Nordic Council of Ministers

Nordbok News

Nordic language policy is one of the topics given priority by this year’s Danish chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers. A central aim of this policy is to maintain and strengthen the Nordic linguistic community.
The basis of the Nordic linguistic community rests upon the three Scandinavian languages Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. Large areas of the Nordic region, however, are dominated by other languages, such as Finnish, Icelandic and Greenlandic. Furthermore, during the last 40-50 years several hundred thousand people with completely different languages as their mother tongues have arrived and settled in the Nordic countries. During IFLA 2005 Nordbok will present the linguistic and cultural variety of the Nordic region by means of an exhibition entitled “The Nordic Countries – More than Scandinavian”. In connection with this exhibition a book will be published containing 8-10 articles by leading scholars illustrating important aspects of Nordic cultural diversity.

Until recently Nordic cooperation has been based on the understanding that all its inhabitants have a reasonable command of at least one Scandinavian language. Now, however, in Nordic countries and regions other than Denmark, Norway and Sweden there is a strong tendency towards the use of English as the lingua franca in Nordic cooperation.Within Scandinavia itself the linguistic community still functions as before. However, a broad survey throughout the Nordic region has revealed that even in the three Scandinavian countries young people often have some difficulty in understanding their Scandinavian neighbours. Furthermore, the situation has clearly deteriorated during the last twenty years. At the official level there is agreement that the Nordic linguistic community is of such importance that it must continue to form the basis of all Nordic cooperation. A language policy proposal at present under consideration lists the following among its aims.

  • All inhabitants of the Nordic region should be able to read and write the language or languages which support and identify the community in which they live.
  • All inhabitants of the Nordic region should be able to communicate with each other in one of the Scandinavian languages or, failing that, through interpretation. This concerns mainly conferences, meetings and other arrangements where the participants are from Nordic countries. In such a situation the meeting should be conducted in the Scandinavian languages, interpretation being provided for those not proficient in Danish, Norwegian or Swedish.
  • All inhabitants of the Nordic region should be proficient in a language of international scope and should have a good knowledge of at least one other foreign language. In practice the international language would be English, while the second foreign language could be one of many.

The proposed declaration states that in order to achieve these aims, the teaching of neighbouring Scandinavian languages should be improved. The same applies to the teaching of Danish, Norwegian or Swedish as an auxiliary language. Books in the Nordic languages should be stocked by bookshops and libraries, and inter-Nordic dictionaries should be available both in printed and in electronic form. Computer programmes should be developed for translation between the Nordic languages and also for multilingual searching in Nordic databases. The Ministries of Culture and Education in the Nordic countries will undertake to work in the following four areas: Linguistic understanding, parallel language competence, linguistic diversity and the development of the Nordic region as a linguistic pioneer. Translated by Eric Deverill

director, Nordbok.