Ålands fredsinstitut
The Åland Islands Peace Institute

Hamngatan 4
AX-22100 Mariehamn, Åland, Finland
Tel. +358 18 15570
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The Åland Peace Blog

Since the very beginning (in 1992) the Åland Islands Peace Institute has
worked with questions of security, minorities and autonomy. The purpose is
to prevent and manage conflicts, always with a gender awareness. Throughout
the years we have gathered knowledge and strengthened expertise within these
areas, and a new phase was initiated in 2007 with the development of the
Peace Institute's research and investigation capacity. The Peace Institute
arranges seminars, conferences and courses within these areas and regularly
publishes reports and books. We believe that some of the knowledge and
the insights that we acquire should be disseminated to a wider public in a
shorter and quicker form. This is why we are creating the blog. It is
knowledge-oriented and analyzes or comments briefly - but quickly -
news, events and phenomena with the purpose of providing deeper
understanding. The staff and the board of the Peace Institute will
contribute to the blog.

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark
Director of the Peace Institute, Associate Professor in International Law

Mariehamn 02.09.2011

What are the current key concerns of Nordic language policies? How is multilingualism incorporated in such policies? What methods and practical tools are there for accommodating a multilingual education? How do the autonomous regions of the north understand and implement language policy efforts? What is the role and effect of English in Nordic societies? Is there a crisis of the idea of multilingualism in the Nordic countries and autonomous regions?


Ass. prof. in International law Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark is the Director of the ÅIPI and responsible for its research activities.

The blog is written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.

These were some of the core issues addressed at a recent Conference entitled ’Four or more languages for all – Language policy challenges of the future’ which took place in Torshavn, The Faroe Islands on August 22-24, 2011. An impressive number of more than 100 scholars and practitioners joined the conference from across the Nordic region, with several representatives from the academic and educational spheres on the Faroe Islands. More than 30 presentations, from disciplines ranging from linguistics to geography, law and history were made in Danish, and in all other Scandinavian languages as well as in English.

The Conference was organized around three core themes:

-  Developments and trends in Language Legislation

-  Language policy in autonomous areas

-  Shifts in perceptions about multilingualism

The key-note speakers were Professor Anne Holmen, Copenhagen University; Professor Emeritus Robert Phillipson, Copenhagen Business School; Professor Markku Suksi, Åbo Akademi University and Dr Carol Benson, Stockholm University. Two themes were strikingly strongly represented among the vast variety of subjects addressed by the contributions made at the conference. The first one was the preoccupation with higher education from the perspective of language policies. In contrast to basic scientific understandings about the importance of pre-school and early school education for language acquisition and multilingualism, much of current research and interest in the Nordic region seems to be focusing on the use of languages in higher education. While this may be explained in many different ways, including the immediate contact of researchers with the issues in the environment where they work, or the symbolic value attached to language use in higher education and research, this trend is probably also explained by the fluctuating foci of research funders in the Nordic countries in recent years.

A second dominating theme at the conference, partly overlapping with the first one, was the dominance of English in language use in the Nordic countries and the role of other major international languages. By contrast very few of the presentations made concerned the acquisition and the conditions of multilingualism for small, regional and minority languages.

A final reflection from the conference concerns the emphasis on an understanding of a language as a coherent and constant whole which you as a speaker either master or not. The paradigm seems still to be one person, one language, in one territorial space. Such an understanding was indirectly questioned or at least made somewhat more nuanced in a few of the presentations, such as the discussion of language policies concerning Norwegian by Gunnstein Akselberg which addressed the dynamics of varieties of Norwegian, as well as by Karen Margrethe Pedersen who gave an account of regional efforts to accommodate actively a multilingual paradigm, especially in regions around Germany taking into account also local varieties of German and other local languages. The dominant understanding of an ‘all or nothing’ approach to language brings with it the risk of thinking along and endorsing ideas of ‘struggles’ or even ‘wars’   between languages, instead of working towards the use, actual and desired, of a plurality of languages at an individual as well as at a societal level.

Many of the presentations indeed underlined that in current trends in the Nordic countries, especially in Denmark, there are elements clearly indicating a backlash with regard to multilingualism, a concept more and more often replaced by the idea of the ‘parallel use of two languages’, most of the time meaning the parallel use of a dominant, national or official language and of English. 

The Conference was organized excellently by Karin Johanna Knudsen and Elisabeth Holm, at the University of the Faroe Islands. The Åland Islands Peace Institute has been one of the contributors to the preparation and implementation of the conference through its director, Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark, as member of the Academic Committee of the Conference. The full programme of the Conference is available (in Danish, Faroese and English) at: http://www.socdev.fo/pages/malpolitikk_dk.php where also the power point presentations from the conference shall be uploaded in the near future.

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark

Associate professor in international law

Director of the Åland Islands Peace Institute

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Bloggen skrivs av Fredsinstitutets nuvarande eller tidigare personal, gästforskare och styrelseledamöter eller av inbjudna gästskribenter. Åsikterna är författarens egna.

The blog pieces are written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.