Litteraturcentrum Uppsala

Litteraturcentrum Uppsala  is a collaboration of Studiefrämjandet, Kultur i länet, Kulturrådet, Uppsala city, Uppsala regional library and Svenska Pen. Its aim is to support local reading and writing and the regional literary field including a multilingual context. The centre is based in Uppsala, and it is a part of the culture plan of the Uppsala region.

The people involved in the activities of Litteraturcentrum Uppsala use at least the following languages: Swedish, Sami, Arabic, Bengali, Dari, French, German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Wolof, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian, Spanish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Estonian, Kokborok, Beluch, English, Tamil, Georgian, Turkish etc.


Anisur Rahman, the project leader for LItteraturcentrum Uppsala describes the work:

“We are interested in both the artistic and social effects of literature. We work locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and have established productive partnerships with several organizations, including literary organizations, local theatres and schools. Our centre is now a platform for both professional and amateur writers in diverse mother languages. It is a meeting point for native, foreign, immigrant and exiled writers. We publish more than a hundred writers a year in our literary anthology from our creative writing workshops every year. We host more than a hundred literary events a year.

Our centre in Uppsala together with Litteraturcentrum in Tranås, Litteratur resurscentrum in Norbotten and similar project in Jämtland-Harjedalen is now Sweden’s international literary checkpoint where we have growing network and exchange with different continents. All are welcome on board to read and write in diverse languages in defense of free word and free thought.”

Anisur RahmanAnisur Rahman is Uppsala’s guest writer 2009–2011 in the ICORN system and currently project leader for Litteraturcentrum Uppsala, Studiefräjandet Uppsalaregion,

Móðurmál – the Association on Bilingualism

Móðurmál (Mother Tongue) is an NGO founded in Reykjavik in 1994 as The Parents of Bilingual Children Association (Samtök foreldra tvítyngdra barna). It supports multilingualism by teaching languages to bi- or plurilingual children and develops structured language programs with clearly defined curricula and goals. It has offered instruction in over twenty languages for plurilingual children since 1994.

Móðurmál offers of has offered teaching in Albanian, in Arabic, in Czech, in Chinese, in English, in Filipino, in French, in German, in Ghanaian Languages Ewe & Twi, in Indonesian, in Italian, in Japanese, in Korean, in Latvian, in Lithuanian, in Nepalese, in Polish, in Portuguese, in Russian, in Serbian, in Slovakian, in Spanish, in Swedish, in Thai, in Turkish, in Ukrainian, and in Víetnamese

Móðurmál has received the following awards:

2008: “Vel að verki staðið” (“For A Job Well Done”) certificate of recognition from the Intercultural Centre for Mother Tongue’s active work on immigrantion issues in Iceland. The award was presented by the President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

2014: Samfélagsverðlaun Fréttablaðsins (The Society Award of Frettabladid) in category From Generation to Generation. The award was presented by the President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

2016: “Foreldraverðlaun Heimilis og skóla” (Parents’ award from the National Parents’ Association) for mother tongue teaching of bilingual children


Story Sharing Universum

Story Sharing Universum is a project which helps immigrants, asylum seekers and Finns to meet and share stories together in several languages. The project has two parts: Story Sharing Cafés, which are open to the public, and storytelling workshops for asylum seekers at reception centres. Story sharing cafés have developed work formats that permit to communicate in a multilingual way with guides who speak different mother languages. The group speaks at least Arabic, English, Finnish, Swedish, Russian, French, Dari, Pashto and Farsi (/Persian).

Story sharing café is a part of City of Helsinki’s official integration programme for year 2017.

Ós Pressan

Ós Pressan is a non-profit initiative designed to think of literature in an updated way, to bring out and promote new authors, to create an inclusive, multilingual writing community and to challenge the reality of the publishing industry in Iceland.

From Ós Pressan’s website you can find the newest collective publications of the community and presentations of the authors and other artists or journalists linked to this community that includes a wider range of writers, languages and visions.

The writers connected to Ós Pressan write in Icelandic, English, Spanish and Polish.

Sivuvalo – Is This Finnish Literature?

Sivuvalo project is a creative platform for writers who write in other than the two national languages in Finland. It offers information about transnational writers, edits publications and organizes multimedia poetry readings, workshops and other artistic collaborations.

The coordinator of the project is Peruvian poet Roxana Crisólogo and the producer of “Mutant Language” multimedia poetry evenings  is Mexican poet and designer Daniel Malpica.

Sivuvalo´s website also includes a wide link list of writers who write in different languages in Finland.
Among them there are writers who write in Arabic, Burmese, English, Icelandic, Kurdish, Persian, Russian, Northern Sámi, Somali and Spanish.


Active Library

Active Library  programme of Jyväskylä University searched for educational tools to support the growth of young students towards multilingualism and multilingual identities.

You can find materials and exercises both in Finnish and English on the Active Library webpages.

The project was carried out in two phases between 2013–15 by Finnish teachers and classes. In the first phase about 12 multicultural and plurilingual mother language teachers in Jyväskylä developed authentic language learning material based on fairy tales, stories and literature from their own culture. The material was made by e.g. Arabic, Dutch, English, German, Russian and Swahili learning groups. The page still offers materials in these languages.

In the second phase primary school teachers / mother tongue teachers (Finnish) with their L2-learners took part in the project creating libraries of their own. They collected texts and books and developed exercises from specific themes like scifi, recycling, authors (Tove Jansson and the Moomins). The main aim was to create internet data base libraries and share experiences about this way of act in language/literacy learning.

Active Library in English

Active Library in Finnish

NolitchX, Nordic Literatures in Change and Exchange

Nolitch XNordic Literatures in Change and Exchange, is a literature project (2017) with the objective of creating networks of immigrant language writers in the Nordic region. This initiative is a Nordic collaboration between associations, groups and individual writers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. NolitchX has support from Nordic Culture FundNordic Culture Point and Malmö Stad.

Multilingual Library, Helsinki, Finland

The Multilingual Library is located in Pasila Library, Helsinki and its collections cover over 80 languages. Customers living outside of Helsinki can order all materials to their local libraries around Finland.

The Multilingual library also hosts a blog about current topics related to literature and multilingualism. The blog has blogs in English and occasionally in other languages, e.g. in Somali, Persian and Arabic.

Customers who cannot find their own language among the language collection can suggest items to add to the collection.

In the book collection you find books at least in the following languages:

Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Basque, Bengali, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Byelorussian, Catalan,  Chinese,  Czech, Danish, Dari, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Faroese, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek,  Greenlandic, Gujarati,  Hebrew,  Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Karelian, Khmer, Komi, Korean, Kurdish, Latin, Latvian, Lingala, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Mari, Nepalese, Norwegian, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romani, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Sámi, Sign language, Slovakian, Slovenian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tamili, Tatar, Telugu,  Thai, Tigrinya,  Turkish,  Ukrainian,  Urdu, Vietnamese and Yiddish

The mother languages of the permanent staff at Pasila Library, which is the physical location of Multilingual Library, include Finnish, Swedish, English, Russian, Estonian and Somali.



