Serving Swedish on a Plate


Viikko 5


Motion: THW remove Swedish off the list of compulsory subjects at school
Role: Rep. (opp.)

Swedish in Finland is a tough subject. In theory, it should be easy to bilingualise a people to ensure mutual communication, interaction and understanding, but in practice, it has turned out to be nigh on impossible. To make a comparison, we may try to recall and revisit any of the creoles and pidgins that were once created during colonial empires and eras.

My thinking borrows from the triad of peoples’ characteristics that were put forward by a PR consultant and etiquette trainer called Richard D. Lewis. According to him, the world’s people(s) divide up into three kinds of interactors: multi-tasking (later multi-active), straight-forward (later linear-active) and reactive. They each have a signature style of communication, which can be applied to the issue at hand.

My solution to the issue is clear and simple. Let us declare that there are three levels of linguistic competence or proficiency, while we only have to be competent at one and only one of these levels to be entitled to adequate, proper, sufficient constitutional citizenship.

One of these levels is, or I dub it ”the low official”. It means that whatever one does, when one is employed in customer service or service industries, even servile industries (as a janitor or a caretaker of some kind), one needs to be able to speak Swedish on a level that is sufficient for giving appropriate responses to individuals who need to run their errands with the help of the person in question. This is the reactive pole per Lewis’s demographic categorisation. Reactive peoples in the world include many Asian nationalities, such as Vietnamese, for instance.

Another of these levels I dub ”the high official”. It means that one is employed as an expert or an authority or a symbol analyst (whom one might be considered after a term coined by Robert B. Reich [1991].) In this case, one needs to be able to give convincing words, expert opinions, ideological viewpoints, statements and solutions in one’s own field of expertise. This means a specialised vocabulary, longer lines (sometimes whole paragraphs), finesse and a command of the (high) register. This level is far more demanding than the previous one, but neither does it require knowledge of and knack for colloquial expression. Professions that belong in this category include those of a comedian, doctor, executive, journalist, priest, teacher, researcher, and so on. This is the straight-forward pole in Lewis’s world. Straight-forward peoples in the world include Lewis’s own and — in general — many of those countries that have a tricolour (especially red, blue and white) in their national flag.

The final level that does NOT HAVE TO be reached is what I dub ”the kitchen privacy”. This means the ability to speak about cultural, domestic, jocular, trivial and/or vernacular matters in fluent Swedish, or at the level on which most ordinary Finnish Swedes are. This level may be reached by an ordinary majority Finn (as a monoglot at first) only when (s)he changes his or her circumstances to more Swedish-oriented ones in e.g. moving to a predominantly Swedish-speaking area, marrying a Swede or becoming a coach, mentor or teacher to Swedish-speaking children or teenagers for lack of competent authentic personnel. This is the multi-tasking pole according to Lewis. Multi-tasking peoples in the world encompass (but aren’t restricted to) those that come from latino countries and speak Romance languages.

The road to bilingualism is iffy and rocky, but it can be reached more easily if one does not set the bar too high, or, if one at least knows where the bar lies — appropriately, ideally and optimally. Sadly, most Finns do not recognize that they do not have to attain that ”privacy” level, when it is perfectly okay to remain on one’s job-performance level. Once this is attained — perhaps with the coming of better-equipped, newer generations — our peculiar Finnish situation can be compared and juxtaposed with the situation in other bilingual countries. In our otherwise progressive society, this one is an issue of aggression and regression.

Thank you.

Arvio: Puhe on riittävän pitkä mutta vaatii kuulijalta täyden huomion hitaasti avautuvan rakenteensa takia. Voidaan arvioida, että aiemmat puheenvuorot (1. & 2. puhuja) ovat käsitelleet asian historiallista ja juridista puolta väsyksiin asti, jolloin on retorista tilausta puheen ajamalle käytännöllisemmälle ja (teoriassa) kaikkia koskettavalle mutta silti analyyttiselle katsantokannalle. Puhe on kuitenkin sikäli ”haihattelua”, että kielitaidon usein määrää altistus eikä hyvä tahto.




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