|5,000–100,000 (date missing)|
|Westrobothnian alphabet (Latin script)|
Westrobothnian (måLe or bondska) is a number of closely related non-standardized Scandinavian dialects spoken natively along the coast of the historical province of Westrobothnia in co-existence with Finnish, Sami and in recent centuries, the national standard language Swedish. Westrobothnian is the northernmost dialect group of the North Germanic languages in Sweden and borders the traditional Sami-speaking Lapland to the west and Finnish-speaking Torne Valley to the north. Like all Scandinavian, the different varieties of Westrobothnian originate in Proto-Norse and dialects of Old Norse, spoken by immigrating Germanic settlers during the Viking Age.
Westrobothnian has three grammatical genders in most dialects, two plural forms of indefinite nouns, and broad usage of definite nouns. Nouns are also inflected differently in the dative and accusative case. Some adjectives can be serially joined with nouns and some have two plural forms. A pleonastic article is always used before names when referring to someone. In the vocative, a name may instead be declined similarly to how words for near kin decline in the vocative.
A small population of Nordic tribes inhabited the area as early as the bronze age, evidence of this is supported by recent archeological findings in Backen and Jävre. While Sami cultures have been present around the inner parts of Westrobothnia for several thousand years, all forms of Westrobothnian are developments from Germanic-speaking settlers, arriving along the coast of the Scandinavian peninsula. Sami languages can be considered native to historical Sameland and Westrobothnian native to old Westrobothnia except for Torne Valley, where meänkieli Finnish traditionally has been the native tongue of the region; original Westrobothnia refers to the coastal areas of contemporary Västerbotten and Norrbotten. Westrobothnian dialects, in their different forms, have historically been the native tongues in Umeå and Skellefteå. In Kalix and Luleå, they co-existed with Kven language before gradually becoming the majority language of the region. These two cities are now part of Norrbotten county but before 1810 they belonged to Westrobothnia and therefore their dialects are included in the Westrobothnian dialect continuum. The different dialects of Westrobothnian are also present in southern and mid Lapland where it was introduced in the late 17th century as the colonization of traditional Sami lands begun. Each person was promised 15 tax-free years and other state privileges for settling what was then referred to as Lappmarkerna and many people from the coasts started moving up the river valleys to settle villages such as Arvidsjaur, Lycksele and as far north as eastern Jokkmokk municipality and thus bringing their different dialects of Westrobothnian to the previously Sami speaking region of Lapland.
Their main characteristics developed largely independently of standard Swedish for almost a millennium until 1850, when standard Swedish was introduced to all citizens through the public school system. At first they co-existed peacefully but during the 1930s the repression of genuine dialects and non North Germanic languages was at its peak and children were prohibited from using their native tongue in school and it was labelled as an ugly and inappropriate way of speaking. Standard Swedish is based on the dialects spoken in Svealand and Götaland and therefore differed considerably from the Westrobothnian tongues, even more than the differences between standard Swedish and the neighbouring languages Norwegian and Danish. The cities soon became majority Swedish speaking while the native tongues still maintained a strong stance in rural areas and minor towns for many decades to come. The native tongues were gradually weakened as an urbanization process went on and TV and radio broadcasts were exclusively in standard Swedish, making the native tongues appear backward. The misleading nickname "bondska" has played a big part in making the native tongues less attractive since it is derived from the Swedish word for peasant; it is widely used and causes a lot of misconceptions. The name was most likely not invented by the native speakers and should be considered pejorative since the word "bonde" or "bonnigt" is either used pejoratively for denoting something uncultivated or to refer to the occupation of farming. But the name was implemented and eventually turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy as the city population gradually switched to Swedish and people from the villages were highly discouraged about using their native tongues when moving to the city. The correct term in Swedish is "Västerbottniska" although it is rarely used; the notion of a Westrobothnian dialect group that includes Piteå, Luleå and Kalix dialects is unknown to most people but the pejorative name remains in use in the entire region to denote the regional dialect. During a large part of the 20th century, many citizens did not speak their native tongues in the cities because it was looked down upon but once back in their villages they switched to their native tongue.
