You’ve heard the old Yiddish adage, “It’s not how many Jews live in a country, but how many years they’ve lived there.” If you haven’t, that’s probably because we made it up.
Jews make up just .2% of the population of Sweden. And yet Yiddish is one of the country’s official minority languages. The others are Sami (an indigenous group of languages), Meänkieli (a Finnish dialect), Standard Finnish, and Romani. To qualify for official status, a language must be “of cultural benefit” to the group speaking it, and to have been spoken continuously for—brace yourself for vagueness—“a significant amount of time.”
Yiddish has been spoken in Sweden since the late 1700s, when the liberal priest Anders Chydenius advocated for Jews to not only settle in Sweden but to practice their faith openly. Newer immigrants from Africa and the Middle East might live in Sweden in greater numbers, but until they’ve been there for about 100 years, their languages will remain unofficial.
According to the Society for Yiddish and Yiddish Culture of Sweden, of the estimated 20,000 Jews who live in Sweden, just 3,000 speak Yiddish. But the official status assures that Yiddish is taught in university, and that Yiddish speakers can conduct their government business in mameloshn.