The voice of a “tongueless” periphery

“My Tongue Means Yes and Amen” (Bengt Pohjanen)

Enikő Molnár Bodrogi
Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Email:

DOI number: 10.53604/rjbns.v6i1_12

Cite: Enikő Molnár Bodrogi (2014), The voice of a “tongueless” periphery. RJBNS 6(1), 191-205. DOI: 10.53604/rjbns.v6i1_12.

This paper has been presented at the Fourth international conference on Baltic and Nordic Studies in Romania Empire-building and Region-building in the Baltic, North and Black sea areas hosted by the Romanian Association for Baltic and Nordic Studies and Ovidius University of Constanta, May 24-26, 2013. Supported by a grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (Finantat prin fonduri donate de Islanda, Liechtenstein si Norvegia).

In my study, I am going to examine the relationship between language, politics and poetry in the context of identity development concerning the Meänkieli speaking community living in the Torne/ Tornio Valley.
The Torne River Valley (or Tornedalian) Finns were cut off from Finland in 1809, when Sweden lost the territory of Finland in favour of Russia. Ever since, the Tornedalian Finns have become the victims of a definite assimilation policy.
Their linguistic emancipation started in the 1980s. Their language, Meänkieli, has been a minority language officially acknowledged in Sweden since 2000. Still, it is a seriously stigmatized and endangered language nowadays, as well.
Many people in the world think that “language” should be understood as the language spoken by the majority of a national state. Still, most of the world’s endangered languages are the languages of indigenous and ethnic groups that only exist as minority languages. It is paradoxical that minority languages constitute, in fact, the large majority, although they have been considered peripherical or marginalized.
The notion of “periphery versus centre” has a long tradition in being applied in different fields of human sciences, mainly in social and political analysis. The aim of my research on the identity of ethnic and linguistic minorities is to rethink these notions in terms of the dynamics of multilingual ethnic minority versus unilingual national majority. I disapprove of the idea that what belongs to the centre is to be considered a standard and of greater value than what is associated with the periphery. In fact “periphery” and “centre” are related and dynamic terms, depending on the perspective from which we look upon them.
The most eloquent example of the spiritual richness of the periphery in Sweden is Bengt Pohjanen who writes poetry, prose, drama, opera librettos, articles, film scripts etc. in three languages: Meänkieli, Swedish and Finnish. Possessing a thorough knowledge of the once lively Meänkieli culture, he is also a consistent representative of alterity in the hegemonic Swedish culture.
As Bengt Pohjanen is a writer and a poet, as well as a public figure, a key personality of revitalizing the Meänkieli language, his works are especially suitable to be examined in a complex way, from the point of view of different human sciences (linguistics, literature, sociology, psychology).

Acest studiu îşi propune să prezinte legăturile multiple dintre limbă, cultură şi politică în contextul dezvoltării identităţii colective a unei populaţii fino-ugrice din valea râului Torne/ Tornio din nordul Suediei, vorbitoare de limba meänkieli.
Această populaţie a fost desprinsă de Finlanda în anul 1809, când, în urma războiului de cucerire a Finlandei de către Imperiul Rus, Suedia a fost nevoită să cedeze teritoriul Finlandei în favoarea Rusiei. Începând de atunci, finlandezii din valea râului Torne/ Tornio au fost victimele unei politici puternice de asimilare.
Trezirea şi emanciparea lor lingvistică şi culturală a început în anii 1980. Cu toate că în Suedia de azi limba meänkieli este în mod oficial recunoscută ca limbă minoritară (din anul 2000), totuşi a rămas o limbă grav stigmatizată şi ameninţată.
Din punct de vedere cultural, cea mai importantă personalitate publică a comunităţii vorbitoare de meänkieli este scriitorul şi poetul Bengt Pohjanen. Scrie în trei limbi – meänkieli, suedeză şi finlandeză – proză, dramă, poezii, librete de operă şi publicistică. În a doua parte a studiului prezint metodele prin care Pohjanen reprezintă vocea „periferiei” în limba sa maternă, meänkieli, deconstruind ideea hegemoniei culturii suedeze.

Keywords: minority language, policy of assimilation, Meänkieli, stigmatization, linguistic and cultural identity, postcolonial discourse.
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search