatively less stable, less binary and less predictable. My research into
Finland-based online football forums4 has involved a considerable period
of observation and data collection informed by sociolinguistics, linguistic
ethnography (Hymes, 1996) and ‘discourse-centred online ethnography’
(Androutsopoulos, 2008; Kytölä and Androutsopoulos, 2012). The cases
that here illustrate the potentially ‘dangerous’ aspects in the multilingual
contact space of the forums are selected from a much larger database.
In the Futisforums that have been under investigation, multilingualism
as a positive resource, rather than as a problem, is often more manifest,
though the two facets often co-occur (e.g. when a specific constellation
of multilingualism is a useful resource for some, but a problem for others;
cf. Hymes, 1996; Blommaert, 2010).
The long period I was involved in data collection on the Finland-based
football web forums (and often in websites beyond them) has led me
to important insights into such research data that have theoretical and
methodological value. They are discussed in more detail elsewhere (Kytölä
and Androutsopoulos, 2012; Kytölä, forthcoming); here a brief summary is
in order. Locating research data for my study of multilingualism involved
long observation within the selected spaces: getting acquainted with the
different subsections, getting ‘inside the general spirit’ of the communities,
getting to know ‘who is who’, and getting to understand the idiosyncratic
slang of the forums (an absolutely crucial acquisition process for writing
232 Dangerous Multilingualism

a thesis on any linguistically oriented topic; see Androutsopoulos, 2008). Yet

another important insight gained was that the discussions and topics that
had emerged right during my core fieldwork period gave me a different, more
‘insider’ perspective than the data I found some months (or even years) after
the discussions actually occurred. With the former, I felt I ‘was there’ as the sto-
ries unfolded (cf. being present in a sequence of oral conversations); with the
latter, I felt that I lacked a degree of ‘literacy’ needed to understand the stories
(cf. discovering heated correspondence in newspapers from two or three years
ago). Case Altan mainly co-occurred with my most active observation period,
offering me a relatively good position to understand and interpret the discourse,
whereas I came across most episodes of case Anfield_mate only later through
archives (for epistemological and practical discussion, see Androutsopoulos,
2008; Kytölä and Androutsopoulos, 2012; Kytölä, forthcoming).
Moreover, ethical considerations regarding the use of web forum data are
more fully discussed elsewhere (Kytölä, forthcoming; Sixsmith and Murray,
2001; Brownlow and O’Dell, 2002). This chapter follows the plausible
assumption that most Futisforum authors have gone online voluntarily, fully
realizing that their contributions are more or less permanently traceable on
the web. Regardless of the features of the communication format, however,
the line between public and private exchanges is not straightforward, espe-
cially in cases where individual online actors (and by extension, the real
human beings behind the online personae) are scolded or discriminated
against. As online life and reputation are potentially ‘as real as the real’ for
many, I have here decided to change all screen names (although it could be
argued that the ‘real’ screen personae would deserve credit both for their
innovations and for their immoral or questionable behaviour).5

Case 1 – ‘Altan’ and ‘broken English’

The default participant on Futisforum is a Finn and/or understands Finnish:

this can be verified by even a short period of observation at multiple layers
of the overall discourse. The Futisforums have – since their early stages –
developed into Finnish virtual spaces, occupied mostly by Finns, for discus-
sion of Finnish and international football – in Finnish. This sets the frame
of expectation that participants who do not show a command of Finnish
in their contributions, are ‘outsiders’, ‘guests’, ‘foreigners’, and so on. Many
such cases surfaced during my observation periods, and with a few excep-
tions (Finnish–Swedish speakers who opt for Swedish) the code chosen for
interaction is, rather expectably, English. While most of such participants
are ‘guests’ with only a few retraceable postings on the forums on a limited
number of topics, some participants stay(ed) on one of the Futisforums for a
longer time, contributing to a number of topics. An outstanding example is
Altan, who identifies himself as a Turk and expresses a persistent interest in
Finnish national football.
Samu Kytölä 233

The screen name Altan registers in the forum6 in early 2005, identifies
himself7 as Turkish and opens a new topic in the sub-forum ‘Muut Suomen
sarjat’ (‘Other Finnish competitions [than Veikkausliiga]’). The topic opening
is titled ‘welcome I am from turkey’:

This first message is in distinctly non-Standard English:

• there are no punctuation marks at all,

• the only capitalized word is the personal pronoun ‘I’ (twice),
• there are unexpected pragmatic choices and lexical combinations
(‘welcome’, ‘club teams’),
• the word order is deviant,
• and the clause formation is highly elliptical.

Yet the message is fully understandable to one who knows English, and it
constitutes a logical conversational turn comprising:

• introducing oneself,
• requesting information,
• excusing the self-evaluated low proficiency in English.

It is notable that the message contains several explicit politeness phrases

(‘welcome’, ‘pls’, ‘thank you’). Of these non-Standard features, lack of
punctuation, lack of capitalization, and ellipsis are frequent phenomena
in many genres of computer-mediated communication, and also found
much in Futisforum. Thus, more salient distinctive factors in Altan’s idi-
osyncratic English here – in its very first manifestation – are lexical choices,
word order and clause formation, for instance, the redundant word ‘am’ in
the clause, ‘ı am very very poor speak englısh’.
We begin to see that the pragmatic purpose of the message is hardly to
‘welcome’ anyone from the Finnish forum to the Turkish one mentioned,
‘soccerforum in turkey’. Instead, the message is a markedly polite intro-
duction and a tentative inquiry about a subject matter related to Finnish
234 Dangerous Multilingualism

football, in other words about player transfers during the pre-season of

2005.8 Furthermore, and rather significantly for what happens later, Altan
already here excuses himself for his ‘very very poor’ English skills.
The first reply comes in a minute:

[‘saved my day’9]

The phrase in Finnish combined with a happy-looking emoticon (‘smiley’),

may suggest that Altan’s opening is taken as humour. Altan immediately replies,

and requests up-to-date information on the transfers of Finnish players (in

advance of the Finnish 2005 season). Even though he explicitly identifies
himself as the moderator of a Turkish football forum responsible for Finnish
football, the informational aspect of the topic becomes overwhelmed by
‘meta-topics’ that permeate the discussion: negotiation of Altan’s real iden-
tity, humour and play with non-Standard English, Turkishness and soon
even more generically ‘otherness’ (cf. Leppänen and Häkkinen, forthcom-
ing). The expectations of the Turk drastically differ from the responses and
reactions by Finnish forumists.
This thread, as well as others with Altan, frequently drifts off-topic, in
many cases implicitly or explicitly to deal with the idiosyncratic English
used. The Finnish majority of the discussants regulate the conversation by
frequent switching and mixing10 between Finnish, English and emoticons,
and, to a lesser extent, other linguistic and semiotic resources. There appears
to be a shared understanding of the Turk’s idiosyncratic English as ‘funny’
and ‘amusing’. One common-sense explanation is that in Turkey, the
exposure to English language teaching is simply much less than in Finland
(cf. Doğançay-Aktuna, 1998 or Doğançay-Aktuna and Kiziltepe, 2005 with
Leppänen et al., 2011). Altan is likely to have had very different processes
of encounter and acquisition of English than his Finnish interlocutors here
Samu Kytölä 235

(cf. Blommaert, 2010, pp. 102–36). In other words, the histories of the
(mainly English) resources that Altan brings to the encounter are drastically
different from those that are brought by the Finnish members (at least those
who bother to write here). However, among the range of different responses
that Altan receives to his entrée is a collective negotiation of the ‘real’ iden-
tity of this supposed Turk: is it a real Turkish person or just an inventive
joke, possibly by some well-established, savvy Finnish forum member?
But Altan did not enter an idealized tabula rasa. While my research on
case Altan was well underway, I came across trajectories of earlier Turkey
discourses in the local history of Futisforum, which pointed towards a better
understanding of the suspicion of the Turk. In early 2004 at least one mock-
Turkish nickname and a related mock-Arabic nickname had been operating
on the forum, using deliberately ‘bad’ Finnish in their contributions
(cf. mock-Spanish in Hill, 2008, pp. 128–57). One of these mock personae
actually switched from ‘bad’ into native-like Finnish overnight at the end of
his life span as a writer at Futisforum. Hence the suspicion of ‘another Turk’
trying to join the community becomes even more understandable in the
light of salient previous events – and only to those readers who were aware
of them (cf. Kytölä and Androutsopoulos, 2012).
To summarize, between spring 2005 and summer 2006, Altan par-
ticipated in circa 25 discussion topics, most of which dealt with Finnish
national football, especially the Veikkausliiga, the highest level of Finnish
club football. The reception of Altan by Finns ranged from helpful, benevo-
lent and informative to suspicious, jocular and, at times, downright rude
and racist. Parallel to that, ‘off-topic’ commentary in ‘bad English’ and
on Turkey, Turks and the Middle East more generally, frequently surfaced.
Altan’s English along with, for instance, another Turk’s personal homepage
became the target of fun, abnormalization and stigmatization as ‘freak’.
However, it was not until summer 2006 that Altan’s idiosyncratic English
became a ‘classic’ known to a larger mass of active Futisforum readers. On
that day, he posted a single message that launched an enormous wave of
imitations, recycling and performative play of idiosyncratic ‘Altanese’, still
not entirely stopped years later. With that message, Altan actually opened
a new topic:
236 Dangerous Multilingualism

A brief look at the linguistic facet of this message reveals very similar
features as the ones reviewed above: non-Standard punctuation, almost
total lack of capital letters, deviant word order, elliptical clauses and
unusual pragmatic and lexical combinations. Yet the message is –
again – pragmatically and interactionally valid, since it explicitly
includes interlocutors through the means of address, and invites com-
ment. Shifting the focus to the informational facet, an explanation
of the immediate context is in place in order to even partially under-
stand this ‘messy’ slice of discourse and its follow-up. Altan is here
referring to the Veikkausliiga match TPS vs FC KooTeePee, the result
of which was an exceptionally big 7–0 home win. Even if the most
likely explanation of such an overwhelming score was probably the
simple fact that TPS were in better form that day, Altan’s suspicions
about betting fraud (‘match rigging’) are not entirely without warrant.
A betting fraud scandal had indeed deeply touched Finnish football in the
summer of 2005, which was still far from forgotten by Finnish football fans
a year later.11 In fact, the mere presence of Altan had been connected –
in jocular and serious ways – by other forumists with ‘suspicious’ Asian
businessmen allegedly responsible for the most severe frauds. However,
when we look at how Finnish forumists respond to Altan, his suspicions
are regarded as nonsensical. Only eight minutes later greaves replies:

This is a quote from the already large ‘pool of bad English’ deployed by
the members for in-group humour purposes such as imitation, double-
voicing and mockery. The target of mockery here is an utterance by the
Finnish sports reporter Jari Porttila on a live TV broadcast of the match
Finland vs Turkey in 1999, which had circulated as a ‘meme’ (Shifman and
Thelwall, 2009) in the forums for a long time. The ‘pool of bad English’
contained, at this point, ‘funny’ quotes from celebrities, models, sports
coaches, rally or Formula 1 drivers, most of them Finnish in contrast to
Altan. The same Porttila quote had come up in at least three previous
discussions with Altan as a participant. In the Futisforum emic concep-
tion of the discursive reality, Altan’s idiosyncratic form of communicating
himself seems closely associated with Porttila’s renowned utterance in
‘bad’ English. This is arguably due to the non-Standardness of the exact
items of English at hand, but is perhaps further emphasized by the
Turkey connection.
Samu Kytölä 237

The humorous citation is quickly followed by Altan’s quick, slightly

apologetic response (note the beginning with the conjunction ‘but’):

While Altan tries to dodge the first mocking comments by some further
arguments and speculations on the possible consequences of such a big defeat
(‘sack manager’ of the losing side), the Finnish forumists are inextricably and
ruthlessly carrying the discussion in other directions. Few interlocutors who
post on this topic (and we do not know about the far more numerous lurk-
ers, those who just read) seem to take Altan’s turns seriously at all.
The responses, in sum, fall into one of three main categories:

1. Earlier inside jokes of Futisforum translated literally into ‘funny’ English;

for instance

[Originally in Finnish ‘joku vitun hadji on taas saanut kuningasidean’.]

2. Messages that explicitly dismiss Altan (or Turkey, Turkishness in general);

for example

3. Meta-linguistic commentary on the language choice or the ‘badness’ of

English used; for instance

[‘ameerika’ ⫽ ‘amerikka’ ⫽ ‘America(n)’; misspelled probably intentionally

‘vittu’ ⫽ the closest Finnish equivalent of the exclamation ‘Fuck!’.]
238 Dangerous Multilingualism

The appropriation of stylized ‘Altanese-English’

Two days after Altan’s new topic opening, the nickname Sivu Nikki12
(a clearly Finnish screen persona, judging from both the nickname and a
glance at its message history) recycles Altan’s posting, applying the same
idiosyncratic forms and patterns to another match, played on 4 June 2006,
in which FF Jaro beat TPS 5–0 in the town of Pietarsaari ( Jakobstad). This
mock topic was titled in concordance with Altan’s non-Standard English.

The opening message of the new topic repeats Altan’s earlier message
almost word for word: only the name of the defeated team in the heading
has been substituted. Ironically, the same team (TPS) that was the winning
side of the extraordinary game noted by Altan had become the losing side
three days later. It only takes approximately two minutes until the other
‘classic’, emblematic meme of non-Standard English within the community,
the reporter Jari Porttila, is quoted again:

In turn, the discussants draw upon several sources of what is perceived

as ‘bad’ non-Standard English. This shared, mutual humour is somewhat
harsh on any of its targets but particularly cruel to Altan himself; as Altan
had regularly (if not weekly) participated in the Veikkausliiga discus-
sions, he would be a potential reader of this topic, too. The initiator of
the thread goes one step further by deploying another idiosyncratic turn
of Altan:
Samu Kytölä 239

The irony (and fun13) of the message comes mainly from replacing Altan’s
Turkish context of rioting fans in Istanbul (a true European football metropole)
by a peripheral Finnish context, Eurajoki. The concept of rioting football fans
in Eurajoki after a lost match is plainly absurd. This juxtaposition combined
with the ‘inherently’ humorous forms of ‘Altanese’ creates in-group humour;
at the same time, however, Altan is being severely ridiculed. This topic – and
other mock-Altan topics – is evidently regarded as good humour by the
forumists themselves: the amount of positive emoticons (such as ‘thumb up’
or ‘LOL’) in responses posted to this topic (5 out of 12 responses), as well as
the quick spread of the ‘mock-Altan’ discourse on the forum, suggest that the
jocular function of this ‘innovation’ is arguably very salient from an emic
point of view, not just in my interpretation. The beginning of this topic is
framed in mock-English, the broadly defined ‘variety’ that is used most in the
entire topic. Only 15 postings occur in total, two of which are Sivu Nikki’s
mock-Altan initiations. Three postings contain Finnish; for instance:

This posting, with switches from Finnish to emoticons and to English,

contains a direct addressing of Altan and an explicit request for his
comments. A modification of the ‘classic’ utterance by the reporter Jari
Porttila is deployed once again, this time to address directly another user
of unintentionally ‘bad’ English. It is here that Altan finally becomes the
explicit target of mockery, although that has probably been clear from
the start for most readers who had read Altan’s originals prior to the first
imitations. The primary means of mockery is ‘deliberately bad’ English, while
the exclusive purpose of the posting is emphasized by the use of a Finnish
in-group favourite term ‘hulinaa’ (‘hullabaloo’) and the deployment of in-
group humour (the Porttila variation) when talking to an outsider who obvi-
ously is not equally aware of the practices.
The remaining postings contain forms of mock-English not drawn directly
from Altan but presumably elicited by ‘Altanese’ and the first round of recy-
cling it for jocular purposes:
240 Dangerous Multilingualism

[‘The bearded stevedore, etc…’.]

