The Finnish language in post-utopian Sointula: the effects of frequency on consonant gradation




Saarinen, Pauliina

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This research investigated the effect of frequency of language use on the production of consonant gradation by non-dominant speakers of Finnish in the immigrant community of Sointula, BC. Three types of frequency – word-frequency, suffix-frequency, and stem-frequency – were tested. It also investigated whether quantitative or qualitative gradation is more successful in producing gradation than the other and, finally, whether immigrant generation can explain the variation between participants. A translation task was administered to the six participants across three generations. Based on the framework of exemplar-driven cognitive grammar (Bybee 2001; Pierrehumbert 2001), the frequency-effects were assumed to be contingent upon the mode of lexical access; frequent complex words, presumably accessed as wholes thanks to frequent usage, would not exhibit as many gradation errors as infrequent words, which would be accessed via their composite parts due to infrequency. The anticipated frequency-effects were not found. Both frequent and infrequent words manifested some gradation loss as an analogical change. This suggests that all words are infrequent. While Bybee’s model assumes high-volume language use over time in dominant language contexts, lack of volume appears to suppress the differential behavior between frequent and infrequent words in Sointula. However, correct gradation was predictable based on suffix-use, which in turn was determined partly by semantics of suffixes; those Finnish suffixes that are semantically mappable to equivalent morphemes in English were better preserved than GEN object-markers, which do not have corresponding morpheme in English. With the atrophy of the GEN object-marker also gradation becomes redundant. This may arise from the tendency to mark syntactic constituency with word-order alone in English-influenced Finnish. Thus, semantics of suffixes proves to be a better predictor of gradation than frequency. Gradation loss increased with each generation born abroad; by G3, it has all but disappeared. Consonant gradation is not preserved through the generations. Qualitative gradation disappears before quantitative gradation. The above findings are sensible in a context of reduced language-functionality. Against expectation, little evidence for storing sub-word morphemes and decomposed access was found. Instead, the data suggests that most stored lexical items are whole words and that gradation is associated with whole complex forms.



Usage-based grammar, Frequency effects, Minority language, Finnish, Lexical access, Morphology, Morphological processing, Language attrition, Language shift, Language variation