The Vikings are known for their ships and most likely visited the Bothnian Bay thousands of years ago as some archeological findings indicate, but there is no clear evidence of Norsemen or Germanic settlement along the river valleys in the area. The first Germanic settlers were probably a combination of farmers, hunters and fishermen, arriving in southern Westrobothnia around 900 AD and northern parts around 1100 AD, in the late stages of the Viking Age. Different theories exist as of how exactly Westrobothnia came to be settled by Germanic speakers, as in e.g. Umeå, Luleå and Piteå, but they were probably using small boats to move along the coast and up along river valleys, generation after generation settling river by river. Most of the coast seems to have been uninhabited during the Viking age but some settlements of unknown origin existed during the iron age. There are no Sami loan words in the Westrobothnian coastal dialects, except for in the dialects spoken in the much later settlements in Lapland, such as Malå and Arjeplog dialects. Most likely Sami people did not have a notable presence in the coastal areas of historical Westrobothnia although they did visit the coast occasionally with their cattle, moving down the river valleys in the summer, some settlements were close to the coast such as Koler in Piteå Municipality and most likely Kåddis outside Umeå but the majority of all names of villages and lakes are of North Germanic origin. Early Westrobothnian settlements typically end with -böle or -mark and most of them are from the pre-Christian era, the villages with the ending -mark are derived from a male name; for example, Tvare for Tväråmark in Umeå municipality or Arne for Arnemark outside Piteå. The highest density of villages ending with -mark is found between Umeå and Skellefteå.
The Germanic settlers spoke a north dialectal development of proto-Norse, related to, but not equal to the Old Norse spoken by Vikings many hundred kilometers down the Scandinavian coast. Old Norse is rather well preserved in runestones and later also in a Bible translation. But few runic inscriptions have been found north of Svealand, and none at all in what is now the administrative areas Västerbotten and Norrbotten apart from the runic inscriptions found in Burträsk where minor runic inscriptions was found in the early 20th century. This suggests that the farming settlers finally reaching Westrobothnia had little contact with southern Scandinavia during the Viking age, and most probably already by then had developed different lingual features, some of which are still preserved in some Westrobothnian dialects, particularly in the dialects spoken in Skellefteå and Bureå. The citizens of the area around Umeå and Skellefteå were initially referred to as speakers of the Old Norse dialect Helsingemål during the early Viking age.
Trade and colonization
During the 14th century, the Hanseatic League started dominating trade in the Baltic sea, mostly speaking Middle Low German. Trade routes might have gone as far up north as to the Bothnian bay, and that might have influenced the languages in the region since some similarities exist between Westrobothnian and German/Dutch in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. After the Consolidation of Sweden, this uprising power started to take control of trade along the coast, and exploit what was named lappmarken (the Sami lands), by using birkarls (trade men).
Christianity also came to the relatively non-organized and free Germanic settlers, who by then might have been practicising variants of Norse mythology. A monastery was built in Bureå in the early 15th century, and with the arrival of Christianity, priests began registering all family relationships in the villages, and since this new era there is a better knowledge of the local history, also from preserved documents and maps used for taxation.
The Swedish school came to Westrobothnia in the 1850s, with the goal of teaching everyone to read, write, speak and understand standard Swedish with its grammar. This was, at first, a rather peaceful form of language education, but escalated under the early 1930s into a system where students were forbidden to speak all forms of local languages in the classrooms throughout Sweden. Similar laws existed in Scotland were speakers of Scottish Gaelic were forbidden to use their language in schools as a result of the 1872 Education Act. In Westrobothnia, parents were informed that "the Swedish standard language was the future", and that "children can only learn one language properly", and therefore local languages "will handicap them in a future society based solely on standard Swedish". These ideas have been proven well and truly wrong by later research into the field of Multilingualism, but they had a huge influence on many relatively small societies like Umeå and Skellefteå where those living in Umeå today could be accused of speaking a dialect which is far more influenced by Standard Swedish than by the far purer Skellefteå dialect, the Westrobothnian dialect spoken in Skellefteå has maintained a lot of influence of Westrobothnian language in terms of pronunciation and certain words but among the younger generation very few people know how to properly speak the Westrobothnian language or even understand it. Nowadays however people are encouraged to use Westrobothnian as much as possible, and students are encouraged to study whatever local form of Westrobothnian that is spoken in their home-town but the language still remains severely threatened of extinction.
The nickname bondska is derived from the word bonde, meaning peasant, and causes many misconceptions about the languages. The nickname might have been somewhat accurate hundreds of years ago since most people lived of agriculture at that time, but most speakers in the late 19th and early 20th century were not just peasants but ordinary working-class people, the language initially started disappearing in the cities and therefore came to be even more associated with rural areas. Many people believe that Westrobothnian is a language that uneducated peasants made up since they couldn't learn proper Swedish when it is actually the native language of the entire region and standard Swedish is in fact a language that was imposed by the school system and the authorities. State language policies caused the language to be seen as even more rural and backward, thus starting a downward spiral. The language has more speakers around and in the industrial cities of Piteå and Skellefteå, especially in the former, and a far weaker position in and around the regional capitals Umeå and Luleå. It is still being considered an incorrect dialect of Swedish by many. There are notable differences between the dialect since they have never been standardized but the lexical similarity and grammar is without a doubt far more similar than if one of them is compared to standard Swedish. A standardization of the different dialects would make it more attractive to learn and raise the awareness of them as the endangered native tongues that they indeed are. There are no official signs with Westrobothnian names; places like Umeå, Skellefteå, Piteå, Luleå and Kalix are called Uum, Skellett, Peit, Leul and Kôlis in the Westrobothnian dialects.