The very last posting is a response by Altan himself: he participates in this

first ‘mock’ topic approximately three days later. His posting is an explicit
expression of confusion and sadness:

Ironically, and crudely enough, even this response by Altan becomes recy-
cled in a later mock topic. This particular thread never (until 2 July 2011)
received any more replies; possibly Altan’s honestly expressed, face-value
disappointment had the effect of keeping away subsequent mockers – but
only from this topic. Since then, the nickname Altan has not participated
in any discussion in the Futisforum with the exception of one very brief
‘1–0’ comment in a topic concerning a single match. On the basis of my
extensive research on the subject it seems unlikely that the same person
has, since the time of the topics discussed above, posted any more replies
or opened new topics. (The same nickname, however, resurfaced at FF2
for a short while in 2007 in a brief friendly Turkey-related exchange.)
Nothing remotely similar to the ‘real’ Altan’s idiolect has been found –
except for the abundant ‘mock-Altan’ topics by Finns. I shall turn to
review them now.
Case Altan and its aftermath (that I call here ‘mock-Altan’ and ‘Altanese’;
cf. mock-Spanish in Hill, 2008) challenge straightforward, typological dis-
tinctions rooted in (high) modernist thinking, such as native/non-native,
Samu Kytölä 241

second language/foreign language or correct/incorrect. The concept of English as

a positive lingua franca for intercultural communication (as advocated by
e.g. Seidlhofer, 2001 or House, 2003) is complicated and challenged by the
Finns’ appropriation of distinct ‘bits and pieces’ of deliberately non-Standard
English. This subset of my multilingual Futisforum data is strongly charac-
terized by the appropriation of Altan’s idiosyncratic, highly non-Standard
English by Finnish forum members for purposes such as in-group humour,
demarcation and discrimination. The first such ‘mock topic’ (or possibly
the first few ones) still appear to have a lingua franca function (of includ-
ing or inviting Altan into the discussion) to a certain degree, whereas
later, the idiosyncratic mock-English becomes embedded in the forumists’
communicative repertoires (in a way, their ‘mixed code’), and the lingua
franca function is greatly diminished as Altan fades out of the conversations
with the Finnish forumists. A chronological, sequential and ethnographi-
cally grounded analysis of that data subset reveals the emergence of a new
sub-genre of Futisforum writing, and a new way of hybridized English-based
talk that I here call ‘Altanese’.
It remains still, in theory, unsolved for certain whether there is a real
Turkish person in the flesh behind the screen name Altan or if it is a
virtual fake identity. To me, Altan is without doubt a real Turk performing
in the Futisforum at face value (but on virtual identities, see Thurlow et
al., 2004, pp. 99–105), albeit within the constraints set by his limited
repertoire of English expression. This is supported, first of all, by the
orthography of Altan’s messages, which regularly contain characters from
the Turkish alphabet (‘gençlerbirliği’, ’denızlıspor’, ’allıansa’, ’FİNNİSH’).
Second, while a false Turkish virtual identity would be relatively easy
to develop and even to maintain for a while, and while characters from
the Turkish alphabet are readily available online and in standard word
processors (e.g. Microsoft Word), Altan’s language use has several features
of non-native, ‘truncated’ English that seem naturally occurring rather
than invented. For instance, he appears to have a very good command
of football terminology and vocabulary in English (‘bits and pieces’,
‘truncated repertoire’, Blommaert, 2005, 2010), but the syntactic level
shows remarkable ellipticity and deficiency by any standards, even in the
context of informal computer-mediated genres. Creating such a realistic
idiosyncracy would indeed take a considerable amount of time, energy
and creativity. Furthermore, the cohesion and pragmatic dimension
(e.g. punctuation, phatic communion) of Altan’s postings are credible and
logical, yet unlikely to have been invented for the prolonged maintenance of a
false identity.
In the end, Altan’s ‘real’ identity is irrelevant to this study, although it
needs to be pointed out that it would surely have been important for Altan
himself for his voice to be ‘heard’ and accepted in the forum. Here we have
a representation of a Turk mediated in a multiply complicated way – not least
242 Dangerous Multilingualism

through the non-Standard English used by Altan and subsequently, by the

Finnish interlocutors. It is against this representation that all discussions
with and about Altan are more or less judged and negotiated. Language use,
language choice and code alternation are being adjusted and negotiated
as the participation framework of the interaction possibly involves a non-
Finnish, non-Finnish-speaking Turkish discussant. Finnish members deploy
their in-group power position (awareness of the history, practices and
(n)etiquettes of Futisforum, knowledge of Finnish, expertise in English, the
sheer fact that they are ‘many against one’, etc.) to discriminate against the
Turkish screen name.

Mock-Altan discourse and beyond

After the first proper mock-Altan topic and the subsequent fade-out of the
screen name Altan from the community, there emerged a large wave of top-
ics initiated and written in ‘Altanese’ mixed intertextually with other older
sources and innovations of ‘bad’ non-Standard English. Below is a sample
of the topic headings (in total, 50 or so) written in Altanese from summer
to autumn 2006:

• Why Serbia-Montenegro 6–0 lose

• Why England again penalty shoot out lose
• Why switzerland 0 goals penalty shootout?
• Why san marino 0–13 lose?
• Why lahti 5–0 lose?
• Why inter 6–0 lose?

These all repeat and parody (‘double-voice’ according to Bakhtin, 1984) the
original formula, including the ‘ungrammatical’ direct interrogative clause,
lack of capital letters, and an allegedly unexpected result from the point
of view of the losing side. After the highly formulaic headings, the actual
postings deploy and recycle the syntactic and pragmatic features originally
found in Altan’s postings:

• ‘funny’ punctuation (e.g. ‘fans said that; go home manager’)

• capitalization (e.g. ‘i think sack tps manager’ pro ‘I’ or ‘TPS’)
• the word order (e.g. ‘what’s the next happen now then?’)
• clause formation (e.g. ‘eurajoki fans to rebel’)
• pragmatic choices and lexical combinations (e.g. ‘your answer’s to be
curious about me’)

In addition to the Finnish Veikkausliiga matches, the matches of World Cup

2006 (held in Germany from 9 June to 9 July 2006) became topics particu-
larly prone to the deployment of Altanese. Most, but not all, of the topics
Samu Kytölä 243

framed by a mock-Altanese heading recycled the original opening message

more or less verbatim:

In the ‘second wave’ of mock-Altanese some months later, attendance

figures14 as well as ice-hockey matches from autumn 2006 were included in
this new genre of humorous mock discourse; e.g.

• Why Honka announse ouver 3000 spektators?

• Why KalPa 2725 spektators?
• Why HIFK 10–1 lose?

The variation in this stylized way of writing also encompasses rather clearly
‘Finnishized’ items, mainly in the form of spelling (‘announse’, ‘spektators’),
which further complicates the picture and draws attention perhaps a notch
away from the allegedly Turkish origin of the meme. In addition, even more
serious, political issues would be discussed in this emergent style (in the
spirit of carnivalization, Bakhtin, 1984). The opening message of the thread
‘why russia no human rights’ is as follows:

At the heart of this type of appropriation of English for ‘deliberately

bad’ style of communication is the underlying sociolinguistic context:
those engaging in such mock-English talk – drawing from however many
sources – are de facto rather proficient in English, which seems one of the
prerequisites of such mock usages to occur in the first place. This is aptly
put by one discussant in one of the Altanese humour threads; the first
244 Dangerous Multilingualism

interlocutor asks in Swedish ‘why one does not write bad Swedish’, and the
second gives an explanation:

[Cf. Salo, this volume.]

The spread and recycling of the mock-Altanese style was not limited to
Futisforum or even its then emergent sister forum (hence-
forth FF2).15 Perhaps typical of many textual/discursive events of our time,
particularly those referred to as ‘internet memes’ (Shifman and Thelwall,
2009), the style was actively distributed by a number of Futisforumists
to other sites on the internet, including Estonian, Portuguese, Polish and
diasporic Polish football forums, but also to many interactive websites that
have little to do with football, for example the popular Finnish teenage and
adolescent girls’ magazine Demi. Since Altan was more or less excluded or
driven away at this point on the grounds of his ‘abnormal’, ‘freak’, activity
on the forum, I conclude by summarizing the relevant aspects of his trajec-
tory within the community.
Altan’s English was already from the very beginning of this trajectory
framed by other discussants as ‘deficient’, ‘bad’ and particularly ‘funny’
(cf. Räisänen, this volume). Several aspects of discourse and practice
were simultaneously at play as Altan’s contribution and attempts were
peer-evaluated: his alleged ethno-cultural background (Turkey), general
negative discourse about ‘the other’ (Turks, people from the Middle East,
‘sand niggers’), the prior suspicious and potentially hostile spirit within
Futisforum towards fake non-Finns, Altan’s insufficient knowledge of
in-group practices and, finally, the perhaps unwarranted claims of new
betting frauds. Together with such macro- and micro-level sociocultural
Samu Kytölä 245

factors, it is particularly Altan’s idiosyncratic linguistic output that is at

stake; it is more or less a target of fun and mockery for a longer time but
triggers an enhanced wave of imitation at a certain point. Ironically, when
exactly the same forms (‘bits and pieces’) of non-Standard English become
imitated, appropriated and recycled by Finnish in-group social actors, the
value of that way of writing changes totally from ‘bad’/‘novice’/‘freak’ to
‘ironic’/‘savvy’/‘expert’. Moreover, with the spread of that idiosyncratic
style outside Finnish contexts, the very same linguistic forms acquire a
different value on the Polish or Portuguese forums, partly similar to Finns’
judgements on Altan’s original ‘deficiency’, but with an added complexity:
Finnish forum members are actually having a parallel discussion topic on
the reception of ‘Altanese’ in other forums (cf. Bauman and Briggs,1990,
on entextualization; Blommaert, 2010 on the mobility of texts; Jacquemet,
2005 on transidiomatic practices).

Case 2 – ‘Anfield_mate’ and mocking the Scouse

In contrast to Altan’s perceived deficiency in Standard English, I will now

turn to a case where a significant cause for the exclusion and discrimina-
tion of an actor from a virtual space is an excessive, ‘too authentic’ display
of multilingual resources. Screen name Anfield_mate was a Finnish
fan of Liverpool FC whose use of Scouse-accented, stylized writing in a
UK-based online Liverpool fan forum, particularly the morphemes and
pragmatic features that distinguish Scouse from more Standard British
English, trigger negative peer evaluation on the Finnish Futisforum and
FF2. When interpreting this case, it is again crucial to understand that
it is not only the display of linguistic and semiotic resources (‘the wrong
language’) that is at stake. Instead, the entire sequence of events has to be
understood as a complex skein of sociocultural factors and participants’
micro-histories that have overlapping trajectories in space and time. The
actual linguistic–semiotic outcomes that became the target of fun and
mockery here were heavily indexical of things unwanted of a proper
Finnish football fan.
Anfield_mate was a prolific member of Futisforum and FF2 between
approximately 2000 and 2006 (contributing several hundreds of posts). In
this analysis, it can be plausibly assumed that writers who had been active
members for some time were very familiar with Anfield_mate’s forum his-
tory and activities as a football fan, and as a Liverpool FC fan in particular.
While it has been customary for both Futisforums to allow a great degree
of anonymity in the sense that a screen name (‘nick’) and the most funda-
mental facets of offline identity (real name, face) should not be connected,
Anfield_mate had, at one point of the forum’s history, exceptionally
acquired a status where his ‘real life identity’ was revealed – very much
against the community etiquette:
246 Dangerous Multilingualism

For reasons of privacy and space, I shall not go into close detail of that part
of the history here. A brief summary is in order, however. Why the disclo-
sure of Anfield_mate’s offline identity was accepted to a greater extent than
would be expected, and why Anfield_mate was a particularly ‘likely’ target
of agitated hate talk can be crystallized in two points.
1. Futisforum was during its formative years overtly framed as a commu-
nity and a space for fans of Finnish football, whether the Finland national
team, Finnish clubs in different divisions and competitions, or Finnish
professional players abroad. There is certainly a patriotic undercurrent in
the overall discourse, despite the fact that football hooliganism or other
negative side effects of nationalism are very rare in the history of Finnish
football. Whilst there was an early emergence of very active, even heated
debates on international (especially British, German, Italian and Spanish)
football, the dominant status quo was always favourable to the fandom
of Finnish football, above all. This created a powerful discourse of the
‘man whore’ (an emic term; ‘mieshuora’ in Finnish),16 which referred
to Finns’ fandom of non-Finnish clubs (also, to a lesser extent, foreign
national squads). Although many members have openly supported non-
Finnish clubs more passionately than anything Finnish, the general spirit,
advocated loudest, was pro Finland and Finnish players. In contrast,
Anfield_mate had developed a reputation within the community that was
seen as the extreme archetype of ‘man whore’: he was a fervent supporter
of an English club and often openly disparaged Finnish football, a cause of
numerous ‘flamed’ (cf. Thurlow et al., 2004, pp. 70–5) discussion threads.
2. There was a perceived discrepancy between Anfield_mate’s ‘real’
identity as an upper-middle-class ‘gold toothed boy’ and his aspired
‘fake’ identity as a ‘wannabe’ Scouser.
Some members of Futisforum tracked down Anfield_mate’s online activ-
ity on an England-based Liverpool fans’ forum (I leave it anonymous here),
where he socialized with other Liverpool fans, mostly English ones. This
became an issue of open disgust and deprecation on the Futisforums.17 It
is when a member of FF2 spots one of Anfield_mate’s contributions from
that English forum and posts it on FF2 that a big wave of imitation and
mockery starts:
Samu Kytölä 247

[‘mutta, kaikkein paras’ ⫽ ‘but, the best of all’]

This initial posting was partly edited the following day,18 but even the
remaining, unedited part clearly frames Anfield_mate’s decontextualized con-
tributions about his Liverpool-related tattoo as ‘ridiculous’ (supported by the
exaggerated string of ‘laughing out loud’, ‘LOL’, emoticons). This is a case in
point of how linguistic and visual resources – even when relatively unchanging
at the surface level of lexis and syntax – can move quickly through different
orders of indexicality and acquire very different sets of indexical potential
(Blommaert, 2010, pp. 29–33). The Scouse ‘accent’ (here in mediated represen-
tation that contains deviations from written Standard English: e.g. ‘me’ as a
possessive, the exclamation ‘ta’, ‘boss’ as an adjective) is very good capital (in
the sense of Bourdieu, 1977) in the virtual space for English Liverpool fans, but
on a relatively similar Finnish site (where the use of multilingual resources can
also be appreciated) it becomes loaded with very low and negative connotations.
But it is not solely the accent or the variety of English itself that is despised:
it is particularly its detachment and deployment by an online actor whose
identity is discovered to be Finnish, and what is even worse, upper (middle)
There is a burst of replies (28) the same night, nearly all framed similarly
to the opening, none showing any mercy for, or defence of, Anfield_mate.
Explicit mock discourse on Scouse emerges (cf. mock-Altan above, or
mock-Spanish analysed in Hill, 2008), and it is given the emic label lädi (‘lad’ in
a pejorative sense). Example:
248 Dangerous Multilingualism

This participant explicitly highlights (by using boldface font as a

communicative modality) the features from Anfield_mate’s original
contribution that are being despised:

• the possessive pronoun ‘me’ instead of the Standard English form ‘my’
occurs five times (this is a lexico-grammatical feature)
• the dialectal form ‘shite’ instead of the more standard ‘shit’ (which would
be part of colloquial register anyway; this is a lexico-pragmatic feature)
• references to Liverpool fandom: the ascribed mock pseudonym ‘Liväpuul
läd’, ‘liver bird’, the emblematic LFC figure, and ‘respect to 96’ [people
who died because of the Hillsborough disaster of 1989] (these are
cultural–historical, emblematic features)

Furthermore, this reply No. 13 overtly states the reason for contempt: ‘pahin
wannabe-liväpuul-lädi ikinä ’ (‘the worst wannabe Liverpool lad ever’;
here I take the spelling ‘liväpuul’ as pejorative).
The same reply continues with a stylized utterance where Anfield_mate’s
imagined line is framed with quotation marks and includes the indexical
cues, possessive ‘me’ and exclamation ‘ta’ (instead of ‘thanks’ or ‘thank
you’) that richly point to ‘fake-wannabe-Scouser’ identity (cf. ‘double-voic-
ing’ originally in Bakhtin, 1984).
This discussion thread lasts for approximately two days and nights, approach-
ing the genre of (synchronous) chat, and accumulating 383 messages – a
relatively great number even by the standards of the now popular and lively FF2.
The main point in this thread is stylized mock-Scouse talk, where crossing (in
the sense of Rampton, 1995, 1999) from Finnish or Standard English into ‘the
others’’ way of speaking carries much more scorn and deprecation than loyalty
or admiration (cf. Rampton, 1995, 1999; Pennycook, 2007; Blommaert, 2010,
pp. 187–8).
After two days, one of the moderators finally locks the topic, and the
reasons he states for doing it are ‘jarring’ and ‘editing the picture of the vic-
tim’s dog’. Still, the moderator leaves the thread untouched and unremoved
from the board.19 By far the majority of the nearly 400 replies are framed as
humour, most of which centres around the

1. Scouse features of Anfield_mate’s postings on the England-based forum,

2. Scouse features contributed by Finnish forum members,
3. Mock/fake-Scouse (emblematically: any colloquial/vernacular/dialectal)
features contributed by Finnish forum members, who cannot necessarily
tell Scouse features from other English dialects.

