Higher Seminar in Bilingualism

Minority language policy in Sweden: Colonial logic and affective resistance.

Welcome to take part in a seminar by Tommaso Milani, The Pennsylvania State University, Dpt. of Applied Linguistics, Tuesday October 17th, 15:00–16:30 (Zoom)


Sweden has often been hailed as a textbook example of ‘multicultural pluralist citizenship’ (Koopmans and Statham 1999, 661); that is, a context in which ‘the state not only offers easy access to full social and political rights, but actually sponsors ethnic difference’ (ibid.). While it is true that the Language Law in Sweden overtly ratifies multilingualism, in this talk I illustrate how language policies about so-called ‘national minority languages’ (Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani, Sami and Yiddish) are framed by the three main principles that have characterized a colonial logic: census, maps and museum (Anderson 1991; see also Gal 2021). In order to bring into relief the coloniality of Swedish minority language policy,

I will focus on a language, Yiddish, which does not have a straightforward link to colonialism in Sweden but has posed a series of challenges to legislators. More specifically, I will illustrate how a colonial logic based on the principles of census, maps and museum was used in order to make sense of Yiddish and ultimately argue against its recognition as a national minority language. However, I will also show how Yiddish language activists reacted through ‘affective practices’ (Wetherell 2012), which led to the official recognition of Yiddish in the end. Through these examples, I not only hope to engage with current discussions about decolonial perspectives in applied linguistics (Pennycook and Makoni 2021) but also give an example of a somewhat overlooked aspect of language policy, namely its affective dimensions (see also Årman 2020).