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5. Data and methodology

5.2 Participants

Three participants were interviewed for the purposes of this study. Pseudonyms Anna, Leevi, Aleksi will be used in order to protect their identity. Their native language was Russian, they all studied the language and actively used it before puberty. Anna, Leevi and Aleksi moved to Finland and started to actively use Finnish as the dominant language during their teenage years. At the moment, they all reside in Finland permanently, their daily communications are mostly in Finnish. The speak Russian only with their friends and relatives who do not speak Finnish.

Table 3: Brief information about interview participants Participant Brief information

Anna Born in 1988 in Leningrad, USSR. Mother speaks Finnish, father speaks Russian. Moved to Finland aged 11.

Leevi Born in 1981 in Tartu, Estonia. Mother speaks Russian (single parent).

Moved to Finland aged 10.

Aleksi Born in 1988 Petrozavodsk, Russia. Both parents speak Russian. Moved to Finland aged 12.


The interviewee was born in 1988 in Leningrad, USSR (now Saint-Petersburg in Russia). Anna’s mother is Finnish, and her father is Russian. Anna was raised in a Russian-speaking environment and went to a Russian-speaking kindergarten and the started school at age 6. Anna’s father spoke a bit of Finnish, but the family communicated primarily in Russian. Anna’s mother spoke Finnish when she was alone with her daughter.

The family moved to Finland in 1999, when she was 11. After that, Anna’s life changed dramatically as she found herself in a Finnish-speaking environment. Even though she spoke Finnish since her mother is a native Finnish-speaker, she never had such a significant amount of language input in her life before. Anna was a shy and reserved child and had to face bullying at school. Children teased her because of her surname (Anna has a typical Russian surname), which made her feel more reserved and unwilling to cooperate.

However, time went by and thanks to her family support, she was able to graduate from school with excellence and continued to study at the university to become a doctor. At the moment, she lives in Helsinki and works as a general practitioner at a local clinic. Anna is proud to be speaking two languages and provides services in Finnish, Russian and English.

When I was a having a conversation with Anna and asked her if she ever felt like “cutting off” her Russian past and becoming a true Finn, she said that she had such thought when her family just moved. She could not understand why children had so much aggression towards her even though she looked Finnish and spoke Finnish.

However, it was her father who truly had a positive influence on her life and helped her preserve the Russian language and culture. Anna had a special connection with her father who was always very supportive. He spent a significant amount of time with Anna in her childhood as he was struggling with looking for a job because his Finnish was poor at that time. He picked her up from

school, cooked for her, played games, read Russian books to her, etc. She remembers these sweet moments of her life with gratitude and says that this is something that made her feel proud of her origin later once she overcame the difficulty of starting school in Finland.

At the moment, Anna considers herself to be half-Russian, half-Finnish. Her daily communications are in Finnish. She has some Russian-speaking friends and Russian-speaking customers but these are few.

Anna felt hesitant at the beginning of the interview as she did not visit Russia for a long time and was feeling insecure about her command of Russian. Her motivation to participate in the interview was to help raise awareness of problems that people with a migrant’s background might have after moving to Finland. She also expressed hope that it would help teachers to develop more sympathy towards bilingual children.


The interviewee was born in 1981 in Tartu, Estonia. The only language used at home was Russian because his mother is a native speaker of Russian, his father left the family when Leevi was 1 year old. Leevi also had one grandmother who would babysit him while his other was a work.

Russian was also the language of the surrounding environment: Leevi remembers that he almost never heard people use any other language than Russian.

Leevi went to school at the age of 6 (classes were held in Russian), but the family had to move to Finland when he turned 10. The interviewee started learning Finnish at that time: he attended a Finnish school but spoke Russian with his mother at home.

He remembers that he was an active child who was curious about the world around him, and who would have a good ear and learn foreign languages by listening to them. Leevi quickly made friends and felt accepted by the society. His life was marred by a very unpleasant incident at school

when one of the teachers treated him and other students inappropriately. This led to a public scandal and the teacher went to prison but the litigation lasted for two years. Even though it was a stressful moment, Leevi said that he had never felt so united with his classmates before. Parents and children united against the common enemy, communicated with each other, and provided moral support.

