Uses and functions of English in Finland: a national survey

Tarja Nikula, Sirpa Leppänen, Samu Kytölä, Päivi Pahta, Henna Jousmäki, Terhi Paakkinen, Tiina Virkkula, Heidi Koskela, Leila Kääntä, Salla Lähdesmäki, Marianne Toriseva

University of Jyväskylä, Finland/Research Unit for the Study of Variation, Contacts and Change in English


The complexities and consequences of the international spread of English in L2 and post-colonial contexts have been investigated in great detail, but there is relatively little research-based information on these phenomena in countries traditionally seen as EFL contexts. However, due to globalization, new information and communication technologies, transnational cultural flows and the growing internationalization of the labour market, the role of English in these countries has undergone considerable changes. An apt case in point is Finland, where people increasingly encounter English both at work and during their free time and where the spread of English has significant consequences for society at large.

As elsewhere, the growing influence of English in Finland has been accompanied by controversies and heated, often emotionally loaded, debates. Yet there has been relatively little research on how English is in reality, used by Finns in various social and situational contexts. To fill this gap, our team has in recent years conducted systematic research on the uses and functions of English in different social domains - those of the media, education and everyday life in particular. To complement these qualitative studies with a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of English, it is also necessary to explore the issue at the level of the whole society. To this end, the Jyväskylä unit of the Centre of Excellence for the Study of Variation, Contacts and Change in English has conducted a national survey of English in Finland in 2007.

This large-scale survey (n = 3,000) provides up-to-date information about the status, influence and functional range of English within Finnish society. It is unique both nationally and internationally: unlike other surveys on uses of and attitudes to English among non-Anglophone speakers, it is not limited to a specific social group but, instead, looks at the uses and views of English of a whole nation. The survey covers respondents’ contacts with and uses of English, their attitudes both to English and to emergent language mixing, their identities as (non-)users of English, and the way they perceive the role of English in Finland in the future.

This presentation reports on the first results of the survey. It also investigates connections between the micro and the macro by describing how the quantitative nation-level survey findings relate to the close qualitative empirical analyses of the uses of English in specific contexts and settings.

Together these findings give a nuanced picture of the current sociolinguistic situation in Finland and

of its future directions. This has important implications for other countries traditionally regarded as EFL contexts, which, similarly to Finland, need to account for the global spread of English when making decisions relating to local policies and practices.

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