Russian Finns are an ethnic and linguistic minority in Finland. According to Finnish statistics, there were 88,057 Russian speakers living in Finland in 2019 (Statistics Finland - Population - Population Structure 2019). Immigration of Russian families to Finland has a long history.
There were several waves of Russian immigration to Finland. The oldest generation of Russian immigrants, who came to Finland in 1917–1922, spoke not only Russian but also learned other languages: they mastered German, Swedish, French, and Finnish. Russian-Swedish bilingualism prevailed in the cities. People immigrated due to different political, economic, and social reasons. Russian was actively taught and spoken in the family, in villages, and in cities (Muradov 2003).
More problems with preserving the Russian language and culture started after the Winter War in 1939–1940. Even though there was a need for Russian interpreters and translators during and after the war, Russia was perceived as an enemy country, thus Russian became the language of the enemy.
This all contributed to changing the language identity and the status of the Russian language in Finland as it became impossible to freely speak Russian in any environment and situation. Russian speakers faced a hostile attitude and opted for speaking Finnish (Liebkind 2004).
Immigration of Russian speakers to Finland was at its peak at the end of 1990s when people of Finnish origin (i.e. Ingrian-Finn repatriates) were granted the right by the Finnish government to move to Finland. Unstable social-economic situation in Russia, fear of unpredictable and unpleasant changes dramatically increased the number of Russian-speaking population in Finland. People moved to seek for better life and improve their employment opportunities (Protassova 2008).
A large governmental program provided support to immigrants and maintained integration programs. Many services were accessible to people in the Russian language, there were also organizations, clubs, courses, institutions that offered Finnish language courses. One of the most
useful services was aimed at assisting with job hunting: the services were provided in Russian as well (Protassova 2008).
Nowadays, new immigrants are trying to preserve Russian as a heritage language while actively trying to become new members of the Finnish society. A heritage language is a language acquired to a certain level of proficiency with limited language input because it is not the dominant language of the community. That is why it is not unusual for Russian immigrant families in Finland to grow children in a situation when they start learning a foreign language, Finnish, after moving to the country and settling down.
Even though Russian has no official status in the country and is the language spoken by a minority population, Finnish government protects human rights and linguistic rights and grants everyone the right to maintain their mother tongue. Every conversation about language rights is always intricately linked to the question of basic human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the rights of every person to use their languages as means of communication and expressing their identity, belonging to a social group: “Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge...” (UNESCO 2017)
Therefore, linguistic rights cannot be separated from human rights, which is part of our identity: “The language is the most direct expression of culture; it is what makes us human and what gives each of us a sense of identity” (Press corner 2020).
Even though the connection between identity and language is strong, heritage language speakers might experience a decline in their command and even lose their languages skills totally. It is the most usual scenario that new immigrants are trying to develop fluency in Finnish to avoid social exclusion and support their children in acquiring Finnish. That is why the Russian language loses its exclusiveness and dominance as the main language spoken at home and within the Russian-speaking community.
The Finnish National Curriculum 2014 (POPS 2014: 87) grants children with a mother tongue other than Finnish and Swedish the right to be educated in their native language. Access to education in Finnish and Russian creates a perfect platform to develop and maintain bilingualism, create and strengthen cultural identity. These developments contribute to prevention of heritage language loss and attrition.
School and kindergartens offer education in Finnish and Russian. The biggest schools offering bilingual education are located in Helsinki, and in three cities in Eastern Finland: Imatra, Joensuu, and Lappeenranta. Even though the main language of instructions is Finnish, students can practice and learn about the Russian culture in bilingual classrooms. As a native Russian speaker, I had the honor to make my modest contribution to increasing interest in the Russian language by having teaching practice at the Finnish-Russian school of Eastern Finland in Joensuu. I was also invited to give some master classes on Russian traditions to another school located in Joensuu, called Karsikko.
Students expressed their sincere interest in learning about the Russian culture, they also had the opportunity to compare it to the Finnish culture and find some similarities. The class was assisted by two Finnish teachers who helped to draw a link between Finnish traditions now and 20 years ago and to show how many things have changed. This all created a warm atmosphere and helped to strengthen relationships between Russian and Finnish people, and also helped students to become more aware of the world around them.
