Alexander Aminoff's linguistic proficiency in childhood

Alexander Aminoff's linguistic proficiency in childhood

 Marianne Haslev Skånland, Professor





This analysis was carried out in September 1995, to assist lawyer Siv Westerberg in her work with Alexander Aminoff's case.

Marianne Haslev Skånland is a professor of linguistics at the University of Bergen, Norway.

The Alexander Aminoff case including the allegations of abnormal language development and abnormal linguistic proficiency is described in Lennart Hane (red): Rättvisan och psykologin (See "Böcker"). NB - published only in Swedish.

The Alexander Aminoff case is also described in Brita Sundberg-Weitman's book "Rättsstaten Åter!". (See "Böcker"). NB - published only in Swedish.



According to an account of the actions taken by the Swedish social services against Alexander Aminoff, two points regarding his use of language have formed part of the criticism of him and his home made by the social services. In the following I shall comment on each of these.


A medical doctor and a psychologist are quoted as having stated that Alexander Aminoff was uncertain of his own name and therefore had a deficient understanding of his own identity.

This conclusion seems to be based on the fact that Alexander called himself variously "Alexander", "Iskander" and "Nenne".

The name Alexander is of Greek origin but has been reinterpreted in Arabic as a combination of Al (definite article) and Iksander/Iskander. The latter form has become widespread especially in the south-eastern part of Europe and the Middle East. The form Alexander is also in use, however, and in the languages of the area the two forms are generally recognised as equivalent but with geographic differences of usage. Alexander and Iskander must therefore be considered as regularly established variant forms of the same name (in a manner partly analogous to the way Amadeus and Theofilius have been used as equivalent names internationally in Europe). The custom or habit of using different names in different circumstances is, furthermore, quite common in several cultures, including within European naming traditions.

If Alexander Aminoff as a child alternated between calling himself "Alexander" and "Iskander", this is therefore not attributable to his having a deficient sense of his own identity. Rather, such an interpretation is an indication that the doctor's/psychologist's background of general cultural orientation was weak and, furthermore, reveals that he has not managed to compensate this limitation of his by seeking information and checking it - an essential procedure when results are desired which are sufficiently clear and reliable to be considered scientific.

As regards Alexander - Iskander, such information is readily available. Very likely Alexander's mother, Mrs. Eva Aminoff, would have been able to supply the explanation, had she been asked, since the variant usage is culturally codified and the child Alexander must therefore have learnt it through his home environment.

Or one might consult standard reference works. Maps with international name-forms would e.g. show that Alexandrette in Turkey is often given as Iskenderun, and that two name-forms are usual for Alexandria in Egypt: Alexandria and Al/El Iskandariya. Many encyclopaedias give corresponding information, for instance the 1990 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, Aschehougs Verdensatlas (1970) and Damms Internasjonalt Atlas (1990) (the latter two are Norwegian atlases).

If young Alexander's alternating use of Alexander and Iskander were to be taken as any kind of indication of his cognitive development and personality, it would have to be that he was at an early age already fully capable of understanding that linguistic expressions refer to cultural features and situations which are partially equivalent. These are aspects of language which most normal children learn to master in their use of language, with no special instruction. Alexander's ability to handle variant forms is an indication that his intelligence and maturity were both normal.

The idea that a child's report of having what is obviously a nickname - Nenne - should be a sign of abnormality, can hardly be in need of any comment; its patent unreasonableness is enough to discredit it. I do not know of any statistical studies of the prevalence of nicknames but it is certain that millions of people use them, and they are probably known in every society. Very many people of course also continue to use their nicknames in some contexts in adult age.


Social workers criticised the fact that Alexander Aminoff and his mother spoke English to each other. The social services believed this to hinder young Alexander's acquiring proficiency in Swedish and thus to be detrimental to him, possibly lead to a total lack of language, a phenomenon which the social workers claimed is found among Finnish immigrant children in Sweden.

Particularly in the 1970s, linguistic studies by some Swedish and Finnish scholars appeared, claiming that growing up bilingually, e.g. for Finnish children in Sweden, did not lead to bilingualism but rather to "double semi-lingualism" - i.e. to the children becoming fluent in neither language.

Some of these articles did not express pessimism regarding the children's proficiency in Swedish as much as worry about the most important of all to the children: that their contact with their Finnish-speaking parents might suffer. The argumentation pertaining to this can therefore not necessarily be used in the manner which the social services seem to have done in their case against the Aminoffs, in which consideration for the home environment has not been in their thoughts.

