B.14 Family language policy and actual language use in Finno-Ugrian minority situations

Organizers: Magdolna Kovács, Svetlana Edygarova

Wednesday, August 24, Department of Jewish Studies (Judaistik)

(Original symposium call)


Svetlana Edygarova:

Language-endangerment discourses among the Finno-Ugrian peoples: the present and the historical background 

Recent years have seen changes in Russian legislation which have had an impact on the situation of non-Russian languages. In reports distributed across the media and social networks about the situation which minority languages in Russia face, views about changes in language use are marked by controversy: some sources report that the situation is stable and that minority languages have been successfully empowered, while other sources insist on the need for urgent measures to protect these languages from rapid extinction. These views reflect different discourses of language endangerment which exist in these languages’ own communities and within Russian society overall, and which, due to competing interests, hinder different social groups from reaching a mutual understanding.

In this presentation we define and describe the main discourses of language endangerment among four Finno-Ugrian language communities: the Udmurts, Komi, Karelians and Veps. We analyze what views on current changes in language use exist among these communities, how non-Russians and Russians evaluate these changes, and how they share responsibilities for the changes. We also analyze how these discourses emerged.

As research material we draw on data collected earlier by the authors of the study, including texts from mass media and sociolinguistic interviews. New data, such as discussions in social media and surveys, will be analyzed as well.

The theoretical literature explains that discourses reflect specific ideologies and interests of groups of people (e.g. Duchêne and Heller 2007). In this study we investigate what ideological background these discourses of Finno-Ugrian communities have, who supports these ideologies, and how they are connected to broader global contexts. Finally, we offer suggestions for how the new knowledge can improve dialogue between people with different interests.


Duchêne, Alexandre, Monica Heller (2007) Discourses of endangerment. Ideology and interest in the defense of languages, 57–75. London: Continuum.

Tánczos, Outi (2018) Mediated discourses. Ethnic minority media in linguistic and ethnic identity-building and language revitalization: Comparative case studies from Finno-Ugrian minority contexts. Doctoral dissertation, University of Helsinki.

Puura, Ulriikka (2019) Sinä iče oled vepsläine, voib sanuda, ka? Vepsäläisyyden rakentuminen ja 2000-luvun vepsän kieli. Doctoral dissertation, University of Helsinki.


Katalin Dabóczy & Magdolna Kovács:

Language choice and attitude in immigrant Hungarian-speaking families in Finland

Parents' language choices and discourse strategies (Lanza 2007) in the family play a crucial role in determining the child's interactional patterns: the family members' interactional patterns can demotivate the child from minority language use (Gafaranga 2011, Smith-Christmas 2014); alternatively, they can reinforce minority language use and support successful intergenerational transmission of the minority language (e.g. Kopeliovich 2013). This presentation sheds light on what kinds of language attitudes and ideologies work as a driving force for language choice and discourse strategies in the family. We particularly address the question of how non-default language use in interaction with the child (i.e. the majority language Finnish) is perceived by the parent who uses Hungarian by default and how it can influence the intergenerational transmission of Hungarian in an immigrant context in Finland. The study can be useful in investigating endangered Finno-Ugric minority languages spoken outside their autochtonous territory.

Our study is based on both quantitative and qualitative data gathered in families residing in Finland in which at least one of the parents is of Hungarian origin and uses Hungarian in the family. We aim to illustrate how the aspects of Family Language Policy (FLP) in the questionnaire materialize in parents' narratives in the interview data. The quantitative data is selected from a larger questionnaire with 137 people from Hungarian and mixed Hungarian families in Finland (N=137). The questions analysed for this study address language choice and attitude in the family. The qualitative data comprises in-depth interviews about the language policy of the family conducted with parents in three families. In the interviews, the informants describe their current language use in the family and narrate on the process of the formation of the family's language strategies. Thus statistical data, which reflects tendencies in the Hungarian speaking community, is complemented by an analysis of case studies with a discourse analytical approach to give a complex picture about Hungarian in the family in the context of an immigrant language.

Gafaranga, J. 2010: Medium request: Talking language shift into being. Language in Society 39, 241–270.

Kopeliovich, S. 2013: Happylingual: A family projekt for enhancing and balancing multilingual development. In Schwartz, Mila & Verschik, Anna (ed.), Successful family language policy: Parents, children and educators in interaction 249–275. Dordrecht: Springer.

