Language use

There exists a division between home languages and languages which are used in the public sphere

This section focuses on the use of the languages to see what languages are actually spoken in the HMA. This is a challenging topic to research, as each person is an individual having their own relationships and biographies which shape their language use. Here, we chose to focus on which languages our consultants used in different domains. In linguistics, the concept of domain is defined as:

…a socio-cultural construct abstracted from topics of communication, relationships between communicators, and locales of communication, in accord with the institutions of a society and the spheres of activity of a speech community. (Fishman 1971: 587)[6]

In simpler terms: different places, people, and their relationships involve different language choices; one would not speak the same way to their mother as to their boss, not even when they would use the same language.


Seven different individuals and their language use across different domains. Larger the part, more they used the language. Some individuals can have a more balanced division whereas others only use languages in specific situations.

People were aware of domains and how they affected their language choices. Many students had been able to write down very interesting comments from the consultants about these choices. For example, one consultant had noted that they usually used Spanish in Twitter, but Facebook and Instagram were in English. Other consultant noted that they were switching between languages with their children because of their different age and gender. One’s mother tongue could be used to speak about private things in secret, but switching to common language was so automatic that it happened when another person walked into the room. The institutional and location context could become intertwined as one consultant noted that they used English at the university library, but Finnish at the municipal library. There were only five cases where people wrote that they did not use their mother tongues in any domain.

In the questionnaire, consultants were asked two questions about language use. First one asked whether they used language A, B, C, D in domains such as Home, Library, or Public Authority. The languages A, B, C, D, E were decided by the consultants and students, and sometimes reflected consultants choosing of their ‘strongest’ language, rather than their mother tongue, thus we have chosen to use A, B, C, D here as well. Most often language A would be the one which the consultants would also consider to be their mother tongue. Most often people had just listed their mother tongues, but many had also  marked other languages which needed to be fitted during analysis. For this reason, the category E was added. It is good to remember that the question was not whether the consultants used one language over another, but rather, if they used it at all. Thus consultants could pick multiple languages for single domain.

The second question asked for the frequency of use, that is, whether they used those languages regularly, sometimes, never, or they did not engage in those contexts. In this question, two slots were provided with the intention that students would print/mark more slots if necessary but sadly this was often overlooked. There are some differences in the structure of the questions as well. The relatives category had been merged in the frequency question and the social media category was lacking in this question. Some of the answers for social media had been moved to the other domain part.

According to our data, there is a significant division between one’s mother tongue use in private and public spheres. Mother tongue was clearly used in domains which were quite unsurprising: at home, with relatives, friends, and in social media. Public domains included: work/school, neighbours, shops, street, library, church/mosque, public authority and community events. Private domains included: home, relatives in Finland, relatives in home country. The social media and other domain answers were excluded because the former combines both public and private aspects and the latter because it was a free choice. In private domains more than 75% of the consultants used their mother tongues. In public domains, only 22% could speak their mother tongue. The use of one’s mother tongues in social media is a significant thing to note, as this can serve as a way to maintain one’s mother tongue even when you cannot form a physical community where to use the language. It was also, in addition to relatives in home country, work/school, friends, a domains where was plenty of use of different languages suggesting that these are the areas of our consultants’ life where they encounter the most multilingualism. The languages C which were used in church/mosque included: English, Finnish, Twi.

Language use in private domains and public domains. Of the consultants, 75% used their mother tongue (marked in green) at private domains and only 22% at the public domains.

When looking at consultants who did not speak Finnish, Swedish nor English as their mother tongues (101), the division between public and private languages remains, but the use of A, B, C, D is more varied. The four languages in the Language C part were: Mandarin Chinese, Twi, Hindi, Arabic. Three of them are few of the biggest languages in the world thus it is not surprising that they are used a lot. Language D in Church/Mosque category was Arabic. Here, one also can see the quite equal amount of use of common languages in the public and private domains. Language B which was used with public authority were English and Finnish.

In the language use data, we can see the importance of Finnish in public domains in three points: Language B had most use per domain and was most often Finnish, in the frequency question language 2 was most often Finnish and the question about use of Finnish itself. In the frequency part, English was the second most common choice, thus these two can be considered to be the most common ‘second strongest languages’ after ones other tongue or the language which they use most in Finland (see also the next section ‘Majority languages’).

Language which consultants chose in the second question about language frequency. Finnish: 50%, English: 39%, Others: 11%. Two people chose Swedish. Other languages had mostly answers from single consultants, in total 90 did not mark one of their mother tongues in this question. For the consultants, who did not speak Finnish, English nor Swedish as their mother tongues the situation was more equal: 34% English and 32% Finnish.
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