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Linguists Worry About English Language Infiltration

Some linguists in Finland are concerned about the infiltration of English-language words into the Finnish language. They fear that it may alienate Finns who aren't proficient in English and create inequalities, especially in public service.

A man sweeps up a cafe in front of an Open sign.
Image: YLE

The use of English words in every language, not just Finnish, is a common phenomenon. Business and technology jargon is frequently heavily anglicized, for example. But some linguistic researchers are wary of its spread into daily life, such as in banks and government offices.

Oulu University social studies professor Airi Mäki-Kulmala said she was struck by potential problems when she noticed that Tampere's central hospital began using the English term for the stroke unit, instead of the Finnish sydänyksikkö.

"I began questioning whether we can really expect everyone to know English. This type of usage in daily life may be difficult for some people to come to grips with," she says.

Mäki-Kulmala feels that the proliferation of English in many normal, everyday situations may put people on unequal footing if they can't follow the English jargon. If a new trend, product, or service only has an English name, many people may be confused or be unable to take advantage of it.

Riitta Eronen, of the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, says that the problem isn't the introduction of indivudual words into the Finnish language, but the transformation of entire offices and professional fields into English-based environments. This can handicap many Finnish workers who could do their jobs better in their own language.

Eronen fears that Finnish could become a second-class language.

"The worst threat is that we throw Finnish into the bin. We shouldn't think a "coffee shop" is any fancier than a good old Finnish kahvila," adds Eronen.

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