Why language matters?

Frequency of using a Sàmi language. Credit: Why Language Matters: Inequality Perceptions among the Sámi in Sweden and Norway (2023).

Languages play an essential role in the cultural, social, and economic aspects of life. However, every two weeks, one of the world's estimated 7,000 languages becomes extinct. This is a significant problem that has adverse effects on linguistic minorities worldwide. On International Mother Language Day, a policy paper entitled "Why Language Matters: Inequality Perceptions among the Sámi in Sweden and Norway" was published, revealing that the decline of minority languages is closely associated with discrimination.

Discrimination Against Linguistic Minorities:

Researchers from the Cluster of Excellence "The Politics of Inequality" at the University of Konstanz conducted a study to investigate the correlation between the loss of language and discrimination. The study focused on the Sámi population in Norway and Sweden. In both countries, the Sámi are a social minority, and their language is equally declining. The study revealed that Sámi people experience significant discrimination in society, education, and work, particularly when they speak their language in public.

Comparing Norway and Sweden, it became evident that Swedish Sámi who use their indigenous language often experience more discrimination than their Norwegian counterparts. This can be attributed to the fact that Norway, at least in parts of the country, recognizes Sámi as an official national language that is represented in everyday life. In contrast, Sweden does so to a lesser extent.

Barriers to Language Learning:

One of the barriers to language learning is the limited opportunities to learn and speak Sámi in school. Administrative hurdles also limit the opportunities for Sámi speakers to use their language outside of their families, which can become a form of structural discrimination. The study revealed that Sámi in Sweden feel that their country's language policy discourages them from learning and revitalizing their mother tongue.

Recognition and Appreciation:

The study found that recognizing a minority language as a national language reduces discrimination. Successful policies in Norway show that by integrating a minority language more strongly into the public sphere, discrimination can be counteracted. This can be achieved through the use of multilingual signage and labeling in everyday life. The study recommends a language policy that resolutely promotes respect and appreciation for Sámi languages to combat discrimination and perceived inequalities.

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