A peek into Scandinavia's origin

The term Scandinavia in local usage covers the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. However, in English usage, the term also sometimes refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula...

7 months ago

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The name Scandinavia originally referred to the former Danish, now Swedish, region of Scania. Scandinavia and Scandinavian entered usage in the late 18th century, being introduced by the early linguistic and cultural Scandinavist movement. The majority of the population of Scandinavia are descended from  several North Germanic tribes who originally inhabited the southern part  of Scandinavia and spoke a Germanic language that evolved into Old Norse. Icelanders and the Faroese are to a significant extent descended from the Norse and are therefore  often seen as Scandinavian. Finland is mainly populated by Finns, with a minority of approximately 5% of Swedish speakers. A small minority of Sami people live in the extreme north of Scandinavia. The Danish, Norwegian and Swedish languages form a dialect continuum and are known as the Scandinavian languages—all of which are considered mutually intelligible with one another. Faroese and Icelandic,  sometimes referred to as insular Scandinavian languages, are  intelligible in continental Scandinavian languages only to a limited  extent. Finnish and Meänkieli are closely related to each other and more distantly to the Sami languages, but are entirely unrelated to the Scandinavian languages. Apart from these, German, Yiddish and Romani are recognized minority languages in parts of Scandinavia.

Iceland topography

"Scandinavia" refers to Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Some sources argue for the inclusion of the Faroe Islands, Finland and Iceland, though that broader region is usually known by the countries concerned as Norden (Finnish: Pohjoismaat, Icelandic: Norðurlöndin, Faroese: Norðurlond), or the Nordic countries.

Scandinavia originally referred vaguely to Scania, a formerly Danish region that became Swedish in the 17th century. Scandinavia according to the local definition   The extended usage in English, which includes Iceland and the Faroe Islands, the Åland Islands and Finland.

body of water near sea shore
Photo by Joanna Kosinska / Unsplash

The use of "Scandinavia" as a convenient general term for Denmark,  Norway and Sweden is fairly recent. According to some historians, it was  adopted and introduced in the eighteenth century, at a time when the  ideas about a common heritage started to appear and develop into early  literary and linguistic Scandinavism. Before this time, the term "Scandinavia" was familiar mainly to classical scholars through Pliny the Elder's writings and was used vaguely for Scania and the southern region of the peninsula.

As a political term, Scandinavia was first used by students agitating for pan-Scandinavianism in the 1830s. The popular usage of the term in Sweden, Denmark and Norway as a  unifying concept became established in the nineteenth century through  poems such as Hans Christian Andersen's  "I am a Scandinavian" of 1839. After a visit to Sweden, Andersen became  a supporter of early political Scandinavism. In a letter describing the  poem to a friend, he wrote:

"All at once I understood how related the  Swedes, the Danes and the Norwegians are, and with this feeling I wrote  the poem immediately after my return: 'We are one people, we are called  Scandinavians!'"

The clearest example of the use of Scandinavia is Finland,  based largely on the fact that most of modern-day Finland was part of  the Swedish kingdom for hundreds of years, thus to much of the world  associating Finland with all of Scandinavia. However, the creation of a  Finnish identity is unique in the region in that it was formed in  relation to two different imperial models, the Swedish and the Russian, as described by the University of Jyväskylä based editorial board of the Finnish journal Yearbook of Political Thought and Conceptual History.

Diego Balmaceda

Published 7 months ago

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