The question of units in language and interaction is a research project funded by a bilateral grant from the Academy of Finland and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The Finnish consortium is led by professor Ritva Laury and consists of research teams at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku. The Helsinki team is led by prof. Laury, and the Turku team by professor Marja-Liisa Helasvuo. The Japanese team is led by professor Ryoko Suzuki (Keio University).
The question of units of language, a central issue in linguistics, has been made newly relevant by recent developments in the field. Recent research shows that when using language in conversation, speakers do not rely solely on grammatical building blocks but also on conventionalized formulas, bodily gestures and contextual information. Lately it has even been questioned whether the units of language as traditionally identified by linguists are crosslinguistically valid, and, on the other hand, whether they have anything at all to do with how participants in actual conversation operate. In our project, we seek to shed new light on this debate and investigate conversational data from typologically and genetically distinct languages in order to determine whether, or to what degree, linguistically defined units are in fact relevant to conversationalists
The team working at the University of Helsinki focuses its research on clause-sized units, clause combinations and embodied actions, while the focus of the Turku team is especially on units smaller than the clause, as well as prosody. The Japanese team focuses on the units of language and interaction on the basis of a corpus which includes data from Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Miyako (Ryukyuan) and Nuuchahnulth (Wakashan). As a whole, the project is informed by the expertise its members have in typologically diverse languages, which enables crosslinguistic comparison.