Staunton, Aug. 26 – The Finnish government has boosted funding of various programs designed to promote the revival of Karelian, a language spoken by roughly eight thousand people in Finland and 11,000 in neighboring Karelia, which lies within the current borders of the Russian Federation.
Milla Tynnyrinen, the project’s coordinator at the University of Eastern Finland, says “The language has faded out because there has been very little governmental support before. For many young people now there is an element of reclaiming something, taking back something they feel they should have learned as children” (thebarentsobserver.com/en/2023/08/karelian-language-revival-project-gets-more-funding-finland-language-risk-disappearing).
One of the instructors involved in this effort, Olga Karlova, agrees. ““Young generations are waking up. They are worried as they realize something important could be gone. Now there is still an opportunity to learn the language as its speakers are still alive and they can hand over the knowledge to the next generations. We should hold on to this straw.”
“Karelian speakers were living in the most Eastern parts of Finland that had to be surrendered to the Soviet Union after WWII,” Tynnyrinen explains. “So the Karelians were evacuated to the Western and Central part of Finland, where everyone around spoke Finnish. To succeed in life you had to speak Finnish.”
Tynnyrinen adds that “although the Karelian language very much resembles the Finnish, for some local Finns back then it reminded them of the Russian language. So there was suspicion towards Karelians and Karelian language was spoken within individual households only,” thus reducing the number of people who used it in Finland even as their number declined in Karelia.
The Finnish government has forbidden the university’s employees to work with people who live inside the Russian Federation, something that is limiting but not ending the impact of what the Finns are doing with Karelian on the state of the Karelian language and the survival of the Karelian nation to the east.
Those working to promote Karelian in Finland believe they will continue to have an impact to the east just as Finnish support for the Saami language has. (For background on that and Moscow’s anger, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/05/window-on-eurasia-karelians-seek.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/05/west-using-saami-language-as-weapon.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/12/ukrainian-and-finnish-attention-to.html.)