VIRSU symposium 2010 (CIFU XI Piliscsaba): Abstracts


The Finno-Ugric Foundations of Language Teaching

Johanna Laakso (Universität Wien)

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to explore the relationship of Finno-Ugric studies and language teaching: What can the Finno-Ugric inheritance or relatedness mean in the practice of teaching and learning Finno-Ugric languages as a second or foreign language? Beyond the background knowledge which is typically incorporated in the academic teaching of the Finno-Ugric languages, questions of the history and relatedness of these languages may surface in connection with two aspects. First, the teaching of the rich and complex morphology and, in particular, morphophonology might profit from excursions into the (pre)history of the language. Second, Finno-Ugric languages are often “othered”, seen as “something different” and contrasted with major (Indo-)European languages. This fact, although it may play a crucial role for the recruitment and motivation of the students, has – like aspects of identity in general – often been ignored in the study of language teaching.


Péter DURST–Boglárka JANURIK

University of Szeged

The acquisition of the Hungarian definite conjugation by learners of different L1

Several types of grammatical agreements exist in Hungarian, one of which is very rare in the world’s languages and thus presents special difficulties for the learners of Hungarian as a foreign language. In Hungarian the definite object is marked on the verbs so depending on the definitness of the object we distinguish between a definite and an indefinite paradigm in all conjugations including the present, the past, the imperative and the conditional. This feature is unique, however, it is also present in the Mordvin language, which belongs to the same language family as Hungarian.

In this project we tried to find out if the typological and structural similarities provide any help for the learners of the Hungarian language whose native language is Mordvin. A grammatical questionnaire was used to test the knowledge of foreign learners of Hungarian. 83 tests were filled in by language learners who study Hungarian as a foreign language in Hungarian higher education and whose native languages do not have this feature and their results are compared with those of 20 Mordvins. The tests were compiled very carefuly, taking into consideration the complex semantic and syntactic patterns of the definite conjugation.


The acquisition of grammatical aspect: the use of directional prefixes IN L2 Hungarian narrative

Beatrix Burghardt

Indiana University

Due to their universal structure, narratives have been used in SLA research to explore the acquisition of lexical aspect (Bardovi-Harlig, 1995, 1998, 2000). This paper investigates the acquisition of grammatical aspect marking in L2 Hungarian. Building on syntactic narrative analysis (Labov & Waletzky, 1967; Labov, 1972; Hopper, 1979; Reinhart, 1984; Dry 1992) I demonstrate how the evolving interlanguage allows learners to mark event sequencing by using directional prefixed verbs.

Ten English L1 speakers studying L2 Hungarian in an instructed foreign language environment participated in the cross-sectional study. I developed a purposefully modified version of a wordless picture book to collect 19 narratives. Learners retold the story twice using a different perspective.

The main analytical categories for prefixes were “present” and “underused”. The category “present” differentiated “appropriate use” and “miscategorization.” The token-analysis, which respects the structural properties of the narrative, was complemented by a type-analysis to track how learners extend prefix-meanings over time.

Results suggest that basic directional prefixes (be-, ki-, le-, fel-) with transparent form-meaning relations are used first but in restriction: they only appear on indeterminate verb-stems. Next, appropriate use of basic prefixes increases, additional directional prefixes become available (e.g. vissza-), and the number of “underused” prefixes decreases. The latter suggests that a previously empty slot has become a site of creative use for aspectual distinction. Finally, prefixes are used in a target-like manner, which allows learners to contrastively mark aspectual differences, e.g. ΓÇ₧ült pár percig ott [ΓǪ] (she was sitting there for a few minutes) vs. ΓÇ₧[..] le.ült rám“ (she sat down onto me). It is argued that the developmental stages of directional prefixed verbs used for aspect marking shows a parallel to the formula >> low-scope pattern >> construction pattern (Ellis, 1996), where directional prefixes serve as entry for the acquisition of less-transparent aspectual prefixes.


What does a Longitudinal Study Reveal of Advanced Finnish Students\’ Language Proficiency?

Kirsti Siitonen

University of Turku

In this presentation, I will explain how to study longitudinally the language proficiency of advanced Finnish learners\’ writing. In this kind of study, individuals\’ actual development can be examined. The study is comparable to variation studies and real-time methods. In the beginning of the two-year observation period the language skills of the students are already quite good; therefore, development is not fast. Most likely, the language is not much better at the final stage compared to the initial phase, but probably different.

