Kone Foundation’s language programme supported multilingualism in Finland in many ways

If we support languages and enhance the general understanding of languages’ role in society, many positive effects follow. We can improve the experiences and inclusion opportunities for people belonging to different language communities, reduce social exclusion, and ultimately promote peace in society. This is the result reached by Ulla Tiililä, PhD, who wrote the impact evaluation report of Kone Foundation’s five-year language programme, which will be published today.

The Kone Foundation language programme sought to promote the position of Finnish, small Finno-Ugric languages, and other minority languages in Finland. Between 2012 and 2016, the Foundation granted a total of EUR 19.7 million to approximately 250 projects, the last of which continued until the end of the 2010s. The impact evaluation of the language programme was carried out in two phases between 2017 and 2019 and was based on a qualitative analysis of content.

The programme included, in one way or another, at least 60 languages, dialects, or language varieties. The language programme progressed on many fronts: it included linguistic documentation and research, language instruction efforts, production of teaching materials, and making art. The programme was oriented towards language policies. It influenced the role of languages by highlighting the importance of minority languages to their speaker communities and by improving the documentation, language technology and teaching of poorly documented languages. Languages were supported both separately and together, as support for multilingualism was one of the programme’s values.

The impact evaluation revealed that the researchers funded by the language programme created many new linguistic corpora to be used both by academics and the relevant language communities. In addition, professionals working with language were connected with the surrounding society. For example, a project in the schools of Eastern Helsinki was able to support teachers at the right moment in their bold efforts in a multilingual environment.

In other ways too, the programme promoted the understanding that individual multilingualism is an important part of human culture. Numerous research projects at the universities in Finland and other countries strengthened the description and research traditions of the Finno-Ugric languages and Finnish minority languages, such as Romany, covered by the language programme.

A large amount of Finno-Ugric materials from the early 20th century was digitised at the National Library of Finland, a public dictionary of sign language was created by the Finnish Association of the Deaf, and considerable progress was made with the dictionary of Old Standard Finnish at the Institute for the Languages of Finland.

“Kone Foundation always considers its impact on many levels and focuses on qualitative impact analysis, while taking into account the long term in its research and art funding. The impact of research funding tends to be slow, and humanistic research, in particular, does not usually lead to rapid innovations. Instead, research results gradually change the conceptions of university students, the general public and, ultimately, society. The same applies to the language programme: its long-term impact cannot be evaluated until years later,” says Kalle Korhonen, Director of Research Funding at Kone Foundation.

The report Supporting Languages is Supporting People and Communities – the Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Kone Foundation’s Language Programme will be published on 28 January at the workshop Language, Power and Inclusivity, organised by the Foundation in Helsinki. The seminar will include discussions on the central role language plays in building the power relations between people and communities and in the achievement of political objectives, such as equality and the experience of inclusion.


Read the report (in Finnish)