Language and culture studies of émigré communities in Australia have grown steadily over the last thirty years. Within this body of research Finns emerge as a distinctive group. Finnish language and culture appear atypically well preserved compared to other Northern European groups. Studies on Australian Finns have concentrated on demography or language maintenance and interference. Much less has been done on attitudes and language and culture contact. No study has concentrated on the connection between language factors and the attitudes of Australian Finns in the immigrant context. The present study contributes to the underdeveloped areas of study on Finnish outside Finland, and particularly in Australia, and to the study of the relationship between attitudes and language and culture contact.
People of Finnish origin have been relocating to Australia ever since early colonial times. The largest immigrant groups arrived during the passage assistance schemes between the late 1950s and 1960s, when Finns were among the groups recruited by the Australian government. The number of Finland-born people in Australia has not exceeded 10,500. The 2001 Australian census recorded 8,259 Finland-born people. The numbers are declining as new migration is minimal.
The central question of the study is to examine if and how, in an immigrant context, language maintenance and language contact phenomena correspond to the language attitudes and background factors of first generation Australian Finns. The study investigates the connection between the language the immigrants speak (language contact phenomena), and the immigrants' attitudes and background information such as language choice, maintenance efforts and contact with Finland and the local Finnish community. Profiles of typical Finnish maintainers or shifters are distinguished among the informants. The study concentrates on the relationship of different language and culture contact attitudes, and the correlation between these attitudes and behaviour.
The data was collected during informal meetings with thirty-one first generation Australian Finns in the Brisbane area. Informants completed a questionnaire on attitudes, language use and socio-economic background factors. Conversations were recorded to collect data on language contact and attitudes. The data was analysed by means of a combination of descriptive statistical tools and qualitative analysis.
The results show that the overall attitudes towards Finnish language maintenance were positive. However, the positive attitudes did not correlate with high scores of Finnish use or good self-evaluated Finnish skill scores. Attitudes towards mixing English with Finnish were neutral. Among informants who had the most language contact phenomena (LCP) in their speech, disapproving attitudes towards the mixing of English with Finnish correlated with increasing numbers of LCP, i.e. mixing the languages. Among the group whose LCP were mostly items assimilated to Finnish both morphologically and phonetically, the negative attitude towards mixing correlated with higher numbers of LCP. Positive attitudes towards language maintenance correlated with positive attitudes towards bilingualism, and positive attitudes towards bilingualism also correlated with good English skills and more frequent English use. However, Finnish skills and Finnish use correlated negatively with attitudes to bilingualism: the more positive the attitudes towards bilingualism, the less use of Finnish and the weaker the self-evaluated Finnish skills.
The research contributes to the study of the most significant group of Finnish migrants in Australia. Reporting their experiences in relation to their language is important and timely as the community is rapidly losing members through natural attrition. The study contributes to the study of Finnish in the diaspora, languages in Australia, the immigrant experience, and the connection between attitudes and behaviour in members of emigre communities.