Related Questions


Swedish-speaking Finns (often called Finland-Swedes, Finnish Swedes, Fennoswedes or Swedish Finns, see below) (Swedish: finlandssvenskar or sometimes in Finland Swedish usage just svenskar, Finnish: suomenruotsalaiset) constitute a linguistic minority in Finland. They maintain a strong identity and are generally seen as a distinct ethnic and cultural group. They speak distinct dialects and a standard language that are both called Finland Swedish (Östsvenska mål) and are mutually intelligible with the dialects spoken in Sweden, as well as with other Scandinavian languages.

Swedish is the mother tongue of about 275,000 people in mainland Finland and of about 25,000 people in Åland, together representing about 5.5% of the total population (according to official statistics for 2005 1) or about 5.1% without Åland. The proportion has been steadily diminishing since the early 19th century, when Swedish was the mother tongue of approximately 15% of the population (estimate for 1815 2). However, according to a statistical report made by Fjalar Finnäs, the situation of the minority group is today stable.


The Bronze Age coastal culture of Finland has characters shared with those found on the Scandinavian peninsula. If the Proto-Germanic language is associated already with this culture complex and not the typically considered candidate Pre-Roman Iron Age, it is possible that the Proto-Germanic language was also spoken in coastal Finland. Some Early Iron Age cemeteries in Finland have been interpreted as burial places of Germanic speaking immigrants. No burial sites reminiscent of Scandinavian ones have been found from the Middle and Late Iron Age (400 - 1200 CE) in Finland excepting the Åland Islands. The place names of Finland's coastal areas do not support a linguistic continuity from the presumed Early Iron Age Germanic immigrants to the present-day Swedish-speakers, as there are no Proto-Germanic nor Proto-North-Germanic types among the current Finland-Swedish place names there.

The first Swedish arrivals in Finland have been often associated with the debated First Swedish Crusade (ca. 1150) which, if it actually happened, served for purpose of expanding Christianity and annexing Finnish territories to the newly born kingdom of Sweden. Simultaneously the growth of population in Sweden together with lack of land resulted Swedish settlements in Southern and Western coastal areas of Finland. The Second Swedish Crusade against Tavastians in 13th century extended the Swedish settlements to Uusimaa. During the 14th century the population expansions from Sweden began to resemble organised mass arrivals, the new settlers came in big numbers in large ships from various parts of Sweden’s Eastern coast, from Småland to Hälsingland. Their departure from Sweden to Finland was encouraged and organized by Swedish authorities. The coast of Ostrobotnia received large scale Swedish settlements between 13th and 15th century in parallel of events which resulted in Swedish expansion to Norrland.

The relative share of Swedish speakers in Finland has dropped since the 18th century, when almost 20 % spoke Swedish (these 18th century statistics disregarded Karelia and Kexholm County, that were ceded to Russia in 1743, and the northern parts of Finland were counted as a part of northern Sweden). When the Grand Duchy of Finland was formed and Karelia was reunited with Finland, the share of Swedish speakers was 15 % of the population.

During the 19th century a national awakening occurred in Finland. It was supported by the Russian central administration for practical reasons, as a security measure to weaken Swedish influence in Finland. This trend got more power from the general wave of nationalism in Europe in the mid-19th century. As a result under the influence of German ideas of one national language, a strong movement that promoted the Finnish language for use in education, research and administration arose. The idea that the state would be administered in a language that was foreign to almost 90 % of the population was archaic. Many influential Swedish speaking families learned Finnish, fennicized their names and changed their daily language to Finnish, a sometimes not very easy task. As the educated class was almost entirely Swedish-speaking, first generation of the Finnish nationalists and Fennomans came from Swedish-speaking background.

Some thought the Swedish language in Finland would eventually die out. The Swedish-minded feared that a change of language would weaken Finland’s bonds with Western civilization and Western Christianity and that the aggressive Russian nationalism would eventually russify the country. A slogan was: “Swedish today – Finnish tomorrow – Russian the day after tomorrow”. Because of these fears the Swedish-minded saw as their patriotic duty to defend the Swedish language in Finland. They had already recognized that keeping Swedish as the sole language of administration was unrealistic and therefore fought for a maximum of official bilingualism. The Finnish-minded elite, led by Johan Vilhelm Snellman, thought that the best idea was to have one national language and recognize Swedish as a regional minority language.

