11.18.2006

Finnish!

1)       Finnish is intriguing (read: addictive because it’s inaccessible)

2)       So are its relatives

3)       It’s arguably harder than Chinese

4)       It sounds super cool

5)       Its speakers are more literate than any other nation’s

6)       It’s a very clean place

7)       Some say it’s related to Turkish

Finnish is intriguing the way Mount Everest is intriguing. It’s incredibly difficult, looks cool, few people know it, and you can totally impress people if you say you’ve done it. There’s a certain appeal to Finnish, and I’m drawn to sitting and reading about it. I watch Finnish news on the internet (a confession) and try to read newspapers outloud. I like it. Learning it is also about as productive and useful as climbing Mount Everest: there’s very little marketable stuff that comes from climbing it.

I say it’s definitely harder than Chinese. “Oh, but we can’t even read Chinese… it’s got those funky characters and stuff!” Can you read Finnish? Correctly? We don’t have those ä’s and ö’s and stuff in English, and we certainly don’t stress the first syllable of every word, regardless of how long it is (like they do in Finnish), or have glottal stops between doubled consonants. We also don’t have fifteen noun cases like Finnish does. Neither does Chinese. “Oh, but Chinese has tones.” Guess what: so do at least 50% (easily more) of the world’s other languages. And many of them have more than standard Mandarin Chinese: Vietnamese has six tones, Thai five, Cantonese arguably has as many as ten, and tons of African languages like Yoruba or Lingala also have them. Anyway, all I’m saying is that to ‘read,’ another language (almost any other outside of the European sphere, and even some inside) you MUST learn new pronunciation rules. So what if those correspond to new characters? You’ve got to learn them anyway, and I would much rather learn a single character for a word than memorize how to spell a sixteen character one with diacritics galore.

Chinese is also a HIGHLY analytical language, meaning it has a very high morpheme-to-word ratio, and a byproduct of that is that word order is very important. This is not dissimilar to English. Languages like German, French, Lithuanian, Russian, and Finnish (along with its cousins, Hungarian and Estonian) all have word ENDINGS, cases of nouns that denote that word’s function in the sentence, meaning word order is far more flexible. The other end of the spectrum (barring polysynthetic languages like Navajo) is an agglutinative language, where word order is far more flexible because everything is noted by suffixes or endings (sometimes prefixes, like in Swahili). Finnish is agglutinative. This to me is far more difficult than an analytical language because grammar is far more difficult to commit to memory than vocabulary. Chinese grammar is very straightforward: nouns and verbs DO NOT CHANGE and word order is very important, and usually never changes. We are used to this in English. This is what we are familiar with. Languages like German and Russian are more fusional than agglutinative, which is a step between the two (analytical vs. agglutinative) With these, more than one classification or quality is represented by a specific ending, that is, the article (in German; Russian doesn’t have articles) will denote a “singular masculine accusative” noun, where there would be an ending for each of those ideas in a language like Turkish or Finnish.

Turkish has been very difficult for me in this regard because although the CHARTS and LISTS OF ENDINGS are easy to memorize, proper use of ‘the dative construction in the context of the passing of time,’ or ‘ablative of motion away from a place’ verses ‘genitive of progression of time’ or ‘inanimate accusative’ are things that are very difficult simply to ‘get used’ to using. They carry such shades of meaning and specific ideas, and one is proper when another isn’t, and word order changes with each one, etc. Chinese has none of that. It is entirely analytical, which means there are more ‘words,’ but it’s also more rigid and less changing.

So, the moral of the story is, it’s far easier (in my book) to learn a brand new writing system with four tones and thousands of characters that look very much alike but NOT worry about verb conjugations or noun declensions and cases than learn a language you (think you) can read but have to worry about fifteen cases and their proper applications. That having been said, I believe the use of endings and cases is incredibly logical, well-thought-out, efficient, and brilliant. I love Turkish grammar, but the word order and shades of meaning are taking time to get used to. Finnish may be a little more straightforward, but I doubt it.

I didn’t even get to them being related. Let me do some research and I’ll get back with you.

 

Hagooónee

 

4 comments:

The Polyglot said...

Oh, by the way, that entire post was in response to Affie's comment about the (international and inexplicable) appeal that the Finnish langauge has to (aspiring) linguists. I LOVE IT even though i can say all of three things (horribly).

The Polyglot said...

I have managed to run everyone off...

Anonymous said...

hey there language-meister...
you have NOT run EVERYone away, hehe...and yes, I finally DID get your e-mail, so will get back to you...Happy Finnish learning, then...you sure you don't want to learn Korean then? the grammar is as agglutinative as Finnish, but the alphabet, although it appears exotic, is SO easy to learn...
--'afternica'
ps--thanks for the links to the linguistic terms!

Affable Olive said...

No you haven't run everyone away. Just those with constant internet access.