Interview conducted by William Zhang
1. Can you tell me about your language and education background?
I’m originally a journalism researcher, with a doctoral degree from Journalism Studies from Tampere University in Finland. However, as a university student, I took a double Master’s: Besides journalism Studies, I studied German Philology, so linguistics has been important to me since my university studies. As a researcher, my interest has been interdisciplinary and located between journalism studies, cultural studies, and sociology of arts. I have studied arts and cultural journalism, cultural production and critique, journalism education, and media literacy in both formal and informal contexts. After my re-location to Sweden and through my activities among the national minorities, I re-discovered linguistics. I think that media theorists should be more engaged in linguistic issues, and I see that my personal research ambition has started revolving around the idea of cross-fertilizing media theory, journalism studies as well as theories of multilingualism and second-language learning. This aim dovetails with my leisure interest, which is minority politics: during the past years, I have been involved in the promotion of national minority language and issues at both local and national levels in Sweden. There have been many consultations with authorities, many meetings with civil society representatives, and many encounters with professionals working with these minorities. Regarding my own language repertoire, my mother tongue is Finnish, I went to an English kindergarten, started German as the first foreign language at school, and studied a dozen languages just because of the fun of it. My working language at the university is Swedish or Skandinaviska, a spoken mixture of Scandinavian languages, and at home I’m trying to raise both my son and husband to bilinguals. It has been more successful with the first mentioned case, which is eight years now.
2. How did you develop an interest in journalism and media literacy, and could you talk about your recent research endeavors in these areas?
I worked as a journalist and an upper secondary school teacher in media in Finland before I entered academia. Having been involved in the professional production of journalism means that you know quite a lot about the production context – the work roles and workflows, as well as genres and formats related to how the work is being done in practice – and have developed a professional identity, understanding the importance of professional values and ideals within a community very deeply. This has helped me develop a research interest that advances the understanding of media production, that is, the creation of media messages or content. Journalism education and media literacy are both areas of knowledge that basically require that you know something about how messages are being created and shaped in the “backstage” – in newsrooms or classrooms. I have been involved in leading researcher networks related to media literacy and journalism education. Recently, I co-authored the recent UNESCO global curriculum for media and information literacy, which forms the basis for the policy framework of media literacy even in Sweden. I’m currently finalizing a book about the pedagogies of reviewing and embarking on a new manuscript on journalists as media educators.
3. In light of your upcoming speaker event on the revitalization of the Finnish language in Sweden, could you provide historical background on how Finnish has become a minority language in Sweden?
It took a long time before the status of a national minority language was achieved in 2000 and it was finally integrated into the national legislation in 2009. In 2000, Sweden recognized the Sweden-Finns and Finnish languages, Tornedalers and Meänkieli (Torne Valley Finnish), Jews and Yiddish, the Roma and Romani Chib, the Sámi and the Sámi languages as national minorities and national minority languages by ratifying the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Today, the Finnish spoken in Sweden is not directly comparable to the Finnish spoken in Finland, as most of the language speakers in Finland are native speakers. The Finnish spoken in Sweden is essentially marked by its second-language character and strongly influenced by Swedish vocabulary, “Swedisisms”, which are termed as non-preferable in Finland, where Swedish is also spoken (however, in another variant than in Sweden).
4. Why do you believe it is essential to preserve and revitalize the Finnish language in Sweden, and what recent initiatives have you undertaken to support this goal?
I constantly hear questions about whether it is important, while at the same time, there are people who are grieving the loss of their parents and grandparents’ language and would like to reclaim it. The national minority language status confirms that the Finnish language is part of the Swedish cultural heritage. However, it will take time before it will be perceived that way in everyday life. The awareness about the existence of national minorities, which have another type of status than other minorities, is still rather low, and the heritage language character is invisible. Media tend to frame topics on Sweden-Finnishness in a way that see the Finnish language and culture as a foreign issue, instead of an issue “owned” by Sweden. For example, if someone with Sweden-Finnish connections is interviewed, the person may be talking about his or her memories of the neighboring country Finland, instead of talking about how the Finnish language and culture live within Sweden, here and now, in their own right.
5. What is the biggest challenge when it comes to achieving this goal?
The challenges are many and complex. We should understand better what the factors are that hinder parents and families from choosing Finnish as a second language. It is often said that people experience shame, passed on from one generation to another, or do not really see a point in learning a language of such a small community of speakers, or point out that there are difficulties in arranging lectures at school outside the curriculum, but this question should be more systematically examined. This issue may to a great extent deal with the motivation and attitudes towards the language – which, with its fifteen noun cases, does not really enjoy the reputation of being the easiest to learn. The low degree of language use is also kind of a chicken or egg dilemma: because people don’t speak Finnish, public events are not arranged in Finnish – but if public events are not arranged in Finnish, how can people get opportunities to listen to, learn and use the language? However, representative studies are difficult to conduct as long as we don’t have exact information about the number of speakers in the country; the Swedish authorities do not register languages so there are only estimates.
6. What has been your biggest accomplishment in your efforts to achieve this goal?
Together with Leena Huss, professor emerita from Uppsala University, I started in 2021 a national multistakeholder research network, “Sweden-Finnish Research Network”, that collects academics and “friends of research” – the interested general audience. We have been able to make the research area visible through monthly Finnish-language webinars with invited guests from both Sweden and Finland, organized in collaboration with the Archives of the Finnish Minority in Sweden, and various local events. This autumn, we will also announce an academic thesis competition in the Sweden-Finnish Delegation, the national umbrella organization for Sweden-Finnish associations, to acknowledge work that has been done in terms of the national minority. I think it is important to produce evidence-based knowledge for political decisions and gather experts who will be available to inform policymakers and politicians.
7. Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Sweden, with its five national minorities whose languages are all under threat, provides a good case to study language revitalization. I’m looking forward to sharing ideas on how to advance research between media, media literacy, and language research, coupled with my own experiences from the Swedish conditions.