Place names of multilingual Aanaar

Interdisciplinary investigation of place name stratigraphy, language contacts and language loaning patterns in multicultural contexts. The multilingual municipality Aanaar Aim and objectives of the project Research methods and material Co-operative work with local people and other members of the academia.

Project information

Project duration


Project funder

Academy of Finland

Project coordinator

University of Oulu

Contact information

Project leader

Project description

The research project is active 2017–2020 and it is funded by the Academy of Finland.

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The multilingual municipality Aanaar

The project studies the place names of the multilingual and multicultural municipality of Aanaar (Fi. Inari, Sw. Enare, SaN Anár, SaSk Aanar) in the northernmost part of Finland, where three separate Saami languages and Finnish have been spoken side by side for at least 300 years, the Saami languages even longer. As a result, there are place names in four languages in Aanaar and very often one place has several names, one in each language. Some name variants are centuries old, but the youngest Skolt Saami name layer is only 70 years old.

Aanaar is an exceptionally good area for such a study for several reasons. First, Ilmari Mattus (2015) has done a great work collecting practically all of the place names of Aanaar. Secondly, the multilingual and multicultural abundance and lively contacts that have been maintained for a long period of time between different groups provide a special "place name laboratory", as Samuli Aikio (2003: 109) has pointed out. According to Aikio, in Aanaar linguistic models can be tested and new models of adaptation and etymological substitution created.

Aim and objectives of the project

The first aim of this project is to study the connection between multilingual name variants as well as the connection between the ethnically definable language groups. A second aim is to understand more profoundly the variation found in the linguistic and cultural processes connected to language change and loaning of names from one language to another.

The more specific objectives are threefold:

· first, to describe the linguistic properties (morphology and vocabulary) of place names in Aanaar;

· secondly to analyze the place names of Aanaar as indicators of cultural exchange and the linguistic patterns used in this process;

· third, to clarify in more general terms the reasons that affect the choice of loaning mechanism in varying contexts.

The study answers the following questions:

1) What is the place name stratigraphy in different parts of Aanaar?

2) Where and when place names were loaned and why?

3) Which models were in use when loaning place names from one language to another?

4) Are there differences between different sets of source and target languages?

5) What are the reasons that led to the use of a given loaning model, are they different for different languages, and why?

6) Is it possible to detect phonological substitution patterns that can be used to reconstruct the more southern place names borrowed from Saami to Finnish or Karelian?

Research methods and material

In this interdisciplinary project established methods from several subfields of linguistics, such as onomastics, sociolinguistics, as well as ethnology, micro- and ethnohistory are used. These are combined by the methodological-theoretical framework called Cultural Onomastics that the PI has established in earlier work (see Valtonen 2014). The research is structured around five interlinked entities:

1) Archival research including information gathering from older literature,

2) Creating a database of the research material,

3) Linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork with local informants including interviews, and

4) Comparative and interpretative analyses and case studies.

The research material includes more than 18 000 place names and context information collected from archives, books and interviews. As a result an open access online database, several scientific and popular articles, and a book will be published.

Co-operative work with local people and other members of the academia

Place names are an interesting and emotionally loaded topic for most of people, also beyond academia, since each of us use place names daily. The role of local community is highlighted in two ways: 1) The members of the local community are included to the research project as expert-informants who take part in analyses and publications, and 2) The results of the project are shared with the local community through various medias, for instance Facebook site, blogs and newspaper articles.

The project includes co-operation with several researchers and research institutions in Finland, Sweden and Norway.


Aikio, Samuli 2003: Inarin ja inarilaisten nimiä. – Veli-Pekka Lehtola (ed.), Inari – Aanaar. Inarin historia jääkaudesta nykyaikaan. Inarin kunta, Inari, pp. 97–113.

Mattus, Ilmari 2015: Anarâš päikkinoomah. Anarâškielâ servi, Aanaar.

Valtonen, Taarna 2014b: Mielen laaksot. Mïelen vuemieh. Miela vuomit. Mielâ vyemeh. Miõl vue´m. Neljän saamen kielen paikannimien rakenne, sanasto ja rinnakkaisnimet vähemmistö–enemmistö-suhteiden kuvastajina. Suomalais-ugrilaisen seuran toimituksia 271. Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura, Helsinki.