Regardless of the negative nature of the incident, it had a positive effect on Leevi’s life: he developed strong bounds with the society and felt empowered by that.

At the moment, this participant works as a film director and a script writer. Characters in his movies speak Finnish and Russian. He thinks in Finnish and 90% of his daily communications are in Finnish as well. Leevi also speaks English, which he uses when traveling to international film festivals. He permanently lives and works in Finland and travels to Russia when he has a project.

Leevi was eager to help me with the interview. Maybe this can be explained by the nature of his work activities as he is used to giving interviews. One of the most common questions he is asked is why he makes movies about the history of USSR and what connection he has to this topic personally. He is always happy to share his experiences and feels that he has the right to talk about history as his family is part of this “Soviet heritage”. He sees his mission in exposing the vices of society so that the terrible episodes of history will never repeat.


Aleksi was born in Petrozavodsk in 1988 in a Russian family. His name at birth was Alexey but his parents decided to change his Russian name after the family moved to Finland because there were afraid that he would not be accepted by the Finnish society. On the other hand, they also wanted to keep it close to his real name not to stress the child. Aleksi is one of variations of the name Alexey, which is used by family members and friends to address a child.

The family moved to Lappeenranta in 2000, when Aleksi was 12. He does not know a lot of his family history as his parents were forced to move to a foreign country seeking a better life. Once

they moved, they decided that the best decision would be to get rid of their Russian background and settle down in a new environment. However, the family communications were in Russian as it was the only language shared by everyone.

Aleksi remembers that after they moved his parents wanted him to attend a public Finnish school but he had such an enormous amount of stress being exposed to a foreign language that the family had to change their plans and he started to attend a Finnish-Russian school. He says that he was brought up in an awkward atmosphere that “something was wrong with him” because his parents were warm-hearted and loving mother and father at home, who would speak Russian to him and read Russian books when they were putting him to sleep, and who would demand him to speak just Finnish in public and not address them in his mother tongue.

Out of all participants, Aleksi was the one who needed more time to process his answers and then articulate them. He rephrased his sentences several times before providing the final version of his answer. Even though it seemed like a challenging task to him, he was really trying to deliver the best possible results and feel part of a different linguistic and cultural group.

At the moment, Aleksi is engaged to a woman who speaks a Slavic-based language and it is only now that he started to accept his origin. His fiancée’s family played a huge role in this as they welcomed him with an open heart and hospitality. Now Aleksi is not afraid to use his language skills openly and proudly told me that he sometimes interprets from Russian into Finnish and backwards for Russian tourists struggling in Helsinki (he moved to Helsinki in 2017).

Aleksi works as an engineer and does not use Russian in his work. He thinks and communicates in Finnish and has a poor command of English.

5.3 Data analysis

Due to the nature of this research, which analyses many sociological factors (such as language attitudes, family situation, age of participants), an interview was chosen as a form of data collection.

This method helps to collect linguistic data by keeping the conversation informal, which is very important in eliciting ‘natural speech’ (Milroy 1987). The role of the interviewer is also crucial because it helps to comfort interview participants and speak more fluently. Qualitative analysis has been used in this case study: constructions used by the participants were analysed by a native speaker.

Those that were considered to be incorrect grammatically (I used my language intuition of a native speaker), were further processed in order to analyse the nature of mistakes.

All the mistakes were later analysed for every participant separately since their age, cultural identity, background, family history, attitude towards Russian and Finnish, current occupation were different. Therefore, it is important to do a separate data analysis for every speaker as this would help to find the reasons behind L1 and L2 interference.

Data analysis was done in the following steps:

1. I listened to all the interviews and created a list of all mistakes made by the speakers.

2. I filtered all the mistakes to leave only those where the case was used incorrectly.

3. I translated sentences with mistakes from Russian into Finnish to the best of my ability and understanding of the Finnish language. I checked that the mistakes made by participants are not features of spoken Russian and checked that they are not found in the Russian corpus.

4. I asked two native Finnish speakers to proofread my translations and correct them if something did not sound natural in Finnish. People were worked on translating the sentences did not speak Russian.

