Category Archives: Finnish

A Uralic loanword in late Proto-Indo-European?

I may have come across such etymologies before, but as far as I remember, this is the first proposal I’ve seen of a Uralic loanword in Proto-Indo-European. In Ananta Śāstram: Indological and Linguistic Studies in Honour of Bertil Tikkanen ed. Klaus Karttunen (Helsinki: Finnish Oriental Society, 2010), Asko Parpola has this to say on the etymology of Finnish kaivaa ‘dig’:

The Finnish words kaiva-a ‘to dig’ and kaivo ‘digging, well, pit’ have cognates in Finnic languages, in Saami and the Volgaic and Permic languages. Ante Aikio has shown that Proto-Finno-Ugric *kajwa- can be regularly connected with Proto-Samoyedic käjwa ‘spade’, as the change *a > took place in Samoyedic before a tautosyllabic palatal consonant, thereby settling an old problem, the history and material of which is fully discussed by Aikio. Hence the etymon is an archaic Uralic nomen verbum.

What I offer here is not a new etymology, but simply a reference to an old etymology proposed as early as 1920 that was not included in the indexes of etymologically treated Finnish words by Donner and Erämetsä, and so has escaped notice in SKES and SSA. K. F. Johansson had reconstructed an archaic Proto-Indo-European heteroclitic noun *kaiw-r̥-t (nom.) ~ *kaiwn̥n-eś (gen.) on the basis of Greek and Old Indo-Aryan. Hesychius records καίατα in the sense of ‘pits, excavations, trenches, ditches’ (ὀρύγματα) or ‘landslide chasms caused by earthquake’ (ἢ τὰ ὑπὸ σεισμῶν καταρραγέντα χωρία) The plural καίατα is supposed to stand for καίϝατα, from the singular καίϝαρ. Old Indo-Aryan kevaṭa- ‘pit’ is attested in a single occurence in the oldest text, Rigveda, 6,45,7; Old Indo-Aryan e goes back to Proto-Aryan *ai and *rt has often become retroflex *ṭ. Pokorny accepts the comparison and reconstructs for Proto-Indo-European *kaiwr̥t *kaiwn̥-t. Thomas Burrow and Manfred Mayrhofer have considered the scanty evidence in both Old Indo-Aryan and Greek as too uncertain for the assumption of a PIE hetercliton. Still, Mayrhofer thinks it is possible that the words are related. Herbert Petersson also emphasizes that no trace of this etymon is found in other Indo-European languages — and Frisk points out that no corresponding PIE verbal root can be traced — while the root structure too, with a diphthong following by -w-, also looks peculiar for PIE. Petersson therefore takes this to be one of the rare cases where Proto-Indo-European is likely to have borrowed from Proto-Finno-Ugric. Mayrhofer refers to Petersson’s suggestion as noteworthy but unconfirmed. However, the confirmed Uralic origin of kajwa- and the archaic appearance of the word on both sides gives new significane to Petersson’s hypothesis.

(The title of Parpola’s contribution to this volume is ‘New Etymologies for Some Finnish Words’, pp. 305–318. In quoting it here, I have slightly abridged the text and left out the parenthetical citations for the sake of readabiity.)

Suffixes hidden in plain sight

It’s funny how some train of reasoning one casually embarks on can reveal major connections between languages that one should have noticed from the start years ago. While thinking yesterday of the Mari lüštaš ‘to milk’, I realized that it couldn’t be descended from the Proto-Uralic root lüps- as it is, because ps > št is not exactly a believable sound change. Instead what we must be dealing with is some derivation like lüps-t- where the p drops out because this three-consonant cluster would break phonotactical rules. This -t- suffix looks and functions similarly enough to the causitive suffix -kt- of derivations like shuktash ‘to realize’ (lit. ‘to make arrive’) < šuaš ‘to arrive’, or ə̑raš ‘to be warm’ versus ə̑rə̑ktaš ‘to warm up (trans.)’. One can conclude that they are allomorphs, -kt- being found with vowel-final stems and t with consonant-final stems.

I’ve gotten so used to tracing every derivational suffix in Mari to a Chuvash or Tatar source that I don’t often appreciate Mari’s Finno-Ugrian heritage. It was with something of a surprise that I saw that this particular suffix must be Finno-Ugrian, as it appears in Finnish. Often it is simply a doubled -t- in the root, e.g. käyttää ‘he uses’ < käy- ‘to go’. But sometimes there are more traces of the old velar. One can compare pala- ‘to return (intrans.)’ and palaut- < palaɣt- < palakt-.

A proto-language conversation

Though they may not be of any real value, texts written in proto-languages make for fun reading. The study of the Uralic languages doesn’t have anything like Schleicher’s fable, but there’s at least this bit by Janne Saarikivi:

― Muna ki̮nta-uralan śarnaja wolem. Ken tuna wolet?

