Finns - Terminology


The Finnish term for Finns is suomalaiset (sing. suomalainen).

The Finnish and Swedish terms for the Swedish-speaking population of Finland are the expressions suomenruotsalaiset and finlandssvenskar respectively, which translate literally with regard to each other. In Finland Swedish usage and mindset the following distinctions are usually made: The nation (people) consists of Finnish speakers (Finland Swedish: finnar) and Swedish speakers (Finland Swedish: finlandssvenskar) who together with smaller minorities constitute the people of Finland (Finland Swedish: finländare). In Swedish spoken outside of Finland, in particular in Sweden, the term finländare is less known, and these distinctions are not always made.

Translating this terminology accurately into foreign languages, including Sweden's Swedish, is a tricky matter because the terminology closely reflects the nation's entire language issue, which played an intricate part in the process of the crystallisation of the nation's self-perception and in the interpretation of its history, and because it still affects these. Indeed, one of the very first domestic matters addressed during the process of national awakening in the 19th century was the language question.

It is therefore debatable which English terms best match the Finnish and (Finland-)Swedish terms suomalaiset (finländare, finnar) and finlandssvenskar (suomenruotsalaiset). Nevertheless, Swedish-speaking Finns seems to be the English term most commonly used today for and by the Swedish-speaking population of Finland, although the term Finland Swedes is in wide use too, at least in English written by non-native speakers in Scandinavia.

Similarly debatable is how to best designate the people living in Sweden who are current Finnish speakers or have Finnish or Finnish-speaking ancestors. The terms used include the traditional Sweden Finns and the more modern Finnish Swedes, instead of which it may be preferable to differentiate between (recent) Finnish immigrants and the indigenous Finnish ethnic minority in Sweden.

As the meanings of these terms have changed in time, these terms may well be used with other meanings than those given above, particularly in foreign and older works.

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