Kven language

Last updated
kvääni, kainu
Native to Norway
Native speakers
2,000–8,000 (2005?) [1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by Kven language board
Language codes
ISO 639-3 fkv
Glottolog kven1236
ELP Kven Finnish
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Kven language map.png

The Kven language (kvääni or kväänin kieli; kainu or kainun kieli; [2] Finnish : kveeni or kveenin kieli; Norwegian : kvensk) is a Finnic language or a group of Finnish dialects spoken in the northernmost parts of Norway by the Kven people. For political and historical reasons, it received the status of a minority language in 2005 within the framework of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Linguistically, however, it is seen as a mutually intelligible dialect of the Finnish language, and grouped together with the Peräpohjola dialects such as Meänkieli, spoken in Torne Valley in Sweden. While it is often considered a dialect in Finland, it is officially recognized as a minority language in Norway and some Kven people consider it a separate language. [3]


There are about 1,500 to 10,000 known native speakers of this language, most of whom are over the age of 60. Middle aged speakers tend to have a passing knowledge of the language. They use it occasionally, but not frequently enough to keep it off the endangered list. People under the age of 30 are barely seen to speak or know the language. However, children in the community of Børselv can learn Kven in their primary schools. [4]


Because of fears of Finnish expansion into Norway, there were attempts of assimilating of the Kven people into Norwegian society and to make the Kvens give up the Kven language. Norway saw the Kvens as a kind of a threat to Norwegian society and the attempt to assimilate the Kvens was much stronger than with the Saami people. [5]

The Kven Assembly was formed in 2007 and plans to standardize a Kven written language. The term Kven first appeared in Ohthere's tales from the 800s, along with the terms Finn and Norwegian. The area that the Kvens lived in was called Kvenland. They originally settled in Kvenland, which also expanded into the flat areas of the Bay of Bothnia. As the Kven community continued to grow and develop a long standing culture, the Norwegian state deemed the Kvens taxpayers and the term Kven soon became an ethnic term. [6] In 1992, the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages was enacted to protect regional and minority languages. It included Kven as a minority language; it is only protected under Part II. This means that the culture and language are barely protected under this charter and with the language dying out it is important that the language be moved to Part III. [7]


The Norwegian Kven Organization was established in 1987. The organization currently[ as of? ] has about 700 members and about eight local branches. [8] The members report to the government about the history and rights of the Kven people. The members also try and highlight Kven news by advancing Kven media coverage. The organization has also been pushing the Norwegian government to establish a state secretary for Kven issues. Moving the language of Kven into kindergarten classrooms, as well as all other education levels is also a forefront issue that the organization is aiming to tackle. [8]

Official status

Since 2006, it has been possible to study the Kven culture and language at the University of Tromsø, [9] and in 2007 the Kven language board was formed at the Kven institute, a national centre for Kven language and culture in Børselv, Norway. The council developed a written standard Kven language, using Finnish orthography to maintain inter-Finnish language understanding. [10] The grammar, written in Kven, was published in 2014. [11] A Norwegian translation published in 2017 is freely available. [12]

Geographic distribution

Today, most speakers of Kven are found in two Norwegian communities, Storfjord and Porsanger. A few speakers can be found other places, such as Bugøynes, Neiden, Vestre Jakobselv, Vadsø, and Nordreisa.

In northeastern Norway, mainly around Varanger Fjord, the spoken language is quite similar to standard Finnish, whereas the Kven spoken west of Alta, due to the area's close ties to the Torne Valley area along the border between Finland and Sweden, is more closely related to the Meänkieli spoken there.

In government report from 2005, the number of people speaking Kven in Norway is estimated to be between 2,000 and 8,000, depending on the criteria used, though few young people speak it, which is a major obstacle to its survival. [1]


The phonology of Kven is similar to that of Finnish. However, Kven and Finnish diverge in the phonemic realization of some words. While Standard Finnish has been replacing /ð/ with /d/, it is retained in Kven. For instance, the word syöđä ('to eat') in Kven is syödä in Finnish. In addition, due to loanwords, the sound /ʃ/ is much more common in Kven than in Finnish: for example, Kven prošekti ('project'), compared to Finnish projekti. [13]


Kven has 16 vowels, if one includes vowel length:

Front Back
Close i iːy yːu uː
Mid e eːø øːo oː
Open æ æːɑ ɑː

In writing, the vowel length is indicated by doubling the letter; e.g., yy/yː/ and öö/øː/.

The graphemes representing /ø/, /æ/ and /ɑ/ are ö, ä and a, respectively.


Kven has 14 consonants found in native vocabulary, and 4 consonants found in loanwords:

Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced ( b )( d )( ɡ )
Fricative voiceless f s ( ʃ š) h
voiced ð đ
Trill r
Approximant ʋ v l j

/b, d, ɡ, ʃ/ are only found in loanwords.

