Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Displays of Authenticity in The "Finnish American Nesting Place"


English Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


The objectification of language is central to displays of Finnish American identity in Michigans Keweenaw Peninsula, advertised as the "Finnish American nesting place" and "pivotal center for Finnish American culture." Individuals rely on discursive, metadiscursive, and multimodal practices to claim "Finnishness." The significance of language in defining 'Finnish American' and locating it in the Keweenaw is evident in souvenirs, naming practices, and in particular, in advertisements, websites, events, and activities at folk festivals. Meanings associated with these practices are reinforced and legitimized through historical records, census maps, traditional folkways, the use of Finnish, and references to historical Finnish texts and folklore. Individuals from outside the region and who do not claim Finnish American identities, recognize this speech community, where it is located, and what it means to be 'Finnish American' through linguistic and metalinguistic awareness, particularly enregistered features such as yah and the shibboleth sauna [saŠnY]. While enregisterment and related levels of indexicality are key in both the performance and recognition of these symbolic social and linguistic practices (Beal 2009; Johnstone 2010; Purnell, Raimy, & Salmons 2009), historical processes also link Finnish American identity, language use, and the Keweenaw, for it is historicity that legitimates these connections (Milroy 2002). Thus, historical, discursive, and ideological processes contribute to the creation of this speech community, one defined by the idea of an authentic ethnic identity and located in language specific to a place. References Beal, Joan. 2009. Enregisterment, commodification, and historical context: Geordie versus Sheffieldish. American Speech, 84 (2): 138-156. Johnstone, Barbara. 2010. Locating language in identity. In Carmen Llamas and Dominic Watt, eds., Language and identitites, pp. 29-38. Edinborough: Edinborough University Press. Milory, James. 2002. The legitimate language: Giving a history to English. In Richart Watts & Peter Trudgill (eds.), Alternative Histories of English, pp. 7-25. Routledge: New York. Purnell, Thomas, Eric Raimy, and Joseph Salmons. 2009. Sarah Palins speech and Upper Midwestern English. Journal of English Linguistics 37: 331-355.

Conference Name

American Anthropological Association/Society of Linguistic Anthropology

Conference Location

Chicago Hilton, Chicago Illinois

This document is currently not available here.