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“‘Ruottiksi’, translated Paul Muotka patiently. ‘Kiitos.’” Mikael Niemi, Meänkieli and Readers Inside and Outside Tornedalen

Journal article
Authors Hans Landqvist
Published in Acta Borealia
Volume 31
Issue 1
Pages 59-82
ISSN 0800-3831
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Swedish
Pages 59-82
Language en
Keywords Literary multilingualism, Literary codeswitching, Tornedalian literature, Mikael Niemi, Mannen som dog som en lax, Meänkieli
Subject categories Bilingualism, Swedish language, Finnish language, Specific Literatures


The present study in the research field of literary multilingualism and literary codeswitching is based on Mikael Niemi’s novel Mannen som dog som en lax (2006) [The man who died like a salmon]. The novel is set mainly in Tornedalen, a widely bilingual area in Sweden where many people speak both Swedish and Meänkieli, a national minority language in Sweden since 2000. All instances of codeswitching in the material studied were identified and an analysis, based on Eriksson and Haapamäki’s model designed to analyse literary multilingualism and literary codeswitching, was performed. The model consists of three main components: (1) the communicative context of the analysed work; (2) the form of codeswitching in the analysed work; and (3) the possible literary functions of codeswitching in the analysed work. The sender, Mikael Niemi, does not consider himself bilingual and most intended receivers are not bilingual either, even though linguistic conditions are central to the theme of the novel. Swedish is the base language of the novel, while elements of Meänkieli/Finnish, varieties of Swedish, and other languages represent a small fraction of the entire text. Implicit literary codeswitching predominates in the material in the form of metalinguistic comments and contextualization cues. By far the most common type of explicit literary codeswitching is between Swedish and Meänkieli/Finnish. The novel contains examples of literary codeswitching used in attempts to reproduce authentic usage and depict an authentic linguistic setting. In other examples, Tornedalen, Tornedalians and Meänkieli/Finnish are depicted as exotic phenomena compared with the majority society. Likewise, there are examples of how certain passages in the novel may include or exclude readers, depending on their understanding of Meänkieli/Finnish. Certain elements of Meänkieli can be interpreted as expressions of linguistic emancipation and the liberation of identity that empowers speakers of Meänkieli and the community of these speakers.

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