Between ethnicity and mother tongue: Self-images of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland
Department of Social Policy University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland
The Finnish Swedes, Finland?s main linguistic minority, are internationally speaking a very interesting group. Counting for only about 300 000 people scattered around the coast and with a notable overrepresentation in the Helsinki area, the Swedish-speakers form only about 5,5 percent of the overall Finnish population. Moreover, the Finnish Swedes shape in many ways a social and cultural world of their own, having not only right to public services in their mother tongue but also possessing their own cultural products, newspapers, TV and radio channels, editors and institutions.
Despite of its small size, the linguistic minority is socially speaking very important: first of all they have been statistically shown to live longer than the population majority, to be healthier and have longer marriages, among many other positive attributes. This positive image is further corroborated by the common stereotype that Finnish Swedes represent a more legitimate or ?better? lifestyle and taste than the population majority. Together these conceptions have led to a mythification of the Swedish-speakers: in reality, for instance the occupational structures of the language groups are strikingly similar, and in almost any similar field, the Finnish Swedes are very heterogeneous ? and more and more often completely bilingual.
My research draws on a focus group study that serves as a pilot research for the Bourdieu-inspired (and Bourdieu-critical) project Cultural Capital and Social Differentiation in Contemporary Finland. Altogether 26 focus groups among different groups of the Swedish-speaking minority have been interviewed across the country, focusing on questions on several cultural fields, taste and finally, identification with their language minority, the Swedish-speaking world of Finland.
This paper concentrates mainly on the last part of the focus group interviews. What does it mean to be a Swedish-speaker in contemporary Finland, and is it appropriate to speak of an ethnic group? My aim is to sketch a cultural grammar of the Finnish Swedes: how is ?Swedish? identity produced? The research shows that in many cases, the language-based identity is built from outside and that the idea of monolingualism is a mere product of middle class cultural goodwill ? from both sides of the language boundary.