Understanding Estonian phraseological units on the basis of Finnish: Contributing and misleading factors

Pirkko Muikku-Werner, Jarmo Harri Jantunen


Finns reading Estonian texts have a variety of strategies to make sense of them. One is priming, which means that language users consciously or unconsciously rely on previous knowledge of associations that occur in phraseological units. We studied how the distance between a prime and its target and theme affects the understanding of unknown words and false friends, and how the restricted semantic category affects uncovering the target. 

The data of the study consist of translations of Estonian texts into Finnish, produced by native Finnish speakers with no theoretical or practical knowledge of Estonian. The participants were also asked about the process of reaching certain translation equivalents. The Finnish Language Text Collection was consulted for L1 patterning, in order to reveal whether the phraseological combinations in translation tests have counterparts in target language usage. 

The analysis revealed that there are several factors that affect understanding source text lexemes: external similarity, the distance of the items in a phraseological unit, the limitedness of the semantic category and, finally, world knowledge. The participants often mentioned orthographic similarity as a starting point in revealing the meaning. Other factors that contributed to understanding a foreign text were mentioned as well: context and semantic relations, which base on internalised metalinguistic knowledge, facilitated to associate the prime and the target. Finally, similar collocations to translation tests were found in the L1 data.


mutual intelligibility of languages; semantic priming; prime; target; Estonian; Finnish; kielten keskinäinen ymmärrettävyys; semanttinen pohjustaminen; pohjustin; kohdesana; viro; suomi

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5128/LV30.04


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ISSN 1736-9290 (print)
ISSN 2228-3854 (online)
DOI  https://doi.org/10.5128/LV.1736-9290