Swedish Finns as a percentage of Finland's population 2
Year Percent
1610 17.5%
1749 16.3%
1815 14.6%
1880 14.3%
1900 12.9%
1920 11.0%
1940 9.5%
1960 7.4%
1980 6.3%
2003 5.6%
2005 5.5%

The language issue was not primarily an issue of ethnicity, but an ideological and philosophical issue on what language policy would best preserve Finland as a nation. This also explains why so many academically educated Swedish speakers changed to Finnish: it was motivated with ideology. Both parties had the same patriotic objectives, but the methods were completely opposite. The language strife would continue up until World War II.

The majority of the population – both Swedish and Finnish speakers – were farmers, fishermen and workers. The farmers lived mainly in unilingual areas, while the workers lived side by side, e.g. in Helsinki. This co-existence gave birth to the Helsinki slang – a Finnish slang with novel slang words of Finnish, local and common Swedish and Russian origin. Helsinki was primarily Swedish speaking until the late 19th century.

The urbanization and industrialization that begun in the late-19th century exposed the language groups to each other, at least in bigger towns. Helsinki, named after settlers from Hälsingland, Sweden and still in the 19th century close to 100% Swedish, along with other Swedish-speaking parishes attracted Finnish-speaking workers and civil servants from inland parts of Finland , which resulted that the unilingually Swedish Uusimaa province was cut in two parts. A smaller migration movement went the other way around, and a few Swedish “islands” emerged in towns like Tampere, Oulu and Kotka.

According to official statistics Swedish speakers made up 12.89 % of the total population of Finland of 2.6 million in 1900. By 1950 the share had fallen to 8.64 % of a total of 4 million people. By 1990 the share was 5.94 % of 5 million people. The sharp decline has then evened out to a decline of 0.03 – 0.02 % units per year.

An important reason for the decline of Swedish speakers in Finland during the second half of the 20th century was that many Swedish speakers emigrated to Sweden. An estimated 30% – 50% of all Finnish citizens that moved to Sweden were Swedish speaking Finns. Reliable statistics are not available, since Swedish authorities, as opposite their Finnish counterpart, do not register languages. Another reason is that Finnish speakers have grown in number somewhat faster than the Swedish speakers.

During the majority of the 20th century marriages across language borders resulted in children becoming Finnish speakers and knowledge of Swedish vanished. During the last decades the trend has been opposite: many bilingual families chose to register their children as Swedish speakers and put their children in Swedish schools. One motive is language skills needed during their professional lives. Population statistics do not recognize bilingualism.

Swedish settlers and the native population

The Finnish substrate toponyms within today's Swedish speaking areas have been interpreted as indicative of earlier permanent Finnish settlements in the area. A toponymical analysis from e.g. the Turunmaa archipelago - today largely Swedish-speaking - suggests the existence of a large population of native Finnish speakers up until the early modern age.According to another toponymic study, some Finnish villages and farms on the south-western coast and the archipelago became Swedish-speaking.

According to the prevailing view (e.g. Tarkiainen 2008) two major areas of Swedish settlements (Uusimaa and Ostrobothnia) were largely uninhabited at the time of the arrival of Swedes.

During the era of Swedish rule in Finland, Swedish was the language of administration, education and - with some exceptions - literary culture in all parts of the country. Thus all nobles and clergymen, many town-dwellers and even some farmers of Finnish origin came to adopt Swedish as first language. However, as the language shifting trend later turned around, the present-day Swedish-speaking minority, concentrated in the target areas of the medieval colonization, can be largely seen as descendants of the medieval Swedish settlers.

According to an interpretation based on the results of a recent (2008) genome-wide SNP scans and the church records from the early modern period, the Ostrobothnian Swedish-speaking population has been overwhelmingly endogamous.

