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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Street Names in Two Languages - Bilingualism in Helsinki

Author(s):
J Lehtonen
Helsinki City Planning Department, Finland

Helsinki is the bilingual capital of Finland. With its 560 000 inhabitants, it is the biggest city in Finland, as well as the centre of a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic style of living.

Today, the City of Helsinki has two official languages, Finnish (with 87 % of the speakers of the city’s population) and Swedish (6 %), and a number of small minority languages. The biggest minority language today is Russian (nearly 2 %).

This paper explains how active bilingualism works in practice. The street name signs and maps have to be written in the official languages, Finnish and Swedish. All the new names that are being planned have to be practical in both of the languages. The Swedish name signs are misspelled more often than the Finnish ones and some names have been translated wrongly into the other language. Still the contacts between the language groups are very close because most of the people with a Swedish-speaking family history can speak and write Finnish.

Many examples are given during this presentation.

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