International Library, Stockholm, Sweden

The International Library is part of the Stockholm Public Library and it is in central Stockholm. It has a multilingual collection of books in around 200 languages. People living elsewhere in Sweden can order books from the international library to their local libraries.

The library´s website has language versions in Swedish, in Arabic, in English, in French, in Chinese, in Persian, in Russian and in Spanish.

In the webpage of the International Library you can also find interesting archives related to multilingual issues, like the interview archive and book recommendations for and from readers in different languages, apart of the previously mentioned at least in Polish, Bulgarian, Portuguese and Urdu.

The collection includes books in the following languages: Acholi, Afar, Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Ashanti, Azerbaijani, Baluchi, Bambara, Basque, Bemba, Bengali, Berber language, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Buli, Burmese,  Catalan, Cebuano, Chewa, Chinese, Croatian, Danish, Dari, Edo, Efik, English, Greenlandic, Estonian, Ewe, Fanti, French, Fulani,  Galician, Geez, Georgian, Greek, Gujarati, Hausa, Hebrean, Hindi, Igbo, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Khmer, Kikuyu, Kirgisyan, Kongo (Kikongo), Korean, Krio, Kurdish (Kurmandji and Sorani), Kymric (Cymric/Welsh), Lao/ Laos,











Det flerspråklige bibliotek, Oslo, Norway

Det flerspråklige bibliotek, Oslo, Norway:
The multilingual collection of the National Library of Norway has books and films in 69 languages. Libraries around Norway can order materials for their customers.

The library also offers special packages with books and other materials for multilingual reading promotion. One of the tools  are the adventure bags with bilingual editions of selected stories in several different languages. For the celebration of mother language day there are special material packages as well. Other institutions can book these materials through their local library.



Danish Library Centre for Integration, Copenhagen, Denmark

Danish Library Centre for Integration, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish Library Centre for Integration (SBCI) lends books, music, and films to Danish public libraries. Most of the collections are in Arabic, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu. They also host Verdensbibliotek, a digital library with online access to music, films and e-books from all over the world.

Nordens Hus bibliotek, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Nordic House Library (Nordens Hus bibliotek, Reykjavik, Iceland) provides literature (books and ebooks) and films in 7 Nordic languages for children and adults. The library also hosts events like storytelling sessions  or Meet the Author -interviews in Nordic languages and with Nordic authors.

NolitchX: Den okända mångspråkiga nordiska litteraturen

Summary in English:

NolitchX is a literary project that aims to make visible the works of immigrant language authors residing in the Nordic countries. NolitchX creates networks of contacts and collaborations, produces multilingual literary events and coordinates translations and publications to find alternative ways for immigrant language writers to work professionally and to meet the readership in the same geographical region where they live. NolitchX defends the right of every writer to use his or her mother tongue or whatever language he or she chooses to create literature in. From a democratic viewpoint, it is important that all the voices of all the languages present in the Nordic region today are heard, and NolitchX is convinced that any kind of influence between literatures of different languages can only be fruitful.


NolitchX: Den okända mångspråkiga nordiska litteraturen

NolitchX, en förkortning av Nordic Literatures in Change and Exchange, är ett nytt nordiskt litteraturprojekt som arbetar för att skapa kontakt- och samarbetsnätverk för att synliggöra den nordiska litteratur som skrivs på invandrarspråken1 genom översättningar, mångspråkiga multimediala litteraturevenemang, publikationer och samtal. Som projektnamnet NolitchX antyder när det uttalas högt, är verk skrivna på invandrarspråken en okänd faktor, the knowledge X, i de nordiska ländernas litteratur. Enligt NolitchX är det hög tid att omdefiniera begreppet “nordisk litteratur” så att det också omfattar den litteratur som är skriven på invandrarspråken.

På grund av olika typer av migration, växer hela tiden gruppen av invandrarspråksförfattare i Norden, men detta faktum syns sällan på de nationella litteraturscenerna. Kulturpolitiken, starkt rotad i idén att den nationella identiteten står i relation till huvudspråket i varje land, erbjuder få eller inga stöd till översättningar till de nordiska språken av verk som skrivits på utländska eller invandrade språk, utan resurserna går främst till att sprida de nationella litteraturerna utomlands.

Av den här anledningen vill litteraturprojektet NolitchX synliggöra invandrarspråksförfattarna och deras verk genom översättningar, publikationer och mångspråkiga multimediala litteraturevenemang. NolitchX håller på att bygga upp nätverk av författare, översättare och andra kulturutövare för att skapa strukturer för samarbeten och kontakt över nationsgränserna som tar till vara närvaron av olika språkliga grupper i de nordiska länderna. Målet är att invandrarspråksförfattare och översättare ska kunna arbeta professionellt samt komma i kontakt med och bli lästa av läsare som bor i samma geografiska region som dem själva.

NolitchX stödjer alltså rätten att skriva på sitt modersmål, på det språk en har formats som författare eller på det språk som en författare väljer att skriva på oavsett anledning. Vi tror att det ur en demokratisk synvinkel är viktig att alla röster som finns representerade på en plats får höras och vi är övertygade om att om litteratur som är skriven på andra språk översätts kommer den att ha ett positivt inflytande på litteraturen som skrivs på huvudspråken i Norden och främja kreativiteten.

Projektet NolitchX:s rötter finns i Finland, där poeten Roxana Crisólogo för fyra år sedan började kartlägga författare i landet som skriver på andra språk än finska och svenska, samt att under namnet Sivuvalo skapa ett nätverk av författare som idag tillsammans anordnar översättningsworkshops, uppläsningar och publicerar böcker. Två år efter grundandet började Sivuvalo, tack vare poeten och grafiske designern Daniel Malpica, att producera mångspråkiga multimediala litteraturevenemang, Mutant Language/Mutanttikieltä, som numera har en stor publik. Genom NolitchX exporteras nu Sivuvalos aktiviteter till övriga Norden, men för att hedra projektets finländska rötter producerar NolitchX den första nordiska multimediala poesikvällen, Satakieliklubi Nordic Multimedia Poetry Night, i Helsingfors den 18 mars.

Kontakt: och

Läs mer om NolitchX och Satakieliklubi Nordic Multimedia Poetry Night och

1 Invandrarspråk, ett begrepp som främst används i Sverige, omfattar de språk som finns i Norden sedan 1900-talet och som inte är officiellt minoritetsspråk i något av de fem länderna.


Roxana Crisólogo, Koordinator för Sivuvalo och NolitchX i Finland

Petronella Zetterlund, Nordisk koordinator för NolitchX

Om Roxana Crisólogo

Jag är peruansk-finländsk poet och kulturproducent, bosatt i Helsingfors, Finland. 2013 grundade jag det mångspråkiga projektet Sivuvalo, som nu är en del av projektet NolitchX.