/ŋ/ is represented in writing by n if followed by /k/, and ng if geminated; i.e., nk/ŋk/ and ng/ŋː/.

Gemination is indicated in writing by doubling the letter; e.g., mm for /mː/ and ll for /lː/.


Just like in Finnish, Kven has many noun cases. In Kven, the third person plural verb ending uses the passive form.

The word 'food' in Kven cases [14]
nom. ruokaruovat
gen. ruovanruokkiin
par. ruokkaaruokkii
ine. ruovassaruokissa
ill. ruokhaanruokhiin
ela. ruovastaruokista
ade. ruovalaruokila
abe. ruovattaruokitta
all. ruovaleruokile
abl. ruovaltaruokilta
ess. ruokanaruokina
tra. ruovaksiruokiksi
com. ruokineruokine

The letter h is also very common in Kven; there are rules on where it is used.

  1. Passives – praatathaan
  2. Illative cases – suomheen
  3. Third infinites – praatamhaan
  4. Words that end with s in possessive forms – kirvheen
  5. Words that end with e in the genitive form – satheen
  6. Plural past perfect and perfect – net oon ostanheet
  7. Third plural ending – het syöđhään [15]

Comparison to Standard Finnish

According to Katriina Pedersen, most differences with Kven and Standard Finnish are in vocabulary, for example Finnish auto 'car', in Kven is piili. [5]

Sample text


Tromssan fylkinkomuuni oon

saanu valmhiiksi mailman

ensimäisen kainun kielen ja kulttuurin plaanan.

Se oon seppä tekemhään plaanoi. Heilä oon

esimerkiksi biblioteekkiplaana,

transporttiplaana ja fyysisen aktiviteetin plaana.


Tromssan läänikunta on

saanut valmiiksi maailman ensimmäisen

kveenin kielen ja kulttuurin suunnitelman.

Se on taitava tekemään suunnitelmia. Heillä on

esimerkiksi kirjastosuunnitelma, liikennesuunnitelma

ja fyysisten aktiviteettien suunnitelma.

Tromsø's county municipality has

prepared the first Kven language and culture plan.

They are skilled at making plans. For example, they have a

library plan, transport plan and physical activity plan.

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  1. 1 2 "Kainun Institutti". Archived from the original on 2012-05-18. Retrieved 2009-12-31.
  2. Söderholm, Eira (2017). Kvensk grammatikk [A Grammar of Kven] (in Norwegian). Cappelen Damm Akademisk. ISBN   9788202569655.
  3. Söderholm, Eira. "Kainulaiset eli kväänit". Kainun Institutti – Kvensk Institutt (in Kvensk). Retrieved 2020-09-15.
  4. "Did you know Kven Finnish is severely endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-04-30.
  5. 1 2 Muilu, Hannele (2017-11-25). "Tiedätkö, mitä ovat kläppi, maapruuki ja fiskus? Suomesta Norjaan muuttaneiden kveenien kieli sinnittelee parin tuhannen puhujan voimin". Yle Uutiset (in Finnish). Retrieved 2022-02-26.
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  7. "The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is the European convention for the protection and promotion of languages used by traditional minorities". European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages . 1992. Retrieved 2017-04-30.
  8. 1 2 Pietikäinen, Sari; Huss, Leena; Laihiala-Kankainen, Sirkka; Aikio-Puoskari, Ulla; Lane, Pia (2010-06-01). "Regulating Multilingualism in the North Calotte: The Case of Kven, Meänkieli and Sámi Languages". Acta Borealia. 27 (1): 1–23. doi:10.1080/08003831.2010.486923. ISSN   0800-3831. S2CID   53645570.
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  10. Andreassen, Irene. "Et nytt skriftspråk blir til". Kainun Institutti – Kvensk Institutt (in Norwegian Bokmål). Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  11. Lane, Pia (2017). "Language Standardization as Frozen Mediated Actions: The Materiality of Language Standardization". In Lane, Pia; Costa, James; De Korne, Haley (eds.). Standardizing Minority Languages: Competing Ideologies of Authority and Authenticity in the Global Periphery. Taylor & Francis. ISBN   978-1-317-29886-1 . Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  12. Söderholm, Eira (2017) [2014]. Kvensk grammatikk (in Norwegian). Cappelen Damm Akademisk/NOASP (Nordic Open Access Scholarly Publishing). doi:10.23865/noasp.24. ISBN   9788202569655 . Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  13. "Nettidigisanat | Neahttadigisánit". Nettidigisanat. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  14. "Nettidigisanat | Neahttadigisánit". Nettidigisanat.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. "Kainun kielen grammatikki".
  16. "Kvääni näkymhään arkipäivässä". Ruijan Kaiku. 7 March 2017. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
This grammar can be found in the Kven language here.
The grammar above can be found in the Norwegian language here.