5. I analysed pairs of phrases/sentences in Russian and Finnish and further divided all the mistakes into three groups:

a) Incorrect verb government;

b) Incorrect use of a preposition (omission of prepositions, wrong prepositions, incorrect use of prepositions);

c) Incorrect declension of numerals.

6. I provided a detailed description of mistakes for every interview participant individually with comments.

6. Results of data analysis 6.1 Results

Anna’s interview

Anna created an impression of a very “careful speaker”. She took her time to think over her answers, and I had the impression that she was trying to use only those sentences that she was sure of. At the beginning, she complained that she has been only able to practise Russian with her patients, and that she was worried that she would not be able to find the right words in Russian to talking about aspects of Finnish life. For example, she said that she was not sure how to translate many diseases from Finnish into Russian, and that it is probably easier for her to use Latin. I tried to comfort the speaker by allowing her to choose the topic she would like to start with, and Anna started by talking about her childhood experiences. After the conversation started, I was able to ask more questions as she felt more relaxed.

Anna did not make many mistakes because she always thought carefully before saying something and it was taking a significant amount of time to produce sentences. She was much more cautious that Leevi and Aleksi when speaking. The analysis of her mistakes is given below:

(9) Что может помочь головной боли? (correct form: Что может помочь от-PREP головной боли-GEN?)

What can help headache-DAT?

‘What can help to get rid of a headache?’

Even though it seems that Anna used the correct case here, genitive, the problem is in the omission of the preposition The Finnish “auttaa päänsärkyyn” requires the illative case, which does not share the same meaning with genitive. However, it does not need any preposition, thus that could be the reason why Anna omitted it.

(10) Завтрак включён цену? (correct form: Завтрак включён в-PREP цену-ACC?) Breakfast included price-ACC?

‘Is breakfast included into the price?’

Another problem with omission of the preposition. The case is used correctly – accusative here corresponds to the Finnish illative. However, correct Russian also requires the use of appropriate preposition. This mistake can be explained by transfer from Finnish, which is used without prepositions: “Kuuluuko aamupala hintaan?”

(11) Она нарисовала солнце в тетрадь. (correct form: Она нарисовала солнце в тетради-LOC).

She drew Sun into the notebook-ACC.

‘She drew the Sun in the notebook’.

Here, Anna used accusative instead of locative. In Russian, people draw things (where?), Finnish requires the use of illative (to where?) – Hän piirsi auringon vihkoon. This speaks in favor of cross-linguistic transfer.

(12) Пациент умер корь. (correct form: Пациент умер от-PREP кори-GEN).

Patient dies measles-NOM.

‘The patient died of measles’.

It is not clear from this example whether Anna just used the noun in nominative form instead of genitive, or in accusative because the form of the word корь is the same in these cases. It might be simply a calque translation from Finnish: Potilas kuoli tuhkarokkoon, where the illative case is used (shares its functions with the Russian accusative).

(13) Я заболела грипп в летнем отпуске. (correct form: Я заболела гриппом-INS в летнем отпуске).

I got sick flue-NOM/ACC on summer holiday.

‘I got sick with the flu while being on summer holiday’.

Here is another confusing example where it is not clear whether nominative or accusative is used. The only difference is that Russian requires instrumental case, whereas it is again the illative in Finnish: Minä sairastuin flunssaan lomalla.

(14) Был застрахован миллиона долларов. (correct form: Был застрахован на-PREP миллион-ACC долларов).

Was insured million-GEN dollars.

‘It was insured for a million dollars’.

Russian accusative here is replaced with genitive, which corresponds to the Finnish elative case: Oli vakuutettu miljoonasta dollaria. A good example of transfer-induced change in the case pattern.

(15) Я могла наслаждаться от своей работы. (correct form: Я могла наслаждаться своей работой-INS).

I was able to enjoy from-PREP my work-GEN.

‘I was able to enjoy my work’.

The Finnish elative case (nauttia työstä) made Anna use the Russian genitive instead of the correct instrumental case, without prepositions.

(16) Он не уверен этом деле. (correct form: Он не уверен в-PREP этом деле).

He is not sure this thing-LOC.

‘He is not sure about this thing’.

