Earlier research conducted in the project Helsinki as a semiotic landscape in the linguistic ideologies of the Finns (a subproject in the project Helsinki Finnish: diversity, social identity and linguistic attitudes in an urban context, Academy of Finland 2009-2012) concluded that there is a strong symbolic relationship between Helsinki as a place and the non-standard /s/ pronunciation. The mythical notion of “Helsinki s” has become a folk linguistic fact although it lacks a clear linguistic correlate or even status as a linguistic fact.

The present HelSINki project seeks to trace a development path to illustrate the layered semiotic processes that has led Finnish society to construct “Helsinki s”.  In exploring the indexicalization process of this folk notion, the research team focuses in particular on the origins and the circumstances under which /s/ pronunciation started to gain social recognition in Finnish society.

The ideological link between the socially meaningful /s/ pronunciation and Helsinki can be traced back to the early industrialization and urbanization era and (media) discourses of Helsinki in the late 19th century. In examining this language phenomenon the history of urbanization in Finland is seen from a new multidisciplinary viewpoint. This approach also seeks to analyse the difficulty of bringing together national narrative and urbanization and how the identities and images of the citizens of Helsinki have come into being and developed from the 1860’s to the twenty-first century.

The aim of the research group is to publish a multidisciplinary book to bring forth a wider understanding of the development of “Helsinki s” as an ideological construct.


Johanna Vaattovaara (TAU), Mia Halonen (JYU). Samu Nyström (UH), Heikki Paunonen (Emeritus, TaY)


Halonen, M., Nyström, S., Paunonen, H., Vaattovaara, J. (2020). Stadin syntinen s. Art House.

Vaattovaara, Johanna (2020). Helsinkiläisen s:n tarina ja median mahti. Teoksessa T. Tammi & M. Heikkilä (toim.) Viheliäs tiede — ja muita vaikeita uutisia. Vastapaino, s. 203-211.

Halonen, Mia & Vaattovaara, Johanna (2017). Tracing the indexicalization of the notion Helsinki s. – Linguistics 55 (5), 1169–1195.

Vaattovaara, Johanna & Halonen, Mia (2015) Missä on ässä? ”Stadilaisen s:n” helsinkiläisyydestä.  – Helsingissä puhuttavat suomet. Kielen indeksisyys ja sosiaaliset identiteetit. Eds.  Sorjonen, M-L. & Rouhikoski A. & Lehtonen, H. Helsinki: SKS, s. 40-83.

Vaattovaara, Johanna (2013) On the dynamics of non-linguists’ dialect perceptions – the perceived spatiality of /s/ variation in Finnish. Variation in Language and Language Use: Linguistic, Socio-Cultural and Cognitive Perspectives. Duisburg Papers on Research in Language and Culture. Eds. Reif, Monika & Justyna A. Robinson & Martin Pütz. Peter Lang, s. 134–163.

Vaattovaara, Johanna  (2012). Spatial concerns for the study of social meaning of linguistic variables – an experimental approach. Teoksessa  Hanna Lehti-Eklund, Camilla Lindholm & Caroline Sandström (toim.) Folkmålsstudier : Meddelanden från Föreningen för Nordisk Filologi  2012/50, s. 175–209.

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