Om Petronella Zetterlund
Jag är tvåspråkig svensk som lika gärna pratar spanska som svenska. I hela mitt liv har jag varit intresserad av litteratur och olika språks uttrycksmöjligheter. Därför är jag idag glad att kunna kalla mig, utöver nordisk koordinator för NolitchX, översättare, litteraturforskare och redaktör.

Om projektet NolitchX
Projektet NolitchX Nordic Literatures in Change and Exchange startade i januari 2017 och har stöd från Nordiska kulturfonden och Nordisk kulturkontakt. NolitchX utgörs av medlemmar i fyra nordiska länder: Lalo Barrubia (spanska), Azita Ghahreman (persiska) och Petronella Zetterlund (svenska-spanska) från kulturföreningen Tre Tärningar i Malmö, Sverige; Roxana Crisólogo (spanska) och Daniel Malpica (spanska) från det mångspråkiga litteraturprojektet Sivuvalo i Helsingfors, Finland; Elizabeth Torres (spanska-engelska) från galleriet och studiokollektivet Red Door i Köpenhamn, Danmark; och författaren och översättaren Mazen Maarouf (arabiska), bosatt i Reykjavik, Island. NolitchX letar samarbetspartners i Norge inför 2018. Nätverket av invandrarspråksförfattare och översättare omfattar redan under projektets första månader närmare 150 personer från olika språkgrupper.







Reading by listening – a Nordic collaboration produces talking books in Arabic and Sámi

In the Nordic countries, the need for talking books in other languages than European languages has increased during the last few years. Due to the amount of refugees coming to the Nordic countries, a cooperation concerning the production of talking books in Arabic and Sámi languages started in 2015. The involved libraries are Celia in Finland, Nota in Denmark, NLB in Norway, Hljodbokasafn in Iceland and MTM in Sweden. They are all focused in accesible literature and publishing. 25 talking books in Arabic and 6 in Sámi will be produced in this project by spring 2017. 

According to Statistics for the Northern Countries, we anticipate that up to 20% of the population in each country have a foreign background.  Approx. 6-8 % of the total population in the Nordic countries have some kind of reading impairment. This indicates that a large group of the population with a foreign background need accessible media. Many refugees  coming to the Nordic Countries have Arabic as their native language.

These facts made it clear that we would have to find ways to increase the production of talking books in other languages than the national languages and English. The idea to cooperate with the other Nordic libraries was discussed among the libraries and was soon decided upon.

After analysing the demand for foreign language we decided that the project should focus on producing Arabic titles. This resulted in an agreement to produce a total of 25 talking books in Arabic, both for adults and children, by spring 2017. The great advantage of this project, besides satisfying the users´ needs of these titles, is that the libraries share the cost of production. Each library will produce 5 titles and will gain 25 titles. 

In addition to the Arabic titles we will also produce 6 new titles in the Northern Sámi Language. Sámi is a minority language and it is important that we contribute in making Sámi titles available for persons with print disabilities.

Our experience is that it is both nice and intellectually stimulating to be able to read the same book in different languages.  

MTM (Swedish Agency for Accessible Media), Nota (the Danish Library and Expertise Center for people with print disabilities) and NLB (Norsk lyd- og blindeskriftbibliotek) are also part of the TIGAR-service. The TIGAR service (Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources),  makes it easier for participating institutions to search internationally for books in accessible formats, and to exchange them across national borders. It currently contains titles in accessible formats in some 55 languages. Participation in TIGAR is free of charge; there is no membership fee or financial contribution required from a participating institution or end-user.

TIGAR is a part of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC). The ABC aims to increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats – such as braille and audio – and to make them available to people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. The ABC is a multi-stakeholder partnership, comprising World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO; organizations that serve people with print disabilities; and publishers and authors.

Written by Junko Söderman and Kristina Passad from MTM, Swedish Agency for Accessible Media and Kari Kummeneje from NLB, Norsk lyd- og blindeskriftbibliotek. Other participants in the project have been Eeva Paunonen,  Eva Hellén, Tove Elisabeth Berg, and Hafthor Ragnarsson.





Den postkoloniale virkelighed – velkommen ind!

Greenlandic multilingual culture and literature seems to be little known in the Nordic countries and that might be symptomatic of our distant relationship to our colonial past – but why not make up for it by reading a couple of new Greenlandic authors? Read more about Niviaq Korneliussens’s Homo Sapienne and Sørine Stenholdts Zombieland on the website of Nordic Council.

Jeg underviser i efteråret 2014 på Lunds Universitet. Min kollega og jeg holder et kursus der hedder Flersproglighed i nordisk samtidslitteratur. Jeg har inviteret den grønlandske digter og performancekunstner Jessie Kleemann til at gæsteforelæse om grønlandsk sprog og litteratur og hendes egen praksis. Jessie skriver poesi på grønlandsk, engelsk og dansk – nogle gange på én og samme tid. Jeg spørger om hun vil læse en tekst op på grønlandsk. Hun ser lidt overrasket ud, men gør det med glæde. Jeg iagttager mine studenter imens. De ligner nogen, der har set et spøgelse. Og selvom Jessie kunstnerisk identificerer sig som qivittoq (en fjeldgænger, et spøgelse) – så er det ikke derfor. Det grønlandske sprog er tydeligvis et chok. De havde åbenbart ingen anelse om, hvordan det lød, hvordan det snor sig i øjensynligt meget lange, bløde vokalsammensætninger, hvor fremmed det er, at man ingenting forstår. Og jeg må erkende at jeg endnu engang bliver rystet over, hvor ufattelig lidt de som taler de store skandinaviske sprog véd om de nordiske minoriteter og minoritetssprog. Og jeg tænker også at den uvidenhed – den fremmedhed overfor de folk som vi selv har undertrykt – er et symptom på en afstand som vi skandinaver åbenbart har meget let ved at etablere mellem os og “de andre”. En afstand, hvis ødelæggende konsekvenser dagligt træder tydeligere frem.

At Jessie Kleemann skriver på flere sprog for at udtrykke en grønlandsk erfaring er der for øvrigt ikke noget mærkeligt ved. Grønland er per definition et flersprogligt land. De fleste grønlændere taler grønlandsk og dansk – men der er også en del grønlændere som af forskellige grunde ikke taler grønlandsk. Det er et mindre kendt – og i nogen grad traumatiserende – faktum. Grønlandsksproget litteratur er – i lighed med mange andre oprindelige folks – relativt ung. Men Grønland har altid haft en stærk poetisk tradition.

Jeg hørte for et par år siden de unge forfattere Niviaq Korneliussen og Sørine Stenholdt berette om en i høj grad levende fortælletradition: De fortalte om, hvordan de bedste fortællere trækker fulde huse når de kommer til bygderne – hvis de da ikke kommer ud af radioen – og henrykker folk med deres spændende historier. Jeg spurgte nysgerrigt til, hvad fortællingerne handlede om, og så grinede de og svarede: Det kan ikke oversættes, det er en grønlandsk ting. Og godt det samme. Men jeg glæder mig så desto mere over at selvsamme Niviaq og Sørine generøst har udgivet deres debutbøger på både grønlandsk og dansk, og således i dén grad – og ufattelig kærkomment – inviterer hele Norden ind i de grønlandske unges hverdag. Niviaq Korneliussens Homo Sapienne (2014) og Sørine Stenholdts Zombieland (2015) tager modigt livtag med emner, der er alt andet end nemme: homoseksualitet (som virker mere tabuiseret på Grønland end andre steder i Norden), grønlandsk identitet, alkohol, vold og korruption. Og de gør det fra deres eget ståsted, fra det perspektiv som er deres, hvilket er en af de gaver litteraturen kan give os.