Lanza, E. 2007: Multilingualism and the family. In Auer, Peter & Li Wei (ed.), Handbook of Multilingualism and Multilingual Communication 45–67. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Smith-Christmas, C. 2014: Being socialised into language shift: The impact of extended family members on family language policy. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 35:5, 511–526.


Marja-Liisa Olthuis:

One hundred writers for Aanaar Saami A project-based Aanaar Saami literary revitalisation programme 

My presentation concentrates on the matter of making the role of creative writing and translation work visible in the revitalisation work of the Aanaar Saami language. This literary revitalisation programme has to be seen as a continuum in a context when a severely endangered language has nearly lost two speaker generations and the language has been revitalised for a period of nearly 30 years, mainly stressing the oral language revitalisation. The new speaker generations have been recreated with twofold language revitalisation programmes, i.e. the language nest programme and the CASLE-programme, the latter recreating the lost adult middle generation. These language revitalisation programmes have been mainly aimed at oracy. The literary language usage has started in later stages. Before starting the literary programme of Aanaar Saami, the language community counted only one active writer and approximately ten people writing every now and then.

Mainly through the language loss situation, lack of powerful writing domains and lack of education in Aanaar Saami, the language has been rarely written until now. As the number of speakers is limited to approximately 450 people, it is also not realistic to expect each speaker being literally talented. The main challenge has been to create a steady and still improving writing culture, mainly depending on the non-native speakers. The challenge is to activate people in writing and to educate as many writers as possible. This has been done in two ways: by tutoring creative writing and through guided translation work. The Aanaar Saami language society has set up a revitalisation programme to strengthen the usage of Aanaar Saami as a literary language. The University of Oulu has lately strengthened the teaching of translation studies in Aanaar Saami with 10 credits. Anarâškielâ servi, the Aanaar Saami Association, has set up a twofold literary revitalisation project to strenthen the literary usage of the language. The Čyeti čälled –project  ́One hunderd writers for Aanaar Saami ́ activates people in writing and strengthens the already existing writing domains, as well as creates new domains for modern communication on the Internet. The Tuhhát sijđod nuorâikirjálâšvuotâ anarâškielân –project  ́One thousand pages youth literature for Aanaar Saami ́ activates and educates young people(up to 25 years) as well as more experienced translators to co-operate and to translate belles lettres into Aanaar Saami for young speakers. The translation work is mainly guided by the University of Oulu. The first novels and short stories have now been translated. Also the first scientific articles and Master thesis –works have been written in Aanaar Saami. The new writers need and use the technical writing means, like the e-dictionary and spell-checker, by the Giellatekno group in the Actic University of Norway.

In my presentation, I will illuminate the literary revitalisation programme of Aanaar Saami in detail.


Annika Pasanen:

After the language shift – intergenerational transmission of the Saami languages in Finland 

In this paper I’m providing overview on the current situation of the Saami languages in families, challenges faced by parents transmitting Saami to their children and possible ways to support parents in their efforts. The data is based on my post doc -research on the new speakers of Saami languages in Finland, as well as grassroot-level language consultation for Saami-speaking families that I’ve been participating.

Out of the nine Saami languages, three are spoken in Finland: Skolt Saami, Inari Saami and North Saami. They are all separate languages with very different linguistic characteristics and sociolinguistic backgrounds. All are endangered, and on the other hand being revitalized and strengthened, for instance through language immersion, bilingual or mother-tongue-medium education, language education for adults, Saami-language media and various language campaigns. In Finland there are approximately 10 000 Saami, and approximately 450 speakers of Inari Saami, about 300 speakers of Skolt Saami and about 1500 speakers of North Saami.

Despite the positive development of the last decades, the burden of language shift still affects heavily the Saami of Finland. Intergenerational transmission of Inari and Skolt Saami was interrupted almost totally during the post-war decades. Transmission restarted with the language nest activities at the end of the 1990s, and then gradually in some families. When it comes to North Saami, it has been transmitted uninterruptedly through the decades in some areas and families, whereas in others the language shift has taken place. Another huge challenge is that already over 60% of all the Saami population of Finland are living outside the Saami domicile area, and their linguistic rights are rather weak.

As a result of e.g. these factors, current needs of the Saami families vary a lot. Especially for the communities of Skolt and Inari Saami, the new speakers’ role in terms of the intergenerational language transmission is essential. Even if relinguification of Saami families is constantly strengthening, parents are facing many problems in transmitting the language as learners, and there is very little public support available for them. Many factors challenge the language transmission by the native speakers, too: mixed marriages, dominance of Finnish, poor implementation of the legal language rights, unawareness of the processes of child’s language acquisition, inadequate recommendations from the health care etc.

