Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Negative language changes in Sweden / “nyanlända”

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Deliberate attempts to change language are often a bad idea (cf. e.g. [1], [2], [3]); especially, when driven by a wish to influence thinking, avoid “offensive” terms, or similar.

A particular annoyance in this regard is the Swedish word “nyanländ”*: This word has long been used in everyday language in a wide variety of contexts, including “nyanländ immigrant” (“newly arrived immigrant”), “nyanlända turister” (“newly arrived tourists”), “nyanlänt flygplan” (“newly arrived airplane”), “de nyanlända”** (“the new arrivals”) …

*Literally: “newly arrived”. A more idiomatic English translation might often use “just arrived” or “new arrival”. In the context of immigration, until recently, “fresh off the boat” would have covered much of the same intents. (But differing in that “fresh off the boat” often has derogatory implications of e.g. making humorous mistakes regarding the local language or customs.)

**The use as a noun resp. an adjective with an implicit noun is common with the old meaning; with the new meaning, it appears to dominate the use as pure adjective.

At some point in the last few years, these uses appear to have been suddenly deprecated in favour of a sole technical meaning referring specifically to some groups of foreigners within Sweden.* This, in and by it self, is so obviously wrong that it beggars belief. However, there is also the significant problem of meaning:

*I am unclear on the motivation, but the overwhelmingly likely candidates fall within the “control thinking”, “euphemistic use”, whatnot family. Note that issues around immigration and refugees are in great discussion in Sweden, and that there is often a great divide between the (real or ostensible) opinions of the politicians (greatly in favor) and the populace (increasingly negative); see also an excursion at the end. A specific conceivable intention could be to communicate the message that “they are Swedes too; just newly arrived”—as opposed to e.g. “they are refugees, who just happen to live in Sweden right now”. (The only other candidate that has even a remote plausibility to me, is the wish to make a more fine-grained categorization, possibly relating to a law mentioned below, in combination with extreme lack of judgment as to what words might be suitable.)

It is not obvious what groups are intended. Indeed, until today, when I read up a little, I had assumed that the intent was to find a common term for the sum of all newly* arrived non-tourist/non-visitor foreigners, including regular immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, … (possibly excluding those who were not given a residence permit). This does not appear to be the case, however, with sources pointing specifically to a group in transit between asylum seeker/refugee and regular resident—to boot with a great vagueness about the details.

*With a great degree of uncertainty as to what “newly” implied. Would e.g. an immigrant remain nyanländ until his death/until he left again, or would his status expire after some time or once a certain other condition had been met?

For instance, the government agency Migrationsverket claims*:

*Here and elsewhere, my translations can be a bit approximate due to both reasons of idiom and the use of many words with a technical meaning. I deliberately keep “nyanländ” and variations thereof untranslated, since these text deal with definitions or explanations of that term. I will translate the Swedish word “person” with its English cognate through-out; however, I note that this is not necessarily the expected formulation in corresponding English texts, which might opt for e.g. “individual”, while many every-day formulations (in the plural) might opt for “people”.

En nyanländ person är någon som är mottagen i en kommun och har beviljats uppehållstillstånd för bosättning på grund av flyktingskäl eller andra skyddsskäl. Även anhöriga till dessa personer anses vara nyanlända. En person är nyanländ under tiden som han eller hon omfattas av lagen om etableringsinsatser, det vill säga två till tre år.

(A nyanländ person is someone who has been received in [by?] a municipality and has been granted a residence permit due to refugee reasons or other protective reasons. Next of kin to these persons are also considered nyanlända. A person is nyanländ during the time he or she is covered by [a specific Swedish law], i.e. two or three years.)

This presumes to redefine not merely “nyanländ” but “nyanländ person”!* To boot, this new meaning is not merely limiting the original meaning, it is in parts contradictory to it, because the same individual can be counted as not nyanländ when he is newly arrived, and then become nyanländ when some time, possibly months, has passed… The tie to a specific law is also problematic, e.g. because laws can change or be abolished, and because it should not be the role of the law to define the meanings of words outside of highly legal contexts. I note that regular immigrants are counter-intuitively not included in this meaning.

*This would e.g. make it impossible to speak of “newly arrived persons” when they are tourists stepping of an airplane or citizens stepping of a train. One might make the argument that this should be seen as an ad hoc definition for a specific context (which is both legitimate and commonly occurring); however, this argument falls on the extremely common use in Swedish media and by Swedish politicians. (And presumably in corresponding discussions within the population.)

The paper Metro has an article that explains the difference between various terms, claiming to draw on official sources. It says*:

*In the section with apparently more formal definitions at the end. The article contains several variations in the main text that I have not additionally analyzed.

