Tanja Säily

[Tanja Säily] [Tanja Säily]

Assistant Professor in English Language
Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki

Read more about my research and teaching below.


My research interests include corpus linguistics, digital humanities, historical sociolinguistics, and the concept of productivity in linguistics. In addition to productivity, I am interested in the social embedding of language variation and change in general, including gendered styles in the history of English as well as extralinguistic factors influencing language change. My overarching aim is to develop new ways of understanding language variation and change, often in collaboration with experts from other fields such as history and computer science. I am a member of the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG) and the Helsinki Computational History Group (COMHIS), and a co­-compiler of the Corpora of Early English Correspondence (CEEC).

I am currently working on my Academy of Finland funded postdoctoral project, Historical Sociolinguistics Meets Construction Grammar: The Case of Productivity in English (2020–2023). Together with Mikko Tolonen, I lead the Academy of Finland funded project, Rise of Commercial Society and Eighteenth-Century Publishing (2020–2024).

Historical Sociolinguistics Meets Construction Grammar:
The Case of Productivity in English (HISCOP)

Construction Grammar (CxG) is a recent theory of language that focuses on what speakers must know to be able to use a language; this knowledge is expressed in terms of constructions, or form-meaning pairings, such as words or phrases. The aim of my HISCOP project is to extend CxG by drawing on historical sociolinguistics, which focuses on relationships between the individual, language and society throughout history. We will study the productivity of constructions in large historical text corpora from a sociolinguistic perspective. The purpose of the project is to increase the explanatory power of CxG, to learn more about linguistic phenomena in the field of productivity in the history of English, and to provide a more balanced picture of these phenomena by studying the language use of not only highly-educated men (as previous research has often done) but also women and the lower social ranks, who may turn out to lead linguistic change.

Rise of Commercial Society and Eighteenth-Century Publishing

This Helsinki-based project combines intellectual history, book history and historical sociolinguistics. It analyses the rise of commercial society in eighteenth-century publishing networks. We study the structure of these networks, linguistically innovative individuals and groups, questions of publishing and readership, and interaction between social and linguistic change. We will chiefly focus on Scottish, transatlantic and French influences on British print media. We will use large bibliographic databases in our research that we have harmonised and enriched e.g. with background information on the individuals. We will link this data for the first time with full-text sources for linguistic analysis. Our methods renew the research culture in history and linguistics, and we will obtain new knowledge about the Enlightenment and the rise of commercial society. Instead of merely focusing on well-known authors, we will identify influencers in a data-driven way; these can also be printers or publishers.

This project continues the work conducted in the STRATAS project, where we are developing an open-source environment for analysing neologisms that combines the Corpora of Early English Correspondence with lexicographical sources and contemporary published texts.