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Riho Grünthal

Born 22 May, 1964, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1990 (Finnic Languages, joint honours in Finno-Ugric Languages, 1991), Licentiate of Philosophy 1996 and Doctor of Philosophy (Finnic Languages) 2003, University of Helsinki

Professor of Finnic Languages 2005-, University of Helsinki
Researcher, Institute for the Languages of Finland 1991–1992
M.A.Castrén seura (‘society’) and Ministry of Education project secretary 1992–1993
Finnic Languages Assistant 1993–99 and Researcher 1999–2002, University of Helsinki.
Secretary of Finno-Ugric Society 1994–2003
Professor of Finnic Languages 2003–2005 (fixed term), University of Helsinki

Publications and other academic activity

Research interests: Finnic languages and the Finno-Ugric of the Volga region, language change and change in speech communities, early history of languages, language typology, sociolinguistics and etymology.

Photo: Lena Salmi
Written by Riho Grünthal and Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta (ed.)
Translated by John Calton

What is the Veps speech community like in the 21st century?

The Veps language is one of many near-relatives of the Finnish language which is faced with the prospect of language death. Estimates put the number of speakers at around 3,000. The language is no longer being passed from one generation to the next, nor does it have an established position in the school curriculum, electronic media or urban society. Nonetheless the contemporary world also determines Vepsian life. What’s happening with the language?

Professor Riho Grünthal has an answer:

– Language usage is gradually shifting and this cultural change can be seen in the different generations’ ability and willingness to use minority languages, like Veps. The decline of speech communities and language change are laws of nature, which are complied with when the minority language speakers start adopting the dominant language in place of the traditional one.

Veps language change takes place over decades. Urbanisation, the deterioration of the road network, closing schools and a sustained period of low fertility all feed into the process. Language change has taken place more rapidly in the towns, but the ageing village populations are no guarantee of linguistic continuity. Veps is an Eastern Finnic language and it offers a rare insight into the development of the area in which these languages are spoken.

– The structure of Veps differs in a number of ways from other languages which share the same historical roots, such as Finnish and Estonian. For example, its case system has undergone many changes. But the area where it is spoken–between Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega and Beloe ozero–has also resulted in all kinds of language contact between Russian and other local forms of spoken Slavic languages.

The sociolinguistic status of Karelian and Veps was examined further in the Eldia project, an international survey of minority languages conducted between 2010 and 2013. Riho Grünthal is currently completing a grammar of Veps.

Photo: Riho Grünthal.​
Photo: Riho Grünthal.​

Further reading:

  • Riho Grünthal. 2009. Kieliyhteisön rapautuminen ja kielellisen identiteetin muutos: 2000-luvun ersämordvalaiset ja vepsäläiset. (’Language deterioration and change in language identity: ersämordv and Veps speakers in the 21st-century’) Anna Idström & Sachiko Sosa (eds.), Kielissä kulttuurien ääni. (‘Cultures through languages’) Tietolipas 228. Helsinki: SKS. pp. 265–289.
  • Riho Grünthal 2011: Population decline and the Erosion of the Veps Language Community. – Riho Grünthal & Magdolna Kovács, The ethnic and linguistic context of identity: Finno-Ugric minorities. Uralica Helsingiensia 5. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura. pp. 267–293.


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