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Pirkko Nuolijärvi

Pirkko Sinikka Nuolijärvi
Born July 19, 1949, Artjärvi.

Master of Arts, 1972, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1985 and Doctor of Philosophy, 1986 (Finnish Language), University of Helsinki

Director, Institute for the Languages of Finland, Professor, 1998-
Associate Professor of Finnish and Communications, 1989−98, Helsinki School of Economics
Acting professor of Finnish Language, 1993−94, University of Helsinki
Acting associate professor of Finnish Language 1987−1988, University of Helsinki
Docent, Finnish Language, 1987−, University of Helsinki
Acting University Lecturer 1986−87, University of Uppsala, Department of Fenno-Ugrian Languages
Project researcher, 1982−85, Muuttajien kieli –project, Academy of Finland
Researcher, 1976−81, 1986, Institute for the Languages of Finland
Senior Archive Assistant, 1973−76, Sanakirjasäätiö (’Lexicographical foundation’)
Research Assistant, 1971−72, Käänteissanakirja (‘Reverse dictionary’), academy of Finland

Awards and honours:
Honorary Doctor, Faculty of Arts, University of Vaasa, 2006
Svenska Folkskolans Vänner, Brobyggarpriset (‘Bridgebuilder prize’), 2012
Finnish Cultural Fund Award, 2000
Doctoral Thesis Prize, August Ahlqvist, Kai Donner, Artturi Kannisto ja Yrjö Wichmann fund, 1987
Award, E. A. Saarimaa fund, 1977
Badge of Merit, Estonian Ministry for Education and Science Ministry, 2009
Knight of the Order of the White Rose of Finland (1st class), 2005
Badge of Merit, Svenska Finlands folkting- Swedish Assembly of Finland, 2003

Photo: Otso Kaijaluoto
Written by Pirkko Nuolijärvi (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta, ed.)
Translated by John Calton

Language policy is an everyday activity

When a Finn hears the term ‘language policy’, perhaps the first thing that comes to their mind is the country’s bilingualism and the status of the Swedish language. Language policy covers those things, too, but it is also so much more: different ways to make the language environment fairer and more functional. People who research languages and linguists are not lawyers and we do not wish to present ourselves as such, but actions concerning language policy also require knowledge about the life of the languages and the language communities, and that knowledge is something a linguist can help to spread.

The action plan Suomen kielen tulevaisuus (‘The future of the Finnish language’) was published in 2009 by Kotus and the researchers of Finnish language and language technology at the University of Helsinki. It contains many sections which will never become outdated, and which one should revisit to reflect on how the Finnish language is doing in different ‘domains’ of life.

The plan dealt with many domains of life, and one central section dealt with language choices in science and higher education. The theme was, and still is, the idea of languages in co-existence. It is necessary to reiterate an often-spoken axiom: it is natural and necessary to publish in foreign languages, but the scientific community benefits from looking after your own mother tongues, which facilitate the best thought processes and most creativity. Using your first language as the language of science also helps you to think in other languages and brings precision to their use. As such then it is not about options, but a peaceful symbiosis. Moreover, we also get so much support for our work from this society that we must be able to communicate about what we are trying to accomplish in Finnish languages in Finland. One happy outcome of the action plan is the Tieteen termipankki (‘Bank of Finnish Terminology in Arts and Sciences’), where a number of fields publish their Finnish and Swedish terminology and in that way develop their own specialist languages.

Another central section dealt with the language of administration. The Ministry of Education and Culture set up a working group for administrative language in 2003. Its goal was to come up with suggestions on how to ensure the correctness, clarity and intelligibility of administrative language. Hyvän virkakielen toimintaohjelma (‘Report of the Working Group for Clear Administrative Language’) was published in January 2014, and in the autumn we started an administrative language campaign. Many government agencies are taking an active part in the campaign and working to improve their own operations and interaction. The main point is that good and proper administrative language saves time, money and effort when the texts can be readily understood, and the official-client interaction works.

The programmes provide an incentive for work that is ongoing and requires both research and knowledge of practical life as well as connections between various groups and individuals. All of the work on the language of science and administration should be of general benefit and is everyone’s business.

Language policies are also made in schools and municipalities when deciding how to teach all of the mother tongues and what foreign languages to offer. These decisions have long-term implications for people living in Finland. Language policy also includes the decisions made in multilingual families and an individual’s attitudes towards the language of another individual. There must be room for everyone in this country–working to ensure that, too, is the job of a linguist.

Pirkko Nuolijärvi being interviewed in the University’s reading room in 1986. (Photographer unknown)​
Pirkko Nuolijärvi being interviewed in the University’s reading room in 1986. (Photographer unknown)​


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