Internationally, English scholars at the University of Helsinki are particularly well known for the study of the history, variation and change of the English language. Researchers have developed a wealth of digital text collections (corpora) for research purposes. You can learn more about this research on the website of the VARIENG research unit.
Other topics studied include English as a global language and lingua franca, language policy in academic settings, digital or computer-mediated discourse and multimodality. Methods are drawn from pragmatics, sociolinguistics and discourse analysis, among others.
Literary studies in the discipline are also active – the staff members study all kinds of literature in English from the 1500s to the present. Key subjects include Anglo-American fiction, postcolonial and migrant literature, Renaissance drama and poetry, science fiction and fantasy. Primary material features novels, short stories, poems and plays, and the methods employed include narratological, postcolonial and cognitive approaches, in use for example in the Instrumental Narratives project.
Democratization, Mediatization and Language Practices in Britain, 1700–1950
DEMLANG produces knowledge about the interrelatedness of the sociocultural processes of democratization and mediatization, and language practices in Britain, 1700–1950. The aim is to discover mechanisms operating in the bidirectional relationship between sociocultural change and language change. This relationship will be empirically studied in public and private texts mediating ideologies and values. Macrolevel analyses with large corpora allow data-driven tracing of changing patterns in lexis, phraseology and syntax and the discovery of statistically significant turning points, while microlevel analyses with philologically well-argued smaller corpora make it possible to uncover the complexity of phenomena and to explain emerging, changing and declining linguistic features with the help of historical background data.
DEMLANG is a four-year consortium project between the Universities of Helsinki and Tampere. The Helsinki team includes the project leader Minna Palander-Collin and senior researchers Turo Hiltunen and Minna Nevala.
Language Regulation in Academia
The LaRA project explores different forms and practices of language regulation in academic settings. Language regulation is understood in broad terms, as all the various ways in which language users intervene in and monitor their own and others’ language. Forms of regulation range from speakers correcting each others’ language in interaction to institutionally imposed language policies and guidelines about acceptable usage. The project is funded by the Kone Foundation.
Research Unit for the Study of Variation, Contacts and Change in English
VARIENG stands for the Research Unit for the Study of Variation, Contacts and Change in English. It also stands for innovative thinking and team work in English corpus linguistics and the study of language variation and change. VARIENG members study the English language, its uses and users, both today and in the past. They are interested in how language is situated in social, cognitive, textual and discourse contexts, and produced in speaker interaction; how language varies and changes in meaning and structure; and how change is connected with language typology.
Interfacing Structured and Unstructured Data in Sociolinguistic Research on Language Change
The STRATAS project studies language change by developing tools that enable us to ask questions that have until now been too labour-intensive to answer. These tools are being developed by computer scientists and visualization specialists in collaboration with language historians who study the development of English and Finnish over time.
Reassessing Language Change: The Challenge of Real Time
One of the major challenges in linguistic research is unravelling the process of language change. Sociolinguists have made great strides by analysing change in apparent time, comparing the language use of successive generations at a given point in time. Information on real-time change is harder to come by but, thanks to the digital turn in the humanities, more data is available that enables the diachronic approach. However, empirical work on change over time is still fragmented and provides only a patchy coverage of certain aspects of change.
Scientific Thought-styles: The Evolution of English Medical Writing
The project aims at describing stylistic changes in medical English in a long diachronic perspective in a multifaceted sociohistorical framework: in addition to anchoring texts in their generic and sociolinguistic context, we study linguistic phenomena in relation to scientific ideologies. For our research material, we are compiling a computer-readable Corpus of Early English Medical Writing. The results obtained from several studies show that this new approach is fruitful and that variability in language reflects a complex network of underlying parameters. For a comprehensive diachronic description further studies are needed, but some lines of development are gradually beginning to emerge, and we have reached a stage where some level of synthesis is possible. Individual members of the project have adapted the methodological frame to their own research purposes.