The rich indexical cues that the ‘discussion’ reveals frequently point to a
number of extra-linguistic features, which are indeed often more embodied
than discursive. To summarize such recurrent features that were explicitly
Samu Kytölä 249

ascribed by the nocturnal mockers to the imagined ‘Scouser’ identity (both

as a community and as a language variety) by means of mock phrases and
even explicit hate talk (cf. Billig, 2001), they are as follows:

• [they are] incestuous/inbreeding

• [they have] donkey face, big ears (in Finnish, pallokorvat)
• [they are] trash people, metal workers
• [they do] car stealing and sneaker dealing
• [they are] illiterate
• [they do] glue abuse
• [they are] stagnated in the eighteenth century (in particular regard to the
exclamation ‘Ta mate!’)
• [they are] (ab)normal (cf. Foucault, 2003); e.g.

[‘A normal person would rather use the word excellent [than boss]’.]

[‘A normal person does not write on a Liverpool fan forum’.]

The linguistic forms that are the target of the ruthless discrimination and
disapproval include examples from phonology (h-dropping as in ’ere, ’ave; note
that ‘phonology’, of course, is here mediated through written forms), syntax
(the possessive ‘me’ or ‘yer’), lexis (mainly masculine or pejorative nouns such
as ‘mate’, ‘lad’, ‘shite’, ‘scum’, ‘twat’, ‘cunts’, ‘wanker’; even the adjectival usage
of ‘boss’), and exclamations and discourse markers (‘ta’, ‘cheers (mate)’, ‘oi’).
Moreover, Liverpool FC related slogans are recycled in the sense of mockery
(‘YNWA’, ‘Justice [to Hillsborough victims]’, ‘Five times’ [winning the European
Cup]). There is surprisingly little defence on behalf of Anfield_mate in this
humour/hatred topic; only about 12 postings out of 383 (albeit hard to judge
at times) seem to take some kind of stance against the mockers.20
250 Dangerous Multilingualism

The irony here is that Scouse, as any dialect, would be far more clearly
distinctive in the spoken modality, and writing is bound to miss much of
the variation of the ‘primary’ spoken mode. Yet even the written mode
(syntactic variation such as the possessive me and lexical items such as
lad, mate), stripped of much of the characteristics of first-hand spoken
Scouse, is enough to trigger such a wave of web-mediated hatred. The
Anfield_mate case is rich with indexical cues to larger patterns in soci-
ety, the way in which those involved organize their worlds. In order for
English dialectal/sociolectal features to make such a big difference, of
course, there has to be a fairly developed knowledge of English within
the community (cf. case mock-Altan: ‘Becasue the you must know to
who write good engrish, to for writing in bad English’). Such hate talk
directed towards the use of a dialectal (‘inferior’) form of English by a
Finn can only be understood if there is a shared understanding of what
is ‘Standard written’ (‘superior’). This interpretation is further supported
by disparaging comments on certain Finnish dialects (e.g. Savo, Pori and
Kotka dialects).
What I have demonstrated here makes evident that this is a brutal and
archetypical case of exclusion and discrimination, comparable to school
or workplace bullying. It can be argued that Anfield_mate is, after some
five years of prolific, often controversial but usually appropriate, activities
within the communities, finally driven out of them. True, this nickname
was often responsible for very provocative arguments and opinions on the
forum, but so was the general spirit of the community in the first place –
a very broad range of flaming, trolling and provocation was always allowed
on the two Futisforums to the extremes. The defence of the discriminative
side rings clear here: he always begged for it. This is explicitly mentioned
multiple times in the ‘mock-Lädi’ hate topic:

[‘but [A] gets just what he asks for’.]

But given the broad range of multilingual and multisemiotic resources

that are deployed and tolerated (though often critically discussed; see
Kytölä, forthcoming), it appears somewhat ironic and absurd that a rather
skilled display of a sociolect/dialect of English should be judged any worse,
any more a ‘forbidden’ code than other codes. We are obliged to think in
terms of trajectories again. It is crucial to understand Anfield_mate’s social
action here as a flurry of trajectories, where he displays multiple identi-
ties through the mediating means of the (social) web (several discussion
forums, some edited content sites, IRC-Galleria,21 etc.). For tech-savvy
Samu Kytölä 251

actors shuttling in and between such virtual spaces, it is not a difficult task
to find and track such identities through a range of such spaces by some
‘detective work’:

[‘Pieces of information from the internet calculated one plus one’; a

sample from the earlier 2004 revelation thread.]

Anfield_mate does little to conceal the fact that he is from a wealthy

family living in one of the wealthier parts of metropolitan Helsinki. Neither
does he make attempts to hide his real age, educational history or general
whereabouts. He claims he can afford to engage in hobbies and activities
that are highly indexical of the wealthy, and to travel to Liverpool to see
his favourite club play a few times a year. This can be seen as a source of
both envy and deprecation by other community members. While we can
see that the wide, quite unanimous (and very loud) discrimination clearly
has its roots in such trajectories that had, in the course of years, become
deeply embedded in the forum history and folklore, its ‘tacit knowledge’
(e.g. Polanyi, 1967), the actual ‘weapons’ for such discriminative activity
are exactly those tiny ingredients of language that can ‘give you away’
(Blommaert, 2010, p. 6): single words, morphological variants, pronuncia-
tion of single phonemes or lexemes, albeit essentially mediated through a
written/visual form of communication, ‘text’ on the screen. But it is largely
after the disclosure of Anfield_mate’s offline identity and the connection
to upper (middle) class wealthy lifestyle that his Liverpool fandom comes
under more critical scrutiny and disapproval. The Liverpool fandom and
association with working-class supporters speaking (or, here, writing)
working-class sociodialect obtain a new indexical connection here. The
subsequent postings by Anfield_mate are now inextricably indexical
of a ‘double’ identity of a ‘wannabe Scouser lad’ (the archetypical ‘man
whore’) and a ‘gold toothed boy’ and this double identity is regarded by
many as ‘fake’, as one can judge from the abundance and quality of the
negatively flavoured postings about Anfield_mate. A critical note on such
judgement of double or false identity would, of course, suggest that we
all carry multiple, dynamic identities on us all the time (e.g. Blommaert,
2005, pp. 203–7; Omoniyi and White, 2006). Identity negotiation,
252 Dangerous Multilingualism

co-construction and identity play are, at any rate, always at the very
heart of such online-based communities as the Futisforums. And are peo-
ple’s lives in this late modernity not by default characterized by dynamic,
fluid, (to some extent) changeable and overlapping identities? Even
Futisforums appear(ed) to allow a great degree of identity play, particularly
anonymization and provocative participant roles driven to the extreme –
so why expect something ‘more honest’ or ‘more real’ from this prolific
Liverpool fan?
There is some evidence to suggest that in the negotiation of values and
acceptability of different codes at the Futisforums, the Liverpudlian dialect/
sociolect is judged inferior or negative per se (in addition to gaining nega-
tive connotations because it is being used by someone who is considered
irritating on other dimensions).

[‘And to Liverpool dialect yet another

Right after German, the most disgusting language in the world.’]

But more than that, it is the trajectory of single occurrences of that

‘foreign’ code that is at stake here, a code much more ‘other’ or ‘freak’
than Standard English. Anfield_mate never used Scouse vernacular to a
great extent on the Futisforums, but the web, with particularly its early
twenty-first-century ‘social’ applications (‘web 2.0’), allows extremely
efficient and quick moves of pieces of discourse. The Scouse variety was
(and is) probably the most appropriate code on the English Liverpool fans’
forum, where it enjoys a considerable degree of prestige (relevant social
capital; Bourdieu, 1977), perhaps even compared to any more Standard
(non-dialect, non-sociolect) form of English. It can be argued that the traces
of Anfield_mate’s activity on that Liverpool-friendly inclusive space are
dragged out of context, detextualized and entextualized again (Bauman and
Briggs, 1990; Blommaert, 2005). Yet this recontextualization is not com-
pletely new, since that particular personal obsession, the Liverpool fandom,
was essentially an ingredient of Anfield_mate’s activity, and a topic of
debate, also on the Finnish forums.
Emblematic of the highly ‘rhizomatic’ (adopted from Deleuze and
Guattari, 1987) nature of the web discussions, while the ‘Finnish Läds’ topic
was very active for only two days, the discourse that emerged under
that topic was rapidly transported and spread under other topics
within the two Futisforums (cf. the distribution of ‘Altanese’ earlier). Under
Samu Kytölä 253

Liverpool FC’s season topic 2006/2007, on the same day, the following
sequence appears:

[‘Trophy’ ⫽ ‘pokaali’ in Finnish, in German also ‘Pokal’: hence ‘pocal’,

whether intentional or not.]

These authors apply the emically popular jocular practice of ‘post fixing’
(in Finnish usually: ‘korjasin viestisi’) to repair ‘problems’ in writing proper
Liverpudlian, now already a valued in-group commodity with an ironic
usage. Exactly the same forms (such as the possessive me) that were a prob-
lem for their earlier user Anfield_mate become valuable in-group resources,
emblematic for knowledge of forum history and practices.
A central notion to the cases documented is that a particular variety of a
language (Altan’s ‘bad’ English, Anfield_mate’s Scouse) triggers a wave of imi-
tation, and in that second-hand phase of the code’s existence (‘mock-Altanese’,
‘mock-Scouser’) it has acquired a persistently ironic meaning. When we add
to that the abundant use of emoticons and attached pictures that ‘animate’
the mock talk, we have an interesting parallel to stylized talk documented in
language-crossing literature (Rampton, 1999, 2006; Pennycook, 2007):
254 Dangerous Multilingualism

For ethical considerations and reasons of space, I have here mainly focused
on one aspect of anti-Anfield_mate activities, the mock discussions based
on the stylized version of Scouse, ‘Lädi’. This is in line with the sociolin-
guistic focus of this volume, but importantly, this is only a part of the entire
skein of activities and discourses that revolved around this web persona.
Wrapping up case Anfield_mate with these caveats in mind, we see how
several salient phenomena overlap in space and time to create a space for
such ‘mock-Scouse’ discourse as depicted above. Finnish football fandom –
and here especially the online dimension manifested in markedly
twenty-first-century activities in the two Futisforums – has certainly looked
outward to the football world for models of success and expertise, yet it has
a nationalist–patriotic facet that runs counter to the likes of Anfield_mate,
whose offline and online performance, ways of being and (importantly)
ways of writing emphasize the superiority of the ‘foreign’ football cultures, in
this case English and Liverpool FC.


In an era of accelerated ‘globalization’, rapid movement of ideas, sociocultural

flows and translocal activities are customary (Jacquemet, 2005; Blommaert,
2010). Even virtual spaces explicitly framed as ‘Finnish’ (primarily by means
of the ‘code’ used, also by means of topics discussed), and thus, relatively
‘peripheral’ from the point of view of the world system, can attract aspiring
participants from theoretically anywhere. Due to its history, spread and
immense popularity throughout the globe, the discourse domain of football
is probably more likely to elicit ‘intercultural’ (international, inter-ethnic,
etc.) contacts, to arouse interest by ‘outsiders’ in the ‘periphery’, than many
other Finland/Finnish-based discourses distributed over the internet. In the
contemporary ‘order of things’, therefore, it can no longer be presupposed
that Finnish-based football spaces on the web can stay ‘purely’ Finnish
(Blommaert, 2010).
To sum up the two cases and what lessons we can learn from them,
I anchor them to the sociolinguistics of late modernity and globalization
(Blommaert, 2003, 2005, 2010; Rampton, 2006), and the idea of ‘endan-
gered individuals’ proposed in this section of this volume. Altan (regardless
of his embodied origin, discursively constructed as non-Finn, outsider)
displayed a lack of particular linguistic resources, and became embedded
in discourses of ‘bad English’, and more general discourses of otherness
Samu Kytölä 255

(cf. the racist stance towards ‘them’ in text and talk, van Dijk et al., 1997),
‘the abnormal’ (Foucault, 2003) and ‘the freak’. Anfield_mate, the scorned
‘man whore’ (discursively constructed as a Finn with an international life
trajectory), displayed an excess of particular linguistic resources (Scouse) in
the wrong place and time. Altan entered Futisforum benevolently, with his
personal history and communicative repertoire as affordances. His Turkish
or other linguistic skills notwithstanding, it was his well-intended ‘broken’
English that drew most attention, not the informational or phatic facets
of his writing. Anfield_mate’s activities accumulated malevolent uptake
and response, which eventually burst into flames in the form of a ‘mock-
Scouse’ or ‘mock-Lädi’ discourse about all things that this prolific screen
name embodied and represented. Both sequences in and across the virtual
spaces reviewed led to highly normative peer evaluation, harsh humour,
mockery, discrimination and exclusion. Yet it should be acknowledged that
these are two very different ‘victims’ – one because of racial stereotyping
(vis-à-vis betting fraud), and the other because of class resentment (vis-à-vis
fan behaviour). These constitute complex reasons for respondents’ reactions
and attacks. While it is likely that both social actors found other, more
benevolent spaces to replace their activity on the two Futisforums, their
social capital and reputation on these major Finland-based arenas of social
exchange about football were more or less demolished. And a major role
in that procedure was played by their linguistic output/performance in a
particular micro-context.
‘Dangerous multilingualism’, as defined in this volume, is essentially
about inequality between individuals or communities. It is thus worth ask-
ing what we can do (if anything) to mitigate such occurrences of inequality,
and to what extent can that be done? Inequality (see Blommaert et al., this
volume) is very much inscribed in the most ephemeral acts of communica-
tion as it is in the ‘big picture’ of global history; but adjusting our focus to
instances where the display of particular multilingual resources is a cause of
inequality, can we do nothing more about it than raise the general level of
awareness? Above I have provided documentation and interpretation of two
interaction sequences from the same domain, and presented claims of real
individuals who end up missing social opportunities due to their particular
(and highly personal, idiosyncratic) kind of multilingualism. Without being
too programmatic, and in the hope of not sounding too hypocritical, I’d like
to conclude the chapter with an exercise of ethical consideration.
Most of the interaction that goes on in the world is highly ephemeral:
it comes and goes and pushes the interlocutors onwards to new events
and tasks, and often very little can be done later to impair the possible
wrongs caused or triggered by it. A speaker with a non-Standard (or non-
native) accent becomes scolded by a native speaker on the street,22 a fully
deaf person proficient in a sign language faces misunderstanding in an
interaction with non-signers (cf. Tapio and Takkinen, this volume), and so
256 Dangerous Multilingualism

on. But it is part of the nature of certain web-mediated discourses such as

illustrated here that they may leave traces, and these traces may be more or less
lasting. Even if few people (apart from the researcher) actually bother to trace
the trajectories of such entangled ‘messy stuff’, it can remain archived and
open to reference for years. It may sometimes be that few people care, not even
those originally involved. But given that humans’ ‘online life’ is potentially ‘as
real as the real’, or better, very real itself and deeply embedded in other realizations
of the real, it frequently does matter to real humans what one’s screen reputa-
tion contains, what connotations one’s screen name and screen activities (part
of one’s social capital) evoke – in short, ‘who one is’ on the internet.
I have illustrated how Altan and Anfield_mate were rather unfairly
excluded if not from the entire Finnish online football fandom, at least from
the specific subcommunity with which they might have wished to identify.
Altan’s one main disadvantage was his ‘broken’ English, Anfield_mate
became a victim largely due to his quest for ‘authenticity’ in Scouse (both
language and other ways of being). Both the ‘hairy-arm kebab’ and ‘the ulti-
mate man whore’ were stigmatized as ‘freaks’, abnormalized by peers on the
basis of their skeins of activities, which were to a large extent linguistic and
discursive (but with Anfield_mate, as discussed above, also offline, embod-
ied in the intricacies of class issues). Their activities, aims and motives on
the football forums were apparently too different from the majority, too
abnormal to be accepted and included. This documentation, I hope, points
us to a more general level of the dynamics of how the ubiquitous (and
very old) phenomenon of discrimination on the grounds of the display of
multilingual resources can be realized in a relatively recent online format of
social interaction. In our twenty-first-century late-modern world, mediation
through different technologies, older and newer, is likely to be ever more
ubiquitous and more complex. Lives mediated through interactions on
the screen are and will be deeply embedded in and with lives mediated in
more embodied ways. The consequences of social and cultural discursive
activity, regardless of the mediating means, potentially make a difference
in real people’s lives. Therefore, I would like to conclude this chapter by
wishing a good and reputable (online and offline) life to the persons referred
to here as Altan and Anfield_mate.