― Muna si̮xmi̮ käxlen śarnaja wolem. Muna tunem ki̮nta-uralam.

― Tuna enä ki̮nta-uralam śarnat. Alkamakotana tulejit-menjit?

― Alkamakotana esim wolek. Suŋena alkamakotak menem.

― Para. Men śarnamen enämpä müŋämpä.

― Näkemäk.

To put that in perspective, here’s what this non-native speaker would think it would be in Finnish, with English translation:

― Minä olen kanta-uralin puhuja. Kuka sinä olet?

― Minä olen suomen kielen puhuja. Minä opiskelen kanta-uralia.

― Sinä puhut paljon kanta-uralia. Alkukodissa kävitkö?

― Alkukodissa en ollut. Suvella menen alkukotiin.

― Hyvää. Me puhumme enemmän myöhemmin.

― Näkemiin.

‘I am a speaker of Proto-Uralic. Who are you?’

‘I am a Finnish speaker. I study Proto-Uralic.’

‘You speak a lot of Proto-Uralic. Have you been to the Urheimat?’

‘I have not been to the Urheimat. I will go to the Urheimat in the summer.’

‘OK, we two will speak more later.’

‘See you.’

A phonotactic limitation in Baltic Finnic

I don’t recall the issue being so clearly explained in any of my initial readings, but it seems clear that the appearance of h is constrained in most of the Baltic Finnic languages.

One notes that Baltic Finnic has h from pre-consonantal *k in a number of common words, such as Finnish lähteä ‘to leave’ < Proto-Finno-Ugric *läkte-, cf. Meadow Mari lektaš, or Fi. tehdä ‘to do’ with 3 sg. pres. tekee ‘he does’.

But in the Baltic Finnic descendent of the complex caritive suffix *-ktåmå/-ktämä, we find assimilation of k to the following consonant, forming a geminate instead of shifting to h, e.g. Fi. ääneton, gen. sg. äänettoman ‘soundless’. Clearly the rules are different further in the word.

More pieces of the puzzle fall into place with words like Fi. vene ‘boat’ from earlier *veneš. Ordinarily gives h in Finnish, for example Fi. hammas ‘tooth’ < *šampas, an Indo-European loanword borrowed from Baltic *žambas. However, in vene the resulting h is lost (though it survives in dialects).

The rule, then, seems to be that h can only close initial syllables, that is, it cannot occur after initial syllables if it were syllable-final. What complicates the matter, however, are words like pyöreähkö ‘plump’ and armahtaa ‘to have mercy’. One notes that in both of these cases we are dealing with derivations, pyöreä ‘round’ followed by the diminutive suffix -hkö, and armo ‘mercy’ with the verb-forming suffix -ahtaa. I just don’t understand how phonotactic rules can be different for derivational suffixes than for other words.

The wackiness of spoken Finnish II

Continuing on from my last post on the difficulties of learning colloquial Finnish, I thought it might be helpful to summarize how various introductory materials for English speakers handle the divide between the literary standard and popular speech.

  • Leila White, From Start to Finnish (Helsinki: Finn Lectura, 2003). Teaches the standard language only. In the last chapter the author lists some general features of spoken Finnish.
  • Lili Ahonen, Sounds Good! Kuulostaa hyvältä! (Helsinki Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura 2005). Teaches only the standard language. In the second to last chapter the author gives some general features of spoken Finnish.
  • Supisuomea. Teaches mainly the standard language, but throughout lists colloquial forms when these greatly different from the standard. The DVD has some scenes which are as close to spoken Finnish as television speech gets.
  • Eila Hämäläinen. Aletaan! suomen kielen oppikirja vasta-alkajille (Helsinki: Helsingin yliopiston suomen kielen laitos, 1998). Teaches mainly the standard language, but from early on each chapter features some dialogues in the spoken language.
  • Fred Karlsson, Finnish: An Essential Grammar (London: Routledge, 3rd ed. 2008). Describes the standard language, but the last chapter gives some general features of spoken Finnish.
  • Maija-Hellikki Aaltio, Finnish for Foreigners (Helsinki: Otava, 1989). Teaches only the foreign language.
  • Terttu Leney, Finn Talk (London: Finn Guild, 2001). Gives all material in both the standard language and the spoken language from the very beginning. The author even suggests that some readers will want to learn only the spoken language at the time.

If you already have some handle on standard Finnish, then good resources for learning spoken Finnish are:

  • Maarit Berg & Leena Silfverberg, Kato hei! puhekielen alkeet (Helsinki: Finn Lectura, 2004). This is a textbook on the Helsinki spoken language for students who have already completed two semesters of Finnish for foreigners (all text and instructions for exercises are in standard Finnish).
  • Vesa Jarva & Timo Nurmi, Oikeeta suomee: suomen puhekielen sanakirja (Helsinki: Gummerus, 2006). A dictionary for the spoken language, with great coverage of contemporary slang and idiomatic expressions.

