Kven language

The Kven language (kvääni or kväänin kieli; kainu or kainun kieli[3]) is a finnic language or a Finnish dialect spoken in northern 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 somewhat mutually intelligible dialect of the Finnish language, and grouped together with the Peräpohjola dialects such as Meänkieli, spoken in Torne Valley in Sweden. It is generally considered a language in Norway and mostly considered a dialect in Finland.

kvääni, kainu
Native toNorway
Native speakers
2,000–8,000 (2005?)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byKven language board
Language codes
ISO 639-3fkv

Contrary to popular belief, the dialects spoken by the Kvens and Kainuu peoples are not closely related. The Kainuu dialect is one of the Savonian dialects that was formed from the 16th century onwards, when immigrants from Savonia started to settle in the northern wastelands.

The Kven language has come to incorporate many Norwegian loanwords, such as tyskäläinen (from the Norwegian word tysk, meaning German) instead of standard Finnish saksalainen. The Kven language also uses some old Finnish words that are no longer used in Finland.

There are about 1,500 to 10,000 known native speakers of this language, most of whom are over the age of 60. This population uses it as their main way of communicating and speaks no other language. This is a growing concern because as this population ages and soon die, there is fear that the Kven language will die out as well. 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]


There is no complete grammar for the language and scarce material, making it hard for this language to be learned. The Kven Assembly was formed in 2007 and plans to standardize a Kven written language. The term "Kven" first appeared in Othere's tales from the 800's along with the term "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 ethical term.[5] In 1992, The European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages was set into place. This charter was set in place to protect regional and minority languages, the agreement included Kven as a minority language. The Kven language, however protected under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, is only considered a Level I. 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 up to a level III.[6]


The Norwegian Kven Organization was established in 1987. The organization currently has about 700 members and about 8 different local branches. The duties of this organization include many different tasks. 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 Kvens 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.[7] All advances made by the Norwegian Kven Organization is to promote the growth and conservation of the Kven language and culture.

Official status

From the 1860s onwards the Norwegian government attempted to assimilate the Kvens. For example, the use of the Kven language became forbidden in schools and government offices, and Kven town names were replaced by Norwegian names. From the 1970s onwards, the Kvens and the Sami in Norway have openly been allowed to use their original native languages, the Kven language and the Sami languages, respectively, and to teach them to their children in schools. Despite its recent gain of status as a minority language, there is still a major discussion among the Kven about whether the Finnish orthography should be applied to the language or if a new orthography should be devised.

Since 2006, it has been possible to study the Kven culture and language at the University of Tromsø,[8] 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.[9] The grammar, written in Kven, was published in 2014. A Norwegian translation published in 2017 is freely available.[10]

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 Finnish 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. However, there are very few young people who speak it, making it an endangered language.[1]


The phonology of Kven is basically the same as that of Finnish. It is however worth noting that while Standard Finnish has been replacing /ð/ by /d/, it is retained in Kven. For instance, the word syöđä ('to eat') in Kven is syödä in Finnish. Due to loanwords the sound ʃ is much more common in kven than in finnish for example: prošekta = project ( Finnish: projekti ).[11]


Kven has 16 vowels, if one includes the vowel length:

Front Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i iː y yː u uː
Mid e eː ø øː o oː
Open æ æː ɑ 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 four consonants found in loanwords:

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

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

/ʋ/ and /ʃ/ are represented in writing by v and š, respectively.

/ð/ is represented in writing by đ.

/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[12]
case Singular plural
nom ruoka ruovat
gen ruovan ruokkiin
par ruokkaa ruokkii
ine ruovassa ruokissa
ill ruokhaan ruokhiin
ela ruovasta ruokista
ade ruovala ruokila
abe ruovatta ruokitta
all ruovale ruokile
abl ruovalta ruokilta
ess ruokana ruokina
tra ruovaksi ruokiksi
com ruokine ruokine

The letter H is also very common in kven but there are rules on where it goes.

  1. Passives - praatathaan
  2. illative cases - suomheen
  3. third infinites - praatamhaan
  4. words that end with s in posessive forms - kirvheen
  5. words that end with e in the genetive form - satheen
  6. plural past perfect and perfect - net oon ostanheet.
  7. third plural ending - het syöđhään[13]


Kven Finnish English
Tromssan fylkinkomuuni oon

saanu valmhiiksi mailman

ensimäisen kainun kielen ja kulttuurin plaanan.

se oon seppä tekemhään plaanoi heilä oon

esimerkiksi biblioteekki plaana

transporttiplaana ja fyysisen aktiviteetin plaana[14]

Tromsan läänikunta on

saanut valmiiksi mailman ensimmäisen

kveenin kielen ja kulttuurin suunnitelman

se on taitava tekemään suunnitelmia heillä on

esimerkiksi kirjasto suunnitelma, liikennesuunnitelma

ja fyysisten toimintojen suunnitelma.

Tromsa´s county municipality has

gotten ready 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



    1. Kainun Institutti
    2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kven Finnish". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
    3. Söderholm, Eira (2017). Kvensk grammatikk [A Grammar of Kven] (in Norwegian). Cappelen Damm Akademisk. ISBN 9788202569655.
    4. "Did you know Kven Finnish is severely endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-04-30.
    5. "Kven language and culture (En) | Norske Kveners Forbund". kvener.no. Archived from the original on 2017-03-18. Retrieved 2017-04-30.
    6. "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
      . Retrieved 2017-04-30.
    7. 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.
    8. University of Tromsø
    9. Andreassen, Irene: Et nytt skriftspråk blir til
    10. 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.
    11. https://sanat.oahpa.no/. Missing or empty |title= (help)
    12. https://sanat.oahpa.no/detail/fkv/nob/ruoka.html?no_compounds=true&lemma_match=true&e_node=-7605915652831459397. Missing or empty |title= (help)
    13. https://kirjat.finlit.fi/sivu/tuote/kainun-kielen-grammatikki/147647. Missing or empty |title= (help)
    14. https://www.ruijan-kaiku.no/kvaani-nakymhaan-arkipaivassa/. Missing or empty |title= (help)
    •  : Söderholm, Eira (2007). "Kainun kielen grammatiikki". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
    This grammar can be found in the Kven language here.
    The grammar above can be found in the Norwegian language here.
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