1. Despite ambiguity, I have chosen to consistently use the British/European word
‘football’ to refer to the sport called ‘soccer’ in North America and some other
parts of the globe. My most sincere thanks are due to the four editors of this
volume for their invaluable comments on many earlier drafts of this chapter.
Furthermore, Jan Blommaert deserves credit for coinage of the fitting term
‘Altanese’ that I deploy here. I would also like to thank Ari Häkkinen and Saara
Leskinen for technical help with the data samples.
Samu Kytölä 257

2. I am highly aware of the problematics of such a broad umbrella term as ‘non-

Standard’, which can have infinitely different and varying manifestations in
real speech and writing (see e.g. Blommaert, 2010, pp. 133–4). However, in the
absence of a more accurate one, I use it here to cover both cases represented.
Moreover, on the basis of my linguistic–ethnographic immersion, I see the term
as emically relevant, since the entire sequences of events described here are heav-
ily based on the participants’ conception of the ways of writing as non-Standard
(and therefore ‘funny’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘wrong’, or ‘worth mockery’).
3. Liverpool is a very famous and successful English football club with a fan base all
over the world. The hub of LFC fan activity lies in Liverpool, but there is a global
following, further accentuated by the late-modern developments of e.g. satellite
television and the internet.
4. Most notably, and for purposes of this chapter, the interrelated Futisforum and
Futisforum2, currently (16 July 2011) located at <http://suomifutisnet.adv1.> and <>, respectively.
5. However, I have decided not to manipulate or edit the data samples to hinder web
searches for those interested in finding the original primary sources (of which
some can still be left in the forums’ archives).
6. A new nickname at Futisforum can routinely be identified as ‘new’, since the reg-
istration date and the total number of posts by that user are automatically visible
to other users below the username.
7. Informed by my long-time observation, I use the masculine third person pronoun
for all ‘alleged male’ screen names and the feminine pronoun for those members
who are identified as females. This may occasionally not match the member’s
gender (transgender issues aside).
8. The message was sent in early 2005, and there were still some weeks left until
the beginning of the Finnish competitive football summer season of that year
(April 2005).
9. As the focus of this chapter is pragmatic and sociolinguistic, I will not provide
detailed syntactical glosses of the non-English data excerpts, but instead, rather
liberal pragmatic translations.
10. For the application of these canonical yet contested terms in computer-mediated
discourse, see Hinrichs (2006) and Androutsopoulos (2007, 2011, forthcoming).
11. Another similar scandal surfaced in spring 2011, before this volume went to print.
12. Although the nicknames have been changed, I have deliberately retained a degree
of non-Standard, idiosyncratic, stylized spellings.
13. While I personally find/found this particular joke amusing at times, I disclaim
myself from the discriminative aspect of this cruel humour on Altan. Humour,
therefore, is an emically motivated analytical category here rather than my
personal judgement (cf. Billig, 2001).
14. Attendance figures are a perpetually popular topic within the Futisforum com-
munities, with a particular emphasis on how desperately small audiences Finnish
football manages to mobilize (in comparison to football elsewhere, or even ice
hockey in Finland).
15. Futisforum was outgrown by FF2 relatively quickly: by late 2007, the younger FF2
was already the far more active forum by all standards (see Kytölä, forthcoming).
16. Note that, especially in Futisforum, there was a general belief that nearly all of
the members were male. This has changed somewhat with the emergence of FF2,
where clearly more members identify themselves overtly as females, and where
gender is not made such a big issue as it always was in Futisforum.
258 Dangerous Multilingualism

17. Futisforum is (and always was) moderated very little. In fact, it is one of the least
moderated web forums I have encountered during my research, allowing a great
degree of freedom of speech. This, of course, has multiple effects, negative and
positive. I have frequently experienced disbelief and astonishment at the tone of
writing found in Futisforum (and to a lesser extent, FF2) when I have discussed my
research in personal communication with my colleagues and friends. To be fair,
however, it should be remembered that this analysis of ‘discriminatory’ cases in
the Futisforums is only one facet of the versatile and creative discourse commu-
nity. Elsewhere I also attempt to do justice to the creative, celebratory and overall
positive sides of the Futisforumists’ multilingual language uses and practices (see
Kytölä, forthcoming).
18. One can see routinely when a message has been later edited, as this is part of the
meta-information generated by the forum software.
19. The topic remained for more than two years on one of those FF2 subforums that
only registered members can read. Although any internet user in the world can
register, ethical considerations are, in my view, necessary when deploying such
data for research purposes.
20. Although it is impossible to make an accurate gender analysis within a com-
munication format such as anonymous web forums, it has to be noted that 6 of
these 12 postings rising against the grain here are by 4 publicly female members,
one of them an active fellow Liverpool fan (at times also mocked as ‘partner in
crime’). Together with my ethnographically accrued knowledge of the aggression,
antagonism and mockery by predominantly male members of the Futisforums,
this might tentatively suggest that female peers are more sympathetic in this
respect. However, a more fine-grained gender-based analysis remains outside this
21. IRC-Galleria is a popular social networking site that originated in Finland and
preceded the big success of Facebook.
22. For a fictional yet very realistic and apt parallel, see the scene from the film by
Andersson (2000), or its synopsis in Weman (2000, p. 1):

An immigrant goes looking for a job at an enterprise but becomes rejected. He

is totally ignored by the (Swedish) natives. Once he gets on the street and asks
something, he becomes beaten by the two native interlocutors explicitly on the
grounds of his non-native accent – while passers-by are just watching.

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Experiencing Multilingualism – the
Elderly Becoming Marginalized?
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo


Globalization and the multilingualism it brings along is lived reality

for most people in the world, but how it touches different groups and
how people experience it differ substantially: for some it provides
opportunities and prosperity, for others it is an obstacle and threshold; it
includes some but excludes others; for some it is a functional and useful
everyday resource, others remain bystanders and face the threat of mar-
ginalization. As stated in Blommaert et al. (this volume), multilingualism
is often cherished and connected to positive phenomena in society but
its positive outcomes are not to be taken for granted. For some groups
of people multilingualism may be a problem and it may cause them to
become marginalized, at least in some spheres of life. For these groups
multilingualism is something that takes place inevitably in their daily
environment but they themselves remain bystanders and cannot take
part in the development. It is precisely these bystanders that this chapter
focuses on. The interest of this chapter lies in the consequences of
multilingualism for individual subjects, namely the elderly. More specifi-
cally, this chapter examines how multilingualism poses a potential threat
to this specific group, how it might endanger full participation in society
and thus lead to exclusion and marginalization.
This chapter tells a story told by a couple, two 90-year-olds, living in the
Finnish countryside. This couple have seen 90 years of changes in Finnish
society, and they tell a grassroots-level story of language contact and strug-
gle with the strange, of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and of marginalization and coping.
This is indeed a case study focusing on two people, but this is a telling case
(see e.g. Flyvbjerg, 2001; Duff, 2008), showing how ordinary people are
touched by multilingualism, how they experience it and live through it
willingly or unwillingly. Although this case is particularly about the elderly,
it inevitably sheds light on other potentially marginalized groups of people
as well.

262 Dangerous Multilingualism

Multilingualism, globalization and marginalization

How people experience multilingualism partly depends on how they

understand multilingualism and how they see themselves in relation to it.
What is considered multilingual and who can be said to be multilingual
vary extensively in scholarly and policy as well as in lay discussions.
One example in the European context is the following definition from the
European Commission’s language policy (EurActiv Network, 2008): ‘The
term “multilingualism” refers both to a person’s ability to use several
languages and the co-existence of different language communities in
one geographical area.’ Both aspects of this definition refer to people
who use more than one language, but it ignores, however, the fact that
even if people are not able to function in many languages, their lives
are increasingly surrounded by multilingualism and they are affected
by multilingualism in various ways. If we were to ask the elderly couple
in focus here whether they are multilingual and whether their living
surroundings are multilingual, their immediate reaction would without
a doubt be no. Indeed, most Finns consider themselves monolingual, as
shown by a recent survey on English in Finland (Leppänen et al., 2011).
The same survey shows, however, that other languages are visible in Finns’
linguistic landscapes, even though older generations and people living in
the countryside encounter foreign languages less often than young people
and city dwellers.
As pointed out above, multilingualism is generally considered to be
beneficial to people and, for example, the EU’s official language policy
promotes learning two languages in addition to one’s own language.
Multilingualism is linked to education and work opportunities and the
mobility of students and workers. Elderly citizens are, however, often
excluded from policies concerning multilingual society and plurilingual
citizens. The following two quotes from the EU’s language learning policy
(EUbusiness, 2008, emphases added) illustrate the above-mentioned
aspects of multilingualism:

The European Union actively encourages its citizens to learn other European
languages, both for reasons of professional and personal mobility within its single
market, and as a force for cross-cultural contacts and mutual understanding.

The ability to understand and communicate in more than one language –

already a daily reality for the majority of people across the globe – is a
desirable life-skill for all European citizens. Learning and speaking other
languages encourages us to become more open to others, their cultures and
outlooks; it improves cognitive skills and strengthens learners’ mother
tongue skills; it enables us to take advantage of the freedom to work or
study in another Member State.
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 263

The focus appears to be on enhancing cognitive skills, increasing mutual

understanding and harmony, learning for life, and mobility in the sense of
working and studying across Europe. Most of these emphases are on people
who are still part of the active and productive workforce. But what if you
are not in the labour market any more? People who are not ‘useful’,
productive members of society are not taken into account in policy-making,
except for in the medical sense. Studies on the language use of the elderly are
often medicalized studies concerning the effects of, for example, dementia
or Alzheimer’s disease on language performance and in that way on their
ability to function in society (for an extensive list of references, see De Bot
and Makoni, 2005), or studies which have focused on language develop-
ment and assessment (e.g. Baker, 1996).
The language development and language use of the elderly in multilingual
settings have been studied by for example Baker (1995) and De Bot and
Makoni (2005). Less research has been conducted on how the elderly are
affected by multilingualism in our society. In particular, this involves those
who may not be multilingual in the obvious sense, in other words they may
not have competence in languages other than their mother tongue, but
their lives are still surrounded by increasing multilingualism and an implicit
requirement to have multilingual competencies. In the European language
policies, multilingualism is seen as the normal state in people’s lives, and
those without the skills, abilities and perhaps the need for languages other
than their native one are pushed into the position of abnormality; in this
sense their situation echoes Foucault’s (2003) discussion of normality and
abnormality in society.
Multilingualism is connected to globalization, which, again, can be
defined in various ways. It is most often connected to economy: terms
such as the ‘global market’ or ‘the common markets beyond the nation
states’ are used (McKay and Bokhorst-Heng, 2008). But globalization can, of
course, also be a social and cultural phenomenon. Just like multilingualism,
globalization has both positive and negative connotations. It can be seen as
something that makes the world smaller and unites people across nations in
a positive sense or it can be seen as causing a loss of cultural and linguistic
diversity, which leads to divides between the rich and poor rather than to
levelling the disparities (McKay and Bokhorst-Heng, 2008, p. 1).
The term ‘globalization’ has been analysed by Scholte (2000), for example,
who argues that it can be seen as internationalization, liberalization,
universalization, westernization, modernization or deterritorialization. He
further argues that only the last one is apt enough in explaining the current
stage and form of globalization, that is its reference to the change of social
spaces, which means in Scholte’s (2000, p. 3) words that ‘global and territo-
rial spaces co-exist and interrelate in complex fashions’. As the social space
people operate in becomes more diverse and complex, the possibility of
‘communicative inequality’ (Blommaert, 2008, p. 24) also rises. Blommaert
264 Dangerous Multilingualism

illustrates this concept by documents that travel from one literacy regime to
another, so that in this new regime the document is not understood in the
same way as in its original regime. This kind of inequality can also happen
in seemingly close circles, not just when we are talking about two very
extreme contexts. Because of globalization and multilingualism familiar
social spaces can also change in profound ways so that some people are not
able to function in them and understand the documentation and discourses
related to these spaces in ways that they are used to.
Blommaert (2008) further argues that different parts of the world are
connected but that does not mean that these parts will eventually become
uniform. Aspects such as technological developments or the spread of
English are often related to globalization, but there are many people who
may not be able to speak English or who are not able or willing to use the
internet. These people may be fully aware of the developments around
them, but the more general changes taking place around them are not part
of their everyday reality.
As a potential consequence of the above-mentioned inequalities, some
groups in society may become marginalized. Marginalization can be seen
as one form of oppression. As suggested by Young (2000), it is possible
to identify five categories of oppression – exploitation, marginalization,
powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence. He argues that of these
marginalization is perhaps the most dangerous, because ‘a whole category of
people is expelled from useful participation in social life and thus potentially
subjected to severe material deprivation and even extermination’ (Young,
2000, p. 41). Marginalization is often related to the economy and thereby
it also has ties with globalization. There are various (growing) groups in
society, such as disabled people, unskilled workers or elderly citizens, who
can, in fact, be seen as forming a new underclass, because the labour market
does not have any use for them (Mullaly, 1997, p. 147). Marginalization is
often related to material deprivation, but this is not always the case, as for
example many elderly citizens are quite well off. Nevertheless, they may be
‘excluded from meaningful social participation and cannot exercise their
capacities in socially defined and recognized ways’ (Mullaly, 1997, p. 148).
It is often the case that in order to be productive and useful for society one
has to be at work and one has to be young. Therefore, older people are often
marginalized from society and this may lead to ‘feelings of uselessness, bore-
dom, and lack of self-respect’ (Mullaly, 1997, p. 148).

