Johanna Vaattovaara: Sociolinguistic study of language perceptions and its social significance
“Educated language experts are generally thought of as linguistic authorities, but the real authorities are the language users whose behaviour and language perceptions also determine how language evolves and changes,” says Vaattovaara.
She believes that by studying phenomena that may appear small and the related perceptions, we can shed light on broader language ideological mechanisms.
For example, what we see today as the opposition of “Stadi” versus “lande” was, not long ago, a hot potato in building national identity and establishing the norms of the Finnish language, and Vaattovaara points out that this potato has not yet cooled down completely.
“You would not guess that 19th century nationalism, certain speech therapy traditions and the sharp, hissing /s/ sound of the so-called “pissis” girls from eastern Helsinki have anything to do with each other, but they are all linked together in the underlying structures of language perceptions.”
Vaattovaara says that studying language users’ perspectives is becoming even more important with the growth of multicultural communities and technology-mediated interaction. Her current research focuses on the language awareness of occupational groups.
“For example, local language policy decisions can have positive or negative consequences on the experiences of social inclusion and wellbeing of certain people or groups of people. Understanding the language perceptions of communities of practice and the logic of language awareness is crucial, and these themes should preferably be explored together with the subjects themselves.”