Research at the subject of Finnish Language

The ultimate goal of linguistic studies is to find out how language works. The researchers of Finnish and other Finno-Ugric languages are especially interested in questions related to the structure of language, interaction, variation, change, and language learning. 

How does language work?

Typical research questions include:

  • How is language used in different interactive functions?
  • How is the lexicon constructed?
  • How are spatial and temporal relationships described through language?
  • How is language used in different areas or in different situations?
  • How does language change?
  • How does the speaker’s language proficiency develop? 

Research into the structures of language 

Language structures can be studied with the help of various data sources, methods and theoretical frameworks. The special strengths of the Department of Finnish and Finno-Ugric Languages are cognitive and interactive linguistics as well as the study of lexicon and names. The Department is the most important producer of digital corpora of Finnish and Finno-Ugric languages. The majority of the corpora have been grammatically annotated. There is a strong tradition of grammatical research at the Department, and it is closely connected to international linguistic research. 

Research into linguistic variation and change

Languages and language use are constantly changing. Research may explore the use of a language in a certain time period, focusing on its special characteristics and historical changes. Alternatively, research may be focused on language variation in the present-day language use, or on-going linguistic changes and the mechanisms behind them. Research into linguistic variation and change is based on spoken and written data collected from different time periods.

Research into language learning and teaching

Research into language learning focuses primarily on language learners of different ages. The Department’s special strong point in this research is learning Finnish as a second or foreign language. Both first and second language learning can be approached from the perspective of different phenomena, such as grammatical structure, variation or genre.

Research projects

Construal of Means and Time (COMET)

A typical way of referencing time is to represent it as metaphorical motion. Languages often refer to time as either an object that is moving from the future towards the present and then away to the past (the MOVING TIME metaphor, e.g. Christmas is coming) or as a path that we move along from the past towards the future (the MOVING EGO metaphor, e.g. We are approaching Christmas). In this study, we focus on the qualitative aspects of temporal expressions in Finnish and, to a lesser extent, Russian. We do not take it for granted that time is uniform or that any movements in time are always perceived in a qualitatively similar manner. Our interest is directed towards the different ways of moving in time (or the motion of time) and on the methods for representing time as a path for the metaphorical motion of different entities. The project involves autonomous linguistic studies, the psycholinguistic testing of our hypotheses, and multimodal connections of language and attention.

The project is funded by the Academy of Finland (2015–2020). It forms a research consortium, and the principal investigator of the project is Professor Tuomas Huumo.

 

Academic Finnish as a Challenge for a Non-native Learner

Academic Finnish as a Challenge for a Non-native Learner was a research project that was carried out between 2015 and 2017 under the guidance of Professor Kirsti Siitonen at the University of Turku. Within the framework of the project, the members of the project continued to collect and encode data for the Corpus of Advanced Learner Finnish (LAS2), began to collect and encode data for the  parallel Corpus of Academic Finnish (LAS1), taught Finnish to non-native staff and students at the Finnish Language Clinic, and gathered data on how academic Finnish is learned and taught. 

Several theses and articles have already been written on the corpus material. A doctoral dissertation is also being prepared on the research data. The work with the LAS1 and LAS2 corpora continues in the Digilang project’s Corpus of Academic Finnish subproject, which was initiated in 2018.

Arkisyn: A Morphosyntactically Annotated Corpus of Everyday Finnish-language Conversations

The project aims to produce a morphosyntactically annotated corpus of everyday Finnish-language conversations in order to facilitate grammatical research that is based on a large corpus of everyday interactions. The corpus enables the comparative research of morphosyntactic phenomena in conversational data and other types of language use. The project promotes the availability and accessibility of language corpora.

The project is funded by the Kone Foundation (2013–2019) as part of their language programme. The project has received additional funding from the Turku University Foundation and the FIN-CLARIN consortium. 

The principal investigator of the project is Marja-Liisa Helasvuo.

Units of Grammar and Interaction

When language is used in an interactive setting, its speakers rely not only on grammatical structures but also on fixed expressions and gestures. We may ask whether our understanding of linguistic units is valid from a cross-linguistic perspective. In our project, we approach the question of units in language from the perspective of cross-linguistic research. As an example, the concept of the clause differs greatly between Finnish and an isolating language like Mandarin. Our aim is to compare conversational data from typologically diverse languages and investigate whether linguistically defined units really are relevant to conversational participants.

The project is implemented in the form of an international consortium that includes partners from Japan (Keio University and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) and Finland (the University of Helsinki). The project is funded by the Academy of Finland (2014–2017) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. 

The team leader of the Turku group is Professor Marja-Liisa Helasvuo.

Linguistic Variation in the Province of Satakunta in the 21st Century

The project investigates the current dialects of Finnish spoken in the province of Satakunta. Traditionally, Satakunta is divided dialectally into two parts that differ significantly from each other. The aim of the project is to establish an overview of the current situation. An extensive corpus of recorded speech from local people was collected for the project between 2007 and 2013 (totalling over 230 hours of recorded material).

