Languages

Our consultants spoke 72 different mother tongues and 76 different languages in total.

This is approximately 44% of the languages found in previous statistics

6 new, previously unmentioned in statistics, languages were found

Helsinki is surprisingly diverse place linguistically. This research focused on the languages which are considered ‘foreign languages’ in Finland. These languages are languages other than Finnish, Swedish, Saami languages, Finnish Romani, and Finnish sign language. Research on foreign languages has already previously been done for example by Fred Karlsson and Sirkku Latomaa who have focused on the national mother tongue statistics. In this section, we try to illuminate the official statistics in relation to our own research.

The mother tongue statistics gathered by Statistics Finland are the best starting point in seeing the multilingualism in the HMA. According to these statistics, there are 158 languages spoken in the HMA. Nationwide, Fred Karlsson has analyzed the Statistics Finland data and concluded that approximately 500 languages are spoken in Finland as mother tongues. He also raises an important issue which comes along with such statistics: they only assume only one mother tongue and there are problems in trying to classify languages based on peoples’ own namings. The category of ‘foreign’ languages is also not without problems, since languages like Estonian, Russian and Tatar have a long history in Finland, but these are grouped along with the other, often more recent, foreign languages (check out Karlsson’s book for more detailed history of these languages!)

Multilingualism is not only speaking multiple mother tongues, but every language which people know should be taken into account. Most often, even the most ‘monolingual’ Finns are actually multilingual after having learned English and Swedish in schools. Our consultants, usually had one mother tongue and knew three other languages. The most linguistically skilled people reported having five mother tongues and nine languages in total.

Languages spoken in Finland according to this research. It is important to note that languages,which are spoken in different countries are ignored here; even though we had English and Spanish speakers from both Europe and America, only European locations are marked on the map. Locations were approximated using Glottlog.

In total 76 different languages were reported to be spoken by the consultants. The below list contains all of the languages which they reported speaking. A detailed table of the mother languages and other languages can be found here, which also contains the amount of answers. The list contains also languages’ ISO 639-3 codes, which are standardized, unique identifiers for languages and different language varieties. For example, Chinese can be considered to be a ‘macrolanguage’ which includes different languages and varieties, such as Cantonese, Min-Chinese, Mandarin Chinese and so on. These kinds of cases are combined in the last part of the table.

Word cloud of the all, self-reported languages and varieties. The size of the language is based on the number of answers.

Some of the varieties can be combined, thus these languages can be listed as:
Akan (twi, fat), Albanian (sqi), Ancient Greek (gre), Arabic (ara, acm, arq), Armenian (hye), Bahasa Indonesia (ind), Bengali (ben), Berber (ber), Bikol (bik), Bosnian (bos), Catalan (cat), Chinese (cmn, yue, ?), Czech (ces), Danish (dan), Dutch (nld), English (eng), Esperanto (epo), Estonian (est), Ewe (ewe), Finnish (fin), French (fra), Fula (ful), Ga (gaa), German (deu), Greek (ell), Gujarati (guj), Hebrew (heb), Hindi (hin), Icelandic (isl), Igbo (ibo), Italian (ita), Japanese (jpn), Javanese (jav), Jola (dyo), Karelian (kar), Kashmiri (kas), Kazakh (kaz), Khmer (khm), Khodmuni/ Larestani/ Achomi (lrl), Kikuyu (kik), Kinyarwanda (kin), Komi (kom), Korean (kor), Kurdish (kur, kmr, ckb), Latin (lat), Latvian (lav), Lingala (lin), Macedonian (mcd), Mandinka (mnk), Nepali (nep), Norwegian (nor), Odiya (ori), Pashto (pus), Persian (fas, prs), Polish (pol), Portuguese (por), Punjabi (pan), Romanian (ron), Russian (rus), Serbian (ser), Serbo-croatian (cbs), Spanish (spa), Swahili (swa), Swedish (swe), Tagalog (tag), Tamil (tam), Thai (tha), Turkish (tur), Udmurt (udm), Ukrainian (ukr), Urdu (urd), Vietnamese (vie), Visaya (ceb?), Welsh (cym), Wolof (wof), Yoruba (yor)

This research found 44% of the languages which have been found in previous statistics. The most obvious lack in our research is the lack of Somali speaking consultants. This is very surprising as Somali is one of the most spoken foreign languages in Finland and the HMA (see graph below). The simplest explanation for this is that none of the students had any Somali contacts. The lack of consultant from Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia does not seem surprising. Languages, such as Chamorro, Fijian, Nauru, Samoan, Tongan, and Tahitian, each have less than 10 speakers in the HMA.

New languages which this research was able to find were: Ga (gaa), Jola (dyo), Mandinka (mdk), Bikol (bik), Larestani (lrl), and Visaya (ceb?). In total, according to the official statistics and the results of our project, approximately 164 languages are spoken in the HMA.

General population and linguists often have differing views of categorizing languages, and this can lead to some problems while doing research. While linguists might consider some languages to be just varieties of some larger language, to the people themselves the difference is very important. Often, groups have their own names for their languages and these can differ significantly from linguists’ classifications. This can be problematic when trying to figure out what languages people speak. For example, in our research, we had cases like ‘Sumatran’ (not included here) and ‘Khodmooni’, which required some detective work to figure out which language was meant.

Twenty most spoken languages in the HMA according to the Statistics Finland. Nationwide, the language situation also differs, and for example, Arabic is the third biggest foreign language in Finland according to the most recent statistics.

Our research had a lot of languages for which we only had a few consultants. This is similar to the case in the HMA in general as many languages only have few speakers. Largest languages, Russian, English and Estonian, had most consultants in our research as well, but as mentioned above, there were also some discrepancies, thus further research is necessary to better understand the linguistic diversity in the HMA.

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