Län - The Term

The Term

The word literally means fief. The usual English language terms used are separate for the two countries, where Sweden has chosen to translate the term as "county" while Finland prefers "province". With a shared administrative tradition spanning centuries, ending only in 1809, this is a separation by convention, rather than by distinction. The term matches reasonably well the British term "county", but not so well the American term "county" which is usually much smaller in population, more like Swedish "kommun".

The reason why Sweden has chosen to translate the term to "county" is that in Swedish and English, the word "provins"/"province" has come to mean different things. In the Swedish Empire, all lands conquered became provinser (provinces); Swedish law, which granted the common people much more freedom and influence than any other European law at the time, was not extended to them, remaining confined to the landskap (in plural) which made up the Swedish-and-Finnish heartland (roughly corresponding to present-day Sweden and Finland). Examples of such former Swedish provinser are Estonia and Swedish Pomerania. Another reason is that in education, Sweden has preferred British English over American English. "County" is a reasonable British English translation of Län.

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