More important, however, is the fact that the above-mentioned research has been subject to considerable criticism internationally, especially from sociolinguists. The claims relating to "double semi-lingualism" simply do not agree with the comprehensive information we have about bilingualism and multi-lingualism from a large number of societies around the world. Several hundred millions of people, perhaps into the billions, grow up more or less multi-lingually. They function normally and draw great benefit from their several languages in a variety of circumstances. There is no evidence indicating that their multi-lingualism has negative effects.

It is correct that a multi-lingual child does not necessarily acquire every part of all his languages at the same speed. This especially affects vocabulary and modes of formulation: if a pupil at a Swedish school learns turns of phrase and concepts pertaining to special subjects, like "molecule", "metabolism", "cosine" or "parliamentary immunity", while the conversation in Finnish at home does not comprise such formalised topics, then the young bilingual will have a more limited ability to talk about such matters in Finnish without training in a scholarly milieu. (Such limitations of course apply to mono-lingual individuals as well.) Similarly, the child growing up may lack Swedish terms for concepts which are only discussed in his Finnish-speaking home. But the precise way in which child language develops into adult language and the tempo with which it develops vary considerably from individual to individual in any case. If several languages are all to a certain extent used through a child's years of growing up, such differences will normally disappear and the young adult will have full mother tongue proficiency in several languages.

The beliefs of the social services relating to the acquisition of language appear to be yet an example of a well-known phenomenon: proposals put forward as hypotheses and discussed within the framework of a scholarly debate, in which the positions taken may be pointed and exaggerated by scholars whose views tend in certain directions, are taken by people outside of the scholarly milieu as proven or provable hard facts, are strongly over-dramatised and are treated as means to particular ends without qualification.

The acquiring of several languages does not take the form of a competitive war for storage space in the brain or for maximum practice time per day or week. Language learning to a considerable extent does not consist of acquiring as many words as possible but of developing and employing strategies for the learning of systems. The potential to acquire be it one or several languages as a mother tongue is:

genetically based;

independent of intelligence within very wide limits;

dependent for its realisation on being put to practice during a certain period of maturation (before 12-14 years of age), in the same way as are many other skills in living beings;

dependent on the child spending some of its time - but not necessarily incessantly or for very many hours at a time - together with others who speak the language/languages in question;

completely independent of formal training or pedagogical instruction. The belief sometimes found among teachers or social workers that children learn language by being consciously taught the use of language and the development of concepts in kindergarten and school, is therefore a misunderstanding.

Alexander - A confiscated child

Child prisons - In Sweden?

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The Alexander Aminoff case by Sven Hessle


Sven Hessle's contribution to the Alexander Aminoff debate in the Swedish Daily (Svenska Dagbladet), July 3, 1984.




Sven Hessle, professor in Social Sciences at the University of Stockholm, was assistant professor in 1984 when he wrote this article as a contribution to the Alexander Aminoff debate that Birgitta Wolf started in the Swedish Daily on July 1, 1984. The Editor at the Swedish Daily, Fredrik Braconnier, refused to publish Sven Hessle's article of July 3, 1984. This article was however published in Birgitta Wolf's book "The Alexander Case - A confiscated child".

Sven Hessle has kindly given his consent for us to publish his article on our site.

Translation: Ruby Harrold-Claesson, Atty-at-law.



The greatest interference that a state can exercise against individual citizens is to deprive an adult of his parenthood. To take away a mother's possibility to exercise her parental responsibility over her child does not only mean that the society cuts off her rights to build a bridge between the past and future generations through her child. It also means that the society is giving the child the message that he/she should deny his/her mother, and instead accept another person, a stranger, as his/her new parent. Taking away parenthood from an adult is therefore a kind of death declaration over living persons, which risks affecting the children most of all. That is why such measures are so uncommon. At least in other countries.

A number of cases in the Swedish public-care-debate have received international attention. Some people claim that these cases are the exceptions in an otherwise well functioning welfare state. Others, indignant over the publicised cases, claim that they are distorted and insufficiently presented by tabloid journalists to suit the parents' terms and conditions.

As far as I am concerned, these cases are the top of an iceberg, and below the surface there is an on-going ideological change creating despise for and indifference towards the most delicate relationship upon which a society uttermost is built: the relationship parent-child.

For that reason, the internationally observed and tragic case of the Aminoffs is an important case of principles. In its grotesque and obvious nakedness, the handling of this case shows not only how rigid and insensitive our social system can be, when confronted with the unending richness in variety and emotional expressions of human life. The Aminoff case is also an expression of the cynical attitude towards people who refuse to adopt themselves to the ideological pattern that is being forced on them by ideologically indoctrinated "experts" and civil servants.

The Southern Roslag District court decided on 20/6 1984: "that the care of Alexander Aminoff, born 690316 civ. reg. nr. 9412, should be bestowed upon Lars-Åke Lundqvist, born 430503 civ. reg. nr.0175".

