For over 800 years, Finnish has been Sweden’s largest minority language, but, thanks to the recent influx of asylum seekers from predominantly Arab-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Arabic has now replaced Finnish, Stockholm University researcher Mikael Parkvall argued in an opinion piece published in Svenska Dagbladet.
The estimated number of Arabic speakers in the Scandinavian country of 10 million is “over 200,000.” According to this calculation, the number of Arabic speakers has doubled over the past decade, while the aging Finnish population has been shrinking.
Parkvall highlighted the lack of official statistics on this matter, which he found “strange,” given the fact that Sweden takes pride in its statistical tradition.While the United Nations and the Council of Europe have both suggested that Swedish authorities show an interest in this issue, their proposals have seemingly fallen on deaf ears, Parkvall noted, stressing that Sweden has no qualms about keeping records on potentially sensitive things like political sympathies, STDs, or cannabis consumption.
“The reason is the sensitivity of the matter. Mapping out language affiliation is considered to be almost the same as identifying ethnicity, and mapping ethnicity is almost the same as plotting genocide. It is thus in reference to ‘personal integrity’ that the Swedish state is most proud of its ignorance of the issue,” Parkvall wrote, citing Finland, Switzerland, and Canada as multi-language countries that are perfectly able to maintain their democratic traditions while keeping track of their language use.
In recent years, Arabic has been gaining ground in the Swedish media and public life. Swedish Radio has had broadcasts in Arabic since 2013. In April 2017, Sweden arranged its first-ever Arabic book fair, epitomizing the growing importance of Arabic in everyday life.
It’s worth noting that one-quarter of Duolingo’s users in Sweden are studying Swedish, making it the highest percentage of residents learning the official language of the country in which they reside, according to company data.