We, at the University of Turku, are creating an encoded corpus of Finnish learners\’ texts by means of language technology. It can be used for wider research of the change of variation and the changes of the whole language proficiency. Our corpus will also have texts of native speakers as a comparison material.

Examples of our research questions: Which phenomena are not managed at the highest stage of learning? In comparison with native speakers\’ Finnish, how does learners\’ Finnish differ in the overall structure? Examples of our hypotheses: Word order errors will diminish. The selection of verbs will extend, the frequency of the verb olla (\’to be\’) will decrease. Language will be enriched structurally, due to the accumulation of different sentence types and complex nominal forms. The decisive question is, how rapidly does language proficiency develop and which are the characteristics of the development.

Finno-Ugric languages are not widely used by non-native speakers; therefore, native speakers are not accustomed to the fact that someone masters their language well, and they would not even demand it. It would be important that the native communities of Finno-Ugric languages respect their own mother-tongue and are aware of the political significance and value of the fact that non-native speakers are interested to reach a high academic level in their language.


Sisko Brunni

University of Oulu / Finnish language

The verb as a phraseological unit

In this presentation I shall use a sample of verbs to show which lexical, grammatical and semantical coincidences there are in the verb’s cotext. I am looking for ways that could enable teachers of Finnish as a foreign language to move from a teaching model based on free choice towards one using idioms. In an idiom-based model words are not thought to be linked with other words randomly; the model builds on the collocative, colligative and semantic coincidences of words. The approach to lexis is based on larger phraseological units than merely the word.

My approach is based on the research of corpora, as the basis of teaching should include frequency and authenticity of structures. For the colligation of words I have looked for the concordances of the verbs antaa, tulla and lähteä in the corpora found in Finnish Text Collection and the collection of texts translated into Finnish. From these structures I have taken the most usual moulds and variations of moulds linked to these verbs. A mould refers to a structure that appears frequently in the data and in which certain grammatical elements are found recurrently. An extension of a mould is a structure where another element is added to the basic structure (e.g. joku antaa jollekulle jotakin or joku antaa jonkun tehdä).

Phrased expressions are colligative coincidences, as they have a specific grammatical characteristic (such as the translative), but on the other hand, the words used in these expressions are often collocations of the verb. In the same way, other collocations of a word can be seen as purely lexical coincidences; an analysis can, however, reveal colligative characteristics, as well. Frequent collocations of the verb antaa include a target (eduskunnalle, heille) of the A-infinitive of a verb (antaa olla, antaa mennä).

In order to find semantic coincidences of a verb I look for links that moulds and their variations have with the different meanings of the word: specific moulds are used in specific meanings. In the same way, different moulds and meanings have their own collocations. This can be illustrated by the A-infinitives mentioned in the example above: they are linked to the permissive structure of the verb (the mould joku antaa jonkun tehdä).

Through an analysis of the different elements linked to a verb I construe a picture of the verb as a phraseological unit. At the heart of this picture sits the verb. In the structure emerging around the verb, the different meanings of the verb are linked to different moulds. Apart from these, the picture includes the collocations linked to the verb and its moulds. With the help of this picture the teaching of lexis can be taken in the direction of an idiom-based model, where the word is no longer seen as a separate unit but as a larger entity. Different meanings of a verb will not be taught in isolation from the related structures; the whole process of teaching of verbs will also include collocative and colligative aspects.


Marja Seilonen

University of Jyväskylä

Impersonal expressions in essays of Hungarian and Estonian learners of Finnish

The paper deals with the use of impersonal expressions by examining how the learners of Finnish use the passive, the zero person and other expressions of genericity like so called sinä-passive, which is mainly a feature of spoken language. The passive and the zero person are tools for expressing oneself on a more general and abstract level, whereas the use of personal structures focuses on personal, individual level. When studying a new language, a learner usually first learns how to describe the entire world around him from his personal point of view, by using personal forms, and only later he learns the ways of generalizing. The use of passive and zero person can therefore be a good indicator of language skills. In my analysis there is, in addition, a contrastive point of view: the use of impersonal expressions in the essays of Hungarian learners of Finnish will be compared to that of Estonian learners of Finnish, and the influence of the mother tongue in both groups will be examined. The examined essays come from YKI-corpus (YKI = yleinen kielitutkinto), which contains performances in The Finnish National Foreign Language Certificate. The essays represent the three levels of the certificate: basic, intermediate and advanced level.