Nyanländ – En person som har fått uppehållstillstånd i Sverige, blivit kommunplacerad och fått svenskt personnummer. Personen är alltså inte längre asylsökande och har fått rätt att stanna i Sverige. Under två år kan en nyanländ ansöka om etableringsersättning.

Nyanländ – A person who has received a residence permit in Sweden, been assigned to a municipality, and has received a Swedish [personnummer: an official identifier, similar-but-not-identical to a U.S. social-security number]. The person is, correspondingly, no longer an asylum seeker and has the right to remain in Sweden. For two years, a nyanländ can receive [a specific subsidy].

Note that this attempt at definition makes no mention of the above law, that the restriction in time only covers the subsidy (not the status as nyanländ), and that we have a tie to having been an asylum seeker, which is not necessarily (depending on interpretation) present in the first definition. To boot, at least the mention of personnummer is unclear in its compatibility. (The awarding of a personnummer could conceivably be an automatic effect of something else or it could be a new constraint. I have not researched this further.)

The same article quotes one Pierre Karatzian from Migrationsverket as having said:

Begreppet nyanlända används i olika sammanhang och det är oklart om det finns någon tydlig definition. Ibland används det för att beskriva personer som fått ett uppehållstillstånd.

(The concept nyanlända is used in different context and it is unclear whether some precise definition exists. Sometimes, it is used to describe people who have received a residence permit.)

This use, obviously, would typically include regular immigrants (with some reservations for EU citizens, who underlie special rules).

Swedish Wikipedia does not have a dedicated article, but Swedish Wiktionary has an entry. This entry gives two explanations:

som nyligen har anlänt

(who* has recently arrived)

*This is an imperfect translation of “som”, which has no true equivalent in English. This based on the contextual assumption of “NÅGON som nyligen har anlänt” and the correct translation “SOMEONE who has recently arrived”.

This amounts to the old and established use.

flykting som fått uppehållstillstånd

(refugee who has received a residence permit)

This is a variation of the new use, but which drops the asylum-seeker aspect and focuses directly on refugees. (Most refugees with a residence permit are likely to have applied for asylum, but it is not a logical necessity and there are likely practical exceptions.)

The entry continues by quoting the same page from Migrationsverket that I use above, leading to further questions of interpretation.

To complicate matters, English Wiktionary also has an entry. This entry gives “newly arrived” as a generic translation (compatible with the old and standard use), and then provides an example that lands half-way between the uses:

Den nyanlände invandraren ska studera svenska för invandrare, SFI.

The newly arrived immigrant must study Swedish for Immigrants, SFI.*

*The disputable translation is part of the quote. While “ska” can intend “must”, it is rare; and “is going to” is considerably more likely. Depending on context, “shall”, “should”, “will”, or “wants to” could also be a better translation in terms of intent or idiom. In contrast, “måste” would be correctly translated by “must”.

Note that this example deals with immigrants in general; not (or not specifically*) refugees or asylum seekers.

*Whether these form a subset of immigrants or an independent group can depend on the source.

Excursion on Sweden, SD, and changing attitudes towards immigration:
A quite interesting development is that the party SD was originally seen with great aversion, often even hatred, mostly for its take on immigration and related issues. (Cf. e.g. [4], [5].) Currently, however, it is in contention for the position of Sweden’s largest party, and I seem to recall a recent survey which placed it as a clear number one specifically in the area of immigration policy, with roughly one third of the survey takers rating its policy the highest.

As for the reason for this change, I can only speculate. However, the immense* influx of foreigners to Sweden has likely led to changing opinions, e.g. in that someone who supports free migration in principle now sees a need for pragmatic restrictions for reasons of sustainability. Another reason could be that the presence of SD has made the topic acceptable again and that more people are willing to stand up for an unpopular, non-PC opinion. (Cf. ideas like the Overton window, on which I am planning a text.)

*The influx has been around one percent of the population per year in the last one or two decades; with an upwards trend and a massive additional increase during the recent European migrant crisis. I briefly looked for more detailed numbers, but found this tricky, due to factors like numbers being outdated (and obviously changing over time), the inclusion or exclusion of refugees being unclear, unclear treatment of Swedish emigrants who are now returning, whatnot; and I am not confident in being more specific. To this must be added that these numbers only reflect migration—not demographic changes through higher/lower birth and death rates in various groups.

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Written by michaeleriksson

July 4, 2018 at 10:24 pm

One Response

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  1. […] a semi-continuation of yesterday’s work*, a few thought on how issues around immigration might, on an abstract level, be better handled […]


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