Research projects
Translation, migration, and democracy: Managing multilingual access to information in the greater Helsinki area and in Tallinn

This project (January 2022 to December 2025) analyzes translation policies and practices guiding the translation of information targeted at migrant populations. The research focuses on the organizations active in the Greater Helsinki Area (Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa) and in Tallinn, Estonia, including municipalities, NGOs, companies, institutions of higher learning, and the media. The project is funded by the KONE foundation. The project combines the theories and methodologies of functionalist and sociological translation studies and critical approaches to linguistics.

Multilingualism often is perceived as constituting a challenge to democracy: the language barrier prevents many migrants from having the opportunity to be involved in social, cultural, and political life and to operate as members of their local communities and the society as a whole. Translation policy is an important tool to promote the integration of migrants. Today, translated information is readily available on websites and social media. However, the COVID-19 crisis has shown that all migrants do not use the information or have access to it. The exact reasons why the information does not reach all the end users are not known. This brings to the fore the need to do a thorough analysis of the guiding principles, implementation, and effectiveness of current translation policies and practices in migration contexts.

We approach translation as a practice of governmentality and power production that allows the participation of migrants but can lead to inadvertent inequalities and discriminations. We analyze the texts providing the foundations for current translation policies, a sample of translated texts, and the online environments in which the translations are disseminated. In addition, we interview persons who take part in the different phases of design, implementation, and consumption of translation policies and practices. The goal is to propose solutions in cooperation with the stakeholders in order to improve the quality of translation policies and practices.


Simo Määttä (PI), Tuija Kinnunen, Päivi Kuusi, Svetlana Probirskaja, Tanya Escudero (Tallinn University), and Jekaterina Maadla (Tallinn University).

Improving communication with migrants for crisis preparedness: lessons learned from COVID-19

Migrants are one of the vulnerable groups most negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis at various levels (unemployment, economic instability, etc.). Those who do not speak the language of the host country face bigger challenges and higher risks in the face of emergency situations, such as the current pandemic, for linguistic diversity has not been systematically integrated into crisis planning.

This project aims at developing an appropriate communication plan, based on effective translation practices and policies, which can provide a quick response to the current crisis and future emergency situations in disseminating relevant information among migrant communities. It also seeks to strengthen cooperation between the states of the Sea Baltic Region to deal with cross-border emergencies and use the knowledge generated by this cooperation to tackle problems at the local/state level.

This project analyzes the information provided during the COVID-19 crisis by stakeholders from different sectors (governmental institutions, companies, universities, NGOs and media) in Estonia, Finland, and Latvia, focusing on the methods, nature, and accessibility of information provided to those with poor skills in the official languages. This analysis in the three states involved enables us to carry out a cross-national comparative study to identify good practices and suggest new strategies for translation policies.

The resulting guidelines for communicating essential multilingual information to migrants will contribute to a faster recovery from the current crisis and can be adapted and scaled to address future emergency situations in the Baltic Sea Region.

The project starts in October 2021 and ends in September 2022 and is funded by the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

The project is coordinated by Tanya Escudero (Tallinn University). The Helsinki team includes Simo Määttä, Tuija Kinnunen, and Svetlana Probirskaja. The partners include also Radošās Idejas (Creative Ideas), an NGO based in Riga.

Project website

Translation of J.A. Ehrenström’s Correspondence

Source of image: The National Archives of Finland, R. H. Rehbinderin arkisto, Johan Albert Ehrenström 1821-1826 (Ba:9) (113).

Assistant Professor Simo Määttä, M.A. Merja Nivala, and Professor Emeritus Juhani Härmä

Funding: Finnish Cultural Foundation

In this project, a selection of the correspondence between Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and his colleagues Carl Johan Walleen and Robert Henrik Rehbinder is translated from French and Swedish into Finnish. These statesmen where influential public figures at the beginning of the Russian rule in Finland, during the first decades of the 19th century. Mr. Ehrenström lived and worked in Helsinki, whereas Mr. Walleen and Mr. Rehbinder lived and worked in Saint Petersburg. The letters are stored in the National Archives of Finland.

The correspondence deals mainly with the construction of a new administrative center of Helsinki, capital of Finland since 1812, as well as the relationship between the Czar and the Grand Duchy of Finland and other current and private affairs. Most letters are written in French, which was the lingua franca of the elites in the early 19th century. French was also the language of communication between the Swedish-speaking administration of the Grand Duchy of Finland and the Czar’s Russian-speaking administration. Many letters are bilingual, for Swedish is used as well. It is important to translate these letters into Finnish, so that Finnish researchers can use them more widely.

The project starts by a thematic classification of Ehrenström’s letters. Subsequently, a selection will be transcribed, translated into Finnish, and published. The project is coordinated by Assistant Professor Simo Määttä. M.A. Merja Nivala is responsible for cataloguing, transcribing, and translating the letters. Counselling is provided by Professor Emeritus Juhani Härmä, who has analysed letters belonging to this collection in his research.


Methods for Managing Audiovisual Data: Combining Automatic Efficiency with Human Accuracy

An EU funded Horizon2020 research project (2018-2020)

In the MeMAD project, an international consortium of research and business partners develops methods of accessing audiovisual content through language (video description, subtitling, and linked data). The aim is to combine human and machine translation efforts to create an improved model of information extraction, retrieval, and search. The model is capable of creating descriptions that are not only time-aligned semantic extractions of objects but also make use of the audio and recognize action sequences. Such methodology can revolutionize video management and digital storytelling in broadcasting and media production, and help dealing with the growing amount of audiovisual big data. In addition, MeMAD investigates whether these methods can be adapted to semi-automatic audio description and subtitling to improve accessibility.