eesti teaduste
akadeemia kirjastus
The Yearbook of the Estonian Mother Tongue Society cover
The Yearbook of the Estonian Mother Tongue Society
PDF | 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.


Andersen, Roger W. 1983. Transfer to somewhere. – Language Transfer in Language Learning. Eds. Susan Gass, Larry Selinker. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 77–95.

Ard, Josh, Taco Homburg 1992. Verification of language transfer. – Language Transfer in Language Learning. Eds. Susan Gass, Larry Selinker. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 47–70.

Beijering jt 2008 = Karin Beijering, Charlotte Gooskens, Wilbert Heeringa. Predicting intelligibility and perceived linguistic distances by means of the Levenshtein algorithm. – Linguistics in the Netherlands, 13–24. doi 10.1075/avt.25.05.

Bezooijen, Renée van, Charlotte Gooskens 2007. Interlingual text comprehension: linguistic and extralinguistic determinants. – Receptive Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication: Linguistic Analyses, Language Policies and Didactic Concepts. Eds. Jan D. ten Thije, Ludger Zeevaert. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 249–264.

Dyen jt 1992 = Isodore Dyen, Joseph B. Kruskal, Paul Black. An Indoeuropean classification: A lexicostatistical experiment. – Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 82 (5). http://www. (28.12.2014).

Ellegård, Alvar 1976. On measuring language similarity. – The Nordic Languages and Modern Linguistics 3. Ed. John M. Weinstock. Texas: University of Texas, 195–216.

Eskildsen, Søren W. 2009. Constructing another language – Usage-based linguistics in second language acquisition. – Applied Linguistics 30 (3), 335–357.

Gooskens, Charlotte, Wilbert Heeringa 2004. Perceptive evaluation of Levenshtein dialect distance measurements using Norwegian dialect data. – Language Variation and Change 16 (3), 189–207.

Gray, Russell D., Quentin D. Atkinson 2003. Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin. – Nature 426, 435–439.

Hall jt 2009 = Christopher J. Hall, Denise Newbrand, Peter Ecke, Ulrike Sperr, Vanessa Marchand, Lisa Hayes. Learners’ implicit assumptions about syntactic frames in new L3 words. The role of cognates, typological proximity, and L2 status. – Language Learning 59 (1), 153−202.

Heeringa jt 2013 = Wilbert Heeringa, Jelena Golubovic, Charlotte Gooskens, Anja Schüppert, Femke Swarte, Stefanie Voigt. Lexical and orthographic distances between Germanic, Romance and Slavic languages and their relationship to geographic distance. – Phonetics in Europe. Perception and Production. Eds. Charlotte Gooskens, Renée van Bezoijen. Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 99–137.

Heeringa jt 2014 = Wilbert Heeringa, Femke Swarte, Anja Schüppert, Charlotte Gooskens. Modeling intelligibility of written Germanic languages: do we need to distinguish between orthographic stem and affix variation? – Journal of Germanic Linguistics 26 (4), 361–394.

Heeringa jt (ilmumas) = Wilbert Heeringa, Femke Swarte, Anja Schüppert, Charlotte Gooskens (submitted). Modeling intelligibility of written Germanic languages: how do we represent syntactical variation? – Literary and Linguistic Computing.

Hufeisen, Britta, Nicole Marx 2007. How can DaFnE and EuroComGerm contribute to the concept of receptive multilingualism? – Receptive Multilingualism. Linguistic Analyses, Language Policies and Didactic Concepts. Eds. Jan ten Thije, Ludger Zeevaert. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 307−321. 

Jarvis, Scott, Terrence Odlin 2000. Morphological type, spatial reference, and language transfer. – Studies in Second Language Acquisition 22, 535−556.

Jarvis, Scott, Aneta Pavlenko 2008. Crosslinguistic Influence in Language and Cognition. New York/London: Routledge.

Kaivapalu, Annekatrin 2004. Kui sarnane on sarnane? Eesti ja soome mitmusevormide psühholingvistilisest reaalsusest. [How similar is similar? On the psycholinguistic reality of Estonian and Finnish plural nouns.] – VIRSU II. Suomi ja viro kohdekielinä. Toim. Helena Sulkala, Heli Laanekask. (= Oulun yliopiston suomen ja saamen kielen ja logopedian laitoksen julkaisuja 24.) Oulu: Oulun yliopisto, 62–71.

Kaivapalu, Annekatrin 2005. Lähdekieli kielenoppimisen apuna. [Contribution L1 to foreign language acquisition.] (= Jyväskylä Studies in Humanities 44.) Jyväskylä: Jyväskylän yliopisto.

Kaivapalu, Annekatrin 2015. Eesti ja soome keele vastastikune mõistmine üksiksõna- ja tekstitasandil: lingvistilised tegurid, mõistmine ja sümmeetria. – Eesti Rakenduslingvistika Ühingu aastaraamat 11. Toim. Helle Metslang, Margit Langemets, Maria-Maren Sepper. Tallinn: Eesti Rakenduslingvistika Ühing, 55–74.  

Kaivapalu, Annekatrin, Pille Eslon 2011. Onko lähisukukielen vaikutus suomen ja viron omaksumiseen symmetristä? Korpuspohjaisen tutkimuksen tuloksia ja haasteita. [Is the influence of a closely related first language on the acquisition of Finnish and Estonian symmetrical? Some preliminary results and challenges of a corpus-based study.] – Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja 21. Peatoim. Annekatrin Kaivapalu. Tallinn: Eesti Rakenduslingvisika Ühing, 132–153.

Kaivapalu, Annekatrin, Maisa Martin. 2007. Morphology in transition: The plural inflection of Finnish nouns by Estonian and Russian learners. – Acta Linguistica Hungarica 54 (2), 129–156.