Anna used correct case – locative – but did not use the preposition. This might have been influenced by the structure in the Finnish language used without prepositions: epävarma tästä asiasta.

Leevi’s interview

Leevi did not hesitate to participate in the interview due to the nature of his job. Being a public person, he is used to giving interviews very often. He was eager to learn about his mistakes so that he would improve his language performance.

Out of all participants, Leevi was least afraid to speak incorrectly. He considered himself to be a confident speaker, he has read many historical books in Russian and written scripts. According to Leevi, he has never felt excluded from the Finnish society, never bullied at school by other peer students, managed to make friends, had a successful career in Finland. Even though Leevi behaved confidently and felt secure, he did not demonstrate fluency and made many mistakes. Some of the most prominent mistakes are incorrect verb government:

Finnish ablative (-lta) or elative (-sta) cases can be used with such verbs as “to buy”, “to take”.

The Russian case used for such combinations is locative (corresponds to the Finnish inessive case:

ssa). In the example below Leevi used the genitive case, which has a meaning “from a particular place” and corresponds to the Finnish ablative and elative cases.

(17) Я советую взять комнату из гостиницы “Сокос”. (correct form: Я советую взять комнату в-PREP гостинице-LOC “Сокос”).

I advise to book a room from-PREP hotel-GEN “Sokos”.

‘I advise to book a room at “Sokos” hotel’.

Another typical mistake was the omission of prepositions. Leevi tended to drop the preposition when the meaning of the utterance could be understood by the ending of the word.

(18) Тогда покажут кино самом большом зале. (correct form: Тогда покажут кино в-PREP самом большом зале).

Then will show a movie the largest hall-LOC’.

‘Then they will show a movie in the largest hall’.

A clear parallel with the Finnish inessive case can be drawn here. In the Finnish language, in a similar situation the case itself shows the location, and no preposition is needed (suurimmassa salissa), whereas in the Russian case, both the preposition and the locative case are required.

(19) Он всё ещё показывает это с руками. (correct form: Он всё ещё показывает это руками-INS).

He still shows it with-PREP hands-INS.

‘He still shows it with hands’.

This is an interesting example, where Leevi added a preposition. The preposition “с” (with) is not used in Russian since the word in the instrumental case is enough to express the meaning that something is done with the help of a particular tool. Finnish does not need the preposition, either:

näyttää jotain käsillä. Appearance of preposition here might have been influenced by transfer from English or signalled about incomplete acquisition of the instrumental case. Prepositions were absent with some expressions of time:

(20) Ну и, конечно, Гала премия будет субботу в 12 часов. (correct form: Ну и, конечно, Гала премия будет в-PREP субботу-ACC в 12 часов).

And, of course, the gala ceremony will take place Saturday-ACC at 12’.

‘And, of course, the gala ceremony will take place on Saturday at 12’.

The Finnish “lauantaina kahdeltatoista” might explain the omission of the preposition.

Some mistakes were made because Leevi confused gender of nouns. Even though gender is not the aim of current research, it is interesting to notice that Leevi made some mistakes in gender agreement. Examples are provided below:

(21) Артур и я будем в этом гостинице. (correct form: Артур и я будем в этой-F гостинице).

Artur and I will be in this-M hotel.

‘Artur and I will be in this hotel’.

(22) Дизель вся летела вокруг шоссе. (correct form: Дизель весь-M летел-M вокруг шоссе).

Diesel all-F was flying-F all around the highway.

‘Diesel was flying all around the highway’.

(23) Иннокентий – это такая странная имя. (correct form: Иннокентий – это такое-N странное-N имя).

Innokentiy is such-F a strange-F name.

‘Innokentiy is such a strange name’.

There was also a repetitive error related to number agreement. The Russian case system requires a noun to be used in genitive singular after 2,3,4; or after compound numerals that end in these numbers, for example, 22, 34, 63, and so on. The rest of the numbers require the following word to be in genitive plural. The only exception is number 1, which always agrees with nominative. Any word following it must be in the nominative case, even is the word consists of several parts, for example, 51, 101, 10001. Leevi tended to apply the Finnish case system to the nouns following numerals. He used the nouns in the singular form, which can be explained by the Finnish rule to use