Mutual intelligibility of Finnish and Estonian vocabulary

Charlotte Gooskens, Hanna-Ilona Härmävaara

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    This paper reports on an investigation on Finnish-Estonian mutual intelligibility carried out by means of a word translation task among 307 Finnish and 118 Estonian participants. The results confirm previous findings by Kaivapalu (2015) that both in the spoken and in the written mode Estonians understand isolated words in Finnish better than Finns understand isolated words in Estonian. Older participants performed better than younger participants.

    Many of the participants had at least some previous exposure to the test language and were therefore familiar with some words and sound correspondences. However, we were also interested in testing how well speakers of the two languages could understand the other language purely on the basis of the similarity of the languages. We therefore separately analyzed the data produced by a subset of participants with no or little exposure to the test language. The results were still asymmetric, but only in the spoken mode. We looked at various linguistic and non-linguistic factors that could explain why some cognates are more easily recognized than others.

    To put our results into perspective, we compared them to the results of the similar experiments involving 70 Germanic, Romance and Slavic language combinations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)13-56
    Number of pages44
    JournalLähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

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