The research focuses on the following two questions:

  • What are the present dialects/varieties like?
  • What kinds of new innovations do these varieties potentially contain?

The region is characterised by

  • a long and shared history as well as sharp dialectal distinction
  • a wide range of different social networks 
  • new administrative and societal conventions and structures.

Currently, the corpus of the Satakunta project is undergoing further development (linguistic annotation) in the Digilang project (2018–2021). The project has also received funding from the Satakunta Regional Fund of the Finnish Cultural Foundation.

Project leader: Tommi Kurki

The Regional and Social Variation in Finnish Prosody project

So far, the prosodic phenomena of Finnish (e.g. rhythm, accentuation, intonation and timing phenomena, apart from the quantity opposition) have received comparatively little attention in Finnish phonetics and linguistics. In addition, when Finnish prosody is studied, the focus has most often been on standard Finnish, meaning that studies that take the regional or social backgrounds of speakers into account are quite rare.

The objectives of the project

  • To develop and test methods of data collection and analysis for the study of natural spoken language. As a complement to previous field work methods, we have developed a new and partially crowdsourced method for the collection of data via the internet.
  • To form a speech database (corpus) particularly for the study of Finnish prosody and its regional and social variation
  • To analyse the prosodic phenomena of spoken Finnish while taking regional and social factors into account. Our task will be to find out what kind of prosodic features indicate regional or social variation in 21st-century Finnish.

The project was previously funded by the Kone Foundation (2013–2015). Currently, The Prosovar Corpus is under development in the Digilang project.

Project leader: Tommi Kurki

Research infrastructures

The Corpus of Academic Finnish

A text corpus is a large and systematically gathered collection of text that contains examples from natural language. A digital corpus allows linguists to analyse language digitally and to perform searches on vocabulary, grammar and the contexts of language use with the help of computers and other digital devices.

The University of Turku has a longstanding tradition in the production of text corpora, including corpora for dialects, standard language and Finnish as a second language (LAS2). The Corpus of Academic Finnish, a subproject of the larger Digilang project, aims to create an additional digital corpus composed of two subcorpora: the LAS1 corpus that consists of Master’s theses by native Finnish writers and another corpus that consists of research papers written in Finnish. The aim of these corpora is to offer a large collection of academic Finnish language texts that represent all fields of academic research for the use of teaching and research.

For further information about the project, please contact Professor Annekatrin Kaivapalu

Arkisyn: A Morphosyntactically Annotated Corpus of Everyday Finnish-language Conversations

The project aims to produce a morphosyntactically annotated corpus of everyday Finnish-language conversations in order to facilitate grammatical research that is based on a large corpus of everyday interactions. The corpus enables the comparative research of morphosyntactic phenomena in conversational data and other types of language use. The project promotes the availability and accessibility of language corpora.

The project is funded by the Kone Foundation (2013–2019) as part of their language programme. The project has received additional funding from the Turku University Foundation and the FIN-CLARIN consortium. 

The principal investigator of the project is Marja-Liisa Helasvuo.

 

Digilang

The language departments of the University of Turku have a long tradition in compiling specialised digital linguistic corpora, and these corpora already have a dedicated base of domestic and international users who represent various special fields.

The Digilang project (2018–2021) focuses on the further development of these digital databases and corpora and aims to improve their usability, accessibility and visibility by collecting them under the brand new Digilang Portal, which will become a permanent and integral part of the research infrastructure of the School of Languages and Translation Studies (SLT). This, in turn, will help strengthen the brand of the University of Turku and the SLT as a developer of digital linguistic corpora.

The following corpora are currently under development in the Digilang project:

  • Linguistic Variation in the Province of Satakunta in the 21st Century
  • Regional and Social Variation in Finnish Prosody
  • Fennougristic corpora
  • The Corpora of Academic Finnish
  • Universal Parsebanks
  • The LOG Corpus
Agricola: Morphosyntactic Database of the Works by Mikael Agricola

The Agricola corpus contains old written Finnish. It consists of the Finnish-language parts of the complete works of Mikael Agricola. It has been morphologically and syntactically fully annotated.

It has been developed by Professor Emerita Kaisa Häkkinen and her research team in co-operation with the Institute for the Languages of Finland in 2004–2007.

Dialect Corpus

The dialect corpus is the first morphologically and syntactically annotated language corpus developed in Finland. It covers all major dialect areas of Finnish. It has been developed in co-operation with the Institute for the Languages of Finland.

Corpus of Advanced Learners of Finnish (LAS2)

The Corpus of Advanced Learners of Finnish contains written data produced by advanced learners of Finnish in various academic settings. Additionally, the corpus contains reference material produced by native speakers of Finnish. All the material has been morphologically and syntactically annotated.