Og der er mere, hvor det kommer fra. Læs mere om forfatterne og anden ny grønlandsk litteratur her og her om Jessie Kleemann og andre interessante grønlandske kunstnere



Elisabeth Friis

Docent i litteraturvidenskab, Lunds Universitet. Arbejder med forskningsprojektet: Multilingual strategies in Contemporary Nordic Literature.



Foto: Milik Publishing

Orden i Norden / Sanat Pohjolassa


Hur förstår vi varandra?

När jag läser tidningar, ofta på nätet dessa dagar, är det slående hur ord och halva meningar plockas ur sina sammanhang för att tjäna som opinionsbildning. Och hur snabbt vi som läsare och lyssnare blivit nöjda med slagord och halva sanningar.

Berättandekulturer där den som yttrar och den som tar emot faktiskt befinner sig i samma rum och kan fråga, svara och kommunicera med varandra har blivit alltmer nischbetonade. Samtidigt har mångspråkighet blivit en vardagsrealitet i Finland och i Norden.

När det gäller att förstå varandra är orden bara en del av berättandet – kroppsspråk, röstmelodi, pauser och tempo – allt detta är också en vital del av samtalet (hela 90 procent av förståelsen kommer från det non-verbala uttrycket, har jag läst på Facebook…).

Berättande i samma rum är med andra ord bättre på någonting som det skrivna ordet är sämre på, nämligen att skapa förståelse också där det gemensamma språket är på olika nivåer, från nybörjarspråk till modersmål, och där berättandet också kan vara på olika nivåer, från konst till försiktigt letande efter ord. Den gode berättaren, och den gode lyssnaren, är inte nödvändigtvis alls den som kan det gemensamma språket bäst.

På Nordisk kulturkontakt kallar vi vår satsning på berättande och ord under våren för ”Orden i Norden”. Vi hoppas och tror att berättarstunder skall bidra till förståelse, men också ge en möjlighet för berättaren att sätta ord på sin egen historia. Tanken är att lyfta fram hur spännande och berikande olika kulturers berättande kan vara. Vi berättar samiska, romska, ja även nonsens-sagor på Nordisk kulturkontakt under våren.  13 maj vill vi också lyfta fram berättande på de fem mest talade språken i Finland näst efter finska och svenska. Då berättar vi på ryska, estniska, arabiska, somaliska och engelska.

Är det vår uppgift som nordisk kulturinstitution?

Ja, det tycker vi. Nordiskt ministerråd har i sin nya handlingsplan sagt att Norden skall vara världens mest integrerade region. Om vi vill följa det slagordet är samtal och utrymme för alla invånare, nya och gamla, en nordisk angelägenhet.

Därför är vi också riktigt glada för att delta i flerspråkighetsmånaden Multilingual Month, som i år firas för första gången gemensamt i Norden och som har firats i Finland sedan 2015 under namnet Satakielikuukausi.

Hedvig Westerlund-Kapnas
Nordisk kulturkontakt

Miten hyvin ymmärrämme toisiamme?

Kun nykyisin luen lehtiä ja internet-uutisia, hämmästyn usein sitä, miten sanoja ja puolikkaita lauseita poimitaan asiayhteyksistään erilaisten mielipiteiden tueksi. Olen myös hämmästynyt siitä, miten lyhyessä ajassa me lukijat ja kuulijat olemme ryhtyneet tyytymään iskulauseisiin ja puolitotuuksiin.

Suullisen kerronnan kulttuureille on tyypillistä kertojan ja kuulijan samassa tilassa oleminen, kysymysten esittäminen ja niihin vastaaminen kasvokkain sekä ylipäätään suora viestintä toisen kanssa. Nämä kulttuurit ovat käyneet yhä harvinaisemmiksi. Samaan aikaan monikielisyydestä on tullut arkitodellisuutta sekä Suomessa että Pohjolassa.

Kun tavoite on toisen ymmärtäminen, sanat ovat vain osa kertomusta. Kehonkieli, äänenpainot, tauot ja rytmi ovat myös tärkeä osa keskustelua (olen itse lukenut Facebookista, että jopa 90 prosenttia ymmärryksestä on sanattoman viestinnän aikaansaamaa).

Suullinen kerronta on toisin sanoen kirjoitettua sanaa tehokkaampi viestinviejä silloin, kun yhteinen kieli on eritasoista, tai silloin, kun itse kerronta on eritasoista, todellista sanataidetta tai vain varovaista sanojen etsintää. Hyvä tarinankertoja ja hyvä kuuntelija eivät välttämättä ole samoja kuin ne, jotka osaavat yhteistä kieltä parhaiten.

Olemme Pohjoismaisessa kulttuuripisteessä antaneet tämän kevään sana- ja tarinankerrontapanostuksellemme nimeksi ”Sanat Pohjolassa”. Toivomme ja uskomme, että tarinahetket voivat, paitsi edesauttaa ymmärrystä, myös tarjota kertojalle mahdollisuuden keksiä sanat omalle tarinalleen. Ajatus on nostaa esiin sitä, miten jännittävää ja rikastuttavaa erilaisten kulttuurien tarinankerronta voi olla. Kevään aikana kerromme tarinoista saameksi, romaniksi ja jopa ”hölynpölyksi”. Lauantaina 13. toukokuuta tuomme esiin tarinankerrontaa Suomen viidellä puhutuimmalla kielellä suomen ja ruotsin jälkeen. Silloin kerromme tarinoita venäjäksi, viroksi, arabiaksi, somaliksi ja englanniksi.

Onko tämä tehtävämme pohjoismaisena kulttuuri-instituutiona?

Mielestämme kyllä. Pohjoismaiden ministerineuvosto toteaa uudessa käsikirjassaan, että Pohjolasta on tuleva maailman integroitunein alue. Jos tavoitteemme on seurata tätä ohjetta, silloin kaikkien Pohjolan asukkaiden, niin uusien kuin vanhojen, on saatava tilaa omalle ilmaisulleen ja päästävä mukaan keskusteluun.

Olemme tästäkin syystä iloisia saadessamme osallistua monikielisyyskuukauteen Multilingual Monthiin, Suomessa vuodesta 2015 alkaen Satakielikuukautena vietettyyn kuukauteen, joka leviää tänä vuonna ensimmäistä kertaa koko Pohjolaan.