Biological origin

In a recent study (2008) a joint analysis was performed for the first time on Swedish and Finnish autosomal genotypes. Swedish-speakers from Ostrobothnia (reference population of the study representing 50% of all Swedish-speakers in Finland) differed from the Finnish-speaking populations of the country and formed a genetic cluster with the Swedes. Moreover, According to a recent y-dna study (2008) Swedish-speaking reference group from Larsmo, Ostrobothnia, differed significantly from the Finnish-speaking sub-populations in the country in terms of Y-STR variation.


The Swedish-speaking Finns meet the four major criteria of a separate ethnic group: self-identification of ethnicity, language, social structure, and ancestry.

In general, Swedish speaking Finns have their own identity distinct from that of the majority, and they wish to be recognized as such. In speaking Swedish, Swedish Finns predominantly use the Swedish word finländare when referring to all Finnish nationals. The purpose is to use a term that includes both themselves and Finnish-speaking Finns because the Swedish word finnar, in Finland-Swedish usage, implies a Finnish-speaking Finn. In Sweden, this distinction between finländare and finnar is not widely understood and often not made.

Interaction between the language groups is nowadays very common, and a family may freely choose to send their children to schools of either language. In families where the parents come from different language groups, they often decide to speak both languages with the children such that each parent consistently speaks only Swedish or Finnish, whereby the children become totally bilingual. The Finnish authorities classify a person as a Swedish or Finnish speaker based only upon that person's (or parent's) own choice, which can be changed at any time.

The historical Swedish speaking Gentry

Sweden established its official rule of Finland in the 13th century. As Finland had been a part Sweden for 700 years Swedish had become the language of the nobility, administration and education. Hence the two highest estates of estates of the realm, i.e. nobles and priests had Swedish as their language. In the two minor estates, burghers and peasants, Swedish also held swey, but in a more varying degree depending on regional diffrences.

In the Middle Ages celibacy was in the Catholic Church a natural barrier for the formation of a hereditary priestly class. As celibacy was abolished in Sweden during the reformation it made the formation of a hereditary priestly class possible, where wealth and clerical positions were frequently inheritable. Hence the bishops and the vicars, which formed the clerical upper class, would frequently have manors similar to that of the nobility.

The intermingling and intermarriages between the noble class and the clerical upper crust was a distinctive element in several Nordic countries after the Reformation. As a result, the gentry in Finland was constituted by nobles, clerical and some burgher families. In the 19th century, immigration of merchants from especially German speaking countries introduced new merchant families into the gentry.

After the Finnish war Sweden lost the province of Finland to Russia. During the period of Russian sovereignity (1809–1917) the Finnish language was promoted by the Russian authorities as a way to sever the cultural and emotional ties with Sweden and countering the threat of a reunion with Sweden. Consequently, the Finnish language began to replace Swedish in the administrative and cultural sphere during the later part of the 19th century.

The rise of the Finnish language to a increasingly prevalent position in society was mainly a construct of eager promoters of the Finnish language from the higher strata of society, with mostly a Swedish-speaking family backgrounds. A later development especially in the beginning of the twentieth century was the adoption or translation of Swedish family names into Finnish. This was generally done throughout the entire society. In upper class families it was predominantly in cadett branches of families where the name translations took place. The opposition to the Swedish language was partly based around historical prejudices and conflicts that had sprung up during the 19th century. The intensified the language strife and the yearning to raise the Finnish language and Finnic culture from peasant-status to the position of a national language and a national culture gave rise to negative portrayals of Swedish speakers as a foreign oppresser of the peaceful Finnish speaking peasant. However, a notable number of the older Finnish gentry were of Finnish descent, who had adopted the Swedish language.

There is still a prevailing stereotype of Swedish as a language of the elite and the historical upper class culture in Finland. This is affirmed by the existence of rich Swedish-speaking families that have gained their wealth by inheritance, and the continued existence of the Finnish nobility.


