The University of Tartu is ranked in the 201-250 position in the field of Linguistics among the 1000 best universities of the world (QS World University Rankings 2021 by Subject). Our Institute is one of the foremost centres of linguistic research in Estonia. 

The research conducted in the Institute focuses mainly on Estonian, but also tackles other Finno-Ugric languages, such as Izhorian, Votic, Komi, and other languages. The University of Tartu has become one of the leading research and teaching centres of Finno-Ugric languages. We belong to a collaboration network of nine European universities who share a passion for teaching and researching Finno-Ugric languages. The Institute’s research involves diverse directions both in terms of the phenomena under investigation as well as the methods and approaches used.

Language documentation forms an important part of our research, and we maintain a number of important language corpora used in research on Estonian and related languages. Language corpora are extremely valuable from the point of view of the preservation of linguistic diversity and affords the opportunity for researchers to investigate Estonian outside of Tartu and Estonia, fostering international collaboration. 

We also conduct interdisciplinary research. We participate in various larger projects, such as those of the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies and BEDLAN, as well as a large number of medium-sized and small research projects. The nature of human language means that our research interests often overlap with those of psychology, genetics, informatics, arts and culture.

Journal of Estonian and Finno-Ugric Linguistics (JEFUL)

The Journal of Estonian and Finno-Ugric Linguistics (JEFUL) publishes original research papers on the linguistics of Finno-Ugric languages (the paper can be submitted either in Estonian or in English). We kindly ask you to submit your paper on the journal’s website from where you can also find relevant information about paper submission, formatting and such. The journal appears twice a year: a special issue in June and general issue in December. The editors of the journal are Pärtel Lippus and Helen Plado.

Twitter: @esukaJeful

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Ongoing projects

MEDAL is a consortium project aimed at reducing the recognised gap in access to expertise, training and research funding in Linguistics across Europe through a horizontal, network approach to engaging a new generation of researchers in empirically grounded, up-to-the-minute methodology. The consortium is comprised of four highly acclaimed research institutes:

1. the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics at the University of Tartu (project coordinator) 
2. the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands 
3. the Center For Language Studies and the Donders Institute at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands 
4. the Department of Modern Languages and the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

Together, these partners will jointly lead a concerted move to increase the global competitiveness of Linguistics in Europe by coordinating events and research aimed at bringing together world-class pioneers and early-career researchers, at developing excellence in methodological training, and at formulating a model of international collaboration on cross-linguistic, cross-modal, cross-disciplinary research. Ultimately, the MEDAL consortium will develop internal expertise, establish a sustainable joint training and research program and be poised for continued collaboration, and the University of Tartu will be an internationally recognized Linguistics research excellence hub for Northern Europe.

Project coordinators in Tartu: Virve Vihman, Joshua Wilbur and Liina Lindström.

The project is funded by the European Commission's Horizon Europe Twinning Program (for the three EU partners).

The project initiates a new approach and a new phase in Estonian linguistics. We will analyze (a) the expression of subjectivity and intersubjectivity (S/IS) in different written, spoken, and computer-mediated registers and genres. Our project focuses on the use of particles and verbs as S/IS markers in two functional domains: (a) expression of probability of the information being conveyed and, (b) expression of attitudes and emotions. We will study the relationships between the chosen S/IS markers and different genres and registers.

Principal investigator: Helle Metslang

The project is funded by the Estonian Research Council

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The project is aimed at the investigation and comparison of features of discourse particles in minor Uralic languages (Ingrian, Votic, Livonian, Erzya, Moksha, Udmurt, Komi, Kamas). Discourse particles have been studied intensively in languages with abundant documented written and spoken linguistic material. Considerably less has been done on the material of under-researched languages with limited linguistic resources, lack of long time written tradition and lack or limited size of spoken corpora. The main objective of the project is to discover linguistic patterns, variations and idiosyncrasies in the use of discourse particles in related indigenous languages in the situation of language contact. The workflow will include analysis of existing new corpora, compiling linguistic corpora, development of comparable experimental materials, and work with language consultants. The findings will be discussed in workshops, summarized in a volume, and become part of grammars and textbooks.

Principal investigator: Gerson Klumpp

The project is funded by the Estonian Research Council

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The sustainability of Estonian as language of higher education has become a major issue in public and academic discussions. In Estonia, state language policy makers are looking for a balance between Estonian and English to maintain the functionality of Estonian while internationalising higher education. Although state-authored language policies, as well as some policy initiatives implemented at the university level (e.g. the language principles of the University of Tartu) favour the use of Estonian in higher education, outcomes of such policies depend on how university students and staff are using languages. Thus, this project studies language use and attitudes of students and academic staff in multilingual course settings. The main objective of the project is to understand the relationship between the sustainability of Estonian as language of higher education, and multilingual language use at university. As a result of the research, suggestions for top-down policies will be made.

Principal investigator: Kerttu Rozenvalde

The project is funded by the Estonian Research Council

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The aim of the project is to determine what kind of grammatical developments in Estonian and other Finnic languages can be attributed to contacts with Indo-European languages, and to compare the contact situations of different parts of the contact zone. For example, how does the contact between Livonian and Latvian differ from Veps-Russian or Finnish-Swedish contact. This study involves all the Finnic languages and dialects, and their main (historic) contact languages (Latvian, Russian, Swedish, German). The project is enabled by new large-scale language databases that also contain the Finnic languages. The results should reveal continuities and ruptures in the structural features of Finnic languages, allowing one to pinpoint the features that unite these languages, and the ones shaped more superficially by contacts. Ultimately, a more complete picture of the outcomes of contacts in the zone should emerge and enhance the profile of Finnic languages in comparative linguistic studies.

