Dissertation: Language competence of Finnish police officers is insufficient

Posted on 11/12/17.

Sanna Heittola

The language competence of police officers who work in the bilingual police departments of Finland is not on sufficient level from the point of view of language legislation. This is shown in the sociolinguistics dissertation by Sanna Heittola.

–Only a third of the Finnish officers estimate that their language competence is on such a level that they can perform their job also in Swedish, says Heittola who will defend her thesis at the University of Vaasa.

Over 80 percent of the Swedish speaking police officers fulfil the Finnish language requirements set by the legislation. Of the Finnish speaking police officers only less than 40 percent estimate that they have sufficient language competence in Swedish from the point of view of language legislation.

In the practical police work this does not lead to major problems because the number of Swedish speaking customers is relatively small. Officers are also experienced problem solvers and can rely even on creative solutions to be able to take care of their duties in Swedish.

Nevertheless, the insufficient language competenceleads to that the customer service processes, especially those that relate to Swedish speaking customers, are not optimal from the point of view of language legislation or customers.

–Citizens are not always served on their own language and officers can suggest change of language. These both practices can be seen as unlawful actions, says Heittola.

“Realization of bilingualism is an absurd fantasy”

The language use of police officers in their profession is multifaceted and diverse. Differences between the Finnish and Swedish speaking police officers’ language competenceand realization of language rights are apparent. A relatively extensive variety exist also in the Finnish speaking police officers’ language use and competence, and this leads to varied language use.

–For some of the officers the use of Swedish language is a natural part of policework. Some think that the “realization of bilingualism is an absurd fantasy” and that “Finnish swedes try at first to speak Swedish, but they change to Finnish when they realize that the situation will otherwise go on for hours”, quotes Heittola her research data.

Police officers agree that the bilingualism of police departments needs investment, but they disagree on whether this investment is worthwhile.

The Status of Swedish in the bilingual police departments

Police authorities should take care that the employees have such a language competence that they can function as police officers. However, officers reveal that language competence has not been taken into account in the recruiting process and that they have not been offered any language courses.

Although most police officers are willing to put effort into getting better at the second national language, they need to use Swedish so rarely that improving the language competencecannot be seen as expedient from the point of view of work efficiency. The insufficient language competenceof colleagues lead nevertheless to overstraining of officers who are skilled in languages. The inadequate language competenceof individual officers is problematic also from the perspective of the rights of citizens, because in many situations officers who are versed in languages are not available.

–Instead of putting effort into improvement of language competence, it might, from the perspective of bilingualism in police organization, be more efficient to create uniform practices, reflects Heittola.

The professional language practices of police officers and police organization is described through processes. The thesis is a new methodological opening in the Finnish and Nordic linguistic research because of the use of Q methodology, which combines both mathematical and statistical methods with qualitative research. The research data consist of 516 questionnaire answers and 22 interviews of police officers who work in the bilingual police departments of Finland.

Public defence

The public examination of Sanna Heittolas doctoral dissertation ”Poliisista päivää, från polisen god dag”. Språkliga yrkespraktiker vid de tvåspråkiga polisinrättningarna i Finland” is on Saturday 16 December at 13 o’clock at auditorium Kurtén (Tervahovi). Professor Paula Rossi (University of Oulu) will act as an opponent and professor Nina Pilke as a custos.

Further information

Sanna Heittola, tel. +358 (0)40 7641388, sanna.heittola(at)gmail.com

Heittola, Sanna (2017) ”Poliisista päivää, från polisen god dag”. Språkliga yrkespraktiker vid de tvåspråkiga polisinrättningarna i Finland Acta Wasaensia 392, (Ph.D. dissertation) Linguistics. University of Vaasa, Finland.

Publication pdf: /materiaali/pdf/isbn_978-952-476-781-1.pdf

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