Pekka Aittakumpu (Centre) had the floor in the session hall of the Parliament House in Helsinki on Wednesday, 28 February 2024. Aittakumpu expressed his support for amending the language act in the vein of Estonia and France, two countries where he said it would be illegal to operate a café that serves only in English. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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PEKKA AITTAKUMPU (Centre) demands that the language act be amended to protect Finnish against the dominance of English.

“The act could decree that also private sector operators must provide services in Finnish. In Estonia and France, for example, the language act imposes obligations also on private service providers. In these countries, a café that provides service only in English is illegal,” he was quoted saying in the Parliament House on Wednesday by Helsingin Sanomat.

Aittakumpu also argued that it should be possible to complete degrees at all levels of education in Finnish.

“In many fields, it’s no longer possible to continue with your native language after the bachelor stage and students have to switch to English for master’s studies. This isn’t right. Funding for universities should be tied more strictly to the ability to study in Finnish.”

His motion for debate served as the basis for a topical debate in the session hall about the state of the Finnish language.

Also Petri Honkonen (Centre) demanded that the language act be amended in the vein of France. The Finnish language, he estimated, is in a state that constitutes a “national strategy”.

“The use of other than national languages should be limited in public spaces, and using them without weighty reasons should be prohibited. Going forward, ads or notifications would be primarily in Finnish or Swedish,” said Honkonen.

Minister of Justice Leena Meri (PS) reminded lawmakers that the government has initiated a number of projects related to the Finnish language, including an investigation carried out by Tiina Onikki-Rantajääskö, a professor of Finnish at the University of Helsinki.

“The investigator’s report and proposals can be used as basis to make decisions on policies and measures related to the Finnish language,” said Meri.

Many legislators expressed their concern about the deteriorating literacy skills of pupils, pointing to the role of both families and schools in addressing the detrimental development.

“Nothing that the state does can replace what we can do as parents for our next generation and for our children,” argued Tero Sammallahti (NCP).

“We should now make sure that all of our pupils have high-quality textbooks, that everyone has their own high-quality textbook. We need digital skills, too, but you can’t solve the world’s complex problems by googling,” added Markus Lohi (Centre).

Members of the Green League also called particular attention to the role and environment of Finnish culture.

Maria Ohisalo, a former chairperson of the opposition party, identified promoting reading and national literature as a key measure for preserving a language that is alive and well. The Finnish government, she added, is set to raise the value-added tax on books to 14 per cent, one of the highest levels in Europe.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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