He siivoavat pihan tarvittaessa nopeastikin. – Piha siivotaan tarvittaessa nopeastikin. – Pihan siivoaa tarvittaessa nopeastikin.

The passive and the zero person are structures which lack an overt subject, although the agent can be specified through the cotext or the situational context. In a passive sentence the agent is left to the background and the phrase is describing events less detailed than an active sentence, whereas a zero person leaves the agent open, makes it possible to the agent to be anyone. The passive and the zero person differ from each other in the sense, that the previous one is expressing events from the point of view of a group, the second one from that of an individual person.


Jarmo Jantunen

ICLFI – a source for non-Indo-European corpus-based learner language research

To date, computer-based analyses of learner language have mainly concentrated on studying the Indo-European languages, mainly English (see e.g. Granger 1998). However, when we aim to analyse the features that exist in the learner production no matter what their mother tongue backgrounds are (i.e. learner language universals, cf. Jantunen 2008), we should compile and analyse also other, non-Indo-European databases of learner language.

This presentation introduces the International Corpus of Learner Finnish (ICLFI). The ICLFI is one of the major corpora representing Baltic-Finnic learner language, the others being the Estonian Interlanguage Corpus (EIC, Eslon & Metslang 2007) and the Corpus of National Certificate Tests (CEFLING project, Martin 2007). The compilation of the ICLFI started in 2007 in the project Corpus study on language-specific and universal features in learner language. The data is being compiled with the help of Finnish language teachers working at the foreign universities. The corpus consists of the texts of the learners of Finnish, produced spontaneously in the language learning situations. So far (autumn 2008), the ICLFI contains circa 265.000 words and texts from speakers of 13 different mother tongues. The text types vary from fiction to non-fiction.

In addition to the texts, the corpus includes a whole range of metatextual information on different variables; this information is encoded in the header of every text file. The variables are learner variables (e.g. age and mother tongue), learning context variables (e.g. teacher’s mother tongue), and task variables (e.g. genre and reference tools). These data give the opportunity to study the effect of, for example, the mother tongue background and the proficiency level on the learner’s learning process and production. The information retrieved from the ICLFI can be utilized in actual language teaching situations, as well as in textbook writing and dictionary compilation.


Tuija Määttä

Umeå universitet

Institutionen för språkstudier

Corpus-based Analysis of how Swedish-speaking students learning Finnish use the local cases in text production

On the courses Finska A and Finska A1, which are courses in Finnish as a foreign language at the beginner level, most of the students have Swedish as their mother tongue. The courses include studies in grammar, written and oral skills and text comprehension.

The studies in written skills contain for example many grammatical exercises and also free writing of shorter texts on different topics. During an academic year the students produce about ten texts each. The length of a text is approximately 30 clauses. The students deliver the texts in electronic form and after that the texts become a part of the larger text corpus International Corpus of Learner Finnish (ICLFI) which will be compiled during the project Corpus study on language-specific and universal features in learner language in 2008-2011.

Over many years I have noticed that the beginners in Finnish have difficulties in using the six local cases. For some reason they mix up the use of the inner and the outer local cases, especially the illative and the allative. To find out how frequent this phenomenon is I have chosen a corpus containing 30 000 tokens. The text genres in this corpus are narratives, essays, diaries, post cards and cartoon texts. To find all the occurrences of all the local cases I have used the Concord programme in the Word Smith Tools programme.

In this presentation I shall discuss possible reasons why the Swedish-speaking learners of Finnish use the illative and the allative as they do. Are there phenomena in their first language which disturb the learning of the local cases, or are there perhaps some context or text-bound features or factors at work in the genres in which they use them?


The influence of the related and unrelated first language on the acquisition of Finnish and Estonian: a corpus-based study

Pille Eslon

Annekatrin Kaivapalu

Tallinn University

Most studies of cross-linguistic influence, and learner language in general, have been based on limited and manually analyzed data. The few empirical studies based on learner corpora have focused on large Indo-European languages, mainly English, and the results are not automatically applicable to structurally and typologically different languages. The compiling and developing of the two Finno-Ugric learner language corpora, the Estonian Interlanguage Corpus (EILC) in Tallinn University ( and the International Corpus of Learner Finnish (ICLFI) in Oulu University ( will diversify the research of crosslinguistic influence as one of the learner language universals.

