When a Finnish speaker hears Estonian, or a Swedish speaker hears Danish, the difference between the languages may seem somewhat similar to that between Finnish and Finland-Swedish sign languages. Unlike spoken Finnish and Swedish, our domestic sign languages are related. Swedish sign language also belongs to the same language family.
There are two sign languages in Finland, of which the Finland-Swedish Sign Language in particular is endangered. In honor of the National Day of Sign Languages, the Finnish Association of the Deaf (Kuurojen Liitto) organized a webinar on 11.2. discussing the revitalization of Finland-Swedish Sign Language and related research.
Take a moment from your day to get to know the Finland-Swedish Sign Language – the language community truly deserves your attention. What is the difference between Finnish and Finland-Swedish sign languages? Why are there two languages?
There is a 11-minute video series on the Sign Language eLibrary that gives an overview of the Finland-Swedish Sign Language. The videos are produced in Finnish Sign Language as well as subtitled and spoken in Finnish. Click here to watch the same videos in Finland-Swedish Sign Language, subtited and spoken in Swedish.
If interested, try to challenge a young family member to play a memory game with Finland-Swedish signs.
In 2015, Finland-Swedish Sign Language was recognized as its own language in the Sign Language Act. In the same year, the Lev i vårt språk -project – the first state-funded project to revitalize the language – began. The same project continued last week as well, as more than 30 people started studying Finland-Swedish Sign Language. You can find out more about the project on livs.humak.fi.
The school for the deaf in Porvoo was closed in 1993, which meant the loss of the natural home and one significant language environment of Finland-Swedish Sign Language. Today, the language can be seen, for example, in the Sign Wiki dictionary, which, in addition to the vocabulary, has collected the use of the language in authentic environments, such as Porvoo. The video Fabrik i Borgå tells the story of a soft drink factory of the 1960s:
The number of deaf people who use Finland-Swedish Sign Language was about 90 in a survey conducted a few years ago. Most of them are already in retirement age, so documenting the language must be done quickly. Instructions on documenting the language for research use can be found in this four-language guide.
The association of Finland-Swedish Sign Language speakers – Finlandssvenska Teckenspråkiga r.f. – will turn 20 this year. The association holds member meetings once a month on Saturdays. Read more about the association here.
Over the past week, you may have been able to find these wishes on social media in native sign languages:
Happy National Day of Sign Languages! Hyvää viittomakielen päivää! Trevlig teckenspråksdag!
Text: Liisa Halkosaari, Lecturer. Humak University of Applied Sciences. 10.2.2022
Translation: Mari Ervasti