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Open Access Modelling Mixed Languages: Some Remarks on the Case of Old Helsinki Slang

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Modelling Mixed Languages: Some Remarks on the Case of Old Helsinki Slang

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image of Journal of Language Contact

Old Helsinki Slang (OHS) a linguistic variety spoken in the working-class quarters of Helsinki from approx. 1900 to 1945, is marked by the usage of a virtually wholly Swedish vocabulary in a Finnish morphosyntactic framework. It has recently been subject of two interestingly contrasting treatments by Petri Kallio and Vesa Jarva. Kallio argues that the morphosyntactic base of OHS gives cause to analyzing it as unambiguously Finnic, and therefore Uralic, from a genetic perspective, whereas Jarva, drawing attention to the possible origins of OHS in frequent code-switching, believes it deserves consideration as a mixed language alongside such cases as Ma'a and Media Lengua.

The contrasting approaches of the two authors involve contrasting presuppositions which deserve to be spelled out: should the genetic origin of a language be based on the pedigree of its structure (with mixed structures pointing to a mixed genetic origin) or on the sociolinguistic history of its speakers? Taking the latter course, I argue that the most valid model for the emergence of genetically mixed languages is the code-switching one proposed by Peter Auer. Measuring OHS against Auer's model, however, it is a marginal case for a mixed language, particularly as Auer's and similar models imply some composition in structural domains, which seems wholly absent in the case of OHS. Thus OHS is not a genetically mixed language, even if it may have developed as one, had early OHS taken a different course as it eventually did.


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