Terttu Nevalainen

Terttu Nevalainen is Professor and Chair of English Philology at the University of Helsinki and the Director of the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English.

She is also the editor-in-chief of Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English, the open-access online series that VARIENG publishes since 2007. Her research interests include corpus linguistics, historical sociolinguistics and language change, and the Early Modern English period is particularly close to her heart. She also takes an active interest in the development of research infrastructures for language studies and for digital humanities more generally.

Contact information


PhD, Professor of English Philology
Director of the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG), National Centre of Excellence, 2006-2011
Academy Professor, 2010–2014  

Room C518, Unioninkatu 40
PL 24, 00014 Helsingin yliopisto, Finland
Phone: +358504482256
E-mail: terttu.nevalainen(at)helsinki.fi

Research interests

Keywords: English language, history of English, historical sociolinguistics, variation studies, corpus compilation and methodology.

I have a long-standing interest in language change, which I find is one of the most fascinating issues in linguistic research. I am intrigued by the circumstances in which English became the kind of language it is today – in many respects quite unlike modern German, for example, although these languages are closely related historically. 

Most of my work is basic research and has methodological, empirical and theoretical objectives. But I also contribute to textbooks and reference works by writing general introductions to my field of research and research findings. A few years ago I was invited to write a textbook on Early Modern English, a historical variety of English that I have always had a particular affinity with, not least because it was the language of Shakespeare.

Methodologically, my work comes under the umbrella of corpus linguistics. The electronic corpora of personal correspondence compiled and annotated by the CEEC team that I have been working with for well over a decade enable advanced research on English historical sociolinguistics over four centuries from 1400 to 1800. We have now joined efforts with colleagues in England and Germany to supplement the corpus and extend it into the beginning of the 20th century. 

In order to be able to make better use of the data sources available to corpus linguistics, I collaborate with data-mining specialists and visualization experts. In the DAMMOC project, we produced tools and techniques for the study of language variation and change which apply to language corpora in general, both historical and modern.

The empirical work I carry out contributes to sociolinguistic fact-finding by providing baseline information on how the English language has changed in various social contexts over the last six hundred years. This work also contributes to sociolinguistic theory formation, and to the modelling of processes of long-term language change. 

A question of general theoretical interest is the manifestation of social evaluation in a language such as English. By comparing linguistic processes of different kinds over time, we will be able to assess the extent to which they pattern socially in the language community, and be in a better position to judge what may count as sociolinguistic “facts” in English as opposed to other, typologically different languages. Here the past can help us understand the present.

I am currently working on an Academy-funded project, Reassessing Language Change: The Challenge of Real Time, with Tanja Säily and Turo Vartiainen. One of our aims is to make past work on language change more accessible and cumulative. For this purpose, the project will set up a new open-access resource, Language Change Database, to serve as a basis for studies ranging from comparative sociolinguistic typologies to statistical modelling and replication with other data sets.

In 2016 I launched a new consortium project, Interfacing structured and unstructured data in sociolinguistic research on language change (STRATAS), part of the Academy of Finland Digital Humanities programme. The project is a collaborative effort involving several VARIENG members and researchers from the Helsinki University Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, Aalto University and the University of Tampere.

My other academic commitments include participation in professional organizations and editorial work. I am currently the editor-in-chief of the monograph series Oxford Studies in the History of English and co-edit the new Benjamins series Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics with Marijke van der Wal. I continue as a member of the international editorial advisory boards of AngliaEnglish Language and LinguisticsInternational Journal of English StudiesJournal of Historical PragmaticsMiscelanéaNOWELE, and Studia Anglica Poznaniensia. I also edit the VARIENG eSeries, Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English.

Research profile in TUHAT

Recent publications