Kaisa Maliniemi and Leena Niiranen

Language technology used in revitalization of Kven: Problems and Possibilities


Thursday 7 Novemeber, 10.00-10.30, AUD1

We present a co-operation project between the Kven Institute, Giellatekno, and the Institute of Languages at the University of Tromsø with an aim to create a language analyzing and spelling program for Kven language. The most important goal for our project is to assist in the revitalization of Kven: to strengthen the usage of Kven, to make the Kven language more visible, and to raise the status of Kven among users and in society. We will discuss the role of language technology concerning these goals in our presentation. 

The Kven language is a regional minority language in Norway recognized by the Norwegian government in 2005, and protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. It is estimated that there are 10 000 – 15 000 Kvens in Norway today, and about 4000 – 8000 language speakers, but only a few of them are able to write Kven. One of the most important goals for the Kven Institute – launched in 2007 – is to develop a written standard for Kven. Standardization is considered necessary if the goal is language maintenance; moreover, without written language the participation in a modern society is difficult. The Kven institute has named a language council that decides the standardization of Kven, which is a difficult task, as there are few written materials in Kven. 

In our project, Giellatekno offers a suitable infrastructure, and the language specific work is based on existing resources: a Kven – Norwegian digital dictionary and the vocabulary list, which is a part of teaching material of Kven (Söderholm 2012). The project has a target to enlarge an existing digital dictionary and equip it with inflectional forms. Another necessary basis for analyses is Söderholm’s grammar. In addition, the decisions of Kven language council form a basis for our work. Kven has a rich morphological system like Finnish, but its inflectional forms are close to Northern Finnish dialect forms and differ from standard Finnish. Also Söderholm’s grammar is not comprehensive enough to cover the whole grammatical system, as it is meant for language learners, not for computer analyses. Other challenges are morphophonological variation in Kven dialects and the low number of words in existing vocabularies. 

The Kven analyzing and spelling program is meant to be a tool for everybody interested in Kven. We will discuss how it can help students, translators and those who can Kven only orally to read and write in the minority language. Who especially needs a dictionary including all inflectional forms? Language technology gives also possibilities to interactive language learning and creation of learning materials easily available. Language technology offers a helping hand to minorities so that they can face the requirements and challenges of the modern world. Furthermore, Kven language technology and language work can be a source of inspiration for other minorities without a written language, but with an interest to revitalize their language and culture.