Bigender Finnish

Following our 2018 grant call, Kone Foundation has awarded 26 million euros in grants to bold initiatives in research and art. In all, 277 individuals, organizations or work groups will receive funding. Linguist Meri Lindeman is one of our new bold makers.

Finnish dialectology has a long history. In their doctoral thesis, however, Meri Lindeman extends the definition of language variation research to also include other kinds of variations. In their study, Lindeman examines how gender or the differences intersecting gender, such as socio-economic background or age, can be heard in language. One thing shared by the people who record their everyday conversations for Lindeman is that their experiences of their gender or genders vary. Key informants are bigender identifying as any two genders.

“If there is such a thing as queer literary studies, is there also queer linguistics? This question occurred to me when I was studying for my master’s degree and majoring in Finnish. I soon discovered that linguistic studies which engage critically with gender and sexuality have in fact been carried out elsewhere in the world. However, when I decided to focus on gay men’s speech in my master’s thesis, there only a couple of studies on gay men in the field, despite the fact that compared to many other LGBT+ groups, gay men have a much stronger position in our country.

We all speak differently in different situations, but the situational variation of language is particularly fascinating in people whose gender identity does not fit in with the conventional gender binary but instead varies either periodically or depending on the situation. In my doctoral thesis, my question is: how are experiences of gender that vary or shift according to situation evident in language?

How can a person reveal something about their gender in their speech in different situations? Which characteristics of speech are linked to which gender? And what other factors that intersect with gender can be heard in their speech? What do bigender persons themselves think about the way they talk? I’m curious about this. I don’t want to pose a hypothesis; instead, I will let the material guide me.

I would like my study to be an example of other ways to examine gender than just assuming the bipolar position that there are men and women and that’s it. In my view, the study participants have a lot to give that no-one else can – in terms of language and identity, as well as the diversity of linguistic variation. We have an opportunity to make Finland and Finnish a part of the new queer linguistic movement, to help build a world that sees more than two genders and identifies and recognises them.”

Suvi Korhonen