The Finnish Language for the Gun Collector (Part 1)

Discussion in 'General Sako Discussions' started by icebear, Jan 11, 2020.

  1. icebear

    icebear Well-Known Member

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    As collectors of Finnish rifles, we frequently come across Finnish words. I am working on a guide to the language for the collector of Finnish weapons. Here is the first installment, which provides background information on the language and a rough guide on how to pronounce it and deal with some of its quirks. The next installment will list basic terms for types of firearms, parts, ammo, etc. After that, I will deal with some military, hunting, and other relevant words. This first installment is kind of long, but I thought I should at least put out some basic information before starting in on specific terms. I'll be adding more parts as I get the time to write them. Comments, questions, etc. are welcome.

    A Gun Collector's Guide to the Finnish Language

    As we try to learn as much as we can about the Finnish weapons we collect, we invariably encounter the Finnish language, which can be quite opaque to the English speaker. This modest guide is intended to help the gun collector with some basic facts about the Finnish language, and some vocabulary that will help to understand Finnish documents about firearms.


    First, let us understand that Finnish is NOT a Western language. It is often mistakenly lumped with the Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish), but in fact it is utterly unrelated to them except for some words borrowed from Swedish. Finnish is classified as a Fenno-Ugrian language. Its origins are somewhat obscure, but its roots are in Central Asia and linguists have found common elements with Turkish and Mongolian. The Fenno-Ugrian languages include Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Sami, Mordvinian, and Udmurt. These languages all have similar grammar, but very little vocabulary in common. Finnish contains many loan words from Swedish and Russian, and a few from German, English and other languages. Finnish grammar and syntax are extremely complex, and thoroughly non-intuitive to an English speaker. A Finnish speaker will think about putting a sentence together in a different way than you or I would. It was quite frustrating for me in Finland. I could speak fairly correct Finnish, and any Finn would generally understand what I was saying – but if the idea was anything at all complex, I would not express it the same way a native speaker would.

    Finnish Pronunciation and Spelling

    The first thing we need to know about Finnish is that the accent is always on the first syllable. That means that the capital of Finland, Helsinki, is pronounced HEL-sink-ee, not Hel-SINK-ee as most Americans say it. This is the exact opposite of French, which always accents the last syllable. Hungarian and Estonian also follow this rule; I cannot speak for Sami, Mordvinian, or Udmurt.

    Finnish is written in the Latin alphabet, but the Finnish version is somewhat different from ours. The consonants b, c, d, g, q, w, x, and z are not native to Finnish and will be found only in foreign words. When a word containing the letter B is incorporated into Finnish, the b is normally replaced by p, as in pankki, meaning bank. Similarly, d becomes t and g becomes k. J is pronounced like a Y in English, as is the case in many European languages. W is pronounced like english V, as it is in German.

    The Finnish language is rich in vowels. There is a long-standing joke that the Finns should trade some of their excess vowels to the Czechs in exchange for the excess consonants in Czech. A is pronounced as a short A as in aha, never as a long A as in ape. E is pronounced as long A as in ape, or short E as in echo. I is a long E as in Easter or a short I as in idiot. U is like oo in English. Y is pronounced sort of like Ü in German. In addition to our familiar vowels, the Finns have Ä, which is pronounced like a as in and and Ö, which is pronounced as in German.

    In Finnish all the written letters in a word are pronounced, and there are few two-letter combinations such as we have in English. There are no consonant combinations such as ch and th. There are a few vowel combinations (diphthongs) that have a single sound. The combination ou, for instance, is pronounced as a long o in English. For example, Tourula, where the Valmet factory was located, is pronounced TOE-roo-lah. Ai is pronounced as a long I in English, and ei is pronounced as a long a. Double letters are pronounced distinctly, although a non-Finnish speaker may be unable to hear the difference. Double vowels are stretched out, and double consonants are noticeably doubled when spoken. Double letters in Finnish are a constant problem for non-native speakers, as you will frequently encounter cases where two completely different words are distinguished only by which one has a double letter somewhere. The classic school example is the difference between tili (an account), tiili (brick), and tilli (dill). Try sorting that one out, in small print, when you have astigmatism.

    An important feature of Finnish is that, like German, it is agglutinative, that is, you can string words together to make a longer word with a combined meaning. For instance, where we would say assault rifle as two words, in Finnish the words are combined into rynnäkkökivääri. Finnish words can get very, very long and complex.

    Finnish does not use articles (a, an, the). It is also genderless in both nouns and pronouns. That is to say, unlike Spanish, French, or German, nouns are not identified as masculine or feminine. Also, Finnish does not have separate pronouns for he and she. The pronoun hän is used for either.

    That was the good news about Finnish nouns. The bad news is that Finnish nouns have cases. Lots and lots of them, 15 in all. We don't worry much about case in English. We have a nominative case (he) a possessive case (his) and an objective case (him). However, Finnish uses noun cases to express things where we use a preposition such as to, from, in, or on. Each case has its own unique ending, which makes it much harder to recognize a noun if you see it in context. To make it worse, many nouns change their actual stem spelling when they change case or number. Here's a very simple example. Helsinki is the capital of Finland. “Of Helsinki” is Helsingin. “In Helsinki” is Helsingissä. The stem can also change with number. Kekkonen is a common Finnish surname that happens to be that of a former president. “The Kekkonens” would be Kekkoset in Finnish. I could go on about cases for several pages, but suffice it to say that the stem changes mean that you can see a word in, say, the illative case, and not even recognize it as a different form of a familiar word. And each and every adjective in Finnish has 93 different forms. I counted them.

