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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Slang Toponyms in Early Twentieth Century Helsinki

Author(s):
T Ainiala
J Vuolteenaho
Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, Finland

Since the second half of the 19th century, when the industrial revolution began in Finland, the sociolinguistic transformation of the originally Swedish-speaking capital Helsinki has been drastic. In terms of linguistic variety in popular parlance, the first century of Helsinki’s industrial growth witnessed two periodic extremes. The early decades of industrial development were marked by the immanence of not only the languages of the Swedish and Finnish speaking majorities, but also Russian and other languages used by the officials, the Russian army and visiting seamen. This multilingual period gave birth to Helsinki slang (Stadin slangi), a unique creole dialect which originally developed among the working class of both Finnish and Swedish language backgrounds in their densely occupied neighbourhoods (most notably Sörnäinen, Helsinki’s foremost working-class district) and which, in the course the 20th century, transmuted into a common street language of the youth throughout the Helsinki region.

Through a sociolinguistic analysis of spatial slang coinages by male juveniles of Sörnäinen in early twentieth century Helsinki, the paper excavates the cord between urban transformation and the informal verbalizations of everyday spaces. The naming practices held by lads in Sörnäinen were characterized by their working-class habitus, heteroglossic living conditions and extensive moving about across Helsinki in the search of opportunities for using their spare time and earning money. The primary research material covers a set of interviews made between the 1920s and the 1980s.

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