In Finland, there live 5.6 % Swedes (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/fi.html). They have lived there for many generations, being standard Finnish citizens, just inheriting the Swedish language as their mother tongue.

Which of the following terms is better for them?

  1. Finnish Swedes
  2. Swedish Finns

Of course you may describe them by some more complicated phrase. What I am looking for is just what should be the adjective and what should be the noun.

Note 1

I expect that Americans might feel their citizenship as more important and hence use Finns as the noun, while Europeans might feel their mother tongue as more important and hence use Swedes as the noun, but I may be wrong?

Note 2

The interesting (for me as a native Czech) thing is that in English the word nationality has two very different meanings (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nationality):

  • a group of people who share the same history, traditions, and language, and who usually live together in a particular country

  • the fact or status of being a member or citizen of a particular nation

In other languages, these notions are often expressed by two different words and, most of all, they are perceived as two very different things.

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    I'm not sure; I think this would depend on what is commonly used in that locale. French Canadian, for example, refers specifically to people that speak (Canadian/Quebecois) French as their mother tongue and were born in Canada. Someone from France that becomes a Canadian citizen would not become a French Canadian. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 13:53
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    I rather think it is individual: different people of the same group (i.e., of the group concerned) will think differently about the issue. As nationality issues invariably are. This is also palpable in the Wikipedia entry en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish-speaking_population_of_Finland
    – anemone
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 13:58
  • 2
    Back in 1925 it was possible to say To-day two thirds of India is British-Indian ("ruled by British with Indian cooperation), the remaining third is Indian-British (ruled by Indian princes with British censorship). But I think @anemone has the right of it. Circumstances alter cases, and much depends on which of the two "nationalities" is seen as more important in context. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 14:11
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    I don't think there is a general answer; for example, both "Chinese Singaporean" and "Singaporean Chinese" are used to refer to the Han Chinese population of Singapore. Wikipedia uses "Swedish speaking Finns".
    – Einheri
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 17:14
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    I would say they are "Finns living in Sweden" or "Swedes living in Finnland". Or insert "speaking" as suggested above. Trying to say "Finnish Swedes" or "Swedish Finns" simply leads to confusion, and is a foolish construction to use unless the context has already been established that the discussion is specifically of one group or the other. (And even then it's a bit questionable.) (Of course, a few of my Norwegian inlaws would like to finnish Swedes, but that's another matter.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 19:30

7 Answers 7


This problem cannot be removed from context and social/historical nuance

It can depend, among other things on whether people are immigrants, or whether they are descendants of a landowning class of foreigners e.g. the Anglo Irish. (I have never heard anyone talk about the Irish English.) However the Polish Germans could presumably either be Poles who happen to live in Germany, but could also be part of the residue of landowning Germans who remain east of the Oder-Neisse Line in modern-day Poland. Similarly the Sudeten Germans in the Czech Republic. Naming is governed largely by historical convention, I would say.

Do people say Irish Americans or the American Irish?

That too, seems to me as though it may depend on context. If, for example, I am giving a talk about hyphenated Americans, I would almost certainly say Irish Americans, African Americans, Italian Americans etc. But if I was speaking about, let's say, the Irish diaspora, I might talk about the American Irish, the Australian Irish, the UK Irish, the London Irish, the Liverpool Irish etc. (there are societies and sports teams named London Irish, London Scottish and London Welsh) So there is no certainty here.

I don't know much about the circumstances of the Swedish families who live in Finland. But no doubt these sorts of issues could affect the way they are described, within a Scandinavian context, which may be quite different to that of the Anglosphere.

My advice would be to look to local nomenclature, and to use that.

