Research

The Master’s Programme Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Age combines several research fields in which the University of Helsinki has long been a global leader. Language research in 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.

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 School of Linguistics. We explore new horizons in areal and language studies by combining cutting edge research in linguistic typology with field work based on descriptive linguistics and linguistic anthropology.

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.

Each of the four study lines of our Master’s programme thus corresponds to a focus area at the University of Helsinki. Our language-related research is typically multidisciplinary, involving more than one linguistic specialty. This is a crucial feature in 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. 

FIN-CLARIN is an infrastructure for digital humanities providing researchers 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 disoverability and further use, so text-for-data production is an important field of research when developing FIN-CLARIN.

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Written and spoken languages are central for any human activity. In the digital age, language technology has a growing importance for human communication through applications like information retrieval, machine translation, text mining, speech interfaces and question answering systems.

The goal in language technology is to study and develop computational models of natural languages in order to understand human communication and to develop practical tools. The linguistic diversity in the world and the complexity of human languages create a fascinating challenge for scientists and system developers. Language technology is a multidisciplinary field that combines linguistics and computer science with connections to mathematics, statistics, cognitive science, phonetics and artificial intelligence.

In Helsinki, our research focuses on languages that have a complex word structure, on cross-lingual natural language processing, and on language technology in the humanities. 

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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 in involved in many national and international collaborative research programs.

Language research that paves the way to a better understanding of cultural areas and their history is what we do in HALS. 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 diversoity 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 level and internationally.

Concrete examples for research projects currently carried out by HALS researchers include:

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Com­pu­ta­tional His­tory and the Trans­form­a­tion of Pub­lic Dis­course in Fin­land, 1640–1910 (COM­HIS)

The COMHIS consortium identifies overlooked moments of transformation in public discourse in Finland 1640–1910 by blending historical and computational approaches. The research will reflect on how social change and public discourse are intertwined, and how cultural, institutional, legal and technological changes are reflected both in publication metadata and the textual content of the publications. Particular attention is paid on transparent and reproducible data analysis approaches, published as an open data analytical ecosystem. The newspaper materials digitised by the National Library of Finland up until 1910 are freely available through the digi.kansalliskirjasto.fi service. The consortium members include Finnish national library (Centre for Preservation and Digitisation), University of Helsinki (Faculty of Humanities) and University of Turku (Departments of Cultural History and Information Technology).

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