As an effort to provide support for families transmitting or willing to transmit Saami language to their children, a pilot project of language consultation called “Saamelainen kielineuvola” was organized in 2018. In this paper I want to introduce forms of activities and some essential parental questions that arose in this project. Challenges and needs of the parents will be described also on the basis of my research interviews.


Konstantin Zamyatin:

The Impact of Official Bilingualism in Ethnic Republics of Russia on Language Practices

The paper assesses what impact the language policies in the ethnic republics titled after the ethnic groups speaking Finno-Ugric languages had on individual language attitudes and language choices. I will present the data on the development in the sociolinguistic situations of the republics and the policy effects on their titular communities along the indicators that reveal language practices. While it may take a generation for change in patterns of language knowledge and some years to those of language use, language attitudes may change very quickly, especially in times of rapid social transformations and, thus, can serve as a more sensitive indicator of policy impact. The main policy tool in the republics became the designation of de facto minority languages with a co-official status in order to extend their compulsory use in the public sphere. However, official bilingualism of the titular languages on par with Russian became also the major constraint that limited the policy scope. The research problem is topical in the light of a larger theoretical debate about the scope and limits of language policy of the state.


Christian Pischlöger:

"What a pity that Kel'makov and Shutov are not on Facebook": Language ideologies in Udmurt Social Media 

The Internet plays a vital role for Udmurt language activists who use social media to promote the use of Udmurt, increase its prestige and transfer it to a modern, urban environment. The language use on social media itself reflects features which characterise recent Udmurt: translanguaging, lexical borrowings, calques and (often supposed but rarely researched) syntactical influences from the majority language Russian. Accordingly social media provide also space for discussions about the current state of Udmurt. The participants can be roughly divided into three groups: a purist-prescriptive and a realistic-tolerant group which both participate in discussions about modern language use on- and offline. The third group - by far the large majority - seems to be indifferent; at least they do not interfere in online discussions. Linguists are either not on social media or with a few exceptions belong to the silent third group.

Language ideologies play an important role when it comes to maintain or revitalise an endangered language, yet they are seldom discussed in a Russian context (exceptions e.g. Edygarova 2016, Ferguson 2016, Mamontova 2019). The aim of the present talk is to closely monitor Udmurt language ideological debates on VKontakte, Facebook, Instagram and blogs, methods applied are observation, online ethnology and discourse analysis. Results show that online discourses are dominated by a few users who in their majority belong to the camp of purists-prescriptivists. Scientific findings are either not percepted by laypersons (e.g. due to ignorance or because they are published in often inaccessible languages) or rejected since “sociolinguists have no active position”, implying not to fight but only document language change caused by the dominant Russian language. The much longer and deeper Turkic influence on Udmurt and the past in general is transferred into nostalgia. Basis of judgements are often folk linguistic views which prefer some forms as “more Udmurt” than others and varieties are rejected, assuming that there is only one correct form. Sometimes even hyperurbanisms, triggered by language myths, are promoted as “correct” and “typical” Udmurt. This can lead to more uncertainty in on- and offline language use by native (and new) speakers instead of empowering them.


Edygarova, S. 2016. Standard Language Ideology and Minority Languages: The Case of the Permian Languages. In Reetta Toivanen, Janne Saarikivi (eds) Linguistic Genocide or Superdiversity? Bristol: Multilingual Matters, pp. 326–52.

Ferguson, J.K. 2016. Code-Mixing among Sakha-Russian Bilinguals in Yakutsk: A Spectrum of Features and Shifting Indexical Fields. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 26 (2): 141–61.

Mamontova N.A. 2019. "Priekhali by vy v proshlom veke": otnoshenie k yazyku i kodovye pereklyucheniya sredi evenkov v urbanizirovannom prostranstve p.g.t. Tura, Antropologicheskij forum 42: 109–134.


Elena Vedernikova:

Factors of difference in the language behavior of rural and urban Mari

The current paper investgates the factors conditoning the language behavior of Mari living in rural and urban areas. All the conclusions are based on results of feldwork in Mari El (2013-2016). They include both quanttatve and qualitatve data that allows to justfy the way Mari people behave in terms of language choice. Combinaton with objectve factors allows to make an atempt to create the picture of modern language situaton in Mari El.