Distribution of Swedishspeaking Finns in Finland. Dark blue: unilingually Swedish Middle blue: bilingual with Swedish as majority language Light blue: bilingual with Finnish as majority language White: unilingually Finnish.THERE are around 300,000 Swedish-speaking Finns living in Finland along a narrow coastal line, between the more bilingual south-southwest coast and the more dominantly Swedish-speaking area of Ostrobothnia on the west coast.

But what they lack in numbers (Finland Swedes only make out 5.5 per cent of the population) they make up in variety and most revealingly, in dialect. The dialects differ from each other in the three different areas along the coast, Uusimaa, Finland Proper and Ostrobothnia, where Finland Swedes are settled.

Around half of the Swedish-speaking population are thought to speak in some sort of dialect, but many have worried that the spread of the dominant Standard Swedish risks extinguishing them. But quite to the contrary, in many parts of Swedish-speaking Finland, the different dialects are turning out to be quite viable.

None more so than the one found in Ostrobothnia, which hosts many of the few municipalities in Finland that are almost completely Swedish-speaking. The dialect spoken there differs substantially from Standard Swedish, and it’s the many characteristics from ancient Swedish blended in with modern Swedish that gives it its unique sound.

Then there is the autonomous Swedish-speaking archipelago of Åland situated between mainland Finland and Sweden, with a dialect that resembles more the ones found in Sweden rather than Finland. This is somewhat of a sensitive area, as the ethnicity of Ålanders has been widely disputed over. They can be considered as either ethnically Swedish or Swedish-speaking Finnish.


Finland handed autonomy to Åland in 1920, following its own independence from Russia. The reasons behind this was that the vast majority of Ålanders considered themselves to be Swedish, rather than Finnish, and were vary of the pro-Finnish and anti-Swedish attitudes sweeping over Finland at the time.

Over the course of history, so called “language islands” have also sprung to life close to the coastal areas in Finland. The term describes a situation where a large group of Swedish-speaking Finns have moved into a dominantly Finnish-speaking area, and formed a sort of sub-society within the society.

There the Swedish-speakers have organised themselves, with Swedish-speaking schools and other social institutions. The largest “language islands” are Tampere, Kotka, Pori and Oulu, and most of the Swedish-speakers here are bilingual.

Many Swedish-speaking communities can also be found in Finland Proper within the magnificent archipelago. During summer months, the archipelago livens up as thousands of people stream into their summer holiday cabins on the islands, but only a few remain to brave the long dark winter.