The “invasion” of English? Variation of discourse markers in Finnish

Elizabeth Peterson

Helsinki University, Finland


Recent work on language contact situations has illustrated that discourse markers are a prime location of borrowing and variability, with the “pragmatically dominant” language determining the direction of influence (Matras 1998). Such a phenomenon is also evident with regard to English and native languages, in situations where English serves as a foreign or second language (Sharp 2001). In Finland, for example, the incorporation of English discourse markers such as all right, jees ‘yes’, enivei ‘anyway’, cool, and even pliis ‘please’ in Finnish discourse is well attested. This paper reports on speech act data and conversation data from native speakers of Finnish in Helsinki. The results show that, while there is evidence of variation with regard to discourse markers (variants include both Finnish and English discourse markers), with younger people using the English forms at a higher rate than older speakers, these forms do not appear to be supplanting the native Finnish discourse markers. Rather, it is argued that the English-source forms offer a stylistic variation in Finnish, with some forms being so entrenched that they are no longer considered non-native (see Meyerhoff and Niedzielski 2003). A more invasive outcome of the contact between discourse markers, it is argued, occurs with variability in the function of an existing native form, such as Finnish kiitos ‘please’ or tyyliin ‘in the style of; like,’ which, more than offering a means of stylistic variation, can lead to innovations in the Finnish grammar. While relatively little documentation exists at this point regarding the measurable outcome of contact between English and native languages, this paper offers one vantage point of the influence of English in its role as a contact language in the age of globalization.

Matras, Yaron (1998). Utterance modifiers and universals of grammatical borrowing. Linguistics 36 (2), 281-331.

Meyerhoff, M., and N. Niedzielski. 2003. The globalisation of vernacular variation. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7 (4), 534-555.

Sharp, Harriet (2001). English in Spoken Swedish: A corpus study of two discourse domains. Stockholm Studies in English XCV. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International.

Session: Paper session
Globalization 1
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 17