Principal investigator: Miina Norvik

The project is funded by the Estonian Research Council

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The aim of the project is to study Inari Saami word prosody and its relations to morphology by using experimental-phonetic methods and morphological analysis. The focus of the research is on the three-way consonantal quantity distinction, which knowingly only exists in Finno-Ugric languages. During the course of the project, the phonetic realization and morphological functions of the prosodic oppositions of Inari Saami will be studied. For investigating the prosodic language change and its impact on morphology, the pronunciation of younger and older generations of speakers will be compared.

Principal investigator: Helen Türk

The project is funded by Eesti Keele Instituut through Hõimurahvaste Programm

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Language users select forms of words that feel “right” for what they want to say. Occasionally, however, more than one form feels right and may compete for selection (e.g. have proved or proven?); in those cases, users find both or all forms adequate, although each of us might only use one of them. Elsewhere, we lack a suitable form where one is expected (troubleshot? troubleshooted?). These instances of “feast” (multiple forms) and “famine” (no forms) show that selecting the “right” word form is not a process of mechanically mapping from function to form; users weigh and select forms from a basket of those available, sometimes keeping around more forms than necessary and sometimes failing to find a form that works. Linguists term the first sort of mismatch ‘overabundance’, and the second ‘defectivity’. Defectivity and overabundance have traditionally been treated as separate phenomena, arising in different circumstances that explain their divergent outcomes. Our project highlights the commonalities in these circumstances – only the outcomes (multiple forms or none) mark them as distinct. Using data from morphologically complex languages – Czech, Croatian, Estonian and Finnish – we explore a fundamental question: which factors push users down one or the other path? We consider multiple perspectives, from corpus analysis, experimental approaches and computational models.

Principal investigator: Virve-Anneli Vihman

The project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (Great Britain).

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Using archival research, primary data, and creative practice-as-research – and comparison across the UK, Netherlands, Latvia, and Estonia - the project "Re-voicing cultural landscapes: narratives, perspectives, and performances of marginalised intangible cultural heritage" aims to better understand the interplay between majority and minority narratives, perspectives, and performances of ICH, to make marginalised cultural landscapes more visible and resilient, and produce impactful insights to inform local communities to (inter)national policy-makers. In this collaborative project, researchers from University of Tartu and the University of Latvia Livonian Institute investigate relations people have with heritage in two regions once inhabitated by Livonians: in Curland Livonia in the northwest of Latvia and historic Livonian area of Metsepoole at the eastern shore of Gulf of Riga both in Latvian and Estonian sides.

Principal investigators: Kadri Koreinik

The project is funded by the Estonian Research Council

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The Phonetic Corpus of Estonian Spontaneous Speech consists of recordings that have been annotated on different linguistic tiers including words and segments and their boundaries in the speech signal. The corpus mainly contains dialogues. There are recordings from 130 speakers, in total 83 hours of sound files containing 635 000 words. The corpus is used for training various language technological applications (e.g. speech recognition, dialogue systems) and for studying different linguistic research questions. The aim of the project is to add new recordings and annotations to the corpus. New recordings will also include video, which would enable the corpus to be used for the development of virtual agents. As a result of the project the number of annotated recordings will reach 133 hours i.e. about 1 million words. A larger corpus will increase the quality of the applications under development, and will provide a broader basis for the studies using the corpus materials.

Principal investigator: Pärtel Lippus

The project is funded by the Ministry of Education and Research through the national programme "Estonian language technology 2018–2027"

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The project aims to compile an interdisciplinary corpus of modern Seto, based on the interviews that were conducted during earlier fieldwork trips (2010-2016 in the eastern part of the area where Seto is spoken, in Russia) and will be conducted during the current project. During the project, about 50 hours of recordings will be transcribed and annotated on at least two levels (morphological annotation, thematic annotation). Audio and video recordings together with transcribed and annotated texts form a corpus, where all these levels of analyses are available. The corpus includes data which is interesting for researchers of different disciplines, such as linguistics, folkloristics, ethnology, anthropology, history, religious studies, etc. In addition to the compilation of the corpus, the members of the project study Seto language and culture, using the corpus as their main data source.

Principal investigator: Liina Lindström

The project is funded by Ministry of Education and Research

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Estonian Wordnet (EstWN) is a valuable language resource in all applications where it is needed to distinguish between word senses and exploit semantic relations. EstWN is a language-specific resource and follows the structure and principles of wordnet standards, also a multilingual resource, since it is connected to other wordnets in the world. Estonian Wordnet has gained a strong position in the wordnet community. The proposed project focuses on quantity, quality, complementing EstWN regarding specific needs and specific annotation, and linking with ontologies. During the project, EstWN will be linked also with Estonian Wikipedia. This is important in several ways – Wikipedia describes entities that are not present in EstWN and on the other hand, through Wikipedia EstWN accomplishes more visibility. EstWN can be used via API and connected via CILI links to the English language. The proposed project aims to create extensive wordnet, which can be used for broader purposes.

Principal investigator: Heili Orav

The project is funded by the Ministry of Education and Research

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Tomasz Wicherkiewicz (Poznan): Minority (language) policies and politics in Poland - a downward spiral?

On November 22, professor Tomasz Wicherkiewicz from Poznani University in Poland will give a TÜling talk on "Minority (language) policies and politics in Poland - a downward spiral?".
#research #for society

Doctoral defence: Triin Todesk “Ogdžyk töd ‘I do not know that well’: džyk as a degree expression with verbs in Komi”

Doctoral defence: Triin Todesk “Ogdžyk töd ‘I do not know that well’: džyk as a degree expression with verbs in Komi”