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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Use of Toponyms in Spoken Language: the Case of Vuosaari in Helsinki

T Ainiala
Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, Finland

Toponyms are used not only to identify places, but also to accomplish many relevant social and interactional tasks. In a conversation, speakers may use diverse forms of a toponym or different names to refer to the same place. The choice of a name or a name variant is not coincidental or free but depends on the context, e.g., the formality of the situation. The name variants, speakers use may even reveal the identities they have as local dwellers.

My paper is based on a research project, titled “Transformation of onomastic landscape in the sociolinguistically diversifying neighbourhoods of Helsinki.” The project investigates the current onomastic landscape of Helsinki from the viewpoint of toponyms (both official and unofficial) that the various social segments of the population use. The primary sources consist of focus group and individual in-depth interviews conducted among denizens. Two case study neighbourhoods, Kallio and Vuosaari, are studied. My examples come from Vuosaari, a relatively newly built, multiethnic suburb in eastern Helsinki by the sea. An essential number of the toponyms used by particularly the younger population of the area consist of slang based unofficial names. I will present the interactional use and functions of these names. Since people often have metalinguistic discussions about names in interviews, I will also examine whether the metalinguistic and actual use of toponyms differ from each other.

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