Introducing the case

The elderly couple, Erkki and Aino (pseudonyms), in focus here are both
circa 90 years old and live in rural south-western Finland. The couple
were interviewed by Marja Hujo as a part of her MA study in spring
2008. Erkki and Aino have lived in the same area all of their lives. They
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 265

live in a village with about 2000 inhabitants: the administrative area the
village was formerly part of had circa 5000 inhabitants, but due to recent
merges of administrative areas in Finland, the village is now (from the
beginning of 2009) part of a town totalling 25,000 inhabitants. Pori and
Tampere are the bigger towns in the area, but they are so far away that
the couple hardly ever visit them. The area their home is located in is
nevertheless rural with farmland, forest and some small industries. The
closest services (e.g. a shop and a bank) are about 3 kilometres away from
their home.
Before retirement Erkki was a carpenter and Aino delivered the mail. Both
of them have been on pensions for the past 25 years. As to their educa-
tion, both had four years of primary education and they have no history
of language learning in formal education. Before their retirement they
used to travel abroad a couple of times a year, mostly in the neighbouring
Scandinavian countries. Thus they have had contact with languages other
than Finnish and they have experience of situations where the knowledge
of a foreign language might have been useful.
The interview was a semi-structured interview (e.g. Dörnyei, 2007;
Ruusuvuori and Tiittula, 2005), focusing especially on the role of English in
these people’s lives and in Finland and the world more generally. The inter-
view topics were partly based on the national survey on English in Finland
(Leppänen et al., 2011). The interview was conducted in the couple’s home
and it lasted for about an hour. It was audio-recorded and transcribed for
analysis. The following transcription conventions were used:

(2) pause in seconds

. small pause less than a second
// overlapping speech
[a tabloid] transcriber’s explanations
((laughter)) non-verbal activities
>xxx< fast speech

In analysing the interview, the starting point was to treat the interview
loosely as a story told by the couple and as discourse constructed in the inter-
view situation. The interview was full of small stories (see Georgakopolou,
2007) and there was a narrative contract (Galasiński and Galasińska, 2005;
Nikula and Pitkänen-Huhta, 2008) between the interviewer and the couple
being interviewed, where the latter were expected to tell the story of
their experiences to the interviewer. The account was analysed discourse
analytically, paying attention not only to what is said, but how things are
said. Aspects of language use such as choice of words and expressions,
grammatical structures, or use of hesitation and laughter were taken into
account. The interview was only audio-recorded and therefore the visual
aspects of the discourse were excluded.
266 Dangerous Multilingualism

The interview was a discussion between Marja (who was acquainted

with the couple), Erkki and Aino. During the interview they constructed
together an understanding of what English means to Erkki and Aino
and how they see its role personally, nationally and globally. Thus Marja’s role
in this construction cannot be ignored. Even though the couple had known
Marja for a long time, there were certain inevitable power relations between
them, and this has repercussions on the discourse. First of all, the topic of
discussion is English and the couple must be aware that Marja is very good at
English, as she is a university student of English, whereas the couple had had
no formal education in English, or any other language for that matter. This
puts Marja in a more powerful position as to the topic at hand. Another point
is that Marja is a university student and she is now visiting the couple for the
purposes of a scientific study, an MA thesis. This may create an atmosphere
where the couple might feel that they need to have some knowledge that Marja
is now about to inquire about, and this might cause tension in the situation.

Living through globalization and growing multilingualism

In the following, the account of the couple is unfolded in their own voice
when they reflect on their experiences of living amidst globalization and
multilingualism and the feelings evoked by these experiences.

Being aware of the spread of English

Even though Aino and Erkki live in a small village and only occasionally visit
the nearest town, they are very well aware of the status of English in Finland
and globally. Aino in particular is almost surprisingly aware of the situation
of the English language in the world. The fact that Aino names English as
the world language gives some evidence of how up to date these people are,
even though they have not travelled abroad for the past three decades.

Extract 1
Marja: no nii lähdetää liikeelle . elikä ensimmäiseks mää ihan kysyisin
teiltä että mitä teille ensimmäisenä tulee mielee mieleen englannin
kielestä . mitä ajatuksia se herättää tai . mitä tulee mieleen
Aino: no se semmonen ensiks että että se se on ninkon maailman kieli
ja sitä täytys joka ainoon osata . mutta kun ihminen on ollu
kerran laiska ni se ei o viittiny sitä opetella vaikka olis ollu jo
monta vuatta tilasuus kun televisiosta on oppinu aika paljon
Marja: ok let’s get going . so first I would like to ask you that what is the
first thing that comes to your mind about the English language .
what thoughts does it raise . or what comes to your mind
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 267

Aino: well the first thing is that that it it’s like a world language and
that every single person should be able to use it . but when a
person has been so lazy that she hasn’t cared to learn it even
though there has been the chance for it for many years but
I have learnt quite a lot from TV

After Marja’s question there is a small pause, but then Aino expresses quite a
clear opinion about English. In her opinion English is the world language and
everybody should be able to use it. Aino’s quite emphatic every single person
indicates that she feels there is an external compulsion to have English skills, as
if there is some unidentified force pushing people to use English, and without
skills in English it may be difficult to function in this world. She continues
with a self-depreciating tone how she has been too lazy to start studying
English, even though she would have had the time and plenty of opportunities
to do so. Thus some feelings of lack of self-respect arise at this point. She points
out, however, that she has learnt quite a lot from watching TV.
Another example of the awareness of English is given in Extract 2 below.
Again Aino is the one who gives her comments on the question concerning
the visibility and spread of English in different areas of life.

Extract 2
Marja: ootteko te ylipäätään kiinnittäny huamioo että toi englannin kieli
että näkyykö sitä . kuinka paljon . tuleeks teille lehtiä tai jotain
/ ootteko te
Aino: / no meitille tulee aika huanosti lehtiä että . mitä joskus ostetaan
tualta noi iltasanomat ja tommoset että niisä ny paremmin
paremmin näkkee mutta mutta sano kyllä siittä tiatosia ollaan että
englannin kieli . valtaa alaa ei siinä mikkään auta kun kun se
tullee ninkon yleiseks kiäleks mielellänsä eikös toi tiatokonekin
o nykyänsä nykyänsä paljon semmonen että siältä löytyy niitä
englanninkielisiä sanoja
Marja: overall, have you noticed that the English language that do you
see it . how much . do you get any magazines or something
/ have you
Aino: / well we don’t really get magazines . just something that we buy
sometimes like Iltasanomat [a tabloid] and such and in those
you see but but we are very aware that the English language . is
gaining ground and nothing can be done about it because it’s
becoming a common language, isn’t the computer nowadays such
a thing where you can find those English words

English is quite prominently visible to most Finns today (Taavitsainen and

Pahta, 2008; Leppänen and Nikula, 2007) and this couple are no exception.
268 Dangerous Multilingualism

Aino explains that they do not subscribe to any magazines but she continues
that English can be seen in some tabloids they sometimes buy. She also lays
a strong emphasis on how they are very aware that the English language
is gaining ground and how it is becoming a common language. Thus Aino in
a way takes a defensive position in saying that they are not ignorant people,
they do follow the world and they know what is going on. The way in which
Aino says that the English language is gaining ground and nothing can be done
about it again implies that she feels there are some external forces that drive
the English language further and around the world, and they themselves
are just bystanders watching this development. Furthermore, she mentions
the computer and inquiringly suggests that is it not a device where one can
find those English words. This is a further indication that they do follow
current developments, as they do not have a computer nor have they ever
used one, but they still know about the relationship of English and the new
In Extract 3 the couple ponder on how the use of English language has
evolved and increased in Finland during their lives. Again Aino is more
anxious in giving her views and showing her awareness of the matter.

Extract 3
Marja: ni että ootteko te huamannu nyt tässä ajan saatossa et se
englanti on siältä lisääntyny hyvinki paljon ku tehän ette oo
koulussakaan sitä lukenu että
Aino: ei ei ei koulusa luettu luettu muttaa mutta sen huamaa kaikisa kun
. me ny ei nin paljoo ennää liikuta mutta mutta esi esimerkiks nii-
hin törmää kaikisa jos mennee [lähin kaupunki] nin siälä on aina
aina noita sanoja essiintyy kaikkia ja . ja jatkuvasti niihin törmää
Marja: so have you noticed now as the time has passed that English has
increased a lot because you didn’t study it at school
Aino: no no no we didn’t study study it at school but but you notice it
everywhere . we don’t move a lot anymore but but for for exam-
ple you run into it everywhere if you go to [the nearest town]
and there is always always those words come up and . and all the
time you bump into them

The couple do indeed actively pay attention to their surroundings: Aino

explains that even though they do not move around as much as before
they still have noticed how the use of English has increased. From what
Aino is saying one could conclude that it is difficult not to run into
English even when living in the countryside. Interestingly, Aino uses
a physical expression when describing the visibility of English: all the
time you bump into them [English words]. The use of bumping into sug-
gests that seeing English words is involuntary and thus it cannot be
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 269

avoided. She also mentions that you run into English words everywhere
and gives the nearest (small) town as an example. Even though Aino
tells how you run into English all the time and in every place, she
still does not mention any specific places or locations where in the
nearest town she has seen English. It might be that they do not, in fact,
recognize which words are from English, but the words seem unfamiliar
to them. They can still navigate without difficulty in their familiar
surroundings and they know what services are provided by different
enterprises, but the linguistic landscape marking the familiar environment
has changed.

Living amidst globalization

Being aware of the growing presence of English in their environment also
means that the couple are inevitably touched by multilingualism. This
section discusses the experiences the couple have of multilingualism, and
of English, in particular, as well as the contacts they have with English in
their daily lives. In the interviews, the couple told Marja how they used to
travel every year, mainly to Sweden and Norway in their own car, but how,
after they retired 25 years ago, they stopped making the trips. They have
thus been in situations where they would perhaps have needed skills in
other languages, but Erkki also says that now he does not even listen to the
foreign language on TV: he follows the Finnish subtitles or listens to Finnish

Extract 4
Erkki: mää en o kuunnellu yleensä vierasta kieltä televisiosta
Aino: nin et et varmaan o kun mää yleensä . ko mä oon siittä
Erkki: ne on ne on sano suamennettu ne . kirjotukset siä suameks
Marja: niin on joo kyllä
Erkki: ja sitten on suamalainen ohjelma tykkänänsä että kuulee
Erkki: generally I haven’t listened to foreign languages on TV
Aino: of course you haven’t, I have generally, ’cos I’m interested in that
Erkki: they have they have been translated into Finnish, the texts are
there in Finnish
Marja: yes so they are
Erkki: and then if it’s a Finnish programme altogether so you can hear
the speech

But Aino points out here that this is because languages do not interest Erkki,
whereas she herself is interested in languages. Elsewhere she mentions that
she is especially interested in Italian, which she hears on TV, and would
270 Dangerous Multilingualism

have wanted to learn it, because it is such a beautiful language. But at school
they never learned any languages:

Extract 5
Marja: joo aiva, aiva . no mites totanin öö tossa kyllä jo kyselylomak-
keessa olikin että ootteko opetel opetellu englantia koulussa ja
ilmeisesti siellä kansakoulussa ei ainaka
Erkki: ei ollu
Marja: teidän aikana ei ollu
Erkki: ei ollu
Marja: oliko siellä mitään mitään muita kieliä siis suo äidinkieltä var-
maan jonkin verran oliko mitään muita vieraita kieliä
Erkki: ei ollu
Aino: ei
Marja: ei mitään
Aino: ei ei tämmösisä maalaiskansakouluisa / ollu
Erkki: / eeei
Aino: katos katos [opettajan nimi] oli tietysti opetellu opetellu sen mitä
mitä hän osas mutta ei sitä ninkon oppilaille ikinä esille tuotu
Marja: yes exactly, exactly, well how about well in the questionnaire
there was already that have you learned English at school and
apparently at least not in the primary school
Erkki: no there wasn’t
Marja: in your time there wasn’t
Erkki: no there wasn’t
Marja: were there any other languages, well mother tongue of course at
least some but were there any other languages
Erkki: no there weren’t
Aino: no
Marja: nothing
Aino: no no not in such country schools /as this
Erkki: / no:
Aino: you see you see [name of a teacher] had of course learned what
he knew but he never put it forward to the pupils

As becomes evident here, Erkki and Aino have not learnt any foreign
languages at school, but what is interesting is that, when later shown samples
of written English, Swedish and German, they recognize English and Swedish
almost immediately and German too after a little bit of thinking. In Extract 5
above, Erkki and Aino talk about learning languages at school as if they had
not been given access to languages. First of all, they are categorically claim-
ing that there were no foreign languages as subjects in basic education, and
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 271

add that in rural schools learning languages was not possible, thus suggesting
a division between the countryside and the other areas of Finland, the
former being somehow deprived of a privilege. Another point that comes
up in the interview is that the teacher was the gatekeeper of knowledge at
school: they assume that their teacher might have known other languages
but he did not let his students have a share of his knowledge. This could
also be interpreted as another slightly defensive position they adopt, per-
haps in response to the unequal power relations in the interview situation:
they do not know any languages because they have not been given access
to learning them.
The multilingual Finland of today is, in fact, nothing new to this couple:
already at the beginning of the twentieth century one could encounter
English in their village:

Extract 6
Marja: totanin (2) mitäs öö kuinka hyvin te ootte kiinnittäny huamioo
tälläi ympäristöön tässä kotona tai kodin ulkopuolella että mihin
kiäliin te törmäätte ylipäätään just ku te
Aino: ei ei meikäläinen törmää täsä minkään minkään kieleen kieliin se
on se on se on englanti ainoo sitten johon johon voi törmätä . kun
kun kyllä kyllä täälä ennen vanhaan (2) tuli tuli semmosia kun
kun sano sanottiin että ajettiin körökyytillä kotio ameriikasta
nin ne osas muutaman jees sanan sitten sannoo
/ ((naurua))
Erkki: / ((naurua))
Marja: so (2) what umm how well have you noticed your surroundings
here at home or outside your home so that what languages do
you overall bump into when you
Aino: no no I don’t bump into any any language languages here it’s a
it’s a it’s English the only one that that can be bumped into. but
but back in the old days (2) there came came such people trun-
dling along from America who could say a few yes words
/ ((laughter))
Erkki: / ((laughter))

Aino expresses rather clearly the fact that they do not run into any
languages because they stay at home or close to home. However, she does
continue that English would be the most likely language to be bumped
into. She reminisces how back in the old days (around the 1930s) it was
possible to run into English even close to their home because some people
came back from America and they were able to speak some English, or a
few yes words, as Aino puts it and starts laughing. Erkki laughs at this too,
272 Dangerous Multilingualism

which tells about their shared experience. The way Aino says how the
people trundled along back to Finland (the Finnish expression körökyydillä
means being compelled to come back home suddenly) shows some kind of
contempt for these people, and their use of yes words is considered show-
ing off with their skills of language that other people could perhaps not
understand. There were a great number of emigrants to America at the end
of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, especially
from the western parts of Finland. These people left Finland in the hope
of a better, more prosperous life, but some of them came back home
having failed in America, and therefore they were looked down upon in
those days.
When travelling abroad earlier, the couple had been faced with situations
where they would have needed skills in either Swedish or English, and they
spend some time reminiscing about one such event. Currently, however,
they do not go very far from their home any more and therefore they feel
that they do not encounter foreign languages. It is notable here that running
into foreign languages means running into foreign people, and there are not
very many in the countryside:

Extract 7
Marja: juu se on hyvä kyllä. no tuleeko nykypäivänä enää semmosia
tilanteita sitte vastaan
Aino: no ei /ei tu kon emme lähre minkään ennää tästä kauppaan aja
Erkki: / eeei ei reissata ennää
Aino: tästä kauppaan ajamme nin / ei siinä törmää minkään
Erkki: / ni ei ((naurua))
Marja: nin aika vähän on ulkomaalaisia kuitenki täälä pienellä
Erkki: on ei nin täälä kettään o semmosta
Marja: yes that’s good. well do you face such situations these days
Aino: well no / no because we don’t go anywhere anymore from here
to the store
Erkki: / no no we don’t travel anymore
Aino: from here to the store we drive / so you don’t bump into
Erkki: / yes no ((laughing))
Marja: yes there are only few foreigners here in a small [village]
Erkki: yes there aren’t any such here

For this couple, foreign languages seem to be connected to foreign people

in particular. The couple feel that, as they live in the countryside and do
not move much away from home, they do not bump into anything, i.e. into
people speaking foreign languages, and consequently they have no need for
skills in foreign languages. They do not seem to be aware that English and
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 273

other languages enter their home through TV, radio and newspapers daily.
Nevertheless, they have quite a firm opinion about the situation in towns:

Extract 8
Marja: no mitä luulette sitten että onko eroja maaseudun ja kaupungin
välillä että tarvitaanko tarviiko kaupungissa asuvan osata
englantia enemmän tai paremmin kun sit täällä maalla asuvan
Aino: > kyllä tarttee . kyllä tarttee < . ei ei tu toimeen ennää kun
ensikskin nin siälä törmää paljo enempi öö vieraskielisiin
ihmisiin nin että ossaa jottain sanoo
Marja: so what do you think are there any differences between the
countryside and towns that do people living in towns need to
know English better than people living here in the countryside
Aino: > yes they do. they do < . you can’t can’t manage anymore
because for one thing you bump into foreign people more so
then you can say something

Aino quite definitely believes that English skills are needed more in towns
than in the countryside, even to an extent that you can’t manage anymore
[without English skills]. At first she starts in a quiet voice as if not being sure
of her opinion, but then continues in a more certain tone. She explains that
one faces more foreign people in towns and thus it is good to be able to say
something to them.
It is rather self-evident that, in practice, the contact that this couple have
with English is through TV, even though they themselves do not consider
TV a contact with other languages. The following extract shows an example
of what the couple have learnt from watching and listening to TV. Extract
9 gives a rather amusing example of what has been caught from different
English language TV shows:

Extract 9
Marja: no totanin onko tualta teeveestä tarttunu jotain englannin
kielisiä sanoja mitä te osaatte tai termejä / onko jotain mitä mitä
osaatte tai tiedätte
Aino: / ((hyminää, hiljaista naurua)) (2) ai lav juu
Erkki: ((naurua))
Marja: so are there any English words or terms that you have learnt
from TV / are there any that you know
Aino: / ((humming, quiet laughter)) (2) I love you
Erkki: ((laughing))

After some hesitation and quiet laughter, Aino has the courage to give the
expression I love you as an example of something that she has learnt from
274 Dangerous Multilingualism

TV. Erkki starts laughing after this, which demonstrates that this expression
is familiar to him, too. This example shows that both Aino and Erkki listen
to the speech and not only follow the subtitles when watching TV, although
Erkki said earlier that he rather reads the subtitles than listens to the speech
when watching foreign TV shows. However, I love you seems to be familiar
to both of them.
The couple are evidently well aware of what is going on around them and
how other languages appear in their environment, but only further away
from home. Their home seems to be a ‘safe’ unchanging place from where
they observe the changes taking place elsewhere and only occasionally
when they step out of their home do they bump into other languages. To an
extent they also feel that there have always been gatekeepers who have denied
them access to other languages and therefore they have remained bystanders.

