The Social Status of Languages in Finland and Lithuania

A Plurimethodological Empirical Survey on Language Climate Change

by Stephan Kessler (Volume editor) Marko Pantermöller (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 282 Pages
Open Access


Finland and Lithuania stand for different ways of dealing with societal multilingualism and minority issues. However, in recent years, questions of language policy had been discussed more controversially in both countries. Thus our detailed surveys on Finland and Lithuania focused on how different population groups think about the lingual situation there. This publication presents the researchers’ results from between 2014 and 2016 regarding the attitudes towards the minority and majority languages. Key to the research was an especially developed methodological mixture, including the matched-guise technique. The surveys’ final reports to the German Research Foundation (DFG) are followed by contributions that give more details on the legal status of the languages in Finland and Lithuania or describe the specific features of urban multilingualism there.

Table Of Contents

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Amei Koll-Stobbe

Series editor’s short introduction

This is the eleventh volume in my book series on Language Competence and Language Awareness in Europe. I am happy that this volume highlights the ideologically and sociologically loaded topic area of language policy. The Baltic Scholar Kessler and the Finno-Ugrian Philologist Pantermöller study language contacts and conflicts within and across the borders of sparsely populated national cultures in Scandinavia (Sweden and Finland), and the Baltics (Lithuania, Estonia). These European Union member states who, according to Eurostat (May 2019), are the member states at the bottom line in population density of all 27 states, went through complex political and social histories during the last hundred years. As a consequence the population is faced with diverse language options within and across their national boundaries: Languages serve different functions, and have a variant status depending on who chooses which communicative code with whom, and in which communicative context. This fringe part of Europe is also of particular interest to systemic contact linguists since languages of different typologies clash into each other in this part of Europe (Indo-European/Germanic and Finno-Ugric/Finnic languages). On top of that we can encounter clashes between less and more demographically powerful national cum regional languages (Swedish versus Finnish; Latvian/Estonian/Lithuanian versus Russian), and modern, or even global versus ancestral languages that characterize the language hub (e.g. English and e.g. Sami).

The volume stem from a project that empirically, and critically researched language policy in the poly-lingual language cultures of Finland and Lithuania. At the core of the quantitative and qualitative study lies the (semantically) fuzzy concept of language attitudes. Language attitudes, and language opinions, or sentimentalism in the European North/North-East are grounded in political changes and migration before, and after World War II, as well as in the social and economic changes following the break-down of the soviet regime almost thirty years ago

The publication as a collected volume developed from the editors’ final project report to the German Research Foundation in 2016/17. The report was supplemented by invited papers from specialists in Baltic, and Finnic language cultures that focus on language choice in varying domains and genres. It is the first empirical study of language attitudes and language policy in Finland and Lithuania in book form.

Greifswald, September 2019

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Editors’ Preface

For both Finland and Lithuania, there is already a well-established tradition in sociolinguistics of dealing with the language situation and policies of the respective countries. There is no shortage of related social-empirical surveys and above all, the social de facto-status of languages—i.e. the attitudes of the population towards majority and minority languages (i.e. Finnish or Swedish in Finland, and Lithuanian, Polish or Russian in Lithuania)—has also been the subject of investigation. However, since we found that these attitudes have not been surveyed either by indirect methods only or by a combination of direct and indirect methods, we were able to obtain funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) for the years 2014–2016 to conduct a survey to correct this diagnosed deficiency. We want to thank the German Research Foundation for the trust placed in our project.

Our survey investigated the social status de facto, which language speakers in Finland and Lithuania assess as most prestigious. Both countries have similarities in that their inhabitants are highly respectful of their languages and aim for politically correct behaviour according to language policy. Therefore, in addition to language status, statements made about the everyday life of the state’s language policies were also collected from the subjects of the survey. Judgments, from within each society, about the social effects of these linguistic/political measures are, to some extent, entirely different from official lines. The wide-ranging survey intends to give the opportunity to compare both countries using parallelism of the statistical data collected.

