Kielipankki – The Language Bank of Finland is a service for researchers using language resources. Jutta Salminen tells us about her research on the various ways of expressing negation in Finnish.
I am Jutta Salminen (PhD, BMus). I defended my dissertation on the Finnish language at the University of Helsinki in the spring of 2020 and I have been working as a Finnish language lecturer at the University of Greifswald in Germany for more than five years. I am interested in grammar and linguistic meaning — particularly in the expression of negation and also in ambiguity.
In my dissertation, I studied the use and interpretations of the verb epäillä (’to doubt, to suspect, to suppose’) and its nominative derivatives epäily and epäilys (’a doubt, a suspicion’), as well as the changes related to the verb during the era of written Finnish. The starting point of the study was the observation that, in present-day Finnish, these lexemes may express that something is considered either probable or unlikely, depending on the context of use. So, I became interested in how a single word can be used in two opposite senses. In addition, these words provided an opportunity for observing how the negation proper (‘it is not (true) that X’) and the so-called evaluative negativity (‘it’s not good that X’, ‘I don’t like X’) relate to each other in language use, since both of these aspects of negativity are included in the meaning potential of the verb and its nominal derivatives.
My current research is focused on the negative polarity items (e.g., kukaan) in Finnish and on what their contexts of use can tell about their grammatical and semantic nature. In English literature, negative polarity items (NPI) have been studied rather extensively (especially in big Indo-European languages), and it is interesting to observe how the Finnish NPIs could relate to these descriptions.
In order to study the variation, change and prevalence of different interpretations of linguistic meaning, it is necessary to have access to language material where it is possible to observe and to analyze instances of the language phenomenon under study. For the purpose of my dissertation research, I compiled a data set representing various text genres from several corpora: The Helsinki Korp Version of the Finnish Text Collection, Classics of Finnish Literature, The Corpus of Early Modern Finnish, The Finnish Sub-corpus of the Newspaper and Periodical Corpus of the National Library of Finland (KLK) and Corpus of Old Literary Finnish. When I began my dissertation study, the Finnish Text Collection was available via the old search interface, Lemmie, in Kielipankki, and the rest of the corpora (excluding KLK) were accessible via the Kaino service provided by Kotus (Institute for the Languages of Finland). Nowadays, I can use all of them via the Korp service in Kielipankki.
I based my comparison of the epäily(s) nouns on the occurrences found in the HS.fi News and Comments Corpus, which made it possible to examine the use of the words in both the delivered news texts and in the readers’ comments. The linguistic context plays a key role in the perception of the meaning variants of ambiguous words, so that access to the wider context of search results provided by the Language Bank was essential.
My ongoing research on negative polarity items mostly consists of grammatical description. Since grammar tends to change when in use, linguistic data is necessary for this type of research in addition to self-postulated examples, especially when the acceptability and the entrenchment of a particular expression is questionable to some extent. The Suomi24 Corpus has turned out to be a fruitful source of data for studying the use of the Finnish NPIs.
Salminen, Jutta (2020). Epäilemisen merkitys. Epäillä-sanueen polaarinen kaksihahmotteisuus kiellon ja kielteisyyden semantiikan peilinä. (The meaning and import of epäillä: The polar ambiguity of the Finnish verb epäillä ‘doubt, suspect, suppose’ and its nominal derivatives as a reflection of the semantics of negation and negativity.) Doctoral dissertation. Helsinki: University of Helsinki. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-51-5879-6
Salminen, Jutta (2018). Paratactic negation revisited. The case of the Finnish verb epäillä. Functions of Language 25(2): 259–288. https://doi.org/10.1075/fol.15030.sal
Salminen, Jutta (2017). Mitä tarkoittaa epäillä? Epäillä-verbin polaarisesta merkitysvariaatiosta nykysuomessa. (What does epäillä mean? On the polar meaning variation of the verb epäillä in Modern Finnish.) Virittäjä 121: 4–36. https://journal.fi/virittaja/article/view/52322
Salminen, Jutta (2017). Epäillä-verbin polaarinen kaksihahmotteisuus merkitysmuutoksena. (The polar ambiguity of the Finnish verb epäillä as evidenced through meaning development.) Virittäjä 121: 37–66. https://journal.fi/virittaja/article/view/52323
Salminen, Jutta (2017). Epäily vai epäilys? Jaettu polysemia ja lekseemien tyypilliset käytöt. (Epäily or epäilys? Shared polysemy and specialised typical uses.) Sananjalka 59: 217–243. https://doi.org/10.30673/sja.66636
The FIN-CLARIN consortium consists of a group of Finnish universities along with CSC – IT Center for Science and the Institute for the Languages of Finland (Kotus). FIN-CLARIN helps the researchers in Finland to use, to refine, to preserve and to share their language resources. The Language Bank of Finland is the collection of services that provides the language materials and tools for the research community.
All previously published Language Bank researcher interviews are stored in the Researcher of the Month archive. This article is also published on the website of the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Helsinki.