Hedvig Westerlund-Kapnas
Vanhempi asiantuntija
Nordisk kulturkontakt / Pohjoismainen kulttuuripiste

Foto/Kuva: Mikaela Wickström

Centre for Literature in Uppsala is a diverse multilingual writing platform

I want to remind the reader of two people in exile in 1930s and 1940s in Sweden. The first one is Kurt Tucholsky – who committed suicide as an outcome of serious depression when he was waiting for a decision from the Swedish migration authority. The other one is Bertolt Brecht who was in exile in Stockholm for one year in 1941. After occupation of Denmark and Norway by the Nazi force, he had to leave for Helsinki and then to USA. Both were from Germany and were very talented writers.

Now let me focus on my ICORN-residency in Uppsala 2009–2011. During my residency years I co-operated with Studiefrämjandet (an NGO for the promotion of culture and informal learning) and together we introduced writing workshops that involved published and unpublished writers, literary festivals, the presentation of short plays, poetry on bus and publishing anthologies. In addition to these collective efforts, I took part in literary, cultural and public debate in newspapers, radio and at universities. Thus we achieved a ‘win win’ situation revitalizing Uppsala’s literary scene through ICORN residency system. There is no short cut to being a writer and to doing something good for the community. I approached people very humbly. Sometimes I did not even get any response to my e-mails. I did not take them personally. First I am a human being, then a writer or a guest writer. If this becomes one’s way of thinking, then it is possible to achieve something collective.

The educational association, Studiefrämjandet summarized my activities for a project called Literature Centre in Uppsala City and Country. This model is now a permanent part of Studiefrämjandet in Uppsala and it has been followed in other parts of Sweden notably as well as other foreign cities for instance Oslo, Belgrade and Dhaka.

The concept Litteraturcentrum Uppsala was a result of my literary activities together with Studiefrämjandet during my writer in residency 2009–2011 and from the beginning a cooperation between Studiefrämjandet, the region and municipality of Uppsala, the libraries, Swedish PEN, Swedish Writers’ Union, Swedish Academy, Swedish Arts Council, the civil society and literary enthusiasts.

Four people on stage reading manuscripts
Litteraturcentrum created new short plays for Teater Blanca, Uppsala.

Litteraturcentrum Uppsala  is building networks and bridges between actors for the purpose of supporting local readership and the regional literary scene. The centre is based in Uppsala, and are a part of the culture plan of 2013–14 and 2015–2017 of the Uppsala region.

We are interested of both the artistic and social effects of literature. We work locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and have established productive partnerships with several organizations. Our centre is now a platform for both professional and amateur writers in diverse mother languages. It is a meeting point for native, foreign, immigrant and exiled writers. We publish more than a hundred writers a year in our literary anthology from our creative writing workshops every year. We host more than a hundred literary events a year.

Our centre in Uppsala together with Litteraturcentrum in Tranås, Litteratur resurscentrum in Norbotten and similar project in Jämtland-Harjedalen is now Sweden’s international literary checkpoint when we have growing network and exchange with different continents. All are welcome on board of reading and writing in diverse languages in defense of free word and free thought.

Anisur Rahman


Anisur Rahman is Uppsala’s guest writer 2009–2011 in the ICORN system and currently project leader for Litteraturcentrum Uppsala, Studiefräjandet Uppsalaregion,

Anna Enemark: Norden er så rig på sprog

Summary in English:
Nordic Region is so rich in languages

The Nordic Council of Ministers has a vision of strengthening the understanding of Scandinavian languages to create contact, sense of community and mobility between people in the Nordic countries. More than 200 languages are nevertheless spoken in the Nordic countries, and many people are bilingual or multilingual. The Nordic cooperation on languages must reflect this issue: Language and literature have always been a unifying force in the field of culture, and the growing multilingualism in the Nordic countries offers possibilities as well as opportunities.

In Nordic Language Coordination, we operate on the mandate of Nordic Council of Ministers, and in September we are planning a Nordic Language Festival to celebrate the diversity of languages in the Nordic region, as well as the uniqueness of being able to understand the language spoken in our neighboring countries – which is a fact for approximately 25 million people across the Nordic countries. Join the festival!  

Norden er så rig på sprog

’Flerproglighedsmåned’ er ikke et ord, der umiddelbart findes på dansk. Men meningen er klar: En hel måned med fokus på sproglig mangfoldighed. Kultur for alla sætter nemlig i år gang i Multilingual Month, som opfordrer alle organisationer i Norden til at fejre den sproglige mangfoldighed fra den 21. februar til den 21. mars.

Jeg er leder i Nordisk Sprogkoordination, og vi tager handsken op og arrangerer en Nordisk Sprogfest: I 4 dage går vi på opdagelse i, hvordan sproget spiller ind på vores relationer til hinanden i Norden og skaber både fællesskaber og fordomme, inkluderer og ekskluderer, ligestiller og skævvrider – kort sagt, hvordan vi aktivt kan bruge sproget som værktøj til at skabe fællesskab og identitet.

Sprogfesten løber først af stablen 18.-21. september, men vi er allerede nu godt i gang med forberedelserne: I samarbejde med Kultur for alla planlægger vi blandt andet et seminar om minoritets- og indvandrerlitteratur i Norden: Hvilke mulighed har forfattere for at arbejde på deres eget sprog, når det ikke er et nordisk ét af slagsen? Hvordan ser det ud med læserens ret til at læse tekster på sit eget sprog? Og er det holdbart, at Nordisk Råds litteraturpris udelukkende beskæftiger sig med tekster skrevet på nordiske sprog?

I forlængelse af seminaret er der smagsprøver på flersproglig litteraturoplæsning: Det litterære felt i Norden bliver mere og mere mangfoldigt, og mange af Nordens forfattere skriver på andre sprog end de nordiske. På Sprogfesten skal vi derfor høre oplæsning fra værker på originalsproget, mens teksten samtidig oversættes på storskærm.

Jeg glæder mig rigtigt meget til festen, fordi den giver os mulighed for at fejre et nordisk sprogsamarbejde, som er relevant for alle i Norden. Vi skal styrke og udbygge det sproglige fællesskab, der ligger i, at 25 millioner mennesker i Norden i princippet kan kommunikere med hinanden ved hjælp af dansk, norsk og svensk. Det er en ret unik situation, som giver os rige muligheder for at arbejde og studere i de øvrige nordiske lande, og for at dele kulturoplevelser, der styrker vores følelse af nordisk samhørighed. En samhørighed, der vel at mærke ikke kun er forbeholdt de, der har et nordisk sprog som modersmål. Vi taler mere end 200 forskellige sprog i Norden, og antallet af sprog stiger fortsat, ligesom mange nordboere er flersprogede.

Sprogsamarbejdet på tværs af de nordiske landegrænser skal også reflektere denne mangfoldighed. Sprog og litteratur har altid været en stærk samlende kraft i kulturelle fællesskaber, og den voksende sproglige mangfoldighed i Norden giver os udfordringer såvel som de mange muligheder, vi fejrer til september. Det bliver en god Sprogfest, og du er inviteret med!

