Skip to main content

Michael Rießler

July/August 2016

The expert in the Spotlight feature gives you the chance to interact one-on-one with our Ask the expert-section. The feature also provides interesting and insightful comments regarding the subjects mentioned above, in-depth content and exclusive Q and A’s.

Photo by Sandra Meyndt, Freiburg 2014

Featured Expert / Area of focus:

Dr. Michael Rießler is a linguist working at the Department of Scandinavian Studies at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany. He holds an MA degree in Northern-European Studies from Humboldt University of Berlin, a PhD in General Linguistics from the University of Leipzig and is an Adjunct Professor in Finno-Ugric/Uralic Studies at the University of Helsinki. 

In addition to documenting and describing endangered Uralic languages, he has also carried out research on the sociology of endangered languages and endangered language policy, as well as language contacts and linguistic typology. Michael works also as an advisor and external collaborator at Nuõrttsaaʹmi muʹzei, a Saami Museum in Norway, where he contributes to community projects revitalizing Skolt Saami culture and language across the borders to Finland and Russia.

Michael Rießler will be the author of two Regional Dossiers to be published by Mercator Research Centre in 2016/2017: Skolt Saami:

  • The Skolt Saami language in education in Finland
  • Komi: The Komi language in education in the Komi Republic in the Russian Federation.

What is your background in the field of regional and minority languages/education/ multilingualism?

I originally started out studying North-Germanic languages. Later I realized that the Saamic languages, which are also spoken in the area, didn’t seem to get much attention as possible sources for language contact phenomena in the northern Swedish and Norwegian dialects. Thus my interest in the Saamic languages grew, and I found out that especially the Saamic languages spoken in Russia were insufficiently documented and described. Being a historical linguist originally, I wanted to contribute to better documentation of the current language situations and have been carrying out field research with Saami speakers in Russia since 2004. Since than I have broadened my research area and started working on other small languages in Northern Eurasia, and I also became interested in minority language policy and the sociology of endangered speech communities in general.

What do you think is the major challenge in your field of work?

Language documentation has been evolving as a scientific discipline of its own during the last decades. Being originally an empirical method used primarily by descriptive linguists and language anthropologists, today the field has its own primary aims and methodologies. One of the most important aims of language documentation is to make extensive, multifunctional and sustainable databases available for future research on and for endangered languages, for both theoretical and applied research, as well as for direct use by the relevant minority communities. Key questions (and problems) are how to gather “big data for small languages” and how we can ensure that the data we have now can also be read in 10 years, or in 20 or even 100 years. Unfortunately, contemporary e-Science methods are not always used in relevant projects, which often still prefer manual work to computerization – resulting in quantitatively and qualitatively poorer databases – or which create their own much less persistent “insular” solutions for data formats and infrastructures, rather than relying on open standards and collaborative platforms.

What is one of the hottest new projects / items you are working on?

I have established a research group in Saami Studies at the University of Freiburg and am also involved in the INEL longterm project funded as part of the German Academies' Programme for 18 years at the University of Hamburg. Both projects have a focus on the systematic documentation of endangered languages of Northern Eurasia and include applied research on the development of EScience methods and practices of data collection, data annotation and longterm data curation.

Furthermore, we carry out theoretical research as it aims at better and more significant descriptions of single languages, of language ecologies in which speakers of different languages interact with each other and of the evolution of multilingualism in Northern Eurasia in general.

Are there any important references such as articles, links, etc. you would like to mention?

Below are links to two projects with whom I collaborate. The research at both projects focuses on language technology for small endangered languages of the circumpolar area, like the Saamic languages and Komi. The user portals provide language corpora, dictionaries, spell-checkers and other digital tools for learning and using endangered languages. 



Do you have any questions on these topics?