Marja-Liisa Helasvuo

Marja-Liisa Helasvuo

The University of Tartu conferred the degree of Honorary Doctor of Linguistics on Professor Marja-Liisa Helasvuo for her outstanding contribution to the development of linguistic thought and her long-term cooperation with researchers of the University of Tartu.

Marja-Liisa Helasvuo was born on 19 August 1962. She graduated from the University of Helsinki with a BA in Finnish in 1987 and defended her licentiate degree a year later. She received her PhD in Linguistics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1997. Her dissertation, entitled When discourse becomes syntax – a study of noun phrases and clauses as emergent syntactic units in Finnish conversation, investigated the syntax of spoken language, more specifically single noun phrases in oral Finnish. A monograph based on the dissertation, Syntax in the making: The emergence of syntactic units in Finnish conversational discourse, was published a few years later. In 1998, she received the outstanding doctoral dissertation award from the August Ahlqvist, Yrjö Wichmann, Kai Donner and Artturi Kannisto Foundation.

From 1988 to 1997, Marja-Liisa Helasvuo worked as a research fellow and junior research fellow at the University of Helsinki, the Academy of Finland and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and, from 1997 to 2001, as a research coordinator at Finnish graduate schools. From 20012004, she was senior research fellow and from 20042005 acting professor at the University of Turku. Since 2005, she is a full professor of Finnish at the University of Turku, since 2015, chairs the Department of Finnish and Finno-Ugric Linguistics, and since 2017, is the vice dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Turku. Helasvuo also has the title of docent from the University of Helsinki since 2000, and is a member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters since 2013.

The backbone of her research has been spoken language and the use and emergence of grammar in communication. Professor Helasvuo has published nearly 100 scientific publications, edited a number of prestigious international volumes and special issues of journals and led several international research projects. She has supervised or co-supervised a total of 24 doctoral dissertations, 13 of which have been defended by now. She has also been very active in other research-related work, such as reviewing doctoral theses and articles, evaluating research grants and professorships. She has edited the prestigious Finnish linguistic journals Virittäjä and SKY Journal of Linguistics, and contributed as a member of the editorial boards to several international journals. She has been in charge of compiling the Arkisyn corpus of spoken Finnish.

Marja-Liisa Helasvuo has long-term cooperation with linguists at the University of Tartu. She has been a frequent guest at the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics for twenty years, participating in seminars and conferences, and giving lectures. The cooperation has been significantly strengthened by her proficiency and interest in the Estonian language. Marja-Liisa Helasvuo's interest in Estonian and in the University of Tartu has also carried on to her supervisees, who have visited the University of Tartu for longer periods either during their doctoral studies or later, and have established contacts and collaboration with researchers in Tartu.

Helasvuo has been the pre-reviewer and opponent of several doctoral dissertations at the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics. Linguists from the University of Tartu have also participated in her research projects. As a result of this cooperation, joint seminars and lecture courses on grammar and oral communication have been held in Tartu, Turku and outside Estonia and Finland. The key issues of Estonian and Finnish linguistics (and, more broadly, the grammar of the Baltic Finnic languages)​​ have been thoroughly discussed through this active collaboration. Both the topics investigated and the methodology in use have expanded, and mutual understanding between Estonian and Finnish linguists has been strengthened. Thanks to this cooperation, the study of Estonian and other Baltic Finnic languages ​​has become internationally more visible.

Marja-Liisa Helasvuo plays an important role in research on the Estonian language in the area which might be described as the use and emergence of grammar in spoken communication. Through this, she has directly influenced the development of linguistic thought in Estonia. Cooperation with Helasvuo has helped to enrich and will continue to develop the theoretical and methodological competence of many Estonian linguists.

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