Macro and micro perspectives on explaining variation in the use of personal pronouns

Hanna Lappalainen

Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, Finland


This presentation discusses variation in the use of personal pronouns in spoken Finnish and the motivations for the variation attested. The study is a part of an on-going research project on interactional practices, linguistic variation and language attitudes in an Eastern Helsinki suburb, carried out at the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland. In the project, we are examining interaction among the members of social networks, as well as the language use of a small number of individuals in several different situations. The methods of sociolinguistic variation analysis (macro perspective) and conversation analysis (micro perspective) are combined. The ethnographic knowledge of the network is acquired by a long-term participant observation.

My part of the project focuses on an open Bible circle for women. The participants (an average of 10) are 30–70-year old women: both young mothers and middle-aged and retired women. They represent different kinds of occupations (e.g. teacher, practical nurse, secretary) and both long-time and new inhabitants of the suburb. I have participated in the weekly meetings of the circle since September 2006.

The data consist of interviews (mostly audio-recorded) and conversations (video-recorded) among the participants of the Bible circle. In my paper I will focus on the use of 1st and 2nd person personal pronouns in these data. These pronouns have several variants in Finnish varieties, e.g. standard Finnish: minä, minulla; non-standard varieties: mää~mä~mie~minä, mul(la)~miul(la)~minul(la); 'I' (nominative),’I have’ (adessive).

The analysis of the data reveals that the participants have both similarities and differences in their use of pronouns. The variation found cannot be explained only from macro or micro perspective but both of them are needed. Thus the different variation profiles of the individuals can be understood in the light of their regional and social background. However, these extralinguistic factors do not explain all variation at the individual level – especially the reasons for why the speaker uses the variant x instead of y in a particular context of use. Instead, variation seems to have functions which can be found out only when the variants are studied in their interactional context. For instance, the variant minä (which is quite rare in the data) often has contrastive functions (I vs. the others) whereas the variant mää (instead of which is, on the basis of the earlier studies, much more frequent than mää in Helsinki) is used as a marker of “not original Helsinki resident” -identity in some interactional contexts.


Auer, Peter 1999. From codeswitching via language mixing to fused lects: toward a dynamic typology of bilingual speech. The International Journal of Bilingualism 3/4: 309-332.

Eckert, Penelope. 2000. Linguistic Variation as Social Practice. Linguistic Construction of Identity in Belten High. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lappalainen, Hanna. 2004a. Lexicon as a resource of situational variation. In Britt-Louise Gunnarsson et. al. (eds.), Language Variation in Europe. Papers from ICLaVE 2. Department of Scandinavian Languages. Uppsala University. 267-280.

Session: POSTERS: Focus on interaction, discourse, media, professional settings
Friday, April 4, 2008, 12:45-15:45
room: foyer