Finland is a bilingual country according to its constitution. This means that members of the Swedish language minority have the right to communicate with the state authorities in their mother tongue. On the municipal level, this right is legally restricted to municipalities with a certain minimum of speakers of the minority language. All Finnish communities and towns are classified as either monolingual or bilingual. When the proportion of the minority language increases to 8% (or 3000), then the municipality is defined as bilingual, and when it falls below 6%, the municipality becomes monolingual. In bilingual municipalities, all civil servants must have satisfactory language skills in either Finnish or Swedish (in addition to native speaker skills in the other language). Both languages can be used in all communications with the civil servants in such a town.

Following an educational reform in the 1970s, both Swedish and Finnish became compulsory school subjects. The school subjects are not called Finnish or Swedish; the primary language in which lessons are taught depends upon the pupil's mother tongue. This language of instruction is officially and in general practice called the mother tongue (modersmål in Swedish, äidinkieli in Finnish). The secondary language, as a school subject, is called the other domestic language (andra inhemska språket in Swedish, toinen kotimainen kieli in Finnish). Lessons in the "other domestic language" usually start in the third, fifth or seventh form of comprehensive school and are a part of the curriculum in all secondary education. In polytechnics and universities, all students are required to pass an examination in the "other domestic language" on a level that enables them to be employed as civil servants in bilingual offices and communities. The actual linguistic abilities of those who have passed the various examinations however vary considerably.

Being a small minority necessarily leads to functional bilingualism. Although in some towns and municipalities it is possible to speak only Swedish, Finnish is the dominant language in most towns and at most employers in Finland. Many find it more convenient to use Finnish when interacting with strangers and known Finnish speakers. However, 50% of all Swedish speakers live in areas in which Swedish is the majority language and in which they can use Swedish in all or most contexts (see demographics below).


Of the Swedish-speaking population of Finland,

  • 9% live in Åland
  • 6% live in officially monolingual Swedish-speaking municipalities of mainland Finland (Korsnäs, Närpes, Larsmo)
  • 35% live in officially bilingual towns and municipalities where Swedish dominates
  • 44% live in officially bilingual towns and municipalities where Finnish dominates
  • 6% live in officially monolingual Finnish-speaking towns and municipalities

Other terms

Traditionally, immigrants were described in English and most other languages by an adjective indicating the new country of residence and a noun indicating their country of origin or their ethnic group. This gave rise to expressions such as "Finland Swedes" and "Finnish Swedes", which correspond to the expressions still commonly used for immigrants in the United Kingdom and the expressions commonly used in Swedish and Finnish. Immigrants to the USA have however always been designated the "other way around" by an adjective indicating the ethnic or national origin and a noun indicating the new country of residence, for example "Swedish Americans" (never "American Swedes").

For example, British citizens who migrated (not immigrated) from India (or whose ancestors did) are usually called (in both UK and US English), whereas Indian immigrants in the USA are called "Indian Americans" (in both UK and US English). Due to the great quantitative difference in Swedish immigration to the UK and USA, the expression "British Swedes" is much less well known than "Swedish Americans", but they correspond to these different naming patterns. Interestingly, British government documents today often simultaneously use both "British Asian" and "Asian British" and similar expressions as synonyms. This does not usually cause confusion because British immigration is mostly still in one direction, but it does cause an increasing amount of confusion in today's rapidly globalising world. More specifically, it has always been problematic in situations with close cultural ties and extensive reciprocal migration between two countries such as between Finland and Sweden (cf. also the confusion around the ambiguous terms "German Russian" and "Russian German").

The modern trend in most countries and languages is towards the naming method used to describe US immigrants because it emphasises the status as full and equal citizens of the new country while providing information about cultural roots. This system is also more appropriate to the situation of immigrants who have been living in the new country for a long time, especially when they stop using the original language. In any case, the self-designation of all population groups is nowadays however considered more important than any other criteria. Swedish-speaking inhabitants of Finland whose ancestors have lived there for centuries almost exclusively consider themselves Finns in the English sense of the word, so it is best to call them "Swedish-speaking Finns" in English. "Swedish-speaking Finns" is also the term preferred by the most representative organisation of Swedish Finns, the Swedish Assembly of Finland, and the Society of Swedish Authors in Finland. Many Finns and Swedes are unaware that the English word "Finn" usually means "a native or inhabitant of Finland" (, , ) and only sometimes also has the meaning "a member of a people speaking Finnish or a Finnic language" or has this as its primary but not exclusive meaning. More specifically, due to the extremely small number of immigrants in Finland, Finns still have a hard time understanding that the normal English expression for a naturalised Finnish citizen who immigrated from Vietnam, for example, is a Vietnamese Finn. These same linguistic problems were encountered in France, Germany, and many other countries before the native population became used to foreigners many decades ago.

