Sanajärjestyksen variaatiosta suomenoppijoiden teksteissä

Mikko Kajander


On the variation of word order in written L2 Finnish

Finnish word order is known to be syntactically relatively free, but it also has many discourse-conditioned functions (Vilkuna 1989: 9) that form part of the linguistic competency of Finnish native speakers. For those learning Finnish as a second language it can be difficult to recognize which word order is neutral (unmarked) and what interpretation would be triggered using another, rarer (marked) word order in a specific context.

In this paper I concentrate on the Finnish existential (‘there is’) sentences, which were gleaned from the so-called Cefling corpus (cf. Martin et al. 2010) containing texts written by two groups: adults and school children. The texts in this corpus were judged as being of levels A1–C2 (adults) and levels A1–B2 (school children) with regard to the Common European Framework of Reference for Langugages (CEFR). 

The most typical word order of the existential sentences is that in which the theme position of the sentence is occupied by a local or possessive adverbial and the subject of the sentence is post-verbal (AVS for short). The theme position can also be empty (VS). Both of these word orders are also unmarked. First, I analyzed the variation of the (A)VS word order statistically. The marked variations of the (A)VS word order become more common, as the writing skills (according to CEFR levels) increase. Statistically highly significant differences were found between the levels A & B as well as between the levels B & C in the adult group. The variation in the school children group was not statistically significant.

I then analyzed more closely the use of the marked SV-order in text context, using the so-called field description of word order (‘sanajärjestyksen kenttäkuvaus’) as presented in the ISK (2004: 1306–1345). (Cf. Vilkuna 1989 for the nearest equivalent of this model in English.) The unmarked VS-order sentence is sometimes considered as being “themeless”, since the theme field is not occupied. If the theme field is empty, the subject in the SV-type sentence could occupy the theme field. But also the so-called pre-field preceding the theme field could be occupied by the subject, if the theme field were not really empty. This might seem marginal, but could also have an influence on the interpretation of the sentence in context.

The text samples reveal that a suitable theme can often be found for the empty theme slot – at least in the case of SV-order – in the text preceding this sentence. In this case the “empty” theme field could be occupied by this continuous theme, and the subject (rheme) would be in the pre-field. This word order is clearly marked and brings a contrastive or a convincing tone to the text. The text samples show that at least some of the higher-level L2 Finnish learners are able to use the marked SV order in texts this way quite correctly.

The subject of the existential sentences is normally interpreted as a rheme or “new information”. In some cases, however, the text samples show that the subject of the existential SV sentence is not actually always a rheme in the prefield: it has been at least indirectly mentioned in the text before and perhaps that is why it rather seems to occupy the theme slot in some SV-order existential sentences. There are also some specific verbs with which the SV-order in the existential sentences seems to be well-established without necessarily being the marked order. This, as well as some learning-related issues of word order, requires further investigation. 


L2 Finnish, existential sentence, information structure, CEFR, Cefling

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Copyright (c) 2016 Mikko Kajander

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ISSN 1736-9290 (print)
ISSN 2228-3854 (online)