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Researcher profile: Leena Huss

She wants to RAISE AWARENESS OF multilingualism

Leena Huss’ research revolves around minority languages and cultures. This spring, she received Uppsala University’s award for equal opportunity, partially due to her longstanding work and commitment to increase the acceptance of minority cultures at the University.

‘That minority languages and bilingualism were to become my main research interests was not a given, initially’, Leena Huss says during our interview in her office at the Hugo Valentin Centre.

Growing up in southern Finland, she began her academic career by studying economics. But as she moved to Sweden in the middle of the 70’s, her interest shifted towards languages and minority cultures instead.

‘When I met my husband in Sweden and had children of my own, I started becoming increasingly interested in bilingualism in a minority context, because we experienced it first-hand’, she says.

After studying Spanish, Finnish and Sami, she started doing research on bilingualism among children of Swedish-Finnish families. Her work resulted in a dissertation on the bilingualism of children, which was defended in 1991. Since then, she has continued to do research, mainly on Nordic minority languages like Finnish and Sami in Sweden, while taking an active interest in the rights of minorities at the University.

‘Sweden adopted new policies on national minorities in 1999, and those policies were further strengthened in 2010. It felt important to do something to increase the standing of minority languages at the University. The policies were meant to work on a university level as well, but there was still a lack of awareness of these issues’, she says.

Following discussions with the Equal Opportunity Advisory Board, a task force for minorities was formed.

‘The measures that were taken are directly relevant to the minorities at the University. For instance, we have started flying the flags of the minorities, and that sends an important message’.

Leena Huss claims that the question of minorities has not been afforded the same importance as other initiatives to further human rights.

‘Sweden has been a model country in many respects, for instance in the language rights of immigrants, but there was previously an unwillingness to address the unique challenges facing the native language minorities. This is changing, but it has taken a long time and plenty of work’.

Alongside her commitment to the issues facing minorities, Leena Huss is fervent about spreading knowledge about multilingualism. She is currently involved in a project led by Linköping University, which centres on studying the language policies of bilingual schools. She is also part of a research project at Tromsö University, where she is to follow multilingual families in their everyday life to study how their linguistic decisions are made.

‘Learning languages activates your brain, and learning several languages activates your brain even more. Multilingualism is hugely beneficial not only to individuals, but also to society at large. This notion is unfortunately one that is hard to drive home, but I’m hoping to raise awareness through my various projects’.

Josefin Svensson

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National minorities in Sweden

In 1999, the Swedish Riksdag ruled, in adherence to two European Council conventions, to recognise Sami, Swedish-Finns, Tornedalians, Jews and Romani as national minorities and Sami, Finnish, Meänkieli, Yiddish and Romany Chib as national minority languages in Sweden. The territorially linked languages Sami, Meänkieli and Finnish are more strongly protected than the non-territorially linked languages Romany Chib and Yiddish.

FACTS – LEENA HUSS

Title: Professor of Finnish

Age: 66 years old

Family: Three adult sons and two grandchildren

I enjoy: Walking my two dogs in the woods.

Last book read: Jag heter inte Miriam (‘My name is not Miriam’) by Majgull Axelsson