The research topic of Johanna Viimaranta, professor of Russian linguistics, is not easily explained in English. She is studying case endings, which are used to express, among other things, location, mode and ownership. In the English language, their role is often played by prepositions.
“In this regard, languages are different. In Finnish, case endings are important, whereas in colloquial Russian case ending use depends on the listener's interpretative skills. In English, they have been lost altogether,” Viimaranta explains.
In Russian, case endings are often pronounced so carelessly that the listener must deduce whether their partner in dialogue actually uttered a case ending or not.
“Literary language is less susceptible to change than colloquial language. In speech, case endings are often left out in Russian. Even in Finnish, some endings may be dropped or incompletely pronounced.”
In languages, I am interested in their hard core, grammar.
Language differences are a general interest of Viimaranta. Even though her chair is in Russian, she claims this to be mere coincidence. Viimaranta’s favourite language is Polish, in addition to which she studies at least some twenty research topics.
“In languages, I am interested in their hard core, grammar,” explains Viimaranta, who calls herself a ‘hardcore linguist’.
“Linguistics today focuses quite heavily on considering the social use of language, power structures related to language and so forth. However, I have personally always been interested in how languages work like they do, and why do they differ from each other.”
One such fascinating subject of comparison is the expression of onomatopoeic utterances, or expressions that suggest the sound they describe, in various languages. Such as splash, bang or boing.
“For example, in Russian, these words can be used as verbs, as in ‘he splash into water’. Then again, in Finnish that is impossible. I’m now trying to find out whether there is a systematic reason for this difference.”