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Ilona Herlin

Maria Ilona Herlin
Born April 8, 1965, Kirkkonummi

MA 1992 and PhD 1998 (Finnish Language), University of Helsinki
Docent at the University of Helsinki 2006-

Independent scholar 2006-
Doctoral assistant at the University of Helsinki 2006
Postdoctoral researcher at the Academy of Finland 1995–1998

Publications, research projects and other scientific activities

Research topics: Finnish grammar, in particular the relationship between sentences, infinitives, particles and personalities, the position of empathy in language, language and nature

Smiling Girl Statue for students with good friendship skills 1972
2nd place in the Masala school district ski and temperance writing competition 1973
Best poster at the Finnish Conference of Linguistics, Helsinki 2002

Written by Ilona Herlin (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta, ed.)
Translated by
Joe McVeigh

Grammar structures life

As a student, I had many opportunities to change my mind while choosing my subject. I remember studying a little in the Kallio library for the entrance exams for the Political Science Faculty and the Agriculture and Forestry Faculty. With the former subject, I hated the charts and graphs, and while combing through the latter I started to feel the pain that certain beetles have of living between the bark and the tree to such an extent that I needed to get up from my seat and circle the reading room. Lauri Hakulinen’s book Suomen kielen rakenne ja kehitys (‘The structure and evolution of the Finnish language’) fell off the shelf and into my hand, so I opened it up and started to read it. The world and life started to become organized: I had found my subject.

Nowadays I see what is jammed into that experience and my exploring it again and the different perspectives on language and especially the world of Finnish grammar and the structuring of human life. On the other hand over the years I have approached it as a core fact. I started my work on the relationships between sentences by writing my dissertation on the Finnish conjunction kun (‘when’) and, in another smaller book, the Finnish conjunction koska (‘because’). In these books I discussed bringing together two different situations: the kinds of relations between situations, how they are thought about by different people, the relations of contrasts and cause-effect, and their mutual relations. I have dealt with these and other themes in later projects, such as the ‘Roots of contemporary Finnish: recent history of the Finnish infinitive verb form constructions’ (2000–04) and ‘Contexts of subordination’ (2007–). Thinking about the relation between language, the mind and the world eventually led me to the ecolinguistics project, which mapped the relations between language and nature. The project has mainly produced docent teaching, some talks and many specific research ideas that are waiting to be put into practice.

With other projects, such as ‘Meaning, situation and action’ (2006–09), ‘Language and empathy’ (2010–) and the ‘Happiness project’ (2014–), I have worked with conversation analysts and gradually learned to understand that language is the means for both structuring the world and interaction, and that interaction can be structured.

At the moment I am researching the first person plurals of Finnish with Marja Etelämäki. With the Social mind and grammar project we will soon travel to the 14th International Pragmatics Conference in Belgium to present our ideas on personal pronouns in the Finnish language.

The Kallio Library. Photo: Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta.


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