Læs mere om Sprogfesten på


anna-002Om Anna Enemark

Leder af Nordisk Sprogkoordination

’Sproget er det hus, vi alle bor i’ sagde filmskaberen Jean Luc Goddard. Det er mit yndlingscitat, for uanset hvilket sprog, vi taler, er vi fælles om at sprog er en vigtig del af vores identitet og har en afgørende betydning for vores liv og mulighederne for at interagere med andre mennesker.

Om Nordisk Sprogkoordination

I Nordisk Sprogkoordination har vi ansvaret for at understøtte Nordisk Ministerråds sprogpolitiske mål. Sprogkoordinationen finansieres af Nordisk Ministerråd, og i 2017 har Norge formandskabet. Et tilgængeligt og inkluderende kulturliv samt sprog som nøgle til nordisk samhørighed og mobilitet er blandt prioriteringer. Læs mere om det nordiske sprogsamarbejde på




Things we don’t know about our language diversity – revisiting non-dominant language writers’ possibilities in the Nordic Countries

Last year Culture for All Service published a report about the position of non-dominant language writers in the Nordic organizations that support literature. The question was whether writers who write in other than the dominant languages of the country could apply for the state grants for writers, for translation support and for the membership in the writers’ unions. Some details have changed since then and others keep changing. With Nordic collaboration, the grade of inclusion can be raised by sharing the multilingual practices and expertise. A lot of basic knowledge about our language diversity is still lacking.


We do not know enough about our non-dominant languages

The term used in the report, ‘non-dominant languages’, includes both the officially recognized, traditional minority languages and the languages that have arrived more recently with the immigration.

Some of the traditional minority languages are included in the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages and have a certain grade of protection, at least officially. The practical situation of these languages varies a lot from one country to another [1] and even between minority languages in the same country [2]. The situation of the immigrant languages is even more ambivalent. In most Nordic Countries, no statistics are available regarding the mother language of the inhabitants [3]. This increases the invisibility and the lack of power of the immigrant languages. In this case, Finland is an exception, probably due to the long history of national bilingualism which has caused political interest in language-related information about the population [4].

Though bilingualism in Finnish and Swedish has been successful in Finland, the supporting practices for other minority languages are more visible in the Sweden’s art support system. A wider look at the cultural support shows that the tasks of art administration are also different in each country. The operations that in some cases are in Sweden in the hands of the art and culture administration, in Finland are or have been taken care of by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Thus, the results can be misleading if one looks only one sector of the cultural field. A positive encounter in the Ministry of Education and Culture showed that the work for Roma language has taken great steps forward, including bilingual publications of children’s literature in Finnish and Roma language [5], even though from the art administration’s side Roma language literature continues being practically invisible. 

What can we learn from our Nordic neighbours?

A comparison in a Nordic context was useful for many reasons. Each country had their areas that offered possibilities of learning from others. Doing the report required repeated contacts with representatives of the organizations, and they contributed generously to the work. This, and the seminar Literature without Borders organized in Helsinki on March 18th 2016, promoted information sharing on language practices also directly between the organizations. A surprising observation was that in each of the three areas in focus (state grants, translation support and memberships in the writers’ unions), a different Nordic country was most in need of more inclusive practices.

In several cases the information received from the staff and from the website of the organization was contradictory. This caused important updates in the public communication of the organization, and in some cases, even changes of the rules themselves as the representatives of the organizations became aware of exclusive practices.

Both power and expertise are needed for a change

In many cases, exclusive language practices are not easy to change. The terms of use of the public funds are often partly defined by the government, not by the organizations themselves. In case of the writers’ unions, the private funding can create other problems. An example are the writers’ unions in Finland. Finland is the only Nordic country where the writers’ unions limit the membership based on the original writing language of the literary works. There is a separate union for the Finnish language writers and Finland Swedish writers. Neither of the two accepts writers that write in other languages.  The Finnish Writers’ Union has stated that a great part of their applicable funds come from testament donations that have been defined with a specific language criteria and these wills are impossible to change. The director of the union sees that if non-Finnish language writers were able to join, this would create inequality inside the organization.[6] Now the inequality remains between the ones who can be included and the ones who are completely outside. But what happens when the world changes? If a criterion defined a hundred years ago is not fair in today’s society, what comes first: the last will of the past donator or the actual need for equal opportunities?

If and when the moment of change in the writers’ unions arrives also in Finland, the neighbouring countries have solutions to offer again. The Norwegian Authors’ Union has clearly defined their entrance practices in the cases of non-dominant language writers and generously shared this information [7]. The Swedish, Danish and Icelandic writers’ unions have opened their doors for other language writers and even started interesting interlingual collaborations that have benefited also the national language writers.

The experience of the organizations that have opened their doors to new languages demonstrates that the change towards inclusion is not only a question of power but also a question of expertise. When these two are present and combined with the ideal of equal opportunities, new possibilities appear.

Is there a transit gate for Sámi literature?

The question of how to deal with the unknown is relevant to all expert organizations. One example is from Norway. When comparing the situation of the export organizations, it appeared that NORLA, the export organization of Norwegian literature, does not include the literature written in Sámi in its regular support forms even though Norway is the country were clearly most of the Sámi literature is published. NORLA has shown willingness to change this policy in a meeting where we discussed the importance of this rule [8]. But how can an organization whose expertise is specifically in literature and language, work with a language that the experts do not understand? Could the neighbouring countries offer solutions? The literature export organizations in both Finland and Sweden include Sámi language literature in their work. Still, as the lit-export organizations support the literature published in the specific country, especially in case of Finland this inclusion remains an (officially) unreachable possibility as there are no more publishing houses that publish in Sámi in Finland. Even in the case of Sweden, many of the Sámi writers publish in Norway. Awareness of the co-effects of the different organizations is not easy to reach nor resolve inside one organization.

Rationally and ethically based exceptions of the rules are one way to make space for inclusion when these kinds of dead ends appear. A better way for all the parties involved is to change the rules, or at least the way of communication, so that all the possible applicants know that there is margin for the exceptions. In the ideal situation, a decision-maker should also be able to give feedback for the organization’s governing body or, if necessary, the monitoring organization, if individual cases show problems that cause unequal treatment of the applicants.  The changes of exclusive rules should be done and approved in all the necessary levels.

Languages, state grants and compensation for public lending

What comes to state funds, most Nordic Countries offer state funds that are applicable for non-dominant language users as well. Here, the exception to the rule is Denmark, where Danish language is a necessary criterion to receive the state grants for literature, excluding a small fund for migrant writers. Contrary to common international practice, the limitation concerns even the Public Lending Remunerations, funds that are paid for writers for the use of their works in the public libraries as a compensation of the respective loss of income from the book market. In a report from 2002, European commission mentions Denmark and other Nordic Countries in their PLR report: “In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, there are concerns that the PLR may be applied in a discriminatory way, granted only for national or resident authors (Sweden) or for items published in the national language (Denmark, Finland)” [9]. Since then the PLR rules in Finland and Sweden have been changed, but Denmark still maintains the national language rule [10].

