Peculiarities of Written Russian by Russian-Finnish Bilinguals

Ekaterina Protassova, University of Helskinki


In 2002, the population of Finland was approximately 5,200,000 persons, and among these permanent residents, approximately 100,000 were other than Finnish nationals. The largest group is represented by the nationals of Russia or of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Estonians. The Old Russians are considered to be historical minority in Finland (about 4,000 people). About 1.1% of Finnish citizens belong to the Orthodox Church, and among this 1.1% many are Karelians. The Old Russians in Finland have been studied, for example, by Baschmakoff, Leinonen (2001), Harjula, Leinonen, Ovchinnikova (1993), Horn (1997), Leisiö (2001), Protassova (1994, 1998). The exact number of Russian-speaking people in Finland might be between 31,000 and 65,000 (people can be counted after their passport or their language, but both methods are not trustworthy enough). This Russian linguistic group is heterogeneous in origin, as well as in the quality of their Russian language and their command of Finnish and Swedish. Since 1990, Ingrian – or Russian Finnish – returnees are joining the Russian-speaking community, as well as Russian spouses and Russian employees.

The present study examines some features of written Russian by Russian-Finnish bilinguals who belong to the following groups: (a) children born in Finland to rather monolingual and rather bilingual families; (b) children who immigrated at school age; (c) grown-up bilinguals born in Finland, and (d) adult immigrants. Their bilingual (or digraphic) text production is sometimes written in two different characters or alphabets or is a result of complex mutual transfer and decision making. The informants have difficulties to write combinations with letters Я, Ё, Ю, Е as well as with markers Ъ, Ь (which are commonly known to be the so called ‘weak places’ in the Russian orthographic system). The initial E is confounded with Э, the Russian superlinear markers are replaced by the Finnish ones (ё and й become ē and ū in written language), Ы and И replace each other (but can be also replaced by A, E, O if unstressed), the orthography of the proper names, numerals and punctuation is influenced through Finnish system of writing. Some Latin and Cyrillic symbols are confounded in written documents. The most interesting are perhaps the cases when the words are written together or separately. The design of the written documents differs in students with different background. Some written evidence will be demonstrated and commented. The material consists not only of the written examples and explanations, but also of self-assessment reflections in bilinguals.