On the Maintenance and Use of Heritage Finnish among Today’s North American Finnish Migrants: A Survey




Halmari, Helena

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Transnational Finnish Mobilities


In this chapter, I discuss the maintenance of the Finnish language among today’s North American ethnic Finns, those who have migrated from Finland into North America relatively recently, and, most pronouncedly, after the Great Migration years from Finland during the transition to the twentieth century. I am specifically interested in the patterns of the use and maintenance of Finnish among this group of new migrants, whose life circumstances are drastically different from the lives of the old migrant population (for accounts of the latter, see, e.g., Virtanen 1975; Virtaranta et al. 1993; Kero 1996; Alanen 2012; Kostiainen 2014; for studies on contemporary Finnish North Americans, see, e.g., Korkiasaari & Roinila 2005; Kiriakos 2014; Leinonen 2011a, 2011b, 2012, 2013, 2014a, 2014b). The pattern of the old-wave migrant population typically showed strong maintenance of Finnish by the first generation and speedy linguistic assimilation to the mainstream (i.e., acquisition of English) by the second generation (cf., e.g., Valdes 2005, 2006). Describing the situation of old-wave Finnish migrants, Martin and Jönsson-Korhola (1993) argue that the command of Finnish was not regarded as important; sometimes it was considered even embarrassing.2 What this chapter begins to explore is whether the higher socioeconomic status and higher education levels of the recent Finnish migrants (see Leinonen 2011a; Habti & Koikkalainen 2014; Warinowski 2016) may have influenced a change in how the command of Finnish is regarded. Is there, for instance, an articulated effort to pass heritage Finnish on to the next generation? With a limited population, this exploratory study contributes to the larger field of heritage language maintenance by looking at what ethnic Finns in North America — a minority within minorities — think about their heritage language and what measures they take to try to pass that language to the next generation (on heritage languages and their maintenance in North America, see, i.a., Fishman 1991; Kainulainen 1993; Peyton, Ranard & McGinnish 2001; Valdes 2005, 2006; Polinsky & Kagan 2007; Kelleher 2010).


Article originally published in Transnational Finnish Mobilities Proceedings of the FinnForum XI.


Finnish Language, migrations, ethic Finns, heritage language maintenance


Halmari, Helena. 2019. On the maintenance and use of heritage Finnish among today’s North American Finnish migrants: A survey. In Leinonen, Johanna and Kostiainen, Auvo (eds), Transnational Finnish mobilities. Turku: Migration Institute of Finland. 155–182. https://siirtolaisuusinstituutti.fi/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/t-03-isbn-978-952-7167-61-8-transnational-finnish-mobilities-proceedings-of-finnforum-xi.pdf