These examples show that the situation varies across countries and organizations. In most of the cases the borders that exclude language diversity are not caused by ideologies  or intentional action, but by co-effects between different organizations or sectors, or lack of multilingual expertise and practice. We can learn a lot from our neighbouring countries by sharing the successful solutions of structural inclusion of language diversity. We should also work harder to find the expertise that lies in the different language speakers among us, but still too often outside the decision-making organizations.  

outi_korhonen_verkkoonOuti Korhonen is the coordinator of the project Multilingualism and diversity as a resource in the cultural field – employment and integration through literature in the Nordic Countries. The project supports the inclusion of non-dominant language literature in the Nordic literary field from the point of view of both authors and readers. The project is run by Culture for All Service.



[1] Sweden is the only Nordic Country that has included a language-specific support for literature written in all the official minority languages both for state funds and for books. The support system has got good results; see e.g. Maria Ågren, Kulturrådet, 2015.

[2] Differences between languages; see e.g. European Council’s report on the application of the  EUROPEAN CHARTER FOR REGIONAL OR MINORITY LANGUAGES in Finland (pdf), available on Finnish Foreign Ministry’s website.

[3] Statistics Norway: no statistics on the amounts of language speakers. Lack of statistics confirmed by Elsa Granvoll, Statistics Norway’s Information Centre (e-mail January 18th 2017).
Statistics Denmark: no statistics on the amounts of language speakers. Lack of statistics confirmed by Dorthe Larsen, Senior Head Clerk, Population and Education (e-mail January 19th 2017).
Sweden, see e.g. Mikael Parkvall 2016: Sveriges språk i siffror: vilka språk talas och av hur många?

[4] Statistics Finland 2013: Population with foreign background 2013, p. 19

[5] Newly published collection of three children’s books in one edition: and newly published children’s poems:

[6] Jyrki Vainonen, director of Finnish Writer’s Union, YLE Radio interview with Jani Tanskanen June 20th  2016.

[7] Thanks to Kerstin Bennett’s help, see Outi Korhonen and Rita Paqvalén 2016: Wandering Words – Comparisons of the Position of Non-dominant Language Writers in Nordic Organizations,  p. 14-17

[8] Meeting in Oslo in January 11th 2017, Director Margit Walsø and Senior Adviser Oliver Møystad from NORLA and Rita Paqvalén and Outi Korhonen from the project Multilingualism and Diversity as a Resource in the Cultural Field.

[9] European Commission’s Press Release. Brussels, September 16th 2002: Public lending right applied inconsistently across the EU, says Commission report.

[10] PLR International 2012: PLR in Denmark.


Photo: Sarah Scicluna (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Reflections on multilingualism in society

Regardless of the causes for the movement of people from one country to another during the past few decades, there have been hundreds of thousands of foreigners residing in every European country.  As a result, every European or Nordic country has become a multilingual society with increasing demand for access to books in foreign languages. The multilingual aspect of European societies encourages native Europeans as well as their new countrymen to learn new languages in order to see the world from another perspective and get to know others cultures and literature.

As an individual and a librarian in Norway, I would like to share my experiences of multilingualism. As an individual, I am originally from the Khuzestan province in southwest Iran in a neighborhood that people spoke mostly Persian and Arabic, but also Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian.  At my primary school, I became familiar with the difficulty the schoolchildren with other mother tongue than Persian had with learning Persian, which is the official educational language in Iran. However, my interaction with the schoolchildren with other mother tongues than Persian gave me the opportunity to get to know other languages than Persian.

As a librarian for multilingual collection, I have noticed the need of library users for reading materials and their enthusiasm toward books, films and music in different languages, which encouraged me to serve them earnestly and follow their intellectual needs.

I would like to mention that Oslo Public Library played a significant role in the integration of immigrants to Norway since the late 1960s. The first immigrants to Norway who came from Pakistan could use the Urdu book collection provided by Oslo Public Library in the early 1970s. Ever since, the book, film and music collections of Oslo Public Library expanded in accordance with the increase of the immigrants residing in Norway.

In 1983, Oslo Public Library (Deichmanske bibliotek) established a section for literature for immigrants. Later in 1996, the section’s name was changed to The Multilingual Library.

Every language is the source of stories, knowledge and insight. The consequence of the loss of every language is poverty in human culture and civilization and our digital world lead the young people to forget this obvious fact. To remind young people of the value of preserving different languages as various sources of knowledge is not an easy task. Libraries with multilingual collections are the most relevant places in which people from different cultures and language get to know their cultural heritages and transmit them to the next generation. Libraries are the main places, which distribute equally knowledge between people from different classes, cultures and backgrounds, thus alpha and omega of every democracy.

In addition to being a place for lending books, libraries are good meeting places for people with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Our recently transferred book and film collection to National Library of Norway includes 69 foreign languages. 

For more information, see:



Giti Nassouri is a librarian at the National Library of Norway. For many years, she has worked at the section for multilingual library at Oslo public library (Deichmanske Bibliotek). There she was in charge of Bengali, Hindi, Panjabi, Dutch, Greek, Dari, Pashto, Persian and Urdu book collections, which has been transferred to the National Library of Norway.


Photo: Stewart Butterfield (CC BY 2.0).


Call to action: Multilingual Month invites to celebrate the diversity of languages in the Nordic countries

Multilingual Month, a month celebrating multilingualism and language diversity, will take place between February 21st, the International Mother Language Day, and March 21st, the World Poetry Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The first Multilingual Month gathers organizations, people and events all over the Nordic countries. We warmly welcome all organizations to join us and celebrate language diversity!

Why Multilingual Month?

Language is a powerful tool for creating a sense of security and belonging. It is a part of our identity and the precondition for all communication. How do languages sound, feel and taste like? How do they affect our identities and the way we see the world around us?

The history of the Nordic countries is multilingual and the multilingualism of the Nordic countries include both national and traditional minority languages, and languages, that the more recent immigration has introduced. Multilingual Month brings forward this diversity and encourages everyone to make everyday life even more multilingual.

How to contribute

Culture for All Service invites educational institutions, libraries, NGOs and all other organizations across Nordic countries to join the first Multilingual Month by the following ways:
  • Organize a poetry reading, meeting with writer, workshop, lecture or discussion or any other multilingual event between February 21st and March 21st. If you are hosting an event related to multilingualism, please tell us about it through the link below or in social media using hashtag #multilingualmonth.
  • Contribute to challenges that will be published twice a week on our Facebook page and Twitter account during the Multilingual Month. Learning languages is all about small acts and having fun!
  • Share a best practice, tell a personal story related to languages in your life or start a discussion with hashtag #multilingualmonth.
Multilingualism and language diversity are central in the work of many organizations and projects through the whole year. You can also tell us about these continuous activities as one of the goals of Multilingual Month is to promote cooperation between actors in Nordic countries. We will list participants and other Nordic organizations working with language diversity in the Links section.

If you organize your own event during the Multilingual Month, we encourage you to use the logos provided on our website.

