Eeva Sippola – University of Copenhagen

Finnish in Misiones

Eeva Sippola (University of Bremen)

This study focuses on Finnish in the utopian communities of Colonia Finlandesa and Villa Alborada in the Misiones region in Argentina and the neighbouring region in Paraguay. The aim is to provide an account of the sociolinguistic history of the communities and documentation of their language(s). Today, Finnish is no longer spoken or transmitted to new generations, as the communities have shifted to Spanish (and to Guaraní and/or other migrant languages). Based on archival sources from the collections of the Institute of Migration (Finland), we provide an analysis of the sociolinguistic factors that led to language shift and the death of Finnish as a community language. We also discuss the linguistic influences that resulted from this process.

Finnish as a migrant language has previously been studied in contact situations involving English and Swedish (e.g. Virtaranta & al. 1993, Jönssön-Korhola & Lindgren 2003). Studies on Finnish in contact with Spanish and Portuguese outside Finland are nearly absent. Documentation of Finnish in the communities under study provides insights into the outcomes of contact situations between typologically different languages, and sheds further light on the sociolinguistic factors that condition language vitality.

On the basis of Giles & al.’s (1977) framework of ethnolinguistic vitality, the sociolinguistic analysis focuses on demography, status, and the lack of language institutionalization as explanatory factors. The analysis of contact influences is based on language material retrieved from private letters and written accounts from first- and secondgeneration migrants. These are complemented with spoken language data that consists of interviews and video recordings done in the communities in the 1970s and late 1990s.

The results of the analysis show that ethnolinguistic vitality has been affected most strongly by the low number of speakers, their socioeconomic status, and a dispersal of the communities after the foundational ideologies of the communities were lost, starting in the 1950s. Additional factors are the status of the language in the (inter)national context and Argentinian language policies that have affected the institutional support of migrant languages since the 1950s. Regarding linguistic contact effects, the first generation’s Finnish shows limited contact influences in the lexicon. New lexical items borrowed into Finnish are connected to the migrants’ new surroundings, professions, and activities, e.g. mantiookka ‘mandioca’ (< Spa. mandioca) and sakra ‘farm’ (< Spa. chacra). Secondgeneration speakers show a clear tendency of shifting to Spanish, with moderate morphosyntactic and phonological attrition. Characteristic traits include code switching to Spanish, and when speaking Finnish, a regularization of paradigms towards more frequent types, e.g. laki > lakit ‘law(s)’ instead of lait, or new verbs formed with the suffix –ta, as in plantata jerbaa ‘to plant yerba (mate). In addition, conjugation shows mixed patterns, as in kielit/kielet ‘language(s)’. However, individual variation is high and cannot be assessed based on the existing archival materials. From the third generation onwards, the material shows evidence of a nearly complete shift to Spanish. Similar tendencies have been observed for North American Finnish (Martin 1989, Hirvonen 2001). Consequently, these traits do not seem specific to the Finnish-Spanish contact situation but rather reflect more general tendencies of language attrition situations before community language shift. These findings contribute to research on Finnish language contact in migrant settings and to the documentation of linguistic practices in migrant communities in Argentina and in minority settings in general.


  • Giles, Howard, Richard Y. Bourhis, & Donald Taylor. 1977. Towards a theory of language in ethnic group rela-tions. In Howard Giles (ed.), Language, Ethnicity and Intergroup Relations, 307–348. London: Academic Press.
  • Hirvonen, Pekka. 2001. Doni finished – meni läpi – highskoulun. Borrowing, codeswitching and language shift in American Finnish. In Sture P. Ureland (ed.), Global Eurolinguistics: European Languages in North America – Migration, Maintenance and Death, 297-324. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.
  • Jönsson-Korhola, Hannele ja Anna-Riitta Lindgren (eds.). 2003. Monena Suomi maailmalla. Suomalaisperäisiä kielivähemmistöjä (Tietolipas 190). Helsinki: SKS.
  • Martin, Maisa. 2001. Finns and their Finnish in Thunder Bay, Canada. In Sture P. Ureland (ed.), Global Eurolin-guistics: European Languages in North America – Migration, Maintenance and Death, 283-296. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.
  • Virtaranta, Pertti, Hannele Jönsson-Korhola, Maisa Martin & Maija Kainulainen (eds.). 1993. Amerikansuomi (Tietolipas 125). Helsinki: SKS.