ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Multilingual Practices in Finno-Ugric Communities

nyomtatható változat





The Leaders of the Project: Associate Professor Márta Csepregi (Eötvös Loránd University Budapest), Professor Riho Grünthal (University of Helsinki)


Duration: 01.09.2013–31.08.2017




HUNGARY: Eötvös Loránd University Budapest: Department of Hungarian and Finno-Ugric linguistics

FINLAND: University of Helsinki: Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies




Márta Csepregi, Zsuzsanna Salánki, Péter Pomozi, Szilvia Németh, Laura Horváth (Eötvös Loránd University)

Riho Grünthal, Magdolna Kovács, Mai Frick, Ulrikka Puura, Outi Tánczos




While multilingualism is perceived as a central and very natural dimension of everyday-life in western linguistic and social studies, minority language groups and migrants often use it as an invaluable tool for integration into modern networks. The output of multilingualism is very different as an interactional tool between speakers of major European languages such as English, French, German and Russian, and language contact situations in which a majority and minority language have a different official, social and public status. Hence, multilingual practices have two opposite dimensions, firstly as an enriching part of interaction between people and communities, secondly as a tool of minority language speakers using different languages parallel in different domains.

As a rule, autochtonous minorities in Russia and Eastern Europe are very seldom represented in international research. What is known about the substance of multilingual representations and the alleged parallel use of a minority and majority language is mainly based on assumptions instead of detailed analyses of the actual situation. Research into multilingual communication and the choice of language in contemporary domains is generally underrepresented. The main defect of biased research is that despite a more liberal political attitude towards multilingualism in Europe and the Finno-Ugric speaking areas, the current practices have not efficiently slowed down the decrease in traditional cultural and linguistic diversity, a major problem in the world we live in.


Aims of the project


The goal of the project is to enhance the perception of multilingualism in different Finno-Ugric speech communities with a special emphasis on those instances that the two collaborating universities have analysed in their previous research. More generally speaking, the focused languages lack an adequate description of the real influence of multilingualism. There is also a great need to analyse, describe and maintain contemporary linguistic data concerning Finno-Ugric languages that should be available to broader research circles. The overarching aim is to carry out internationally high-level research on the described area in terms of international and mutual networking and collaboration, and to shed new light on the influence of multilingualism in different Finno-Ugric contexts including autochtonous and migrant languages.

Furthermore, we aim at investigating the extent to which the different public statuses of language influence everyday communication and tin what measure minority language speakers are able to resist a major shift to a majority language. Furthermore, we aim at clarifying the importance of attitudes in language choice in a multilingual Finno-Ugric context. We maintain that qualitative analysis is important for language policies and sustainable minority language planning. Research into both social and language networks has special relevance for developing the appropriate language revitalisation methods necessary for investigating decreasing and endangered minority language communities. We focus on minority language communities that apply multilingualism in daily practice and simultaneously increase the tendency towards language shift. The aims of the project reflect the following facts pointed out by previous research:


(i)      in balanced bilingualism code switching is an enriching language resource for individual speakers and communities

(ii)     in unbalanced multilingualism code switching enhances gradual language shift especially if the minority language involved completely lacks the more formal domains of language usage

(iii)    the weaker the position a given language is in formal domains, the faster language shift becomes

(iv)    statistical information on the focus languages Karelian, Veps, Mari and Udmurt, Mansi that will be investigated within the project shows a constant decline in the number of speakers

(v)     in addition to statistical population decline, passive assimilation is a major path to language shift in many Finno-Ugric communities

(vi)    in contact between typologically divergent languages very intensive code switching may trigger code mixing and accelerate language shift

(vii)   there is no clear-cut border between borrowing and code switching

(viii)  the multilingualism of majority-language speakers is essentially different from that of minority language speakers


Our project re-conceptualises multilingualism in Finno-Ugric communities with a special emphasis on minority languages, and re-challenges concepts concerning the influence of multilingualism on individual language in more general terms. The more theoretical viewpoint comes from a language contact situation and its dynamics whereas the analysis of individual cases is of more general interest, also for the investigated communities. We are focusing on the following research areas:


(a1)      the divergence of multilingual practices in different FU communities

(a2)      the relationship between attitudes, language sociological parameters such as age, gender and education, language choice and code switching

(a3)      the impact of urbanisation and cultural change on language, topics of speech and adoption of multilingual means of communication

(a4)      the different forms of code switching in eroding FU communities

(a5)      language contact as a mirror of the language sociological situation

(a6)      typologically different language contact situations in the Finno-Ugric framework

(a7)      the empirical evidence of spoken variants in a language contact situation; a parallel goal is to enhance the portability and management of data on contemporary multilingual Finno-Ugric varieties


Focused languages


Given the expertise available in both collaborating universities and previous research, the project is able to cover a wide array of language contact situations. In addition to shedding light on the multilingual practices in the investigated cases, the selected majority-minority contact situations reflect contemporary multilingualism in more general terms.

The particular cases for the investigation of multilingual practices in Finno-Ugric communities include

(c1)      contacts between genetically and typologically different languages (Karelian-Russian, Veps-Russian, Udmurt-Russian, Mansi-Russian),

(c2)      contacts between possibly endangered minority languages with some usage in public space (media, lower education, established standard language) and a majority language (Udmurt-Russian, Mari-Russian),

(c3)      contacts between severely endangered minority languages and overwhelmingly a dominating majority language (Karelian-Russian, Veps-Russian, Mansi-Russian)

(c4)      contacts between typologically diverging language that share a lexical and grammatical basis (Finnish-Estonian),

(c5)      contacts between typologically adjacent languages sharing a genetic background that, nevertheless, operate on an entirely different lexical and grammatical basis (Finnish-Hungarian).