About us

Multilingual Month has been celebrated in Finland as Satakielikuukausi (Month of a Hundred Languages Festival) since 2015. This year the Finnish National Agency for Education invites Finnish schools to organize their own events.

Multilingual Month is coordinated by Culture for All Service as part of the project Multilingualism and Diversity as a Resource in the Cultural Field. The service offers information and support in questions related to diversity and accessibility and is located in Helsinki, Finland. In Finland Multilingual Month is celebrated as Satakielikuukausi and it is coordinated by Cultural Centre Caisa.

Feel free to spread the word!


Oona Simolin
Culture for All Service
Pictures: Anton Vakulenko (CC BY-SA 2.0) | Anthony Jackson (CC BY-SA 4.0) | Quinn Dombrowski (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Non-dominant language literatures and equal opportunities; writers’ or readers’ needs?

Katarina Taikon (1932-1995) wrote books in Swedish for both adults and children and defended the rights of Romani community.
After her times, language-specific support has contributed to the development of literature written in Romani language in Sweden.
The state support structures of the Nordic Countries for literature written in minority languages vary considerably. How should the concept of equal opportunities be understood in this case?
Photo: Björn Langhammer, press material from

Equal opportunities for writers

One way of understanding equal opportunities in case of state grants and subsidies for literature is that each writer should be evaluated with the same criteria. If a writer’s writing language is not understood by the evaluators, a fair evaluation requires exterior experts that have the sufficient language skills.

Most of the Nordic public funding bodies accept the idea of opening their support forms also to literature written in other than the dominant languages. The Arts Councils have adjusted their application criteria to welcome language diversity at least theoretically or partially. Still, there are many questions to be resolved in the multilingual practices.

If there are no applicants who write in other than the dominant languages, the question of non-dominant languages may seem to be irrelevant. But what happens if we think of the readers and language communities?

Equal opportunities for language communities and readers

Books in Sami at Turku Book Fair
Books in Northern Sámi at Turku book fair 2015. Photo: Outi Salonlahti

Arts Council Sweden offers specific support forms for the literatures written in regional or minority languages. These languages are only part of the non-dominant languages, being languages that have a historical presence in the country. Their position is defined in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and they are different in each Nordic country. Recently arrived immigrant populations’ languages are not included in this charter, so many of the biggest language populations remain outside this special protection. This is the case of Arabic, Somali, Kurdish and Estonian, among hundreds of other languages all over the Nordic Region.

The idea of language-specific support focuses more on the language communities than individual writers. Literature is then recognized as a necessary tool in the maintenance and development of a language. Language-specific support makes sure that these literatures – and languages in their maximum richness of expression – can exist. Here, the way of understanding ‘equal opportunities’ emphasizes the point of view of the readers. Each child, independently of the language, should have a possibility to read and listen to literature in their mother language and thus develop a rich language. Taking it further, the same applies to adults. Considering the real language diversity in the Nordic Countries today, this objective is hard to reach but worth pursuing.

Literature uses language, a collective creation of expression, as its material. At the same time, literature recreates the language, renews its toolkit of expressions and develops its richness.

Intrinsic or instrumental values?

But if literature is considered a tool for developing languages and maintaining language communities, is its evaluation then based on instrumental criteria instead of understanding literature as an art form with an intrinsic value?

In Sweden’s case it seems that the solution to this question has been to accept different parallel logics that respond to different needs

The state grants for individual writers are administrated by another organization, Swedish Authors’ Fund (Författarfond) that receives its funds from Swedish Arts Council. In its work the emphasis is on individual writers and their work’s artistic quality. Also the languages in which the organization informs about their support forms reflect more the sizes of the language populations than the historical presence of the languages in the country. Information is offered in Swedish, English, Spanish, Persian and Arabic.

A successful example of language-specific support: the case of Romani language in Sweden

Covers of Books in Romani language available in Sweden

Seeing the situation from outside, it seems that the results of the Swedish policy have been successful. For example, in case of Romani language, a great amount of books has been published thanks to the language-specific state support. These books are also used in the mother language classes for Romani speaking children.

A growing literary tradition creates possibilities for individual artists to raise from this language community. The literary pioneers in Romani language may as well be translators who work to widen the expressions of the written forms of a language that has mostly been used orally.

Part of the essence of literature is always its collective nature. Even in case of writers who more or less fit into the old times’ stereotype of an individual artist immersed in their own creation, the writer always works with language which is a collective, permanently changing, both historical and contemporary creation formed by the past and actual language communities.

The parallel logics that support both the language communities and individual writers, can work for the benefits of both readers and writers, crossing from one side to another. There is no literature without a rich written language. There is no rich written language without literature.



Text: Outi Korhonen 14.7.2016

Blog post in Finnish at Culture for All Service: Vähemmistökieliset kirjallisuudet – eroavatko kirjailijoiden ja lukijoiden oikeudet?


The presentations of the seminar Literature without borders 18.3.2016

The seminar Literature without borders – Kirjallisuus ilman rajojaLitteratur utan gränser –  took place on March 18th 2016 at Nordic Culture Point, with full audience consisting of writers and specialists of literature from different Nordic countries. The speakers and audience discussed topics like the position of non-dominant language authors in the Nordic Countries, safe havens and other initiatives to promote freedom of expression; the position of Sámi literature, diasporic literatures, and questions of evaluation in the language wise diverse literature field.

The seminar was organised by Culture for All Service, The Finnish Critics’ Association, The Finnish Reading Centre, Finnish PEN, The International Cultural Centre Caisa, The Nordic Culture Point and Sivuvalo Project in the premises of Nordic Culture Point Helsinki.

The seminar presentations are online, link to the full programme below:



Annika Nummelin & Mikael Höysti
Rita Paqvalén, Culture for All Service:

Non-dominant language writers in Nordic literary institutions 

Outi Korhonen, Culture for All Service:
seminar presentation:
link to the report: Outi Korhonen & Rita Paqvalén: Wandering Words. Comparisons of the Position of Non-dominant Language Writers in Nordic Organizations 

National and language borders in Nordic literature from a historic perspective

Heidi Grönstrand, The project Multilingualism in contemporary literature in Finland:

Panel I: Evaluation and multilingualism

Panel participants: Maili Öst (SARV, The Finnish Critics’ Association), Malin Kivelä (Society of Swedish Authors in Finland), Jesper Söderström (Sveriges författarfond), Kerstin Bennett (Norwegian Authors´ Union) & Niels Ivar Larsen (journalist, Dagbladet Information). Moderator: Elisabeth Nordgren (SARV, The Finnish Critics’ Association):

The Sámi literature as an example of transnational literature

Vuokko Hirvonen, Sámi University:

Statements by the writers

Polina Kopylova

Manal Al Sheikh

Inger-Mari Aikio

Panel II: How to live and work in exile, often still under threat

Panel participants: Thomas Wallgren (Helsinki City Council), Anisur Rahman (ICORN/ Uppsala), Manal Al Sheikh (ICORN/ Stavanger) & Mazen Maarouf (ICORN/ Reykjavík). Moderator: Iida Simes (Finnish PEN)