This paper discusses some preliminary results of the research project Cross-linguistic influence and second language acquisition: corpus-based research of Tallinn University. The aim of this project is to investigate the morphological, morphosyntactical and lexical cross-linguistic influence and to find out differences between the influence of closely related and unrelated first language on the acquisition of Estonian and Finnish. This paper considers the cross-linguistic influence on the bases of some examples of EILC and ICLFI from two points of view. Firstly, the production of Estonian learners of Finnish and Finnish learners of Estonian will be explored. Secondly, the production of Russian learners of Estonian and Finnish will be examined. The starting points of the the discussion are the following hypotheses:

  • when symmetrical objective similarity occurs between the systems of Estonian and Finnish, the cross-linguistic influence is also symmetrical;
  • the influence of unrelated Russian on the acquisition of the related Estonian and Finnish is similar.



Hannu Remes

University of Joensuu

At the beginning, the aim of VIRSU-project — which started in 1997 — was to study the special features of learning and teaching Finnish and Estonian. Since then the project has been widened to cover all the Finno-Ugric languages. University education of the Finnish language in Estonia and education of Estonian in Finland have already long traditions. Especially Finnish has also been taught at universities in many other countries for quite a long time. Nowadays it can be studied at over a hundred universities in 30 countries and respectively Estonian at ca. 40 universities in almost 20 countries. Interest in these languages is continually rising thanks to the increasing international cooperation. Both languages also belong to the languages of the European Union. Among the students there are more and more people whose mother tongue is not a related language. It is well-founded to think that for both practical learning of language skills and for acquiring linguistic information, it would be useful to teach and study Finnish and Estonian side by side as foreign languages and to utilise the near kinship and relationship of these languages. This would, of course, require a more suitable organising of international Finno-Ugristics in many universities world-wide.

The presentation looks more closely at the morphological level, especially the relationship between the Finnish and Estonian inflection systems and the proportion similarities and differences when the two languages are taught side by side. Even though the languages are looked at side by side synchronically, it is useful in many cases to pay attention to the diachronic matters when explaining the differences. Finnish and Estonian have maintained a host of common ancient features nearly uniform, but, on the other hand, language historical development has caused especially in Estonian many changes that have lead to even typological differences. Also conscious developing and standardization of the languages have increased dissimilarities.


Minna Suni

University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Challenging authority or keeping quiet? Finno-Ugric languages in SLA.

In this paper, some recent developments in the research field of Finnish as a second language will be related to mainstream second language acquisition research. This highlights the relevance of typologically different and less widely taught languages in this mainly English-centred context. Also the current status of other Finno-Ugric languages in second language research will be briefly discussed.

Both theoretical and methodological issues will be dealt with to reveal that research on learning Finno-Ugric languages as second languages offers new insights into e.g. the linguistic processing involved in second language interaction and acquisition.

Such research obviously deserves to be better known internationally. Even more, it needs to be strengthened by focused networking and by seeking funding for larger projects covering several Finno-Ugric target languages.


Timothy Riese

University of Vienna

Perspectives for the Acquisition of “Small” Finno-Ugrian Languages

The various university departments dealing with the Uralic languages have always seen it as their task to teach these languages to university students by offering courses for this purpose. The way these courses have been held and the importance they have had in the various curricula has always been determined by one important factor: is the Uralic language in question a ‘large’ or a ‘small’ one? The ‘large’ languages have always been Hungarian and Finnish (and more and more commonly Estonian), the ‘small’ languages being all the rest. Instruction in both large and small languages has always been an integral part of the curriculum, but the structure and purpose of the courses vary considerably.

Recent years have also seen a welcome development in the teaching of the “large” Finno-Ugrian languages, reflected in a) the number of (weekly) hours devoted to language acquisition, b) the methods and materials used in the classroom, and c) the quality and training of the teachers. Problems and questions of the acquisition of Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian as target languages rightly form the topic of international research.

As regards the “small” Finno-Ugrian languages the situation is quite different. While their acquisition on some level is considered an important component of Finno-Ugrian Studies as a whole, there is practically no discussion whatever in our field of the goals to be reached and the necessary methods for their attainment. Instead, the acquisition of “small” Uralic languages is characterized by out-dated attitudes and antiquated teaching materials. I feel it is time for a reexamination of what we want to achieve when we offer courses on the “small” languages and what materials we need to achieve our learning goals. In this presentation I will present my own thoughts on this topic.