In Finland, the epic Kalevala (1835, 1849) and Kalevala-meter poetry, or oral folk poetry more generally, are often seen as nationally significant symbols of Finnishness. The Kalevala is a modern literary product constructed by Elias Lönnrot out of Finnic folk poetry especially from Russian Karelia, Finland, and Ingria. Lönnrot, who was himself among the most significant collectors of oral poetry, created the Kalevala as a synthetic, organized compendium of (reconstructed) pre-modern “Finnish” culture. Beginning from the publication of the first edition in 1835, the Kalevala has been extremely significant in the creation of Finnish national and ethnic identity.
In this article, we discuss the engenderment of Finnishness and Finnish culture in terms of language ideologies by looking closely at the Kalevala's languages, language-specific reception of the epic, Lönnrot's language ideologies, and politics of language standardization in the contexts of the Grand Duchy of Finland and Russia. We argue that in these processes, Finnish was strongly symbolized and given a mythological charter: it was the language encapsulating ancestral heritage, and it was the language that theFinns were obliged to develop, learn, and teach. For the needs of the nation, the language had to be refined and homogenized, made into a standard language. In this process, the Karelian language and culture were implicitly absorbed into Finnish cultural heritage but not recognized and valued as coeval cultural realities: in both Finnish and Russian discourses, Karelia represented the past of the present-day Finnishness, but not the present day of Karelianness.