Equal opportunities for writers
One way of understanding equal opportunities in case of state grants and subsidies for literature is that each writer should be evaluated with the same criteria. If a writer’s writing language is not understood by the evaluators, a fair evaluation requires exterior experts that have the sufficient language skills.
Most of the Nordic public funding bodies accept the idea of opening their support forms also to literature written in other than the dominant languages. The Arts Councils have adjusted their application criteria to welcome language diversity at least theoretically or partially. Still, there are many questions to be resolved in the multilingual practices.
Equal opportunities for language communities and readers
Arts Council Sweden offers specific support forms for the literatures written in regional or minority languages. These languages are only part of the non-dominant languages, being languages that have a historical presence in the country. Their position is defined in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and they are different in each Nordic country. Recently arrived immigrant populations’ languages are not included in this charter, so many of the biggest language populations remain outside this special protection. This is the case of Arabic, Somali, Kurdish and Estonian, among hundreds of other languages all over the Nordic Region.
The idea of language-specific support focuses more on the language communities than individual writers. Literature is then recognized as a necessary tool in the maintenance and development of a language. Language-specific support makes sure that these literatures – and languages in their maximum richness of expression – can exist. Here, the way of understanding ‘equal opportunities’ emphasizes the point of view of the readers. Each child, independently of the language, should have a possibility to read and listen to literature in their mother language and thus develop a rich language. Taking it further, the same applies to adults. Considering the real language diversity in the Nordic Countries today, this objective is hard to reach but worth pursuing.
Literature uses language, a collective creation of expression, as its material. At the same time, literature recreates the language, renews its toolkit of expressions and develops its richness.
Intrinsic or instrumental values?
But if literature is considered a tool for developing languages and maintaining language communities, is its evaluation then based on instrumental criteria instead of understanding literature as an art form with an intrinsic value?
In Sweden’s case it seems that the solution to this question has been to accept different parallel logics that respond to different needs
A successful example of language-specific support: the case of Romani language in Sweden
Seeing the situation from outside, it seems that the results of the Swedish policy have been successful. For example, in case of Romani language, a great amount of books has been published thanks to the language-specific state support. These books are also used in the mother language classes for Romani speaking children.
A growing literary tradition creates possibilities for individual artists to raise from this language community. The literary pioneers in Romani language may as well be translators who work to widen the expressions of the written forms of a language that has mostly been used orally.
Part of the essence of literature is always its collective nature. Even in case of writers who more or less fit into the old times’ stereotype of an individual artist immersed in their own creation, the writer always works with language which is a collective, permanently changing, both historical and contemporary creation formed by the past and actual language communities.
Text: Outi Korhonen 14.7.2016
Blog post in Finnish at Culture for All Service: Vähemmistökieliset kirjallisuudet – eroavatko kirjailijoiden ja lukijoiden oikeudet?
- Swedish Arts Council on minority language literature:
- Books in Romani language in Sweden:
- About literature in Romani language (in Swedish) http://www.minabibliotek.se/135487/om-romer-och-litteratur
- A publisher in Romani language: http://www.romaniglinda.se/index.php/erg-forlag
- Katarina Taikon’s books: http://www.minabibliotek.se/search?query=katarina taikon&searchtype=biblioteket
- First translation of Taikon’s book to Romani http://arkiv.minoritet.se/romadelegationen/www.romadelegationen.se/extra/pod/indexeb3c.html
- Wandering words
Comparisons of the Position of Non-dominant Language Writers in Nordic Organizations (Outi Korhonen & Rita Paqvalen 2016) http://www.kulttuuriakaikille.fi/doc/monikulttuurisuus_kansio/Wandering_Words.pdf