Kaivapalu, Annekatrin, Maisa Martin 2014. Measuring perceptions of cross-linguistic similarity between closely related languages. Finnish and Estonian noun morphology as a testing ground. – Language Contacts at the Crossroads of Disciplines. Eds. Heli Paulasto, Lea Meriläinen, Helka Riionheimo, Maria Kok. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 283–318.

Kaivapalu, Annekatrin, Pirkko Muikku-Werner 2010. Reseptiivinen monikielisyys: miten suomenkielinen oppija ymmärtää viroa äidinkielensä pohjalta? [Receptive multilingualism: How Finnish as a first language helps learners to understand Estonian?] – Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja 20. Peatoim. Annekatrin Kaivapalu. Tallinn: Eesti Rakenduslingvisika Ühing, 68–96.

Kasik, Reet 1994. Hakkame rääkima! Viron kielen peruskurssi. [Let’s start speaking. Basic course in Estonian.] Turku: Turun yliopisto.

Kellerman, Eric 1977. Towards characterization of the strategy of transfer in second language learning. – Interlanguage Studies Bulletin 2, 58–145.

Kellerman, Eric 1979. Transfer and non-transfer. Where we are now. – Studies in Second Language Acquisition 2, 37–57.

Klein, Horst, Tilbert Stegmann 2000. EuroComRom: Die sieben Siebe. Romanische Sprachen sofort lesen können. Aachen: Shake.

Kotz, Sonja A. 2009. A critical review of ERP and fMRI evidence on L2 syntactic processing. – Brain & Language 109 (2–3), 68−74. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2008.06.002.

MacWhinney, Brian 2005. A unified model of language acquisition. – Handbook of Bilingualism. Psycholinguistic Approaches. Eds. Judith F. Kroll, Annette M. B. de Groot. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 49−100.

Martin, Maisa 2006. Suomi ja viro oppijan mielessä. Näkökulmia taivutusmuotojen prosessointiin. [Finnish and Estonian in the mind of the learner. Approaches to processing inflectional forms.] – Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja 17. Toim. Annekatrin Kaivapalu, Külli Pruuli. (= Jyväskylä Studies in Humanities 53.) Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä, 43−60.

Moberg jt 2006 = Jens Moberg, Charlotte Gooskens, John Nerbonne, Nathan Vaillette. Conditional entropy measures intelligibility among related languages. – Computational Linguistics in the Netherlands 2006. Selected Papers from the 17th CLIN Meeting. Eds. Peter Dirix, Ineke Schuurman, Vincent Vandeghinste, Frank Van Eynde. Utrecht: LOT, 51−66.

Nissilä, Leena 2011. Viron kielen vaikutus suomen kielen verbien ja niiden rektioiden oppimiseen. [Impact of the Estonian language on the learning of Finnish verbs and their rections.] (= Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. B, Humaniora 99.) Oulu: Oulun yliopisto.

Odlin, Terrence 1989. Language Transfer. Cross-linguistic Influence in Language Learning. Cambridge, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Remes, Hannu 1995. Suomen ja viron vertailevaa taivutustypologiaa. [A Contrastive study of inflectional typolology.] (= Oulun yliopiston suomen ja saamen kielen ja logopedian laitoksen julkaisuja 2.) Oulu: Oulun yliopisto.

Remes, Hannu 2009. Muodot kontrastissa. Suomen ja viron vertailevaa taivutusmorfologiaa. [Forms in contrast. A Contrastive study of inflectional morphology in Finnish and Estonian.] (= Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. B, Humaniora 90.) Oulu: Oulun yliopisto.

Ringbom, Håkan 1987. The Role of the First Language in Foreign Language Learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Ringbom, Håkan 2007. Cross-linguistic Similarity in Foreign Language Learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Ringbom, Håkan, Scott Jarvis 2009. The importance of cross-linguistic similarity in foreign language learning. – Handbook of Language Teaching. Eds. Michel H. Long, Catherine J. Doughty. Oxford: Blackwell,106−118.

Sajavaara, Kari 2006. Kontrastiivinen analyysi, transfer ja toisen kielen oppiminen. [Contrastive analysis, transfer and second language learning.] – Lähivõrdlusi. Lähivertailuja 17. Toim. Annekatrin Kaivapalu, Külvi Pruuli. (= Jyväskylä Studies in Humanities 53.) Jyväskylä: Jyväskylän yliopisto, 9−26.

Schepens jt 2013 = Job Schepens, Frans van der Slik, Roeland van Hout. The effect of linguistic distance across Indo-European mother tongues on learning Dutch as a second language. – Approaches to Measuring Linguistic Differences. Eds. Lars Borin, Anju Saxena. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 199−230.

Siivelt, Keaty 2014. Keeltevahelise tunnetatud sarnasuse muutumine sihtkeeleoskuse kasvades. [Changing perceived cross-linguistic similarity with growing target language proficiency.] – 10. muutuva keele päev. Teesid. Tartu: Tartu Ülikool, 21.

Tokowicz, Natasha, Brian MacWhinney 2005. Implicit and explisit measures of sensitivity to violations in second language grammar. − Studies in Second Language Acquisition 27, 173–204.

Wiik, Kalevi 1994. Suomalaisten yksisivuinen viron kielioppi. [One-page grammar of Estonian for Finns.] − Lähivertailuja 8. Suomalais-virolainen kontrastiivinen seminaari Hailuodossa 7.-9.5.1994. Toim. Helena Sulkala, Heli Laanekask. Oulu: Oulun yliopisto, 124–128.

Back to Issue