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    +1. Well said. Your conclusion is basically the same as mine: the local nomenclature (used throughout the Nordic Countries) is finlandssvensk, literally Finland-Swedish (or Finland-Swede as a noun), which is why that’s the one I recommend using. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:52
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Are they in fact descendants of a landowning class of Swedes - like the Anglo Irish?
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:56
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    Or just that everything tends to be a bit smaller and more low-key in Scandinavia. Helsinki feels quite capital-y (capitalistic?!) to me: very similar to, though a bit less showy than, Copenhagen or Stockholm. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 17:09
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    @Janus: Oh, it's definitely a lot less showy. Two things that Helsinki lacks, compared to other Nordic capitals, are 1) a genuine medieval old town, like Tallinn and Stockholm have (and Copenhagen used to have, before it burned down in 1795), because it's a much younger city, and 2) the trappings of an old imperial capital, such as a big royal palace and lots of pompous statues of old kings, like both Stockholm and Copenhagen have. There's a presidential palace, which is really just a fancy old converted merchant's house, and one big equestrian statue of C.G.E. Mannerheim. That's all. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 22:00
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    @Ilmari But you still have the cathedral, the Esplanade, the Botanical Gardens, and the big ol' fortress (by which I mean Suomenlinna, of course), which I personally found enough to give it a capital feel to it. :-) Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 22:24

Neither is very apt, I feel.

There is no accepted term in English for this group of people, only a rather varied array of proposed terminology, including:

  • Finland-Swede / Finland-Swedish
  • Finland Swede / Finland Swedish
  • Fenno-Swede / Fenno-Swedish
  • Swedish-speaking population of Finland / [no attributive form]
  • Swedish-speaking Finns / [no attributive form]
  • Finnish Swedes / Finnish Swedish (?)
  • Swedes of Finland / [no attributive form]

(I have never seen Swedish Finns before. It sounds rather like the reverse, i.e., the Finnish minority in Sweden—although, to be fair, the parallel Swedo-Finnish is given as a possible attributive form in the Wikipedia article linked to above. I’ve never seen that in actual use, either, though.)

Of these, Fenno-Swedish and Finland Swedish are the only two terms with any currency used for the dialect of Swedish spoken by this group of speakers.

For the group themselves, however, you can basically take your pick. On English versions of [insert adjective of choice here] websites, I have most commonly seen Finland-Swede / Finland-Swedish and Fenno-Swede / Fenno-Swedish used, but this is purely anecdotal and from memory—I have no statistics whatsoever to back it up.

On a more personal level, Finland-Swede / Finland-Swedish gets my vote for being the direct translation of finlandssvensk, the term used in (Fenno-)Swedish by the group themselves. It is the term that, to me, comes closest to having the same ring to it as the Swedish word, describing Swedes/Swedish that just happens to be from Finland, rather than dually describing the group/language as being simultaneously Swedish and Finnish in identity.

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    If you're writing for a general English-speaking audience, neither "Finland-Swede", nor "Fenno-Swedish" is going to work. Most people outside the Nordic countries don't have enough context to be able to understand those any more precisely than "Finnish Swede" or "Swedish Finn". Without that context, all of them just mean "Er, somebody who'se somehow associated with both Finland and Sweden." So, for a general audience, I'd definitely recommend one of the longer ones (e.g., "Swedish-speaking Finns") to establish that context before using one of the shorter ones. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 8:54
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    @DavidRicherby Yes, good point. I was assuming in my answer that the concept would already be familiar to the reader, and that it was only a matter of choosing the best nomenclature. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 11:23

Neither is good. Calling us Swedes could be regarded as an insult, especially if if comes from a Finn. Swedish-Finns refers to Finnish-speaking people who moved to Sweden (not born there). I would call myself a Swedish-speaking Finn or part of a Swedish speaking minority living in Finland. When travelling abroad I usually just call myself a Finn if no further enquiries are made.
(I stumbled upon this post, so I'm not a linguist)

  • 1
    It very much depends on the individual, of course: I’ve met a fair few Fenno-Swedo-Finns who would consider it an insult to be called a Finn (especially if coming from a Swede), but would have no problems with being called (Fenno-)Swedes. Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 14:40

As you suspected, the general American pattern is to use the nation of ethnic origin as the adjective, and the current nationality as the noun it modifies. Thus, we have Italian American, Nigerian American and so forth. So an American would generally call these people Swedish Finns.

