New language law benefits minorities

Kven and Sámi languages

Photo: Vidar Ruud / NTB
Members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Dagfinn Høybråten, will investigate Norwegianization policy and injustice committed against Sámi, Kvens, and Norwegian Finns.

Asker, Norway

Since it was made public (and featured in this newspaper—see Further reading below), in Norway, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has triggered much media mention of the plight of the minorities of the far North, the Finno-Ugric Sámi people, the Balto-Finnic Kven people, and the Indo-Aryan, the traditionally nomadic Romani peoples of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Germany, and Hungary.

The Sámi and the Kven are minorities in the literal sense in that their numbers are relatively small. The Sámi are the indigenous inhabitants of Sápmi, the cultural region that stretches over four countries of the far north, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Historically, the region has been called Lapland in English, from the term Lapp for its inhabitants, a word that the Sámi regard as derogatory, perhaps because its historical origin might be from the Middle High German word lappe, meaning simpleton. In all, the total Sámi population is estimated to be 80,000–100,000.

The Kven descend from Finnish fishers and peasants who migrated from northern Sweden and Finland to northern Norway in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their total current population is small, an estimated 10,000–15,000 in northern Norway. In 1996, the Kven were granted minority status, and in 2005, the Kven language was recognized as a minority language.

Worldwide, the Romani people are a large minority, but there is no official or reliable count of their total population, with estimates ranging from 2 million to 20 million. But in Norway, where they historically have been called tatere (a derogatory term, which translates to “gypsies” in English), their number is small and uncertain. In Stortingsmelding (Report to the Norwegian parliament) No. 15 (2000 – 2001), the Romani population of Norway was estimated at a few thousand, although organizations of the Romani people themselves set the total at 10,000–30,000.

Further reading:

Language reforms put forth in Storting, specify that Sámi languages shall have the same status as Norwegian ones, promote and protect the Kven language, promote and protect the Romani macro languages, The Norwegian American, May 22, 2020,

Lov om språk (Language law), Proposition to the Storting (bill and draft resolution), May 12, 2020, and updated thereafter, 162-page print and online PDF:

This article originally appeared in the April 23, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.