About the history of VIRSU

Contrastive and applied-linguistic research into Finnish and Estonian has been conducted since the 19th century. Already Elias Lönnrot, one of the pioneers of Finnish language planning and academic research into Finnish, spent some time in Estonia in 1844 creating connections to local colleagues, and 19th-century Estonian linguists and language activists often emphasized the importance of learning and knowing Finnish. “The Bridge to Finland”, the symbolic and ideological connection between the national awakening movements in Finland and Estonia, existed also in linguistics.

More systematic frameworks for contrastive linguistics and cooperation between linguists, however, were only built after World War II, despite the political obstacles. Connections across the Iron Curtain were enabled by the International Congresses for Finno-Ugric Studies (Congressus Internationalis Fenno-Ugristarum, CIFU) from 1960 on – in 1970, the congress took place in Tallinn – and, from the 1970s on, the so-called scientific-technological cooperation between Finland and the Soviet Union offered the framework and funding for seminars and workshops on Finnic linguistics, dictionary and language atlas projects. It became also possible to invite Estonian lecturers to Finnish universities. In Estonia, the tourism from Finland had resumed in the 1960s, and these contacts increased the interest in the learning and teaching of Finnish.

In 1980, at the CIFU organized in Turku, Valma Yli-Vakkuri and others started developing the idea of a Finnish-Estonian contrastive research project. Originally, the focus was planned to be on syntactic comparison, but at the planning seminar at Tvärminne in 1982 it was decided to broaden to focus to cover both language comparison in general and language learning in particular (error analysis). This marked the beginning of so-called error analysis seminars, later known as Finnish-Estonian contrastive seminars. From 1985 on, the talks of these seminars were published in edited volumes under the title Lähivertailuja (‘Close Comparisons’).

This research tradition formed the background to the research project VIRSU (Estonian and Finnish as target languages), initiated by Pirkko Muikku-Werner, at that time docent at the (then) University of Joensuu and, since then, the long-time coordinator-in-chief of VIRSU. In the autumn of 1997, Muikku-Werner together with Hannu Remes, lecturer of Estonian at Joensuu, negotiated about the new project with numerous colleagues in Tartu and Tallinn; according to Remes, among these were Birute Klaas, Jüri Valge, Renate Pajusalu, Raili Pool, Jaan Õispuu and Silvi Vare. In the first years, Hartmut Schröder (Frankfurt an der Oder) also participated in the project.

Since 1988, VIRSU has regularly organized symposia, workshops and conferences, and articles based on the contributions of these have often appeared in the ‘Close Comparisons’ series. This publication series is now an independent journal, published by the Estonian Association for Applied Linguistics with the bilingual title Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja. Since 2007, VIRSU has expanded its focus to include research on all Finno-Ugric target languages.

For the history of VIRSU and Finnish-Estonian contrastive linguistics in general, see:

Remes, Hannu 2004. Kaksi vuosikymmentä kontrastiivisia seminaareja. [‘Two decades of contrastive seminars.’] – Helena Sulkala, Heli Laanekask (eds.). Lähivertailuja 14. Suomen ja saamen kielen ja logopedian laitoksen julkaisuja 23. Oulu: Oulun yliopistopaino, 35–46.

Remes, Hannu 2013. Virheanalyysista Virsuun – kolme vuosikymmentä suomalais-virolaista yhteistyötä. [‘From error analysis to VIRSU – three decades of Finnish-Estonian cooperation.’] – Tiina Söderman (ed.). Keelemees Raimo Raag 60. Eesti Keele Instituudi toimetised 15. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 66–76.

Remes, Hannu 2015. Lähivertailujen alkuvaiheita. [‘The early stages of Close Comparisons.’] Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja 25: 15–22. http://dx.doi.org/10.5128/LV25.01

Uuspõld, Ellen 2006. Meenutusi soome-eesti kontrastiivseminaride algusaegadest. [‘Reminiscences of the early times of Finnish-Estonian contrastive seminars.’] – Helle Metslang, Siiri Soidro (Toim.). Lähivertailuja 16. Tallinna Ülikooli eesti filoloogia osakonna toimetised 7. Tallinn: TLÜ kirjastus, 9–12.