Lesson 1 - What is the Kven language?


The Kven language; also known as Kven, is a language spoken in the northernmost part of Norway (Norjan kuninkhaanvaltakunta), in the county called Troms and Finnmark fylkeskommune (Norwegian: Troms og Finnmark fylkeskommune; Kven: Tromssan ja Finmarkun fylkinkomuuni). Kven is linguistically closely related to Finnish; the official language of Finland, and Meänkieli; one of Sweden’s five minority languages. 


The earliest written account of the Kven People in Norway came from Ohthere of Hålogaland (Ottar fra Hålogaland) during his travels around Scandinavia in the 10th century AD. He mentioned that in the area around the Gulf of Bothnia lived a group of Finnish-speaking people, thus calling the place Cwenland or Kvenland. This indicates that Finnish-speaking settlements have been around in the area as early as the Middle Ages. During the 16th century, more and more Finnish-speaking people migrated to the coasts of modern-day Troms and Finnmark due to mass starvation in Northern Finland and Northern Sweden. On their way there, they encountered the nomadic Sami People, and traded goods with them. Migration waves peaked in the 1860s when starvation plagued many places in Western Europe, and since then, the number of Kven People in Norway have plateaued.


Towards the early 19th century the Kven People were mostly concentrated in Vadsø where the level of fluency in the Kven language was around 50%. Whereas in Finnmark, it was reported that 25% of the entire population could speak Kven. There were also many trilingual settlements (Norwegian, Northern Sami and Kven) and in these settlements, all these  languages were treated equally before the Norwegianization policy was enforced. 


Huge waves of nationalism and collectivism that swept through Norway in the following decades have marginalized the Kven language in everyday use. Schools and regional governments no longer supported the use of the language and the language began to be looked down upon. The Kven People were also shamed for their ethnicity and speaking the language, subsequently the language fell out of use. 


The policy continued until the 1970s when the Norwegianization policy was finally lifted. The Kven community began to revitalize their culture and raise consciousness among the general public, and in 1996 the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) approved Finnish as a second language in Troms and Finnmark.


Many sources have pointed out that the term Kven (kvääni in Kven; kvensk in Norwegian) does not bear any pejorative connotation despite people of a certain age refusing to use the term. In English, the term “Kven” is the most common way of referring to the Kven People and their language. However, the more proper way of referring to a person of Kven descent would be “Kainulainen” (the Kainu People). Furthermore, the Norwegian demonym “kvensk” does not exist in the Kven phonology, making “kainu” more suitable in the Kven language.


In 2005, Kven along with the Sami languages and the Romani language were recognized and protected as the national minority languages of Norway under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML). This was a breakthrough in the Kven community since Kven is no longer considered a dialect of Finnish; rather a language. In Porsanger, Kven is recognized as one of the languages used in public administration alongside with Norwegian.


Today, the language is not actively used in daily speech for younger generations, and those who are fluent in this language are mostly elderly people. Few elementary schools offer the Kven language as a second language. As for higher education, only the University of Tromsø offers courses on the Kven language with Norwegian as the language of instruction. Hence, this blog proudly presents the very first introductory course for language enthusiasts who don’t speak Norwegian or Finnish, but nonetheless wish to gain knowledge in the Kven language.


The Kven language is predominantly an agglutinative language, which means additional words like prepositions are added at the end of every word.


All nouns and pronouns do not have grammatical genders, but nouns and adjectives decline in 13 grammatical cases: nominative, genitive, partitive, illative, inessive, elative, allative, adessive, ablative, translative, essive, abessive, and comitative. These cases are attached to words in the form of suffixes.


Cases act like prepositions in English, but with greater application. Each case can have one or multiple meanings depending on the context.


Agglutinative languages can be unfamiliar for English speakers, but this concept is rather similar to how we extend words by adding prefixes like pre- and un- and suffixes like -able -tion.




It is very important for us to find the "stem" of a word. A stem is the starting point for conjugation. In the above-mentioned example, "establish" is the word stem. Starting from the stem “establish” we can then add prefixes and suffixes to elaborate the meaning.

Kven uses a lot of suffixes. Almost every word one comes across in a random text is not in the original form (cf. nominative case).

Here are some examples:

ssäkö? (In this?)

• Uslu (Oslo, the capital of Norway) → Uslussa (In Oslo)

Kirjoitus (writing, script) → Kirjoiksenna (as writing)

In Kven, word stems can be different when being conjugated. In the third example, we used the verbal noun “kirjoitus” for conjugation, by adding the essive case -nna, it becomes “kirjoiksenna” with “kirjoikse-” as the foundation. Note that the starting point is not adding -nna directly to the verbal noun “kirjoitus” because “kirjoitus” is not a word stem. The word stem for “kirjoitus” is “kirjoikse-” and “kirjoikse-” is not a legitimate word yet. Only by adding the suffix -nna can the word “kirjoiksenna” make sense.

A lot of words have different stem forms from their original form (cf. nominative forms), one has to learn them by heart. In later chapters, we will familiarize ourselves with these word stems.  

Syntax of Kven is also heavily influenced by Norwegian, a Germanic language. This is evidenced by differences between Kven syntax and Finnish syntax.