According to normal English usage (e.g. "French-speaking Canadians"), "Swedish-speaking Finns" means "Finnish citizens that speak Swedish as their mother tongue" and does not include people who have learned it as a foreign language. According to normal English usage, this can be abbreviated to Swedish Finns and Swedish speakers, and these less cumbersome expressions are preferable even when addressing people in Nordic countries in English, as for example in this article, as long as the meaning has been explained. The reason an explanation of the normal meaning of the English expression Swedish Finns is necessary in Scandinavia is because this is often confusingly used in English translations in Sweden and Finland to refer to Finns that have moved to Sweden and to the Finnish ethnic minority that has lived there for a long time. These people should instead be called "Finnish immigrants" and "Finnish Swedes" (or "Finnish ethnic minority in Sweden") respectively according to modern, unambiguous English usage. The reason they are often still called "Swedish Finns" or "Sweden Finns" is the old usage that emphasised the ethnic origin of immigrants instead of their status as citizens of the new country, but this usage is confusing and diminishing, as explained above.

Notable Swedish-speaking Finns

Old Swedish-speaking *gentry of Finnish origin (This list includes names which resided the country before the church´s records was kept, it includes both Swedish and Finnish derivived families *(- 1650)

  • Adlercreutz (1600 - )
  • Boije (1400 - )
  • Carpelan (1400 - )
  • Creutz (1400- )
  • Fellman (1500 - )
  • Frosterus (1500 -)
  • Idman (1600 - )
  • Jägerhorn af Spurila
  • Lagus (1500 - )
  • Lilius (1600 - )
  • Munck (1500 - )
  • Orreus (1600- )
  • Procopé (1500 - )

Old Swedish-speaking gentry of non-Finnish origin (Includes the list of names which have originated outside of Finland at the time when church recors were kept) (- 1650)

  • Aminoff (1600 - ) Russia
  • Bonsdorff (1600 - ) Germany
  • Colliander (1600 - ) Sweden
  • Gripenberg (1600 - ) Sweden
  • Hornborg (1600 - ), Germany-Poland
  • Knorring, von (1500 - ) Germany
  • Mannerheim (1600 - ) Germany
  • Meinander (1600 - ) Sweden
  • Ramsay (1100 - ) Scotland
  • Nordenskiöld Uppland, Sweden
  • Rosenlew (1600 - ) Germany
  • Schauman (1600 - ) Germany
  • Stjernvall (1600 - ) Sweden
  • Svinhufvud af Qvalstadt Dalarna, Sweden
  • Willebrand, von (1500 - ) Germany
  • Wrede (1200 - ) Germany

Swedish-speaking Families historically involved with Industry and Commerce

  • Ahlström (1800 - )
  • Alftan and Alfthan (1600 - )
  • Bruun (1600 - )
  • Borgström (1700 - )
  • Donner (1600 - )
  • Fazer (1800 - )
  • Frenckell (1700 - )
  • Hackman (1600 - )
  • Jaenisch (1700 - 1900)
  • Paulig (1800 - )
  • Stockmann (1800 - )
  • von Rettig
  • Rosenlew (1600 - )
  • Thesleff (1500 - )

  • Families mentioned in Suomen Kansallisbiografia (the Finnish National Biography)
  • The years inside the brackets indicates the time of adoption of the current family name or the establishment of the family in Finland
  • The definition used in this article for the word gentry refers to people of high social class, especially in the past. Cambridge Dictionary

See also

External links


Search another word or see Swedishon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature