Symposium B11: VIRSU (Finno-Ugric languages as target languages)

Organizers: Helka Riionheimo, Maria Kok, Johanna Laakso

Monday–Tuesday, August 22–23, Department of Jewish Studies (Judaistik)

(Original symposium call)

Monday, August 22


Minna Suni:

Next steps? Translanguaging, co-teaching and working-life orientation in Finnish L2 pedagogy

This aim of this paper is to introduce three recent developments in the field of Finnish as a second language pedagogy - translanguaging, co-teaching and working life orientation - and to discuss them in the context of Finno-Ugric languages as cultures as university subjects. All three are rooted in some earlier conceptualizations and theoretical orientations that are already well established in language education in Finland. These include functional language pedagogy and language-aware education which both can partially be seen as outcomes of the socio-cultural or usage-based approaches to L2 development. They thus highlight the social basis of language learning and the idea of developing multilingual resources instead of seeing languages as separate entities and relatively fixed grammatical systems only.

The basic idea of translanguaging is to encourage learners to communicate by utilizing all their language resources in parallel, whatever their language backgrounds are. This is expected to develop their language awareness and to help them to cross language boundaries when seeking for a common ground. As Garcia (2009: 40) says, the whole idea of translanguaging is to access “different linguistic features or various modes of what are described as autonomous languages, in order to maximize communicative potential”. Could translanguaging thus be seen as an updated and more communicative version of comparative language pedagogy commonly applied in teaching Finno-Ugric languages in higher education? What advantages and disadvantages can be anticipated in the increasingly heterogeneous learner groups? Co-teaching, in turn, is not originally a language-related pedagogical approach as such, but there is an increasing interest in it among L2 teachers working in vocational education and higher education in Finland. There are certain similarities with CLIL pedagogy (Content and Language Integrated Learning) to be observed, but instead of one teacher teaching field-specific contents (e.g. history) in a foreign language there is close collaboration between a content specialist and a language teacher. Co-teaching is seen to be particularly fruitful in working-life oriented L2 teaching which prepares learners for their future jobs – eg. in health care or construction work – or for academic language use in one’s own field in the university context. Examples and experiences of such practices will be discussed to challenge the audience to reflect whether co-teaching could perhaps lead to more flexible use of the typically very limited resources allocated for Finno-Ugric languages and cultures in higher education and be a key to educational development in the field.


García, O. 2009. Education, multilingualism and translanguaging in the 21st century. In: A. Mohanty, M. Panda, R Phillipson & T. Skutnabb-Kangas (eds). Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the local. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, pp. 128-145.


Birute Klaas-Lang & Helena Metslang:

When the policy documents become a reality – vitality of Finno-Ugric national languages in higher education space

The language of higher education has been emphasized as one of the most important indicators among the factors of language sustainability, c.f. Vilà, Brexta 2014. National languages being replaced by English in their former functions in one domain (higher education and research) can first cause a loss in an adjacent domain (e.g. general education), followed by further loss elsewhere.

In recent years, the question of the language of instruction in higher education has been an important topic in Estonia as well as in Europe as a whole. While English is the indisputable leader on the international education market, higher education has several important roles besides its market potential, such as preparing specialists needed by the society and the state and "providing a public service as national institutions" (Saarinen 2012: 158). Higher education and language policy analyses of Estonia as well as other Baltic countries indicate that in the globalizing world the internationalization of universities is swift in the above-mentioned countries and has brought about a noticeable increase in the relative importance of English. (cf. Klaas-Lang, Metslang 2018; Rozenvalde 2018; Soler 2019).

The presentation will analyze and compare the language situation in Estonian higher education space with other Finno-Ugric countries, especially with Finland and Hungary. The authors will evaluate state language legislations and look at indicators of the language situation in practice. There is often a tension between language policy and law on the one hand, and language practice and attitudes on the other. One commonly finds major disparities between the language policy laid down in the constitution and the actual practices in the society (Spolsky 2004: 217). It is important to examine the extent to which the content of policy documents becomes a reality (Shohamy 2006: 68).


Klaas-Lang, B.; Metslang, H. 2018. Eesti keele kestlikkus kõrghariduses [On the sustainability of Estonian in higher education]. – Akadeemia nr 4. 667-690.

Rozenvalde, K. 2018. Multilayered language policy in higher education in Estonia and Latvia. Case of national universities. Doctoral dissertation. Subfield General Linguistics. Riga.

Saarinen, T. 2012. Internationalization of Finnish higher education – is language and issue? – International Journal of the Sociology of Language 216, 157–173.

Shohamy, E., Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches, London/New York: Routledge, 2006.

Soler, J. 2019. Language policy and the internationalization of universities. De Gruyter Mouton.

Spolsky, B. 2004. Language policy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vilà, X.F.; Brexta, V. (eds.) 2014. Language Policy in Higher Education. The Case of Medium-Sized Languages. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.


Birute Klaas-Lang, Kadri Koreinik, Kerttu Rozenvalde:

Transition from Russian-dominant general education to an Estonian university: Linguistic repertoires and resilience during the lockdown

Approximately a tenth of the enrolled university students in Estonia have passed the state examination of Estonian as a second language. Although their scores tend to be high, the feedback from universities indicates their limited Estonian skills coupled with poor adaptation to university environment.

When people change their location, within one country or from one to another, they face a new and unfamiliar language environment with its own discourses and rules (Busch 2017). The bilingual students who have studied in Russian-medium basic school and in Estonian-Russian bilingual gymnasium, face a rather similar situation. Their transition to a national university undergoing internationalization (Soler & Rozenvalde 2021, Klaas-Lang & Metslang 2020) may require certain language skills and some resilience. The latter process involves the interaction of individuals with their environment; in this process certain individual and contextual factors such as motivation, self-efficacy, peers, mentors, social isolation, (in)security become relevant. Furthermore, the Covid19 pandemic has changed the context in which university studies take place (Ang et al. 2021). Altogether, the students are exposed to several simultaneous transitions: from school to university, from Russian-dominant environment (e.g., northeastern parts of Estonia) to a town which is centered around the University of Tartu and its campuses (Ehala & Koreinik 2021), from Russian-Estonian-medium institution to Estonian-English-medium studies, which all take place in the context of social distancing.

In our paper, we present a case study which explores the experiences of Russian-dominant students at the University of Tartu. It is based on 16 semi-structured individual interviews with undergraduate students from different study fields – medicina, humaniora, socialia, realia et naturalia – and focuses on their existing or missing linguistic repertoires, i.e., all accepted ways of formulating own’s message (Gumpertz 1964), and the factors of resilience in the university during the lockdown.


Ang, W. H. D., S. Shorey, V. Lopez, H. S. J. Chew & Y. Lau. 2021. Generation Z undergraduate students’ resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative study. Current Psychology

Busch, B. 2017. Expanding the Notion of the Linguistic Repertoire: On the Concept of Spracherleben – The Lived Experience of Language. – Applied Linguistics 38 (3): 340–358. 

Dawson, M. & J. A. Pooley. 2013. Resilience: the role of optimism, perceived parental autonomy support and perceived social support in first year university students. Journal of Education and Training Studies 1 (2) 38–4.

Ehala, M. & K. Koreinik. 2021. Patterns of individual multilingualism in Estonia. Journal of Baltic Studies 52 (1), 85−102.

Gumpertz, J. J. 1964. Linguistic and social interaction in two communities. – American Anthropologist 66 (6), 137−153.

Klaas-Lang, B. & H. Metslang. 2020. Estonian in Higher Education – Challenges for a Medium-sized Language. In D.  Pieters & T. Keersmaekers  (eds.) Internationalization of Universities and the National Language. Language Policy Interventions and Case Studies (75−105). Berlin: Peter Lang. (DASK – Duisburger Arbeiten zur Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft / Duisburg Papers on Research in Language and Culture; 126).

Soler, J. & K. Rozenvalde. 2021. The Englishization of higher education in Estonia and Latvia: Actors, positionings, and linguistic tensions (57-75). In R. Wilkinson & R. Gabriëls (eds.) The Englishization of Higher Education in Europe. Amsterdam University Press.




Päivi Laine & Eve Mikone:

Köpittää ja köperdama. Millaisia strategioita käytämme kuvailevan sanaston ymmärtämiseen? 

The study of onomatopoetic and descriptive (expressive) vocabulary (or in other terms, ideophones), has not hardly ever come across with truly revolutionary conclusions. Nevertheless, this vocabulary is continually in the point of interest. The latest publication in this feld in Finland is Jeongdo Kim’s dissertation “Hulisemisesta hulinaksi. Onomatopoieettisuuden haalistuminen suomen fonesteemien substantivien valossa.” (Helsinki 2019). Valuable and long-terms studies have also been done in Max Planck Insttute for Psycholinguistcs by Mark Digemanse and his colleagues.

Expressive vocabulary has many times been perceived as a marginal area of language. Despite that or specifically for that reason it is interesting to notice that in the last decades the corpora of these words have largely been used in the studies of linguistic behaviour mechanisms, for example linguistic perception, linguistic discerning, linguistic arbitrariness, analogy, linguistic universals etc.

It is widely known that animal sounds tend to be iconic and that there is a minimal difference between languages. They have usually simple structure and they are quite easily understandable from language to another. Descriptive vocabulary (ideophones) have a completely different nature, they tend to take advantage of all these linguistic features, unlike a neutral vocabulary. Their semantic field is large and it may consist of many specific nuances. To understand this vocabulary there seems to be a need for something more than learning. For example a native Finnish speaker arguably does not understand exactly the meaning of the descriptive vocabulary of all Finnish dialects, but he/ she can recognize at least the general meaning and can use them in a proper context.

What kinds of (unconscious) strategies are in use? What kinds of features help native speakers to understand meanings of descriptive vocabulary?

In our presentation we contemplate besides these topics also the question whether in native language use (unconsciously) used strategies help to perceive meanings of descriptive vocabulary in closely related languages (Estonian/ Finnish). The point of interest is in intuition and in its utlization of this.

Our study is based on written test, done by Finns from native language dialects and from Estonian. We study an understanding of expressive vocabulary, which compare in their meaning a nuances of motion. How do language speakers understand them and how do they rationalize them. We attempt to find out how much a language user can rely on their feeling for language, on ability, what is not teachable, but what could possibly be improvable. How do different speakers use the unconscious strategies?

Keywords: language learning, analogy, margins of language, sound symbolism, onomatopoeia,expressiveness


Marja Seilonen:

”Vasta kieliympäristössä saa selville kielitaidon tasosta.” Epäsuora persoonaviittaus virolaisten suomen kielen käyttäjien teksteissä

At times language users have a need to describe events and activities without specifying the agent, trying to generalise the experience as applying to anyone. On occasion, we may not want to make direct linguistic references to a person who is experiencing something, but rather give readers or listeners the opportunity to interpret or draw conclusions for themselves. Referring indirectly to persons is a highly common phenomenon in Finnish (Hakulinen, Karlsson & Vilkuna 1980) and typical tool for generalisation e.g. in argumentative texts.

My paper presents a qualitative analysis of written texts of Estonian speakers of Finnish and focuses on the use of indirect references in the texts they produce. There will also be a comparison of Estonian and Slovak L2 speakers’ language use from this viewpoint. The findings show that the most linguistic constructions that the both groups use include the passive, the zero person, the generic 2nd person singular, and the generic ihminen (‘man’) expression, but there are also some differences in the use of these constructions between the two groups.

Hakulinen, A., Karlsson, F. & Vilkuna M. 1980. Suomen tekstilauseiden piirteitä: kvantitatiivinen tutkimus. Publications/Department of General Linguistics. No 6. University of Helsinki.

Tuesday, August 23


Márta Csire & Katalin Wirker-Dobány:

Entwicklung, Anwendung und Ergebnisse eines Diagnoseinstruments zur Sprachstanderhebung von Volksschulkindern: Fazits eines Forschungsprojektes in der ersten deutsch-ungarischen Schulklasse in Wien

(Development, Application and Results of a Diagnostic Tool for Determining the Language Skills of Primary School Children: Conclusions of a Research Project Conducted in the First German-Hungarian School Class in Vienna)

The migration of the last few decades has presented research on bi- and multilingualism with new and topical tasks. An important subfield of this research discipline is the language development of bi- and multilingual children. According to Statistik Wien in 2019, 29,407 persons of Hungarian origin are living in Vienna, among them numerous families with children.

In the school year 2019/2020 a school class in a Viennese primary school with bilingual instruction in German and Hungarian could for the first time be started in an institutional setting. This led to the plan for our research project which deals with the linguistic assessment of the children in this class and determines the language skills of bilingual German-Hungarian preschool children in both their languages at the beginning of the school year. The project results are to serve as the foundation for a larger project which will accompany the linguistic development of the same children in the first four classes of primary school.

The project is planned for the time period of October 1st, 2019 to September 30, 2020.

Investigative steps of the research plan and possible methodological problems:

October, 2019: Collection of data, method - implementation of the determination of the children’s language skills in both languages

The linguistic assessment tool used is the adaptation of the well-known linguistic assessment method HAVAS 5 already developed for diverse languages which was drawn up by colleagues from the University of Hamburg and of which the Hungarian language version was approved. We would like to present our experiences and report on the extent to which this methodological instrument is suited for linguistic assessment with regard to Hungarian.

November, 2019 - January, 2020: Data analysis: Whereas an evaluation chart for the German language materials is already at our disposal, one for the evaluation of Hungarian language materials must still be drawn up. We would also like to portray the ensuing difficulties and problems of this endeavor.

February - May, 2020: In this period of time the language materials will be evaluated in detail and their publication prepared.

Our research results should serve to show the advantages of a bilingual education to the parents and the participants at the institutes of education.


Irene Wichmann & Ildikó Vecsernyés:

Magyarul könnyedén finneknek

This presentation discusses the manners in which similarities between Finnish and Hungarian can be considered in language teaching and learning. Based on our long-term experience of teaching Hungarian in Finland, this presentation focuses mainly on adult education. Nevertheless, these observations can be applied in university teaching as well. In our presentation, we discuss our experiences in teaching Hungarian to Finnish learners, studying Hungarian at adult education centres, as well as producing learning material for said target group in particular. The focus of this presentation is mainly on the recently published Unkarin kielioppia helposti (Easy Hungarian grammar) textbook. We do, however, refer to our formerly published Unkaria helposti (Easy Hungarian) learning material, as well as to a planned video material.

The learning material is based on a functional approach to languages and learning, emphasizing the need to base the language learning in the language use need of the student. Language is seen as a means of communication, and attention is focused on practical language use situations. Thus, expressing meaning plays a central part, complimented by studying the forms of language. The aim is to tie the studying of grammatical forms to communicative situations in a meaningful manner, supplying the learner with i.e. ready to use phrases. The vocabulary is aimed to fit the needs of the learner. The material is constructed to fit both in-class learning and independent study, and can be well applied to blended learning techniques, i.e. flipped classroom groups. This method can be well applied to adult evening classes, meeting once a week, in which the time to study new topics is limited. In this way, more time is left for exercises, questions and discussion in class. However, it is not always easy to get the students commit to independent study. Finnish and Hungarian are language relatives, which makes it easier for Finnish students to learn Hungarian, compared to learners speaking other languages. This applies both to the pronunciation and the structures of the language. On the other hand, problems may arise as the learner applies the structures and means of expression of their native language to the language studied, which may happen more often with two languages similar to each other. This applies to language use in particular (i.e. speaking customs). The presentation provides examples of how the similarities and the differences between the languages have been taken into account in preparing learning materials for Finnish speaking adult learners. Our observations and experiences are thus based on learners of Hungarian whose native language is Finnish. The differences and similarities of the two languages can of course be observed in opposite fashion, that is, in how Hungarian learners study Finnish. These experiences might provide useful for learners of other Finno-Ugric languages as well, for example Estonian speakers.


Eliisa Pitkäsalo & Maria Sarhemaa:


Suomi lähdekielenä, unkari kohdekielenä – voiko kääntämällä oppia kieltä?

Translation was commonly used as a language learning method before the functional communicative approach appeared. In earlier decades, the pedagogical emphasis was placed on formalistic language learning and translating textbooks word by word, whereas today the focus is on communication and functional language learning. In our project, university students translate authentic texts in interaction with each other . Meanwhile, they describe the translation and language learning processes. The aim of our research is to examine to what extent translating may prove to be a useful and efficient way to teach and learn a language. We analyse how the students improve their language skills and learn not only the language but also tools to describe the processes.

The context of the study is a Finnish language translation course in a Hungarian university. During the course, the students translate Finnish fiction into Hungarian under the supervision of a Finnish language teacher and a translation teacher. At the start of the course, an introductory lecture is given on translation theories and methods. After that the students produce a translation sample and a translation comment concerning it. A translation sample with a comment is also written at the end of the course. The authentic texts translated during the course are Finnish environmental-themed speculative fiction short stories. The students are advised to describe the processes of translation and their language learning during the whole project.

In our paper, the focus is on the translation samples and comments written at the beginning as well as the end of the course. By comparing them we analyse how the Hungarian students learn the Finnish language during the translation process, and how they describe the processes of their language learning.




Erzsébet Panka:

Learning to use accusative and partitive. Investigating how Hungarian- and German-speaking learners of Finnish use the object cases in text sentences and in YKI-tests

The distinction between the accusative and partitive case of the Finnish object is often considered as one of the most difficult parts of Finnish grammar to learn. Object case errors usually persist for a long time in learners’ language.

My presentation focuses on the question, why it is so difficult for learners of Finnish to learn to express the difference between the two object cases. In particular, I would like to answer the following questions:

What types of verbs and sentence structures make the use of the object cases easier and which contexts make it more problematic?

On what basis do learners choose between the partitive and accusative object?

How do the object case errors of Hungarian- and German-speaking Finnish students differ from each other?

How does the use of the transitive construct evolve from one CEFR-level to another?

To find answers to these questions I analyse the use of the accusative and partitive case of the Finnish object in two corpora: 1) Test sentences filled by Hungarian- and German-speaking university students of Finnish (including students from the University of Vienna). While filling the test, I also recorded introspective interviews with 7 Hungarian learners. 2) Writing comprehension texts from YKI-tests.

My research focuses on learners’ language. The main method I employed was error analysis, but I also used contrastive analysis, transfer research and constructive grammar to widen the research-perspective.

Some results of my research:

My research confirms that learners of Finnish use the object cases most correctly in negative sentences, with mass nouns and in some partitive verb constructions (which are presented in S2-textbooks). While learners of Finnish use object cases less correctly in complex constructions and in other partitive verb constructions (which are not presented in S2-textbooks, e.g. painaa painiketta, lyödä jotakuta päähän).

Furthermore, L1 affects the use of object cases. For example, both Hungarian- and German-speaking learners of Finnish often overuse the partitive case in constructions where they would use indefinite article in L1. Hungarian learners of Finnish often underuse the partitive case when they would use a verbal prefix in L1. German-speaking learners overuse the nominative object more often than Hungarian learners, especially at lower CEFR-levels.

I hope that my research will provide useful insights for the development of new methods in S2-teaching.


Leena Niiranen & Daniel Haataja:

Letters to the Paulaharjus from Ruija

Samuli Paulaharju is a well-known Finnish ethnographer who visited the Kven minority in Northern Norway – Ruija -– in the 1920s and 30s. Together with his wife Jenny, he collected a large amount of ethnographic material while among the Kvens. As a result of these trips, Paulaharju published two books about the Kvens in Ruija.

The Paulaharjus also corresponded frequently with their Kven informants and friends in Norway. Many even wrote in Finnish. Not all writers were used to writing in Finnish; some of them actually revealed it was the first time they had ever written Finnish. As such, many of them were self-learned writers, and the impact of Norwegian orthography is often visible in the letters.

Some individuals had good command of Finnish orthography, however. One of them was Johan Beronka, a priest and the first Kven with an academic degree. Others were for example merchants or Laestadian lay preachers, but even ordinary people with no special professional background were able to correspond using Finnish orthography.

What resources were available to Kvens writing Finnish in the 1920s? Some of them probably had limited Finnish instruction in school, as the Norwegian school system allowed Finnish as a “helper language” for Kven pupils until 1936. However, the basic goal of such instruction was to learn to read Finnish. Nonetheless, besides Kven, which was an oral language at the time, written Finnish was available for use as a resource for writing. The Kvens were most often acquainted with religious language, so-called Bible Finnish. Written Finnish was modernized during the 19th century, and standard Finnish was also used as a resource for writing. For example, some Kvens mention having read Paulaharju’s books. Additionally, written Norwegian was a resource available to the Kvens.

We discuss the letters as representations of “grassroots literacy” (Blommært 2008), focusing on the letter genre (Laitinen & Nordlund 2012). We ask how different resources are visible in letters written by Kvens. Do the letters reflect the use of oral Kven? What are the features from the modern Finnish standard language? How is Norwegian orthography intertwined with written Finnish? Research conducted in Finland on self-learned writers in the 19th century (Kauranen 2013) gives us a point of reference even though these Kven letters were written at a later period. Moreover, Kvens were writing Finnish in a minority context.

Blommært, J. 2008: Grassroots literacy: writing, identity and voice in central Africa. London: Routledge.

Kauranen, K. 2013: Mitä ja miksi kansa kirjoitti. In L. Laitinen & K. Mikkola (Eds): Kynällä kyntäjät. Kansan kirjoittaminen 1800-luvun Suomessa, 19–54. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

Laitinen, L. & Nordlund, T. 2012: Performing identities and interaction through epistolary formulae. In M. Dossena & G. Del Lungo Camiciotti (Eds): Letter writing in late modern Europe, 65–85. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Aleksi Palokangas:

Receptive Multilingualism and its Factors Regarding Finnic Languages 

The paper is about receptive multilingualism (RM) concerning Estonian and Finnish. RM is to some degree related to priming. According to McNamara (2005: 3), priming is an improvement in performance in a perceptual or cognitive task, relative to an appropriate baseline, produced by context or prior experience. He adds that semantic priming refers to the improvement in speed or accuracy to respond to a stimulus, such as a word or a picture, when it is preceded by a semantically related stimulus, the prime. RM regarding Finnish and Estonian as well as priming has been studied previously in terms of the native speakers’ capacity to translate texts from the other language (Muikku-Werner 2014, Muikku-Werner 2015; Muikku-Werner 2016).

This study has two parts. In the experimental part of my first study, Finns with no Estonian skills translated Estonian cognates into Finnish. Afterward, they were given pictures that depicted the cognates in short phrases in authentic contexts (e.g. A picture of a sidewalk board advertising coffee with the text Hea kohv, “Good coffee”; compare Finnish Hyvä kahvi). I call the pictures prime pictures, a concept I derive from the terms priming and prime. The results show that, in participants’ experience pictures improve their understanding of Estonian.

The second part of my study concerns Finnish and Estonian, yet Livonian, Vepsian and Ludic are also included. The focus is broadened by including Estonian participants as well. In addition, the test will have cognates that occur separately and among slightly longer texts instead of short phrases only. I will also examine how Finns with a basic knowledge of Estonian understand Livonian, a language in the same Southern Finnic subgroup with Estonian, and how Estonians with a basic knowledge of Finnish understand other Northern Finnic languages; Vepsian or Ludic, in addition to Finnish.

I hypothesise that translating cognates becomes easier with longer texts and that having a basic knowledge in another Finnic language helps to understand a third one. I expect that understanding is not necessarily symmetric: for instance, Estonians with Finnish skills may recognise cognates in Finnish and Vepsian differently when compared to how Finns recognise Estonian and Livonian cognates. My presentation will introduce the goals, experiments and conclusions of the first part of my study and the second part of my study and its stages.


McNamara, Timothy P. 2005: Semantic Priming. Perspectives from Memory and Word Cognition. –

Muikku-Werner, Pirkko 2014: Koteksti ja viron ymmärtäminen lähisukukielen pohjalta. – Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja 24 (1) pp. 100–124.

––––– 2015: Tekstin semanttiset sidokset ja lähisukukielen ymmärrettävyys. – Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja 25 (1) pp. 191–216.

––––– 2016: Monitasoinen samankaltaisuus: virolaiset ja suomenkielisen tekstin ymmärtäminen. – Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja 26 pp. 311–338.