After graduating from school in Finland, students can continue studying Russian at Universities. For example, the curriculum at the University of Eastern Finland is designed in a way that heritage speakers can study together with Finnish-speaking students.
Phenomena of interference in the second language (L2) due to the influence of the first language (L1) has always been in the center of research (Polinsky 2008, Montrul 2014, Gürel 2004).
Recently, researchers have started to take interest in investigating second language interference and contact phenomena and changes observed in the first language. Attrition of the first language might
be explained by the amount and type of language contact, the typological closeness of languages in contact, the architecture of the linguistic systems, the social environment, etc.
Polinsky (1997, 2006, 2008) and Montrul (2008, 2011, 2013) have contributed to studying language contact phenomena. Their research focuses mostly on studying language of heritage speakers. They study attrition and loss of the first and the second language, as well as incomplete acquisition. The main interest is in the nature of interlanguage and bilingual grammars; the linguistic selectivity of acquisition and loss; the reasons behind inability to reach proficiency in L1 or/and L2, as well as factors that cause such phenomena.
Pavlenko (2004) studies the system of Russian verbs of motion and finds that there is almost no change in it in the speech of Russian-English participants of the research. She explains such good preservation of the heritage language system by lack of similarities between Russian and English:
Russian verbs of motion is a separate category that does not have an equivalent in English. For example, the Russian ‘поехать’ is the same as ‘to set off’, ‘уехать’ corresponds to the English ‘to leave’, and ‘приехать’ means ‘to arrive’. In Russian, prefixes are added to the main verb to create a new meaning, whereas in English separate words are used.
Schmid (2004) finds that in the type of contact when languages have a similar system of cases (Russian has 6 cases and German has 4, and both languages have nominative, accusative, dative and genitive), a deviation in Russian case marking is observed in every fifth case. Therefore, languages that are typologically close to each other or share similar grammatical categories are more likely to have an influence on each other. In case of heritage speakers, this usually leads to attrition of the first language. This is supported by research works of other scholars: Schmid and Köpke (2007), Schmitt (2001, 2004), Gürel (2004), Hutz (2004).
Finnish and Russian language contact phenomena are studied by Horn (1997), who focuses on the cultural elements among Russians living in Finland; Leisiö (1998, 1999, 2001, 2006), who takes interest in studying code-switching, agreement, etc.; and Leinonen (1992, 1994), who
investigates the speech phenomena of bilinguals. Baschmakoff and Leinonen (2001), Protassova (2004, 2008) finds that Russian of heritage speakers often changes under the influence of Finnish.
The objective of this research is to investigate what changes the case system of the Russian language undergoes being influenced by the dominant language of the society. It is aimed at studying loss/partial loss of case agreement due to the first language attrition. For example, Russian speakers always use the locative case when they use the verb «купить» (to buy). The locative case in Russian is an equivalent to the inessive case in Finnish, however, the verb “to buy” works with the elative case in Finnish. The elative case shares part of its functions with the Russian genitive case. If Russian speakers use the Russian genitive case instead of locative with the verb “to buy”, it can be a clear sign of a transfer-induced deviation in the case system.
It seems likely that the Russian language is going to be influenced by the second language, which is Finnish in this research. There are several possible scenarios what might happen to the grammar of heritage Russian:
1. The system of Russian cases will not undergo any changes.
2. The system of Russian cases will be influenced by the system of Finnish cases.
3. The speaker will stop using the case system and will start using the words in their dictionary form.
Since Finnish has a complex system of cases, I argue that the Russian case system will be influenced by the system of Finnish cases. It seems unlikely that Russian speakers would stop using the case system as it constitutes an integral part of the language. This research is aimed at studying these phenomena among heritage speakers who started acquiring a second language at the age of puberty or later. The reasons for that are provided in Chapter 3.
To study attrition of Russian case morphology, the following research questions were formed:
1. What are the changes in the system of Russian cases in the speech of Russian heritage speakers living in Finland and using Finnish as the main language for communications?
2. What factors could possibly explain these changes?
Chapter 2 defines heritage speakers, talks about unbalanced bilingualism, and the importance of parental and family choices in maintaining heritage languages. Chapter 3 explores the role of age in language acquisition. Chapter 4 investigates Russian as a heritage language.
In Chapters 5 and 6, the research method and results of the data analysis are presented and discussed, while recommendations are made in the concluding Chapter 7.