Expressing lack of self-respect

It is noticeable how often the couple talk about themselves or about their
knowledge depreciatingly. They feel insecure even when talking about their
own opinions and are somewhat apologetic at times. One can sense that the
couple feel too old to have anything important or useful to say, which might
at least partly be due to the power relations in the interview, but partly
also because they might have had feelings of lack of self-respect in relation
to languages in the same way as marginalized people often feel, according
to Young (2000).
Extract 10 below gives a good example of how directly the couple express
what they believe to be the lack of their knowledge. Aino gives her opinions,
which are relevant to the issue at hand, but she still thinks that what she is say-
ing is not useful or good, perhaps pointing towards the research task of Marja:

Extract 10
Marja: no tota mitä miältä ootte onko englannin kieli . teidän mielestä
tärkeää että tarvitaanko sitä suomessa . englannin kielen taitoo
Aino: ((huokaus)) ei sitä muuten tarvita kun kylä täälä suamella pärjää
mutta . mutta sano . kun eikös eikös ruppee matkailijoita tulleen
nin kylä se hyvä olis kon tosa ossais neuvoo tiätä että ä älä ny
älä nyt ton ojan ylitte että hyppää hyppää ((naurua)) seuraavasa
paikasa vasta
Marja: aiva
Aino: nin sano ei siihen muuta täälä törmää kun se on eri eri asia
sitten. jos tullee. viaraskielinen vastaa nin miten se sitten haluaa
esitellä sitä
Marja: nii aiva
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 275

Aino: > juu kyllä kyllä se on kuule kuule sano huanoo meiti<
/ ((naurua)) meitin tiatomme
Erkki: / ((naurua))
Marja: so what do you think is the English language. in your opinion is
it important do you need it in Finland . English skills
Aino: ((sigh)) no you don’t need it because you can manage here in
Finnish but. but aren’t there more travellers coming so it would
be good to be able to give some directions to them so you could
tell them that don’t cross over that ditch jump jump ((laughter))
over the next one
Marja: yes
Aino: so you know you don’t bump into it otherwise because it is a
different thing. if there comes. foreign language speaker across
your way so how you want to show it
Marja: right yes
Aino: >yes you know you know our knowledge is quite bad<
/ ((laughter)) our knowledge
Erkki: / ((laughter))

The fact that Aino starts talking after a small pause and with a deep sigh
could imply that she has difficulties in answering this particular question
about the importance of English in Finland. She talks about the increasing
number of travellers and how it would be good to know some English to
be able to give directions. Aino’s remark about giving directions on which
ditch to jump over also shows irony: it seems probably very unlikely to her
that there would be many foreign tourists in a small place such as theirs. The
long pauses between utterances indicate, however, that this issue is some-
what difficult for Aino and Erkki to get into. Furthermore, after a longer
pause, Aino starts quietly saying how their knowledge is bad and ends up
laughing, with Erkki joining in. The laughter here could mean that what
Aino is saying feels awkward to her and she eases it up by laughing. Erkki’s
laughter probably indicates that he agrees with what Aino has just said.
Another example, Extract 11, shows something of their lack of self-respect that
has more to do with their life altogether. Aino and Erkki both talk about how
they have managed their lives well without any skills in English but then turn it
around by saying how their expectations have not been very high either:

Extract 11
Marja: no tota onko teistä koskaan tuntunu siltä että olisitte jääny
jostain asiasta ulkopuolelle tai paitsi sen takia että ette oo osannu
276 Dangerous Multilingualism

Aino: / eei
Erkki: / en oo ainaka huamannu
Aino: kaikki kaikki on käyny käyny aina että mitä mitä on koittanu nin
kyä se on suamenkielellä käyny ihan . mutta se että vaatimusta-
sokin on on vähän huano ((naurua))
Marja: so have you ever felt that you have been left outside of some
matter or have you missed something because you haven’t had
English skills
Aino: / no
Erkki: / not that I have noticed
Aino: everything everything has always worked worked out fine
whatever there has been it has worked out in Finnish. but that’s
because our demand level is is a bit low ((laughter))

Neither Aino nor Erkki feel that they have been left out of anything
because of having no skills in English. They, however, paused for a while
before saying anything, and it thus seems that they had to think about
this for a couple of seconds. However, they also say that they have man-
aged everything quite adequately in Finnish, hence they do not feel left
out on anything, at least not in Finland. Nevertheless, Aino wants to add
that their demands are low and therefore they have not needed English.
It seems that Aino is really saying that their life has been so simple that
they have not had any demand for English, as if the knowledge and use
of English were somehow connected to a more prosperous, higher-class
life. Again Aino laughs after finishing her sentence, maybe to hide her
embarrassment a little. Nevertheless, the overall feeling one gets from
Aino’s last sentence is rather self-depreciating, again giving an indica-
tion of the feelings of lack of self-respect. These feelings also seem to
be connected to them being deprived of some things in society when
they have not had access to languages earlier on in their life (Extract 5
above), and their feelings of belonging to a lower class in society
(Extract 16 below).

Exclusion from full social participation

Even though Aino and Erkki themselves feel that they have not been left out
of anything because of their lack of English skills, there are some indications
of exclusion in the discourse constructed in the interview. Some aspects of
life in Finland might, in fact, be difficult for Aino and Erkki to follow or to
fully understand.
Today there are many company names that are in English even when
the ownership is Finnish and the company only functions in Finland
(Taavitsainen and Pahta, 2008). This tendency of companies taking English
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 277

names to either become more international or try to achieve certain prestige

is becoming a reality, and this may actually cause problems to some people
trying to figure out what services a specific company provides. Extract 12
shows an example of Aino and Erkki trying to determine what the named
companies specialize in. Marja presents them with some examples of com-
pany names that make use of English:

Extract 12
Marja: sit totanin mullon taas teille täälä ((naurahdus)) tämmänen
paperilappu. tässä on muutaman suomalaisen yrityksen nimiä (2)
tiedättekö mitä mitä totanin. mitä nää yritykset tekee tai myy tai
Aino: jaa’a pap pappa tietää eikös nää metso metso kon se on metso
papperi eiks se
Erkki: toi on toi on paperi / paperifirma mutta >kompuuter<
Marja: / joo’o metso paper
Aino: ja kyl kylä mää tommosen tommosen kompuutterin kuullu oon
mutten mää sitä muista mikä se o ((naurua))
Marja: so now I again have here ((laugh)) a piece of paper. here are the
names of a few Finnish companies (2) do you know what what.
what these companies make or sell or
Aino: well grand grandpa knows don’t these metso metso because it is
metso paper so isn’t it
Erkki: that is that is paper / paper firm but >computer<
Marja: / yes metso paper
Aino: and yes yes I have seen that that computer I have heard it but
I can’t remember what it is ((laughter))

Both Aino and Erkki seem to think really hard about the names they see.
Throughout the whole interview, Aino has been the talkative participant,
while Erkki has mostly stayed in the background, occasionally comment-
ing on something, but now Aino gives Erkki the floor. It seems that she
believes that Erkki has better knowledge of company names, thus perhaps
resorting to traditional gender roles. The first one (Metso Paper) seems to
be fairly easy to work out, perhaps because the clear resemblance of the
Finnish word paperi and the English word paper, and Metso is the name
of an old Finnish company, most likely familiar to them. Computer, how-
ever, is clearly more difficult for them, as Finnish does not help here (the
Finnish word for computer is tietokone). The couple have to spend a few
seconds trying to mouth the word. Aino, however, admits that she has
heard and seen the word computer before, but cannot remember what it
means. At this point Aino and Erkki do not seem to be very bothered
278 Dangerous Multilingualism

about the fact that they do not understand the word computer, because at
least Aino is rather content that she can claim to have heard and seen this
word before. The name Hair Store, however, is not difficult to understand
(Extract 13). Aino quite quickly figures out that it must have something
to do with hair:

Extract 13
Marja: joo (2) sitten on hair store
Aino: >se on se on oudompi mutta kyllä se kyllä sen täytyy jottain
hiuksista sannoo< ((naurua))
Marja: yes (2) then there’s hair store
Aino: >that’s a little stranger but it has to it has to say something about
hair < ((laughter))

The word hair must have appeared often in familiar hairdressers’ company
names or in TV and magazine advertisements, because Aino recognizes it so
easily. The word store is not, however, familiar. What all of this shows is that
even older people can keep up with the changes in language to an extent, and
they can recognize expressions that appear often enough in various familiar
contexts (see also De Bot and Makoni, 2005 for language development in old
age). But when the contexts are more abstract and the changes rapid, keep-
ing up with them becomes more difficult. For example, Aino and Erkki were
also asked to identify words that originate from English, but are adapted to
Finnish. Some of these words have been in use for a longer time, but more
recent words included innovaatio, globalisaatio and chattailla. However, these
words are nowadays heard and seen daily in various media. Extract 14 dem-
onstrates how difficult these well-adapted English words are to understand
for this old couple, even though they come across them daily.

Extract 14
Aino: ja / (2) mikäs pakana toi innovaatio siitton ihan kysymys nyt
ollu täsä viime aikoina
Erkki: / innovaatio ((hiljaa))
Erkki: juur juur luin tosta tostakin
Aino: nii ja globalisaatio on samate samaten (2) mutta kunnei pa
mieleensä ((harmittelevasti))
Aino: >innovaatio< ((mietiskellen)) mikä ernomanen tommonen inno-
vaatio on kun alvaria sen lehrestä lukkee
Marja: nii meinasin just kysyä että onko ootteko kuitenki törmänny
näihin sanoihin mitä tossa listalla on
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 279

Aino: on / on molempiin ei ei tartte pitkältä / lukkee lehtee

Erkki: / on on on on / ihan ihan on ihan on ollu
joka päivä tää tääkin tullee ku lukkee lehtee
Marja: aiva
Aino: and / (2) what on earth could that innovation be it has just been
talked about quite recently
Erkki: / innovation ((quietly))
Erkki: I just just read it somewhere
Aino: yes and globalisation also (2) but one just won’t memorize them
Aino: >innovation< ((pondering)) what on earth can that innovation
be when you regularly read it on the papers
Marja: yeah I was just about to ask whether you have seen anyway these
words that are on the list
Aino: yes / yes both of them one doesn’t have to read / the paper for
Erkki: / yes yes yes yes / it has been [in the paper] every day
this too comes up when you read the paper
Marja: exactly

It becomes quite apparent that the words innovation and globalisation are not
completely foreign to Aino and Erkki, because both of them explain how
they have run into these words and read about them recently. Again they
explicitly want to express that they have seen these words before, and that
they are aware of the changes in their language. However, they still remain
bystanders and outsiders when the full meaning of these concepts is in
question. Both of them seem somewhat frustrated by the fact that they do
not know what these words mean exactly. Especially Aino feels quite disap-
pointed at herself for not memorizing the words and their meanings, again
expressing feelings of self-depreciation.
During the whole interview Erkki has been the quieter and less enthusi-
astic participant, because he said at the beginning of the interview that he
has never been interested in languages. Aino, in contrast, has been very keen
on talking about her interest in languages. However, when the company
names are presented, it is Aino who quite rapidly makes it clear that these
are Erkki’s ‘cup of tea’. Furthermore, in Extract 15 Aino makes some inter-
esting claims about the words globalisation and innovation and their possible
connection to traditional gendered division of labour.

Extract 15
Aino: globalisaatio ((hyvin hiljaa mietiskellen))
Erkki: onks toi joku semmonen ää (3) ää
Aino: ne on ne on paremmin ninkon miästen asioita noi innovaatio ja
280 Dangerous Multilingualism

Aino: globalisation ((pondering very quietly)

Erkki: is that some something uhm (3) uhm
Aino: they are they are more like men’s affairs these innovations and

Aino quietly ponders upon the word globalisation and is obviously trying
hard to find the right meaning for the word. However, even though
Erkki has been the more silent participant, he now makes an attempt to
contribute to the discussion by trying to explain what globalisation means,
and therefore Aino soon makes assumptions that the words globalisation and
innovation must be more familiar to men and really belong to men’s affairs
as she explains. This assumption of men’s affairs could also imply that Aino
is thinking about the time when it was mostly men who were engaged with
current issues in politics or business, for example, and women were more
tied to domestic chores.
The following extract illustrates how elderly people feel about the changes
in their own language and how they might react to unknown words and

Extract 16
Aino: juu nin toi globalisaatio
Erkki: niin kun ne on ne on tuala jo noi öö valtion herrat ja ministerit . ne
puhhuu näitä sanoja mainittee
Marja: aiva
Erkki: mutta mää en kylä tiä yhtään sannoo että mitä se .
Aino: ei se se on semmosta kun sen antaa mennä toisesta korvasta
sissään ja toisesta ulos
Marja: joo eikä kaikkee voi muistaa
Erkki: ei ne ne hypätään ylitte vaa ja jatketaan lukua / lukemista ((naurua))
Aino: / ((naurua))
Erkki: lukemista eikä kiinnitetä siihe mittään huamioo että mitä se
Marja: ni aiva
Aino: juu ja kyllä se monta kertaa selitettykin on että että kyllä kyllä
nää kyllä nää tiätää pitäs mutta kun mutta kun mennee kaikki
Aino: yes that globalisation
Erkki: yes because it is those it is those government officials and
ministers. they talk about these and mention these words
Marja: yes
Erkki: but I have no idea what it is.
Aino: no it’s it’s so that you let it go in one ear and out of the other
Marja: yes and you can’t remember everything
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Marja Hujo 281

Erkki: no we just ignore them and keep on read / reading ((laughter))

Aino: / ((laughter))
Erkki: reading and pay no attention to what it means
Marja: yes exactly
Aino: yes and that has been explained many times so that so that one
should know these but they just all go past just like that

Two things become evident in this extract. First of all, it shows how the
couple feel that some spheres of life are, in a way, beyond their reach.
There are the ‘them’ in society, who use the kind of language that ‘we’
do not understand. In this case they are referring to government officials,
and they use the Finnish expression valtion herrat, which literally means
state masters (⫽ government officials), and the expression has deep roots
in Finnish history. Generally, it refers to the division between poor farm
workers and the wealthy upper classes, and this attitude has a centuries-old
history. There have always been those who have been oppressed by those
who have the power: earlier they were poor peasants who were bound to
their landlords and later factory workers whose livelihood depended on the
factory owners. With the use of the word masters, Erkki probably means
that this kind of language use and the topics these people handle do not
touch the lives of the likes of Erkki and Aino. They do see and recognize the
words but their meanings are beyond their comprehension. They place
themselves in the lower classes of society, the manual workers’ class, and
perhaps they feel that they have always been somehow oppressed and
there have always been ‘state masters’, whom they do not quite under-
stand, and now this oppression is taking new forms with globalization and
the growing multilingualism.
Secondly, it shows that they have developed a strategy to cope with the
changing language. When one encounters unknown words, one just ignores
them and reads on. The individual him/herself might not see that this has
any great effect in their lives, but nevertheless they are excluded from these
discourses, discourses which might concern their lives as well. And as they
do not understand, they cannot have a say either.


