Friday, September 13, 2013

Finnish Similarities to Other Languages

You probably have heard that Finnish is almost completely unrelated to any other language.  This is almost true.  It belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, and it's closest relative is Estonian.  To give an example of how similar Finnish is to its "close" relatives, the other major language related to Finnish is Hungarian, but all my Hungarian friends here can't natively understand Finnish -- the similarity is only in the grammar.

To give you an idea of how different Finnish is from English, remember that English is an Indo-European language, along with things like Russian, Hindi, and Sanskrit.  Finno-Ugric is another grouping at the same level, so if Russian and English are as similar as a dog and a goldfish (both are animals with backbones), then Finnish is as similar as a potato.

Which brings me to something I am really interested in -- the similarities that do exist between Finnish and various other languages.  Because Finnish is so different, anything that is remotely similar to another language is really interesting!  Here is a list of some of the similarities that I can think of off the top of my head (I will try to add more later as I think of them):

English
There are not too many cognates between English and Finnish except in modern words (e.g. "bus", "taxi", and "museum" are very recognizable as "bussi", "taksi", and "museo", but these are all fairly new words).  Some food items (especially spices and seasonings) are also similar (e.g., "vanilja", "kardemumma", "minttu" for vanilla, cardamom, and mint).

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday = maanantai, tiistai, torstai, sunnuntai
same = sama
daughter/girl = tytär (also "tyttö")
boy = poikka (the letter p in Finnish often sounds like a b, at least to my American ears)
water in partitive (i.e. "I'm drinking some water") = vetta.  I don't know if this counts, but it is much more similar than "agua"...

Japanese
Both Japanese and Finnish use difference in sound length to distinguish words (e.g. "おばさん [obasan]" = "aunt" while "おばあさん [obaasan] = "grandma" and in Finnish "tapaan" = "I meet" while "tapan" = "I kill").  Also, the languages just sound kind of similar.  Take Nokia for example, which is Finland's pride and joy (well, I guess it WAS their pride and joy), but most Americans think is a Japanese company based on how it sounds.  Furthermore, both languages use endings to indicate a different form of the word.  For instance, the Japanese ending や ("-ya") as in 寿司屋 ("sushi-ya" I think), means a store (so, sushi store).  In Finnish, the "ja" ending (same pronunciation) means a person who does something (e.g. "opiskella" is "to study" while "opiskelija" is a "student").

One of the most similar grammatical structures between the two languages is the formation of a yes/no question.  In Japanese, you add か/ka to the end of a sentence to a phrase into a question.  In Finnish, you add "-ko" onto the end of the verb for exactly the same function!

joka (pronounced "yo-kah") = よく/yoku (pronounced "yo-koo") = often
= 夜/yoru or 夕/yuu = night or evening

German
I don't know much (any) German, but historically Finland has been pretty close to Germany.  It is interesting that many words with ruling are similar to German.  Clearly some of our English words are as well...

König = kuningas  = king
Königin = kuningatar = queen
Krone = kruunu = crown

Swedish
(I have only had två classes so far in Swedish, so I am sure there are more)
pojke = poikka =  boy
sedan = sitten = then/next (as in a list of activities)
klockan = kello = clock (maybe this is kind of a stretch, but they are abbreviated kl and klo.  Abbrev cognates!)
lax = lohi = salmon
Also, gravadlax (Swedish) and graavilohi (Finnish) I think are pretty much the same delicious thing


Finnish for "Nature reserve area / stay on the path."  Look at all the cognates!

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