Irma Taavitsainen

Irma Taavitsainen PhD, Professor of English Philology, is Professor Emerita and former Deputy Director of the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English, at the University of Helsinki 2001-2022.

Her interests cover historical pragmatics and corpus linguistics, genre and register variation, and historical discourse analysis, the development of the special language of medicine, and the position of English in Finland (in the 1990s).

Contact information

Room C620, Unioninkatu 40, PL 24, 00014 Helsingin yliopisto, Finland 

E-mail: irma.taavitsainen(at)


Genre and register variation has been my long-standing interest ever since my dissertation on Middle English utilitarian prose that charted an unknown genre in its various forms with the prototype approach (diss. Middle English Lunaries 1988). My present focus is more broadly on genres of medical and scientific writing, from top academic texts to popular applications, in a long diachronic perspective, and on narratives at the interface between fiction and non-fiction. My most recent genre article is in press: ”Genre variation and change across registers of writing” (with Matylda Włodarczyk) in Wiley Blackwell Companion to Diachronic Linguistics.

My recent corpus linguistic co-edited volumes include: Developments in English: Expanding Electronic Evidence (with Merja Kytö, Claudia Claridge and Jeremy Smith, Cambridge University Press, 2015), and Diachronic Corpus Pragmatics (with Andreas H. Jucker and Jukka Tuominen, Benjamins, 2014).

Language use in context and meaning-making practices in various genres is at the core of historical pragmatics, my main research field. I am particularly intrigued by expressive speech acts and their manifestations, most recently with studies on advice giving, compliments and thanking, also in a diachronic perspective. I have mostly relied on corpus linguistic methods combined with qualitative contextual assessments, with the challenge of developing the methodology for detecting and analyzing elusive pragmatic units like speech acts.

My earlier work in historical pragmatics includes a co-authored textbook Historical Pragmatics (with Andreas H. Jucker, Edinburgh University Press, 2013), and a co-edited handbook on Historical Pragmatics (Volume 8 in the HOPS series, with Andreas H. Jucker, Mouton de Gruyter, 2010). My most recent co-edited volume in historical pragmatics is Manners, Norms and Transgressions in the History of English (with Andreas H. Jucker, John Benjamins, 2020).

The interface between language and literature offers challenging research tasks: “Contrastive Pragmatics in a Diachronic Perspective: Insights from Othello.” With Matylda Włodarczyk In: Contrastive Pragmatics 2:2 (2021). Online open access

Much of my work has been promoting other researchers’ work in doctoral training and with editorial work. I co-edited the Journal of Historical Pragmatics (with Andreas H. Jucker) for fifteen years 2000-2014; our overview article “Twenty years of historical pragmatics: origins, developments and changing thought styles” came out in the new editors’ inaugural issue (2015).

More recently, I have co-edited two JHP special issues: Historical Pragmatics today: Articles in honour of Andreas H. Jucker. JHP 22:2 (2021) ed. with Jonathan Culpeper; and Historical (socio)pragmatics at present. JHP 18:2 (2017), ed. with Matylda Włodarczyk

The long-standing research project Scientific Thought-styles: the Evolution of English Medical Writing with corpus compilation has been completed (for the team members, see the project description and Taavitsainen et al., in ICAME Journal, March 2014). The three-part series of digital corpora began with Middle English Medical Texts 1375-1500 (MEMT) Published on CD-ROM by John Benjamins, 2005), and continued with Early Modern Medical Texts 1500-1700 (EMEMT), with a book (eds. Irma Taavitsainen and Päivi Pahta, John Benjamins 2010). The digital database of Late Modern English Medical Texts 1700-1800 (LMEMT) came out in 2019 with a book (eds. Irma Taavitsainen and Turo Hiltunen). In addition, the following edited research volumes are connected with the project and deal with the topics from a broader, pan-European angle:

  • Corpus Pragmatic Studies in the History of Medical Discourse with Turo Hiltunen (John Benjamins, 2022).
  • Genre in English Medical Writing 1500-1820: Sociohistorical Contents of Production and Use with Turo Hiltunen, Jeremy J. Smith and Carla Suhr (Cambridge University Press. 2022).

My international commitments have included several board memberships in international organizations (like ESSE, ISLE (Vice-president Professional), ICAME, and IAUPE (Executive board member), and activities in several international publication series and scholarly journals (e.g. Corpora, Historical Linguistics, ICAME Journal, Nordic Journal of English Studies, Textus, Token, Edinburgh University Press series). I have (co-)organized several international conferences and been an invited plenary speaker in most major conferences in my fields of research. 

For other publications and activities, see my Research profile in TUHAT.

Recent publications