16 August 2013

A taste of Finnish

The classroom was full of "remove and destroy" signs -
This coat rack was so wobbly that a it could barely stand - how did it hold coats for so long?

But the reason we were there had nothing to do with these signs - we were there for a short "taster" language course, one of a spectrum that City Lit has been offering. I chose Finnish, as I'd heard that in Finnish a whole sentence could be expressed in one word (agglutination). While in Finland in 1997 for an editing conference, I came across information on the linguistic history of the country - and here was a chance to find out a little about the language itself.

In three hours, we practised greetings and phrases, pronunciation and spelling (reading out a list of names of famous Finns, among whom I recognised only the architect and the conductor), dipped into the structure of the language, practised numbers 0-9 by giving phone numbers, learned words for a few foods and how to ask for prices (with further numbers to 100), and tried to keep straight the phrases regarding name/nationality/town/language. Just about enough to make the head spin...
Alvar Aalto - architect and designer
Martti Ahtisaari - 10th President of Finland, international peace worker
Tarja Halonen - 11th President of Finland, 2000-12
Sami Hyypiä - football manager
Mika Häkkinen - twice Formula One World Champion
Anna-Leena Härkönen - writer and actress
Mika Kallio - Grand Prix motorcycle racer
Aki Kaurismäki - screen writer and film director
Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi - cross country skier, 1984 Olympics
Heikki Kovalainen - Formula One racing driver
Jari Litmanen - footballer
Karita Mattila - operatic soprano
Paavo Nurmi - middle and long distance runner, "the Flying Finn"
Matti Nykänen - ski jumper, 1988 Olympics
Kati Outinen - actress
Kirsti Paakkanen - designer who rescued Marrimeko
Kimi Räikkönen - racing driver
Esa-Pekka Salonen - orchestral conductor and composer
Tarja Turunen - singer/songwriter and composer
Martti Vanhanen - twice prime minister of Finland

In the big contest of which language is most difficult to learn, Finnish is a top contender; the session gave us only a hint of why this might be.
An unexpected spinoff came via colour names, a topic that wasn't covered ... which was quickly remedied by looking on the web, where I found this:
"There are some discrepancies as to what Finns think is blue/green and what Americans think is. This also occurs in red/orange/yellow. As far as I can tell, anything that is blue to an American and approaching turquoise is green to Finns. Also, orange usually becomes red or yellow, e.g. Finnish mailboxes, which are without a doubt orange to Americans, are yellow to Finns, although younger Finns tend to make a distinction between orange and red/yellow."

That led to further research about names of colours, more of which later no doubt - if you want to know more right this minute, start here for colour names, or with this list of colourful idioms.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Ah, you should have met SAQA member Kristiina Flensburg, born in Finland, but went to uni, and married and lives in Sweden.

Not your typical Scandinavian look about her. But fun to know.