In Finland, often cited as a reference country concerning language policy, studies about questions of language loyalty and the status of Finnish and Swedish have already been conducted. However, the political tensions relating to language issues, which have recently manifested themselves, frequently constitute a contradiction in the results of different studies. From this, it would seem that previous research under a more extended period has not been able to illustrate the potential for social tensions resulting from language problems, the effects of which are undeniable and sometimes bear unexpected consequences constituting severe discussions between political decision-makers in Finland and Lithuania. Therefore, the methodology of our research project has been of vital importance. For the first time, a combination of an indirect and direct method—the experimental matched-guise technique and a more traditional questionnaire—has been applied in both countries. By using two research methods simultaneously, ←9 | 10→we hoped to achieve optimal results. Particular attention focused on the question of the extent of respondents’ knowledge about the subject of research, which would influence the results of the survey.

At an event in the Finnish Embassy in Brussels in October 2016, European language policy experts, as well as representatives of Finland and Lithuania, were informed about the first key results of our research project, which was used as a basis for subsequent discussion between scientists, political representatives, regional and language protection activists. The open discourse revealed a particular sensitisation gap between scientists and activists on the one hand and political officials on the other.

The research material has been obtained from several towns in Lithuania and Finland and has been differentiated according to relevant social factors. Our geographical variation of the research locations draws into account the varying conditions of the usage of the languages. The central part of this book contains the documentation of the project including its evaluations. Yvonne Bindrim’s study surveyed the relationship between the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking population in Finland. The comparison of the results reveals that indirectly and directly elicited stances need to be distinguished from one another and that stereotypes are considerably more common than previously assumed. Anastasija Kostiučenko investigated the language situation in Lithuania and its sociolinguistic constellation. Her article presents detailed documentation of the study conducted by her in Lithuania. As a result, people in Lithuania were tolerant of each other and language issues only became ‘hot’ when raised to a political level.

The book is followed by three shorter contributions which look at the language situation in Finland and Lithuania from different perspectives and thus reveals more facets for the reader. Vava Lunabba’s analysis looks at language in Finland from a political-historical perspective which takes account of the legislative process. In the history of Finland’s national languages, there has been an era of language disputes. However, changes in the population structure have had their effects on the language conditions in Finland. The general language climate appears to have become harsher during recent years in Finland. Meilutė Ramonienė examines the linguistic behaviour of Lithuanian city-dwellers in the private sphere and new trends of urban multilingualism in Lithuania. She analyses the linguistic repertoire—the use of languages at home—in mental processes (such as thinking or counting) and when using the media. Her report is based on data from three large-scale surveys carried out from 2007–2012 in Lithuanian cities. Laima Kalėdienė reviews trends appearing in public usage of the Lithuanian language. She evaluates the changes that have emerged during ←10 | 11→the first fifteen years of the new millennium as well as how the problems of management of the language policy that resulted from the trends have succeeded in solving both state and society.

Finally, we would like to thank our staff, Dr Anastasija Kostiučenko and Dr Yvonne Bindrim, who have carried out the project in Lithuania and Finland with great enthusiasm and personal commitment. In terms of data analysis, both scholars have worked intensely on the necessary statistics. Thanks to them, the public now holds the interesting results of our project in their hands.

Greifswald, in Spring 2019

Marko Pantermöller and Stephan Kessler


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2020 (February)
language attitudes matched-guise technique societal multilingualism language policy minorities
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 282 pp., 97 fig. b/w, 56 tables.

Biographical notes

Stephan Kessler (Volume editor) Marko Pantermöller (Volume editor)

Stephan Kessler holds the chair of Baltic Studies at the University of Greifswald. His research topics are in linguistics as well as in literary studies. Marko Pantermöller is professor of Finnish philology at the University of Greifswald. He puts the main stress on language policy, contact linguistics and morphology.


Title: The Social Status of Languages in Finland and Lithuania