Holding them at arm’s length: A critical review of Norway’s policy on Sámi language maintenance (2016)
Type of ContentJournal Article
Norway’s policy on its indigenous Sámi minority is oftentimes heralded as best practice in fostering self-determination and home language maintenance. Norway’s policy rhetoric indeed promises that all Sámi have a right to develop their home language, and that all Norwegian children will become familiar with Sámi languages and culture. However, this paper takes a more critical perspective of Norway’s policy. It argues that rhetoric has not been operationalised to benefit all Sámi nor promote Norwegian familiarity with the languages. Instead, the state appears to juggle its legislative obligations to promote the Sámi languages with an ongoing ideology in the community that the Sámi languages cannot be seen as contributing to the contemporary Norwegian nation. To make this argument, the paper firstly reviews the state’s Sámi language policy to discuss fractures between rhetoric and policy. It then reports the findings of a case study whereby public online debates over the past five years about the Sámi languages in a national context were critically analysed. The case study indeed reveals a vigorous preference to hold the Sámi languages at arm’s length, for reasons such as that the languages endanger Norwegian identity, that the Sámi do not deserve an indigenous status, that the Sámi are foreign to Norway and, conversely, that the Sámi do not fulfil their responsibilities as Norwegian citizens. The paper concludes that a potent Norwegian ideology against the Sámi languages may explain the state’s reluctance to implement its high-level policy promises.
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