While Westrobothnian was made a taboo subject in many ways by the Swedish educational system, and it thus lack the historical documentation that the most northern Westrobothnian dialect, the Kalix dialect can boast with. The Kalix dialect is however a bit different from the others and mutual intelligibility with more southern dialects is not very high. A large number of modern writers, artists and musicians use different forms of Westrobothnian on a daily basis. Several prominent Swedish writers have used Westrobothnian in their novels mixing the dialects with various degrees of standard Swedish, among them Sara Lidman, Niclas Lundkvist (AKA Nikanor Teratologen) and Torgny Lindgren and a number of short stories and collections of idioms have been written.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that several different scholarly studies into different forms of Westrobothnian have been published over the years, among them a study of Norsjö Westrobothnian.
A number of dictionaries exist to aid the speakers and learners of Westrobothnian as well. A dictionary documenting the language spoken in Vännäs, a municipality in southern Westrobothnia was published in 1995 after 8 years of studies and the speakers of Skellefteå Westrobothnian have published a number of different grammars and dictionaries.
Germanic dialect continuum
Westrobothnian is part of a Germanic dialect continuum on the Scandinavian Peninsula, and more locally along the coastline of the Bothnian Bay. As such all forms of Westrobothnian are more or less related to the languages spoken in Jämtland and Ångermanland and to a smaller extent with the dialects spoken in the Swedish speaking Ostrobothnia.
Most forms of Westrobothnian have an extensive inflection, with many characteristics similar to the German language, but seeing as differences exist between different parts of Westrobothnia, it is hard to describe the Westrobothnian grammar as such. In the examples that follow, Skellefteå Westrobothnian is the dialect used.
Three grammatical genders exists and all words have an indefinite and a definite singular and plural form. The plural is formed by elongating the central vowel of a word, so that e.g. stoL/stoL (chair) becomes stooL/stooLa in the plural.
- Feminine: bjerk, bjerka, bjeerk, bjerk`ern 'birch tree'
- Masculine: dag, dagen, daga, dag`arn 'day'
- Neuter: hus, huse, huus, husa 'house'
Definite and indefinite nouns
The definite noun form is used in a broader sense than in other Scandinavian languages, widespread in all dialects spoken in northern Scandinavia, and in particular in the related Kalix language.
Dative is separated from the Accusative and Nominative case, in that it differs from the two others, which are identical. Whenever a dative is used, the dative -suffix -åm or -om is added to masculine nouns, whereas the suffix -e is added to a feminine noun.
Verbs are conjugated in singular, and the prefix o- is placed in front of a verb to create a negation. Imperative is created by the addition of a suffix to the verb, i.e. köm (to come) which becomes kömen! (come!).
Adjectives and adverbs can be joined with nouns, e.g. fleenonga – the crying children and liilpajk’n – the little boy.
The pleonastic article is widespread among languages in the area, as far north as Troms. A pleonastic article, similar to the vocative is always put before people's names, pet's names, and words like e.g. father and mother. e.g. "‘n far å a’ mor" (mum and dad). The pleonastic article differs between feminine (a’) and masculine (‘n) nouns.
Writing systems, orthography
In early scientific literature, a phonetic alphabet landsmålsalfabetet (LMA), developed by Johan August Lundell was used to write most northern dialects, while the most widely used informal form of writing is based on the Latin alphabet with a few added symbols, including the letters å, ä, ö, a capitalised L or bolded l, apostrophe for marking long or diacritic accents, etc. Since no formal standard has been developed, slight differences can be found among different writers. The lack of a standardized writing system has made the dialects drift more and more towards the standard language, and many short stories written in Westrobothnian have been influenced by standard Swedish to various degrees.
- https://web.archive.org/web/20070205173618/http://www.sofi.se/1625 (archived link, 5 February 2007)
- Dahl, Östen (2010). Grammaticalization in the North: Noun Phrase Morphosyntax in Scandinavian Vernaculars. Stockholm: Institutionen för lingvistik vid Stockholms universitet. ISBN 978-91-978304-1-6. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
- An introduction to Norwegian dialects, Olaf Husby (red), Tapir Akademic Press, Trondheim 2008
- A number of Westrobothnian songs.
- Listen to a number of Westrobothnian dialects.
- A blog written in Skellefteå Westrobothnian.
- A number of books in Westrobothnian.
- A blog written in Piteå Westrobothnian