Sunday, November 26, 2006

Don't Read This...

...If You're Not a Linguistic Biatch

As far as I can make out, "Osuuspankin verkkomaksu" means something like "Mutual Bank Network Payment;" anyone whose command of Finnish is any better than mine (read: "...who knows more than about 4 1/2 words") is welcome to correct me on that. Finnish positively loves suffixes (like the -s in loves and the -es in suffixes), and uses them in a lot of expressions where we would use a preposition (like to or for) - for example the name of the popular Finnish daily Helsingin sanomat, usually translated as Helsinki Times but more literally meaning Messages of Helsinki; or the message on many university websites, Tervetuloa yliopistoon, where tervetuloa means "welcome", yliopisto means "university" and the suffix -on means "to". (There is no word for "the" at all!). You'll have to read the Wikipedia article, referenced below, for why Helsinki- suddenly turns into Helsingi-.

Finnish displays vowel harmony: vowels are divided into two groups depending on some criterion, and vowels of each group can only co-occur with vowels of the same group. In Finnish, the two groups are back vowels a, o, u (pronounced roughly as in Italian), and front vowels ä, ö, y (spelt ü in Estonian, the closest national language to Finnish) - roughly the same as in German. Some exceptions are made in Finnish for compounds - with which the Finns have another love affair - (words like "blackbird" in English, which is composed of two independent words); a Finnish compound in which all the vowels are in the same group would be armolintu "bird of mercy" - a Värttinä-inspired example; an example of a "mixed-vowel" word would be jääkiekko "ice-hockey" and foreign loans (pleikkari - go on, guess - it's "Playstation (!) :-) ). So in the word yliopistoon the suffix -on "agrees" with the back vowel of opisto ("school," "college" itself forming a compound with the word yli ("above"), thus "above-school" or, more idiomatically, "high school"), whereas in the word kirkkotiellä "on the path to the church"*, the suffix -llä is used instead of the -lla of yliopistolla "at the university".

More fascinating details at http://en.wikipedia.com/wiki/Finnish_language - Nauttikaa!

*Not, as previously translated, "on the stony path".

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