The wackiness of spoken Finnish I

My last several posts on Finnish textbooks have gotten some traffic from people doing web searches for Finnish learning materials. Since there’s people out there in need of guidance, I’d like to write something to make people aware of the immense gap between the standard Finnish of textbooks and what one will hear on the street. When I arrived in Finland, having worked only with Terttu Leney’s Teach Yourself Finnish, I hardly knew that what I learnt in the book was completely artificial. Not only could I not understand the discussions going on between my peers, but my attempts to speak to them in Finnish were rebuffed because they found my speech annoyingly stilted. Arriving in Finland without some knowledge of puhekieli, the spoken language, is a sure way to being a social outcast.

I found a convenient example today. Consider the following dialogue in very standard Finnish (or as close as I could reconstruct it):

― Minä menisin mielelläni elokuviin. Tuletko sinä mukaan?

― Mikäs siinä. Mitä menisimme katsomaan?

― Minua kinnostaa se Dustin Hoffmanin kuva.

― Missä se menee?

― Dianassa. Me voimme mennä sinne busilla.

― Ei tarvitse, se on niin lähellä. Mennäan kävelemällä.

― Siellä sataa.

― Ai sataa? No sitten meidän täytyy mennä busilla.

‘I’d like to go to the cinema. Will you come along?’

‘OK. What are we going to see?’

‘That Dustin Hoffman film seems interesting.’

‘Where is it showing?’

‘At Diana. We can go there by bus.’

‘That’s not necessary, it’s so close. Let’s go on foot.’

‘It’s raining there.’

‘Oh, raining? Well, then we have to go by bus.’

In the very last chapter of Leena Silfverberg’s Suomen kielen jatko-oppikirja (Helsinki: Finn Lectura, 7 ed. 2005), the textbook assigned for the continuation course of Finnish for Foreigners at the University of Helsinki, we have this dialogue presented along the general lines of the Eastern and Western dialects of Finnish. In the Western dialect, it reads:

― Minä menisin miälelläni elokuviin. Tuleks mukaan?

― Mikäs sinä. Mitäs me mentäs kattoon?

― Mua kiinnostas se Dustin Hoffmanin kuva.

― Missä se menee?

― Dianassa. Me voiraan mennä sinne onnikalla.

― Ei viitti, se on niin likellä. Mennään kävelemällä.

― Siäla sataa.

― Jaa sataa? No sitten tarttee mennä onnikalla.

In the Eastern dialects, it would be something like this:

― Mie läksisin mielelläi elokuvvii. Tulet sie miun kerallai?

― Mikäpä siin. Mitä myö männää katsomaa?

― Minnuu kiinnostaa tää Dusti Hofmanni elokuva.

― Mis se männöö?

― Dianas. Myö voitaskii männä sin bussil.

― Äh, ei. Sehä on nii lähel. Männää jala.

― Siel sattaa.

― Sattaako? No sit on kai mäntävä bussil.

That these features are presented only in the last chapter of the course, by which time the student will have been in Finland for at least eight months, is regrettable. But that kind of talk is what you are going to hear on the street in Finland, and even from some of your lecturers. The sooner a student of Finnish realizes this in his course of study, the better.

Arthur M. Whitney, Teach Yourself Finnish

Whitney, Arthur M. Teach Yourself Finnish (London: English Universities Press, 1954).

It’s amazing how long it took textbook authors to realize that the most effective way to teach a modern language would be to equip the reader with how to handle himself in common everyday situations. The first incarnation of Teach Yourself Finnish, written by Arthur H. Whitney, was published in 1954, but its methods go back a century further.

Whitney’s approach is giving you a huge amount of vocabulary so you can read the little Finnish stories he gives you. In Lesson 1, you’ll learn such words as ‘clergyman’, ‘sparrow’ and ‘church steeple’, but you’ll see nothing of important initial phrases such as ‘Hello!’ and ‘How are you?’ There’s absolutely no English-Finnish translation exercises, so you’ll have no way to track your progress in producing good Finnish. The explanation of grammar assumes a good grounding in Latin, and even if you are used to classic grammatical terminology, Whitney’s shoddy organization of material makes it all hard going. The book is a complete disaster.

Or is it? The complete beginner in Finnish would do well to start with Terttu Leney’s newer Teach Yourself Finnish and (strongly recommended but available only from Finnish shops) the Supisuomea book and DVD produced by Finnish national television YLE. However, Whitney’s dinosaur textbook can still be useful for the student of Finnish. The language here is extremely old-fashioned, with every page of vocabulary containing words now obsolete in the spoken language. This makes it an excellent textbook for those who already have a good grasp of contemporary Finnish, but want to understand classic literature and old films. From the references to an antiquated telephone’s hearing tube, I suspect that the book was mainly written before World War II. I know of no other learning resources for the colloquial Finnish language of this time.

