Research in linguistics and digital humanities

Language research at the University of Helsinki has always maintained its strong commitment to a better understanding of cultural areas and their history. Situated in an ideal place for the study of language history and contact linguistics of various Eurasian language families, Helsinki has a long tradition in the study of Uralic languages. Our interest in the culturally and historically informed study of language reaches well beyond that, spanning Asia, Europe and Africa.

The Master's Programme in Linguistic Diversity and Digital Humanities combines several research fields in which the University of Helsinki has long been a global leader. Each of the study lines of the programme (Cognitive Science, Digital Humanities, General Linguistics, Language Technology and Phonetics) corresponds to a focus area at the University of Helsinki.

Our language-related research is typically multidisciplinary, involving more than one linguistic speciality. This is a crucial feature of our programme. You will receive theoretical, thematic and methodological training for research or other professional careers that require problem-solving skills in order to maintain linguistic diversity and to support people’s linguistic well-being.

Cognitive Science studies perception, learning, memory, thought, and language. The common denominator of all these is that they can be studied from the point of view of the mind/brain representing and processing information. As an interdisciplinary enterprise, cognitive science methods integrate areas of cognitive psychology, linguistics, cognitive and computational neuroscience, computer science, and philosophy.

In Helsinki, Cognitive Science research is based on naturalistic research methods such as psychological experiments (both in the lab and in the wild), psychophysiology, brain imaging and stimulation (EEG, MEG, fMRI, TMS), computational modelling, and analytical philosophy.

More information about Cognitive Science research at the University of Helsinki.

Research in digital humanities focuses particularly on computational history. It implies the use of mixed methods in which big data approach is combined to expert subject knowledge in intellectual history and book history.

The Helsinki Computational History Group (COMHIS) is a multidisciplinary team that studies intellectual history. The work in the group is guided by methods from various different backgrounds ranging from modern data science and machine learning to history and linguistics.

More information about computational history and the COMHIS group.

FIN-CLARIN is an infrastructure for digital humanities providing researchers with efficient access to online research tools and resources through the Language Bank of Finland. A sizeable portion of the research data in digital humanities is language data which benefits from insights and research in language technology on automated annotation and analysis. However, research data in digital humanities also consists of sound, pictures and measurement data needing textual descriptions for discoverability and further use, so text-for-data production is an important field of research when developing FIN-CLARIN.

Further information at the website of the Language Bank of Finland.

Our language research is empirically driven and informed by linguistic typology. The question of linguistic complexity, its significance for language and cultural history, and its intersection with ecological models is a hallmark of the Helsinki Area and Language studies (HALS) research community. We explore new horizons in areal and language studies by combining cutting edge research in linguistic typology with fieldwork based on descriptive linguistics and linguistic anthropology.

Our research is always based on empirical field data which we analyse with various methods, drawing on historical comparison, language documentation, contact linguistics, and linguistic anthropology. Our analyses address linguistically complex areas in order to learn how to maintain linguistic diversity and support people’s linguistic well-being.

As a research community, HALS is both a practical and intellectual support structure at the University of Helsinki for language research that meets our “mission statement”: describing languages, language histories of specific regions, and analysing language typological issues in a rich manner that includes historical, cultural and anthropological aspects. In practice, HALS members support each other in securing funding for a broad variety of research projects. In these projects, we try to cooperate across disciplinary boundaries. This also involves cooperation with partners outside the University of Helsinki, both at national and international level.

Read more about the research projects on the HALS website.

A unique asset at the University of Helsinki is the presence of various language technology initiatives at the forefront of the digital humanities. The study of morphologically complex languages plays a big role here, and we pay special attention to less-researched languages. We work on multilingual models for natural language understanding using deep learning and diverse data sets. Neural machine translation is one of the practical applications that we develop also covering speech and audiovisual data. Our research includes the detection of sentiment and emotions across languages and domains and we are part of the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence working on models for cross-lingual human-computer interaction.

More information about Language Technology in Helsinki.

A society emerges from the interaction between its members. The whole society rests on our ability to speak — to understand and produce language; without these abilities societies would collapse. Understanding these abilities is as central to us as understanding the rest of Nature.

The scientific study of speech is thus cross-disciplinary and phonetics is at the core of this enterprise. Phonetics studies speech sounds, the ways they are put together to yield meaningful messages in the physical form. We investigate this physical form in all its rich variation, think of the difference between soft whispering and shouting in rage and how these can vary between languages and individuals. Also, we want to know how these physical forms are decoded by the human listener or a machine.

Phonetics is a theoretically grounded, empirical, data-driven discipline. Its aim is to understand, model, and explain speech in its full richness and apply these insights in education and technological applications.

The Phonetics and Speech Synthesis research group in Helsinki contributes substantially to this world-wide research effort. The members of our group are internationally renown scientists in this field with strong publication records. The main areas of focus in the group are theoretical investigations in embodied modeling of articulation dynamics, psychoacoustics, prosody (timing, melody, stress), and their application in speech synthesis. At the same time, we investigate the possibilities in the digital era inform our theoretical understanding of speech-related phenomena such as language diversity and typology.

The group is involved in many national and international collaborative research programs.

More information about the Phonetics and Speech Synthesis research group.