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The Yearbook of the Estonian Mother Tongue Society cover
The Yearbook of the Estonian Mother Tongue Society


Full article in PDF format | doi: 10.3176/esa60.04

Annekatrin Kaivapalu, Maisa Martin


The influence of the native language on perceptions of cross-linguistic similarity

The article discusses perceived cross-linguistic similarity between Estonian and Finnish noun morphology with the aim of conceptualizing and operationalizing the construct by drafting a taxonomy which could be used as a basis of measuring similarity perceptions.
The data was gathered by a perception test of 48 word pairs of inflected nouns containing four different levels of actual similarity, from obvious similarity to pairs with little surface resemblance. 43 Finnish, 43 Estonian and 39 Russian-speaking (with Estonian of minimum B2 level as their L2) participants with no previous exposure to Estonian or Finnish respectively were asked to rate each pair of words as similar, somewhat similar, or not similar. The participants were also asked to write reasons for their choices. To explore the symmetry between the choices of the participant groups, each “quite similar” answer was given two points and “somewhat similar” one point to create an index of perceived similarity. The “similarity lists” of the groups were then correlated.
The results are first discussed to compare the perceptions of the Estonian and Finnish groups in order to determine the symmetry of perceived similarity. This discussion is followed by a comparison of the first (L1) and second (Ln) language groups to find out to what extent and how the perceptions of L1 and Ln speakers of the target language differ.
In both parts of the study the overall correlations between groups are high, but a detailed study of individual word pairs reveals some interesting new questions relating particularly to the nature of morphological processing. The most interesting result is that Finnish speakers find more similarity than Estonian speakers due to more extensive intralinguistic variation in Finnish and tend to rely more on overall similarity of morphological forms, while Estonian speakers base their perceptions more on the similarity of morphological formatives. The Russian-speaking group shows awareness of surface differences, lacking the ability to take advantage of paradigmatic knowledge and intralinguistic variation.


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