Whitney’s textbook only does so much with old talk. It doesn’t reach back to Agricola’s time, though for English speakers interested in that there is Francis P. Magoun’s annotated edition of Mikael Agricola’s Gospel according to St Mark (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1967). Nor does this textbook help you understand non-standard speech such as Savo dialect or the regionalisms in the Finnish Orthodox liturgy. Nonetheless, if you’ve reached an intermediate level in Finnish and want to learn more, seek this book out on the used market.

Robert Austerlitz, Finnish Reader and Glossary

Austerlitz, Robert. Finnish Reader and Glossary (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1963). Routledge printing 1997, ISBN 0700708154.

Nowadays, a foreigner wishing to learn Finnish can choose from any number of well-designed courses, whether for classroom use or self-study, in print or on DVD, but it wasn’t always this way. Until just a couple of decades ago, Finnish was probably the most exotic of all the major languages of Europe (perhaps save Albanian). Robert Austerlitz’s A Finnish Reader and Glossary shows how the old school had to learn the language. Vol. 15 in Indiana University’s Uralic and Altaic series, the reader was meant for linguists willing to learn new languages from dry grammars and crestomathies.

The texts in the reader are a highly varied collection. As is usual with these sort of Uralic readers, they are based mainly on little folklore texts and easy newspaper articles. But you get more than just the basics with this reader, for there’s a text here on the use and care of a refrigerator (must have seemed intimidatingly high-tech back then), and an extract from a high school science textbook. There’s a newspaper crossword (with key). One even finds an example of the earliest Finnish writing with one of Mikael Agricola’s poems, which Austerlitz gives both in the original orthography and in the modern standard:

Oppe nyt wanha ja noori
joilla ombi Sydhen toori,
Jumalan keskyt ja mielen
iotca taidhat Somen kielen.
Laki se sielun hirmutta
mutt Cristus sen tas lodhutta,
Lue sijs hyue Lapsi teste
alcu oppi ilman este.
Nijte muista Elemes aina
nin Jesus sinun Armons laina.

Opi nyt vanha ja nuori
joilla ompi sydän tuore,
Jumalan käskyt ja mielen,
jotka taidat suomen kielen.
Laki se sielun hirmuttaa,
mut Kristus sen taas lohdutta.
Lue siis, hyvä lapsi tästä
alkuoppi ilma estettä.
Niitä muista elämässä aina,
Niin Jeesus sinun armonsa lainaa.

There are not many writings here of an informal and colloquial nature, but the foreigner wanting to know how Finnish was spoken earlier in the 20th century should seek out the deliciously old-fashioned first edition of Teach Yourself Finnish by Arthur M. Whitney.

I like Austerlitz’s approach to teaching vocabulary which he explains in the preface and implements in the vocabulary. He breaks down each word into its component parts, encouraging readers to assimilate each of them. That way, one can readily understand a word from its construction even if one hasn’t encountered it before. However, highly idiomatic passages are not glossed, which make the reader challenging to use unless you can consult a native speaker about any unclear points.

It’s ridiculous how big this book is. Out of 294 pages, over 200 form the glossary. Like many publications in this series, the book was set in cold type (typewritten?), which resulted in incredibly inefficient use of space. Since anyone reading this today will probably invest in a decent dictionary and can use that in tackling the readings, the buyer is really just getting 71 pages. For that reason alone, the price of US$220 that Routledge is charging for its reprint is ridiculous.

There are now many readers on the market, covering all kinds of written Finnish. Chances are, if you are a passionate student of Finnish, you already know how to get one. Nonetheless, if you are ravenous for reading material, seek an old copy of Austerlitz on the used market.

A couple of new links

As recently announced on Finnish linguistic lists, the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland has published a new publicly accessible database. Evita contains references to linguistic literature dealing with the origins of Finnish words, from 1966 to the turn of the 21st century.

Jussi Ylikoski announces the birth of the electronic version of the Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne. I’m happy that I can not only read the field’s foremost journal, but I can also save PDFs to my notebook for later reference.

Festschrift for Sammallahti now available on the web

The Sami-titled Festschrift for Pekka Sammallahti Sámit, sánit, sátnehámit. Riepmočála Pekka Sammallahtii miessemánu 21. beaivve 2007, published last spring as Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 253, is now available online. There are a number of interesting papers here, published in Sami, German, Finnish or English. One of them in particular, Juha Janhunen’s ‘The primary laryngeal in Uralic and beyond’ is especially striking for its application of contemporary phonetic and phonological theory (and an updating of FU transcription) to a well-known Proto-Uralic mystery.