The couple, Erkki and Aino, two 90-year-olds, living in the Finnish country-
side have lived a full life without any skills in foreign languages and they
have managed quite well in their everyday activities and their familiar
environment. They do not feel that they have been left out of anything
even though they know practically no English. They are, however, very
well aware of the fact that things are changing in their immediate envi-
ronment, in Finland, and in the world more generally. They notice that
foreign words appear in their linguistic landscape (e.g. in company names),
282 Dangerous Multilingualism

in new technologies, in newspapers and in the talk of people in high social

positions, but they are not fully aware of what these words mean. When
encountering foreign elements in language, they just have to ignore them
and try to get a grasp of things without these words. In other words, their
own language has changed due to globalization and multilingualism and
even their own immediate environment is to an extent becoming alienated.
Consequently, some discourses have become inaccessible. They themselves
also feel that they are not part of this development any more, as they fre-
quently refer to their low expectations and demands.
Aino and Erkki have perhaps always felt that they belong to the lower
classes of society and that there have always been rulers controlling their
lives: they have been manual workers, they have lived in the countryside
(but they have not been farmers), and there have been different kinds of
gatekeepers of knowledge. At school, the teachers were the gatekeepers and
controlled the knowledge passed on to the pupils. On the whole, there were
also fewer opportunities for learning for people living in the countryside.
This has led to divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between those who know
and have the power and those who do not know and have to ignore.
Today, this division has taken new forms due to increasing multilingualism.
The language used by ‘them’ has become foreign and strange to the likes of
Aino and Erkki, and therefore some discourses in society are beyond their grasp
and they are forced to remain bystanders. In the account of Aino and Erkki,
there is clear evidence of lack of self-respect, which is a sign of marginality.
On a certain level, the elderly may be well aware of globalization and the
ensuing multilingualism in their environments, but this awareness is not
enough to prevent marginalization. At the level of the individual this might
not pose a danger: those marginalized by multilingualism are perfectly capa-
ble of carrying out their everyday tasks and fulfilling their daily needs. But
at the societal level, there should be concern: the elderly are not the only
group in society that is potentially marginalized as a consequence of increas-
ing multilingualism. Thus there is a danger that multilingualism may lead
to societal division into those who have the necessary skills and are able to
participate and those who lack the skills and are thus excluded at least from
some spheres of life and denied access to full participation.

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When One of Your Languages is not
Recognized as a Language at all
Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen


In the last 100 years attitudes towards deaf people and sign languages have
changed drastically. During this time the deaf gradually became more visible
in society: from the mid-eighteenth century an interest in sign languages
began to develop, and in the middle of the nineteenth century education
for the deaf began. In these early days deaf education could be described as
bilingual, sign language being the medium of instruction. For the deaf this
meant the emergence of a strong national and international network for the
Deaf1 community. Deaf culture flourished until the time of oralism, which
began in the late nineteenth century and lasted to the 1970s. Oralism is an
educational system based on the view that the teaching of speech enables
deaf people to become normal, thus reflecting the medical view on deaf-
ness which sees it as a condition to be cured. Signing was excluded from
education because it was considered a form of gesturing that would hinder
children from learning speech, thus – it was believed – preventing them
from gaining a full human status.
However, in the 1970s linguistic research showed that sign languages are
natural languages. As a consequence, people who worked with deaf children
started to emphasize visuality in communication. Gradually research on sign
language produced more information and the status of signed languages
improved. Also language education for the deaf underwent a profound
change: in Finland, for example, Finnish began to be considered a second
language for the deaf. In practice, this meant that the focus in education
was on developing reading and writing skills especially, while the Finnish
Sign Language (FinSL) was considered the first language of deaf children
and was the language of instruction. The 1980s and the 1990s were the
best decades for the sign language community: during these decades deaf
children were allowed to learn and use sign language, while hearing parents
of deaf children were encouraged to learn sign language and entire families
started to sign.

Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen 285

Despite these positive developments, oralism and the medical view

on deafness are still powerful. The Deaf community continues to be in
a permanent state of emergency. For example, the old oralist discourses
have once more become widespread since a new hearing aid, the cochlear
implant (CI),2 was introduced at the beginning of the 1990s. The implant
has frequently been advertised as a ‘miracle cure’ for deafness and often as
a reason to do without sign language. Thus, the Deaf community is faced
with forms of neo-oralism according to which sign language is taken to be
linked to disability and is often seen as even disabling the Deaf and hinder-
ing their full participation in society. In practice, Deaf people constantly
have to fight for the right to use sign language at school and at work, and
to be vigilant to ensure that ‘the others’, that is hearing people, do not make
decisions for Deaf people which would deprive them of their right to use
their preferred language.
These are the issues we will focus on in this chapter. In particular, we will
concentrate on the experiences of sign language families and Deaf indi-
viduals when they face the ignorance and disparagement of sign language.
Firstly, the chapter will discuss how FinSL is still seen as an inferior language
that could possibly hinder a deaf child from learning what is considered
‘the real language’, in our case, spoken Finnish, and how sign language is
not seen as a valuable language for a hearing child of deaf parent to learn.
Secondly, we will discuss the battle Deaf individuals go through when they
seek recognition for their linguistic repertoires. In other words, we will
discuss the dynamic tension between identities asserted and chosen for the
individual by the education system, the hearing majority and the Deaf com-
munity. These experiences have a great deal to do with what is considered
‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ language, and they effectively foreground how a
minority language, its learning and use, is effectively policed and disciplined
by scientific and educational discourses. Our goal here is to mediate the
voice and the stories of individuals whose preferred language has not been
recognized as a language at all, and whose multilingual potential has been
seen as linguistic deviance by the majority.
For data the chapter draws on interviews which were designed so as to
allow conversation, narratives and self-reflection to emerge. Our first set of
data3 comprises interviews with hearing parents who have chosen to use
FinSL with their deaf children in addition to Finnish, and interviews with
Deaf parents of both deaf and hearing children who use FinSL (and some
other signed language) and Finnish. These interviews focused on how the
languages function in the families’ everyday life and what attitudes towards
their language choices they have encountered in the institutions – hospitals
(hearing centres), child health clinics, day-care centres, schools – they have
dealt with as well as among relatives and friends. The second set of
data4 consists of interviews with two Deaf men who are multilingual in
several spoken and signed languages. In the interviews with parents a
286 Dangerous Multilingualism

semi-structured interview was used (see Hirsjärvi and Hurme, 2004), while
the interviews with the two Deaf men can be described as active interviews.5
The language of the interviews was Finnish for the hearing parents and
FinSL for the rest of the interviewees. All the interviews were video-recorded.
This was done in order to make sure that we were able to come back to what
was said, as we are both late learners of FinSL.6
These data make it possible to investigate the individual voices of the
Deaf: how the interviewees experience their lives as multilingual persons
when one of their languages is a signed one, and how they reflect on their
identity processes by looking at the past and to the future.
The next section will set the scene by briefly introducing the cultural and
linguistic background typical of the kinds of persons we have interviewed.
We then move on to show how, from the viewpoint of signing families,
there is a conflict between the Deaf view and paternalistic and medical
viewpoints on deafness. The section after that represents the experiences of
two young adults who have already gone through what the Deaf families
discussed in the preceding section are now experiencing. Our chapter will
close with a discussion of how both the experiences of Deaf families and
individuals emphasize the existence of strongly polarized views of what is
seen as normal/abnormal language and the way in which such polarization
makes their lives full of tensions and conflict.

The Deaf as a cultural and linguistic minority

This section will describe the prevailing sociocultural view of Deaf people
and the way in which most of the Deaf learn sign language and become
multilingual. It will also discuss some aspects of the Deaf community
which are different from other linguistic and cultural minorities. The most
important of these is how the medical view on deafness conflicts with the
sociocultural viewpoint, the way the Deaf see themselves.
In English-speaking countries deaf native signers call themselves Deaf
with a capital D, by which they imply that they identify themselves as
culturally Deaf (see Woodward, 1972; Ladd, 2003). The Deaf form a group in
which their language and culture are based on visual modality. The Deaf also
emphasize that they are seeing people (Bahan, 1989), in contrast to hear-
ing people whose language and to an extent culture are auditory. The Deaf
community also includes the hard of hearing people who share a common
language, experiences and values with the deaf, and a common way of inter-
acting with each other and with hearing people. The current definition of
the Deaf is thus sociocultural, or sociolinguistic or culturo-linguistic (Ladd,
2003; see also Baker and Padden, 1978; Lane et al., 1996; Jokinen, 2000).
With the improvement of the status of sign languages in Western countries,
in Finland Deaf people started to see themselves as a linguistic minority.
Also a new term ‘sign language person’ (viittomakielinen) was established
Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen 287

(Jokinen, 2000, 2001). As a term sign language person highlights, not the
lack of hearing, but the language used by a particular group, in the same way
as for example the terms Finnish speaker or Swedish speaker do (cf. the term
native signer in e.g. Lane et al., 1996; Ladd, 2003).
As a minority, sign language people are different from all other linguistic
minorities. This is due to several factors which have to do with the modality
of the sign language, the way it is acquired by most of its users, the process
of socialization into this linguistic minority and its link to disability. For
the hearing majority it is natural to assume that language and speech are
synonyms, while embodied communication is seen as subordinate to audi-
tory communication. In fact, the modality of sign languages most likely
is a significant factor contributing to why hearing people generally do
not consider sign languages as natural languages but associate them with
gestures and mime.
The transmission of language and culture from one generation to another
differs in most cases from that of other ethnic groups. The children of Deaf
parents naturally become native signers and have the possibility to adopt
Deaf culture, no matter whether the children are deaf, hard of hearing or
hearing. However, over 90 per cent of deaf children are born to hearing
parents who do not know sign language, Deaf people or culture. These
children have the opportunity to learn sign language if their parents study
it and sign with their deaf children. In addition to having a signing family
environment, it is important that deaf children can socialize with other Deaf
persons in the Deaf community.
The unique way of the transmission of language and culture for
the majority of the members of the Deaf community leads to another
fundamental characteristic of the community that we want to highlight.
This is that when membership is not acquired through birth, it can be
considered, desired, achieved, but also rejected. The stories of individuals
finding the Deaf community, their fellow signers, are often stories of
literally coming and going to places where sign language flourishes: to Deaf
schools, Deaf clubs or other meetings of Deaf people. The Deaf community
is a strong global community with millions of people who share similar
experiences, culture and visual languages with their place among majority
spoken languages (Breivik, 2005; Jokinen, 2000, p. 100; Salmi and Laakso,
2005). Recently, transnational identity among the Deaf has been getting
even stronger, thanks to the possibilities given by new communication
technologies (Breivik, 2005; Luukkainen, 2008).
Yet another significant feature of the Deaf linguistic minority is its link
to disability. For centuries Deaf people have been seen as disabled people.
The cultural–linguistic model of deafness, suggested by the Deaf them-
selves, has mostly been ignored. Instead, the link between this particular
language and deafness seems to justify attempts at wiping out a linguistic
minority in the name of curing a disability.7 As a comparison: with no other
288 Dangerous Multilingualism

linguistic minority are the representatives of the medical profession given

the authority to guide families in their linguistic choices.
For a member of a linguistic minority it is also essential to know the
majority language, because it enables them to fully participate in society.
For those who acquire a signed language early, the learning of other
languages (at least in the written form) is easier than for those who do not
have access to sign language (Prinz and Strong, 1998; Singleton et al., 1998;
Shantie and Hoffmeister, 2000; Padden and Ramsey, 2000; Niederberger,
2008). In many countries bilingual and bicultural education has yielded
positive results (e.g. Hansen, 1989, 2002; Svartholm, 1996, 2005; Lane et al.,
1996; Hoffmeister, 2000; Ardito et al., 2008; Krausneker, 2008; Yang, 2008).
Most of the Deaf learn the majority language in a written form, but some
also learn a spoken form.
It is only recently that the Deaf have begun to be considered multilinguals.
There has been a shift from seeing them as individuals who are struggling
to learn one real (i.e. spoken) language to seeing them as ‘a new generation
of Deaf multilinguals’ ( Jokinen, 2005). This shift now shows in for example
how bilingualism is promoted in education (Malm and Östman, 2000, p. 10;
Salmi and Laakso, 2005, p. 43). Many Deaf students use foreign languages in
and outside school and are proficient in several sign languages, thus making
the transnational nature of the Deaf community explicit in their linguistic
practices (cf. Luukkainen, 2008, pp. 152–60; Tapio, in progress).
Despite many positive changes, the members of the Deaf community
are still in a permanent state of emergency which is caused by a backlash
in institutional attitudes by which doctors, psychologists and even speech
therapists in hearing centres have returned to the medical and disability
view on deafness prevalent in the nineteenth century. The reason for
the changed attitudes is the introduction of the cochlear implant in the
mid-1990s, leading to a renewed emphasis on oral communication instead
of signing. As a result, there has been a shift from signing to oralism, not
only in Finland, but also elsewhere in Europe and America, even though
there the use of sign language among hearing families of deaf children has
not been as common as in Scandinavia (e.g. Johnson, 2006, pp. 331–2).
For hearing parents of deaf children, who had since the late 1970s learnt
and used sign language to communicate with their children, the introduc-
tion of the implant also meant a radical change. Now the general feeling is
again that sign languages are not as good as spoken languages for children’s
cognitive and linguistic development (Wallvik, 1997; Lane et al., 1996;
Johnson, 2006).
At this point it is important to note that this backlash in attitudes and
practices undermines what is now known of signed languages. While in
the nineteenth century there was no research on sign language as a natural
language, there now is a substantial body of knowledge of the structure,
function and acquisition of signed languages internationally and in Finland
Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen 289

(e.g. Rissanen, 1985, 1998; Pimiä and Rissanen, 1987; Takkinen, 1994, 2002,
2003; Jantunen, 2003, 2008; Malm, 2000; Malm et al., 1998; Fuchs, 2004;
Rainò, 2004). Against this background, one can only wonder at the persistence
of oralism, and the inability to listen to Deaf discourse and the vast research
on language acquisition by the Deaf. One explanation of the stubbornness of
the agenda towards the Deaf is suggested by Ladd (2003) and Johnson (2006)
who have come to the conclusion that it is not due to sheer ignorance, but
to some ‘deep level of “folk mythos”’ (Ladd, 2003, p. 172). Johnson (2006,
p. 29) argues, for instance, that speech-based educational practices actually
rest on philosophical principles that are not supported by logical argumen-
tation and scientific evidence, but actually ‘resemble systems of belief and
practice that encourage the denial of observable facts’.

‘They do not respect my language’

In this section we give hearing families with deaf children and Deaf families
with deaf and/or hearing children the opportunity to voice their experiences
in the current situation described in the previous section. We will describe
how they perceive and interpret the current attitudes towards bi- and multi-
lingualism when one of the languages in their family is a signed one.