The final axe has thus fallen between the 15-year old boy and his mother. This case has been reported in many articles during the past years, including this newspaper. Alexander has spent 4 1/2 years in foster homes, hidden away from his mother. The mother has done all that she, as a journalist and mother, could do to get to see her only child again. Among other things, she has written articles both at home and abroad.

In those parts of the verdict that have been made public (greater parts have been made secret) one can get a certain superficial opinion of the environment in which Alexander has been held hidden for so long.

On the one hand Rosa's foster home: "The District Court has ... got a tangible impression that they (the foster parents) are suitable to take care of children in difficult situations".

On the other hand they deem that it is "serious" that the foster parents have received far too many other children at the same time, and that it is "a concern" that the foster parents have had a "schism" which made the foster mother leave the foster home and marry someone else. The fact that the foster mother was recently sentenced for gross fraud for having received too much salary for the foster home does not seem to be aggravating circumstances in this context, since the crime did not include the money that was being paid by the municipality that had put Alexander in their care!!!

The choice of words of the District Court reveals a lack of understanding for Alexander's situation in the foster home. Or, perhaps they are making a conscious effort to hide what is going on, like everyone has been doing these past four years by consciously hiding the misery in the foster home behind gold-edged, idealising phrases from some of our country's more experienced experts within this field. And, not to mention the complete inefficiency and incompetence shown by the Municipality of Lidingö in this case.

Against this background, the District court could not in god conscience order Alexander to remain in the foster home with for example the foster father as his specially appointed legal guardian. They chose to let the parental responsibility for Alexander fall upon a total stranger.

On what grounds does one take parental responsibility from the mother? (the father had renounced all rights).

There are three grounds for the decisions, in my opinion.


1. Old investigation material

Things that happened before Alexander was hidden away in the foster home rest like a cursed shadow over the present situation. Despite the fact that the material used in the investigation is old (5 years and older) and contradictory. Eva Aminoff objects to some of the information that appears in this voluminous and aged material, among other things.


2. Eva Aminoff's intransigence towards aspects in the Swedish society

As a journalist, she has in many contexts pronounced very strong criticism against the way the authorities have handled her own case, and also criticised the Swedish society from the point of view of an immigrant. Her intransigence against certain occurrences in our society has thus contributed to her being not approved as a parent in Sweden.


3. Expert opinions

In my opinion, the most serious thing is that certain psychiatric experts have been allowed to dictate the verdict this time. These experts are not only accomplices to the fact that Alexander has been able to be held hidden in the foster home for such a long time without anyone being allowed in. They have also given the Municipality of Lidingö advice to remove the legal guardianship for Alexander from Eva Aminoff: a recommendation that appeared as soon as they began hiding Alexander in the foster home. The council of the Municipality of Lidingö and the court are therefore acting upon their recommendation. I am therefore no longer surprised that the reports of just these experts have been declared secret. They will remain secret for many years, as shown by Birgitta Wolf's articles in the Swedish Daily.

Since the New Year, I myself have worked as an expert in the Aminoff case. I have obviously diverging opinions from the Mafia that many years ago have grouped themselves together around their misconceptions. I have for example been shocked and distressed over the fact that Alexander Aminoff has been renamed Alexander Jönsson in the foster home. And I have been shocked and distressed by the fact that they have deemed it possible to question Eva Aminoff as legal guardian, without having met her or at least to have made a qualified appraisal of mother and son together. They were ripped apart violently when he was a boy (10 years old). Now he is a teenager (15 years old).

This court decision is unusual in so far as the court does not weigh the pros and cons, which is the normal procedure. In the verdict there are open speculations. The accusations are piled up uncritically against Eva Aminoff. The verdict is therefore a dispatch of a pre-decided sentence.

But, perhaps the most shocking of all is that the verdict is pronounced in full consciousness that Alexander is with his mother outside the country. After having been interrogated during the court proceedings, he escaped from the foster home one month before the verdict was delivered.

A reunion could not be prevented. The question is how much damage has been inflicted upon Alexander during these years when he "for his own best" was hidden away from his near and dear ones?

For Alexander's sake, if for nothing else, the court proceedings could have been adjourned, when mother and son were reunited and taken refuge.

Instead, the court has in fact condemned Alexander to return "home" from his home country, Finland, and his mother, for his own best and subject himself to the guardianship of a complete stranger of Swedish nationality!

This is just the tip of the iceberg.


Sven Hessle

Assistant professor


The Alexander Case - A Confiscated Child

Alexander Aminoff's linguistic proficiency in childhood

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