This is probably related to the fact that the American philosophical expectation is that immigrants here will take American nationality as their new primary identity (and the ideal that they should be thereafter be treated as any other Americans).

As Americans we treat the idea of maintaining a primary identity separate from nationality with suspicion. (With that said, a reasonably cosmopolitan American would probably use whatever terminology a particular non-American group preferred.)

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    On the other hand, it is only in the US where it is common for people to trace their ancestry over the past century exclusively to people born and raised in the US, and yet still say, “I’m Italian/Irish/etc.”. Everywhere else, they’d say, “I’m of Italian/Irish ancestry” or something like that. And of course even Americans speak of the Patagonian Welsh, but the Irish Argentine, so there is room for variation. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:49
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    Your comments about terminology for people living in the United States is exactly what I would say. But I feel less comfortable extending this pattern to people living in other countries. Being an "American" is often felt to be a different sort of experience than being part of another nationality; for example, most people don't consider an "American" ethnicity to exist, but terms like "Swede" and "Finn" are quite often used as ethnic terms.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:54
  • I've edited to make it a bit less absolutist. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 17:02
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - I would guess this reflects the fact that "I'm an American" is assumed in those cases. The American mindset is that everything is referenced to America. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 17:04
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    "Should thereafter be treated as any other Americans", except that they're forever labelled as "[ethnicity/original nationality]-Americans", undermining the whole thing. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 8:56

A relative (a domestic Swede) lived in the city Turku (the Finnish name; the Swedish name is Åbo) for several years as a child.

He as well as his parents use the term Swedish-speaking Finns.

Edit: The relative is a naturalized US citizen, so this would be the term used in English, rather than a translation from Swedish.


This question really has no clear answer to it since there is a a lot more to it than just the Swedish speaking population in Finland. The same problem exist in Sweden, also within the Swedish language.

Different groups of people:

  1. Native Swedish speaking minority in Finland
  2. Native Finnish speaking minority in Sweden (there are actually quite a few of them, though they are often forgotten). Finnish is actually an official minority language in Sweden.
  3. Finnish speaking immigrants in Sweden, that have learned Swedish
  4. Swedish- & Finnish speaking kids to Finnish immigrants who has a cultural mix of Finland and Sweden.
  5. Swedish immigrants in Finland.
  6. Finnish immigrants in Sweden speaking only Finnish
  7. Swedish speaking Finns that have moved to Sweden.

It's a bilingual and nationalistic mess :) So whatever you call any of these groups, there will be misunderstandings. This lingual problem is a daily issue in Sweden and a constant subject of misunderstandings. And you cant do it one way in Finland and a different way in Sweden since daily business and culture are entwined in a way that its more like a unit than two separate contexts.

Since Swedish and Finish culture are entwined with one another and Finland during long periods of history belonging to Sweden and large people moving back and fourth between the two countries for hundreds of years, the two countries and two peoples have very complicated relationships. So, how you refer to these groups can sometimes have quite an emotional value. Sometimes it can be a minefield, when speaking to the "wrong person", but most people in Sweden a Finland have a very natural and relaxed attitude about it. It´s mostly a constant subject of friendly bantering.


First of all: This is a highly sensitive political and sociological issue in Finland, so thread lightly whichever terminology you choose.

Keep in mind that there is also a Finnish minority in Sweden. Swedish Finn or Sweden-Finn would denote a Swedish citizen speaking Finnish, while Finland-Swede would be the term for the group you refer to.

In Swedish there is also a difference in terminology between the Finnish-speaking ethnic group, which would be called Finnar ("Finns"), and the nationality of all Finnish citizens, who would be called Finländare ("Finlandian"). Many Finland-Swedes have no problem being called Finländare but would enjoy being called a Finn about as much as a Scotsman would enjoy being called English.

  • In English a Swedish-Finn would denote a Finn citizen speaking Swedish or having Swedish origin not the opposite you stated : see for example, French-Canadian , African-American etc.
    – P. O.
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 19:36

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