Deaf children using a cochlear implant (CI) in hearing families

The data discussed here come from five interviews with hearing parents of
deaf children who have a CI. The ages of the deaf children were at the time
of the interview 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11 years. The signing skills of the parents
had developed over a long time, although their signing was still to an extent
influenced by the grammar of Finnish. However, their intention was to offer
a visual language to their deaf children who could not acquire a spoken
language without special teaching. All the parents had a positive attitude
towards sign language and Deaf culture. They also hoped that their children
would preserve their signing skill and even develop it further. A typical
comment by them was, ‘bilingualism is, of course, enrichment, no matter
what languages they are [in a bilingual setting]’ (Parent 6).8
The parents considered it to be very important that their child could use
sign language in case the hearing aid is not in use. In their opinion, the
ability to sign would give a feeling of safety to the child, since s/he would
always have a way to communicate. The following interview excerpts
illustrate this view:

[…] she can then communicate with the implant and without it. Anyway,
there would always be some channel [for communication]. (Parent 6)

[…] Almost all the parents of CI children are in a sense aware that the
child should also have some other [way to communicate] because the
290 Dangerous Multilingualism

implant can get broken and [the child needs] a new operation and it takes
time […] but maybe everyday life is so draining that not everybody has
the capacity [to study sign language]. (Parent 5)

Nevertheless, most parents of children with an implant do not choose to

learn sign language because it is laborious and the professionals of hearing
centres do not recommend it. However, if the parents were encouraged
to learn and use sign language more of them would definitely do so. This
was seen in the 1980s and 1990s when almost every Finnish parent of deaf
children started to learn sign language and use it with their deaf child.
Children who are diagnosed as deaf or who need a more accurate diag-
nosis are sent to hearing centres which treat hearing problems. The first
people the parents meet there (a doctor, a speech therapist, a psychologist,
a nurse who tests hearing ability, a technician and other staff members) are
people who are interested in the hearing ability of the child. Nowadays the
centres suggest a CI for most deaf children and emphasize speech a great
deal. According to the parents interviewed, hearing centres recommend
that before implantation the signs are used to support speech, but that after
the implantation signs should be used only when necessary. Their preferred
advice on how parents should communicate with their children when they
have started to recognize sounds is speak–speak–sign–speak. The idea is that
the child is pushed to listen to spoken language, and if s/he does not get the
word or the idea, then the parent can sign (the word) but return to speaking
again after that. The aim is to eventually leave out the signs when they are
not needed any more. Signs are thus regarded as an aid and sign language
is considered to be a hindrance to learning to speak and thus the bilingual
acquisition of a signed and spoken language is not successful. One of the
parents interviewed confirmed this as follows:

[…] They say that if you put in two languages, especially if one is a visual
and the other an auditory language, the visual message is so strong
that it takes over the auditory one. It would be so much easier by the
visual modality that the child would be too lazy to listen to the auditory
message […]. (Parent 5)

This medicalized argument to downgrade the significance of signing is

exactly the same one which was used at the turn of the twentieth century;
consider for example the following extract:

[…] When they heard in the hearing centre that she has sign language
instruction at school for one hour a week they were a little bit like, h’m

[…] you should feed only spoken language into her [instead of sign
language]. (Parent 5)
Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen 291

Signing is also regarded as problematic by speech therapists who are

concerned about the influence of FinSL on Finnish word order if the families
use real sign language instead of separate signs or signed Finnish.9 If the
parents are determined to sign with their children and especially if the
child’s speech is improving, the staff only do the control check on the CI
and check speech development but do not ask anything about the develop-
ment of sign language. This is a way to undervalue sign language.
Although the parents hoped that sign language or some signing skill would
be preserved along with speech, they still did not work to strengthen sign
language input, for example by trying to find signing contacts or signing
fairytales for the children. It may be that in this respect at least the parents
do not have a realistic understanding of how to support bilingualism, that
they do not value sign language, or that they do not have the energy for
arranging more support for sign language development. In any case, when
they agreed to have a CI for their children they simultaneously made a
commitment to provide them with speech stimuli as much as possible
(see also Johnson, 2006).
In sum, these parents sought information about sign language on their
own, because they did not get it from the hearing centres. They were also
determined to use sign language, although they were warned not to do so
because it would disturb the grammatical development of Finnish. On the
other hand, the parents did not invest enough time and effort in strength-
ening their children’s sign language skills although they had chosen to use
sign language with their children. One reason for that is that the parents
are uncertain of how much they can use sign language with their children
so that it would not disturb the development of Finnish.

Deaf and hard of hearing children in Deaf families

In two interviews we talked with Deaf parents who had deaf or hard of hear-
ing children. These children did not have the CI. The first family has two
deaf children, aged nine and six, and one hearing child aged three, while
the second family has one deaf child aged eight and one hard of hearing
child aged six.
These Deaf parents had used sign language since their childhood, although
three of them were born to hearing parents. Thus, the language of interaction
in the families is FinSL, and the children have acquired FinSL from birth. The
written language of the families is Finnish. All the children, whether hearing,
deaf or hard of hearing, have FinSL as their native language.
These parents also regularly visited hearing centres with their children.
The children used acoustic hearing aids. Both families had refused the
CI, although it had been offered and even pushed at both families. Both
families felt that it was the mothers who had discussed and argued more
than the fathers with the doctors and speech therapists about the children’s
language choices. In their view this was because they had more knowledge
292 Dangerous Multilingualism

and courage to do so than the fathers. These confrontations had been

very stressful for the mothers, but they had been successful in resisting
the pressure to accept the CI for their children and the disregard of sign
language. The mothers’ resistance is apparent in the following examples:

I went to the hearing centre for the first time when the child was one
year old. The doctor asked why I had come so late if I knew the child was
deaf. I said, ‘it’s fine to come now,’ but the doctor answered, ‘no, it’s too
late now. Your child can’t learn to read and write any more.’ I said, ‘how
come? Why shouldn’t he learn to read and write? I use sign language and
I am studying at university.’ The doctor’s answer to that was, ‘you’re an
exceptionally talented deaf person.’ (Parent 11)

At the hearing centre they do not understand that sign language can be
a child’s native language. When our hearing child has been there with
us, the staff have been worried because she only signs. One of them said,
‘the child doesn’t speak. Can she speak at all?’ I think their values are
different from ours. They think that there is something wrong if the child
doesn’t speak in an unfamiliar situation but uses her mother tongue, sign
language, instead […]. (Parent 11)

From the medical viewpoint sign language is considered a hindrance to learning

to speak, read and write, and to learning other languages. If a sign language
user is studying at university level, s/he is considered exceptionally talented.
For example, according to one parent a hearing centre psychologist stated:

‘If one cannot hear, one cannot learn to read and write.’ How have I learnt
to read and write then … and my home was full of books. Do you think
they were there for decoration? ‘No, you are an exception.’ (Parent 12)

The parents told how frustrating it is to try to talk about deafness and
the experiences of a Deaf multilingual adult. At some point they just stop
explaining and say, ‘Oh, I see’. The parents feel that their opinions are of no
value. They are not heard, even when they are Deaf themselves. The frustrat-
ing experiences of the parents are also apparent in the following comment:

A member of the staff said that it is important to speak and have the
hearing aids on. The parents sign in vain at home because there is a
hearing sibling. You can all talk together. I insisted, ‘no, the first language
in our family is FinSL, even the hearing sibling signs first.’ They don’t
understand anything! (Parent 11)

According to one parent, even a speech therapist in a hearing centre, who

should be a language specialist, underestimated sign language and did not
Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen 293

appreciate the child’s reading and writing skills either because the speech skill
was not as good. If the child does not want to speak s/he gets poor evaluation
although s/he can read and write. A parent reports on this as follows:

A speech therapist wrote in the statement that the child’s language skills
are at the level of a two-year-old. I said, ‘you cannot write that. He is
in the first grade and can already read and write. You need to state that
his sign language skills are at his own age level, and the skills in speech
[Finnish] are at the level of a two-year-old, but the reading and writing
skills are almost at his age level. You cannot underestimate his language
skills!’ […] We do not have any problems with the speech therapist who
is visiting regularly at home. She knows sign language and has a good
attitude towards it. They study Finnish but she does not force him to
speak if he doesn’t want to […]. (Parent 11)

In general, relatives and people in the neighbourhood seem to accept

and understand the children’s bilingualism and the use of sign language,
at least after the parents have explained to them the issues involved in
these practices. Also the young nurses in the child health clinics seem to
understand the use of sign language and bilingualism, whereas the medical
staff in hearing centres are generally taken as the most serious problem in
the life of these families. One of the parents argued that their only problem
is the medical sector and the doctors:

But if you are active and have an open mind you get along everywhere.
One needs to explain things over and over again. Sometimes I get tired
of explaining […]. (Parent 11)

The Deaf parents would prefer a school in which the teachers are native
signers with a teaching qualification and where the quality of instruction
is high. However, such schools are difficult to find. Therefore Deaf parents
try to find the best possible school even if it does not offer a signing envi-
ronment for their children. As a consequence, the parents are sometimes
criticized by other Deaf people.
In sum, the parents who are native users of FinSL have experienced a lot
of disrespect towards their native language and towards the language pro-
ficiency of their signing (bilingual) children especially in hearing centres.
They have also faced criticism from the Deaf community, when they have
chosen for their children a school which does not offer a sign language

Hearing children in Deaf families

In two interviews we talked with Deaf parents of hearing children. The ages
of the children in one of the families ranged from 10 to 17, and the age of
294 Dangerous Multilingualism

the child in the second family was five. The multilingual development of
the teenage children of the first family was advanced compared to the other
family whose child had only reached the age when children, in general,
have learnt the basic structure of their mother tongue. The languages of
the children in the first-mentioned family were FinSL, Finnish and English.
The child of the second family knew FinSL, ASL (American Sign Language),
Finnish and English. In both families one of the parents was a user of FinSL
and the other a user of ASL. The grandparents were users of FinSL and English
respectively. Both families were living in a Finnish-speaking environment.
In both families the first hearing child seemed to have learnt most slowly
the spoken language of the environment. In the first family, unlike the
oldest child, the younger children already had a model of spoken Finnish
close to them. One of the parents explained the situation as follows:

[…] We have deaf friends whose hearing children have adopted sign
language from their parents in a normal way. They told us that the child
learns FinSL first and then learns to speak Finnish. At first the signing is
ahead, but then spoken language catches up with it. Also the next child
acquires the signed language first but s/he acquires spoken language
quicker than the first child because his/her older sibling can already
speak. When I knew this in advance, I wasn’t worried when the doctor in
the hospital was concerned about how our hearing child would acquire
spoken Finnish […]. (Parent 14)

The parents said that it is important also for the staff members of hospitals,
child health clinics, and day-care centres to know that they should not be
too hasty in sending a child to tests or speech therapy.

In the hospital the personnel asked if we could teach the child to speak.
It seemed to us that they have no respect for my language, sign language.
Their way of talking is a bit insulting. Why aren’t they interested in sign
language? […] They are more worried about speech: how does he speak,
how does he speak […]. (Parent 13)

[…] We tried to tell the doctor that he would later become bilingual, multi-
lingual. I noticed that in Finland they immediately intervene when it
comes to speech. He tried to arrange speech therapy but I said no. I want
the family to be allowed to sign in peace. Communication is working
well, he already understands many signs. I suggested to the doctor that
he should test it, but he was not interested in that, only suggested speech
therapy. (Parent 13)

Sometimes the relatives want to give advice on how to raise hearing children
and to make sure that they learn to speak. This also happened in the first
Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen 295

family where the hearing grandmother tried to interfere in the language

choices of the family. She had never signed to her deaf child so she still had
the opinion that spoken language is crucial. However, the Deaf parents were
firm, and did not let the grandmother control their family life. Later she was
very happy that her grandchildren knew many languages and could commu-
nicate with their parents. In contrast, those relatives who knew Deaf people
did not strive to give any advice on how to communicate with hearing chil-
dren. For the Deaf community it has always been a surprise if a hearing child
can sign fluently. One of the Deaf parents talked about such differences in
the ways people think about the multilingualism of the Deaf:

[…] One view is that of younger Deaf people who have studied and
travelled a lot. They are very international and understand multilingualism
well. The other view is that of older Deaf people or Deaf people who
haven’t got much education and who go to work and back home but do
not travel much. It is a surprise for them how hearing children can sign so
well and know so many languages. Some have even expressed the opin-
ion that parents should speak to their hearing children […]. (Parent 14)

[…] When I sign with my children others [Deaf people] look surprised
and comment that the children sign very well, they sign like Deaf people
[…] I am not always sure if that is a positive or a negative comment […].
(Parent 16)

These comments reflect the power of hearing doctors and teachers who
in the oralistic period told deaf parents to speak to their hearing children.
Consequently, not every Deaf family gives their hearing children the oppor-
tunity to acquire sign language and become bilingual. Both of the families
interviewed knew Deaf parents who speak to their hearing children, resulting
in poor communication: ‘They lacked contact with their children’ (Parent 15).
The hearing children of the first family had attended CODA10 courses, and
had learnt that sign language is not self-evident for every CODA. The par-
ents told how their children had been confused, and

[…] defended the children’s right to sign language as if they themselves

were Deaf […] and one of them said that it is nice that we can talk about
anything: ‘It is good that I can communicate with my father.’ (Parent 16)

Many Deaf people think that it is easy to have and raise hearing children, even
easier than to raise deaf children. However, to raise children to be bilingual
and bicultural is not a simple task. For example, one of the parents said that

[…] we’ve worked hard to raise the children to be bilingual and bicultural.
It would be easy to give up – many people have done so – we need to give
296 Dangerous Multilingualism

information and stimuli even more to hearing children [because there] is

no sign language for them at school or elsewhere. […] I am happy to see
that our work over the years has not been in vain […]. (Parent 16)

In short, these Deaf parents of hearing children had experienced prejudice

among medical staff against bimodal and bilingual language acquisition.
However, the Deaf parents had experienced more surprise at or suspicion of
bilingualism (using sign language with hearing children) by the Deaf com-
munity than by hearing people.
In sum, all the interviewed families had encountered disrespect for sign
language especially at hearing centres, in which the ability to speak was
taken to be the goal for everyone. The kind of bilingualism which includes
as one of the languages a sign language is not respected or supported by
those having the medical viewpoint, no matter whether the children are
hearing, hard of hearing or deaf. If the children are deaf, the CI and tech-
nology overcome linguistic diversity and sociocultural viewpoints. On the
other hand, Deaf parents had also encountered suspicion, especially on the
part of older Deaf members of the Deaf community, in connection with
bimodal multilingualism of hearing children. These parents were advised
only to speak to their hearing children.

Every Deaf person is a fighter for linguistic rights

In this section we will consider interviews with two Deaf men, Kristian and
Will, who are both multilingual in spoken and signed languages. Here we
present another view of the situation of deaf children in signing families,
but this time the stories are told by these two young adults who are actively
trying to make sense of what it has been like to grow up in the middle of
conflicting views on deafness and signed language – two things that are at
the core of their identity.

Kristian. Getting lost in the hearing world – coming back to

the Deaf world
As was discussed earlier, one feature that makes the Deaf community
different from other language minorities is the way in which its members
are brought into it: only a fraction of them are born to Deaf parents.
Thus, their socialization is strongly motivated by finding one’s place, ‘the
true self’. This came up in the interviews with Kristian whose process
could be called a journey from the outskirts of the Deaf community to
the very core of it. Two interviews with Kristian formed a narrative of
his life consisting of five phases: early childhood, ‘the oralist era’, the
time in Helsinki, the present time as a full, active member of the Deaf
community, and the future.
Elina Tapio and Ritva Takkinen 297

Early childhood
Kristian was born to a hearing family. From very early on his parents learned
FinSL and, consequently, it became Kristian’s first language. Having studied
language learning and reflecting on his own linguistic background, Kristian
emphasized that sign language was his first language: ‘Nonetheless, when
I was small, it was my first language, I acquired FinSL, and I also went to deaf
school.’ This emphasis is done for a reason; there are many late learners of
sign language in the Deaf community, mainly hard of hearing people who, for
example, get in touch with the Deaf through sports or secondary education.
It seems to be of crucial importance for Kristian to recognize that he is not a
typical late learner of a sign language but for him FinSL came before Finnish.
This seems to give him one more reason to call himself Deaf and a sign
language person (viittomakielinen), to use terms that are heavily scrutinized in
a community where membership comes through birth only to a fraction.

The oralist era

Despite the early exposure to FinSL, before entering primary school, a county
school for the deaf and hard of hearing, Kristian oriented towards speech; he
felt that sign language was embarrassing and he wanted to use speech instead
with his hearing peers whom he had got to know in kindergarten and the
neighbourhood. He did not feel he belonged or even wanted to belong to the
group of deaf peers. He described that time in the following way:

[…] Nevertheless, when I was small, it was my first language, I acquired

FinSL, and I also went to deaf school, but it feels there is this irony in all
this: I had the opportunity as a child already, but I didn’t use it. I kind
of wanted, and it was my own attitude, to orient to the hearing world as
I said before. My mum encouraged me to sign at home, but I refused, or
told her not to sign.

Interestingly, he emphasizes that it was his own c