    OK, this has been long. And maybe a bit confusing. However, it provides some basic guidance on how to pronounce things in Finnish and why the language looks so weird. The next installment will feature a basic firearms vocabulary, and a third will get into some military and hunting terms.

    NOTE: I welcome comments, corrections, and clarifications. I make no claim to speaking perfect Finnish. Any native Finns reading this are invited to improve my understanding.
     

  2. kirkbridgershooters

    kirkbridgershooters Well-Known Member

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    I was in Finland on my way to Russia on a fly fishing expedition on the Ponoy River in 1990. I ran into plenty of Finns and they all spoke English. Not well, but excellent. I asked them how they knew English so well. I was told they are taught English from the time they start school.

    English is their second language because no other country or people speak Finnish. So you can go to Riihimaki and see where Sakos are made and understand what they say...
     
  3. Tomball

    Tomball Well-Known Member

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    I found the same on many business trip to Finland in the 80s. All spoke good to excellent English or as good as mine being from Texas! One other comment I can add, beautiful women reside there.
     
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  4. L61R

    L61R SCC President Forum Owner SCC Board Member

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    Icebear, kiitos paljon!:)

    or thank you very much so all the rest understands!;)

    As a Swede I grew up with several Finnish friends in school and we even have several TV and radio programs in Finnish. This due to a large population of Finnish expats who came here after the war and up until the 70’s to help us with the industrial expansion which was great after WW2.

    The small town where I live is actually an official Finnish speaking zone, and all messages and communications to and from and by the municipality are available in Finnish.

    Sad to say it hasn’t helped my knowledge of the language and what little I know of it, is self taught and mostly gun related.

    So I look forward to the dictionary very very much! Thanks for your hard work!! Much appreciated!!

    An explanation of our knowledge in English over here.

    In the Nordic countries, we start English education in mostly second or third grade but English is often “interwoven” even at earlier classes and we have English through most classes in our whole education system. So we start early and keep on learning for almost all of our years in school and university.

    Other reasons:

    We do not dub movies and TV programmes like in France to name just one country.
    This helps learning a language of course.
    And we have all major American and British TV shows and movies readily available to guide us further in English. Many of the Late Shows with Conan O’Brian et al. from the U.S. airs here just the day after they were broadcasted over on your side of the pond.

    We are also very quick to adopt other influences from the U.S. and the UK like food, music, fashion and other cultural phenomenons and they surface here at the speed of light.

    Internet, social media and computer gaming also helps a lot when learning new languages of course.

    So most people over here speaks very good English and in Sweden we also have a decent knowledge of yet another language since we have to learn a third language from the sixth grade through the ninth grade. It is called Modern language and we can choose from German, French, Spanish and some other languages.

    That was a very short description of our school system for learning new languages.

    Thanks again!!

    Jim
     
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  5. Chris Anderson

    Chris Anderson Well-Known Member

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    Nicely done Icebear!
     
  6. stonecreek

    stonecreek SCC Secretary Forum Owner SCC Board Member

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    Icebear: Thanks for your efforts! We'll be watching for your "thesaurus" of gun terms.

    My wife and I recently watched a Finnish language detective show on Netflix which was totally in Finnish and subtitled in English. After watching about six episodes without hearing a single word of English (except for possibly "okay"), there was a scene of a visiting Interpol agent from Sweden having a sit-down meeting with the Finnish detectives. It was almost startling to hear all of these actors, whose characters we had come to know rather thoroughly by this time, suddenly break out in absolutely perfect English in their discussion with the Interpol agent. Their pronunciations were only very mildly accented differently from "TV announcer Midwestern Standard", but much less so than the difference in Alabama and Boston or Texas and Minnesota.

    But what amazes me most is the incredible language capacity of almost any European hotel desk clerk. They're mostly young, and obviously quite bright. Address them in almost any language and you'll have them respond in that language. I saw one young woman who was both attending the desk and answering the in-house phones deal with four different customers simultaneously, two in person and two on the phone, all speaking different languages. She seemed not only to be able to speak all of the languages but keep straight which customer to address in Swedish, English, French, or German!

    And just one more amusing note: We recently visited Sweden with the entire family. Our youngest daughter is tall and blond. On more than one occasion she would approach the clerk at the cash register or someone similar who would first address her in Swedish, then when our daughter answered in English the clerk would appear a little embarrassed (sort of "forgive me for assuming") and then address her in English. There are disadvantages to looking too much like a native.
     
  7. icebear

    icebear Well-Known Member

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    An interesting point. When I lived in Finland I would watch TV to improve my Finnish. There were a lot of subtitled German TV shows and American movies and I would learn Finnish from the subtitles. I learned a lot of Finnish curse words from the subtitles of the American movie "Roadhouse," in which Patrick Swayze plays a bouncer in a rough bar. My favorite German shows were "Jolly Joker," a low-rent James Bond spoof ("Meine Name heisst Borg, Christian Borg") and a game show whose name escapes me at the moment, which was sort of like strip poker but with a giant slot machine instead of cards. My Finnish girlfriend and I would watch a Finnish dating show called "Napakymppi" (Perfect 10), which featured very real everyday Finns rather than the polished wannabe actors and models typical of its US counterparts. Finns can be pretty taciturn, especially the men, and Marjaana and I were rolling on the floor laughing as the girls were trying to get the guys to give more than one-word answers to their questions. TV is, indeed, a great language teacher, but you never quite know what you're going to learn.

    Jim, thanks for the encouragement. The vocabulary will be along soon.
     
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  8. stonecreek

    stonecreek SCC Secretary Forum Owner SCC Board Member

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    Speaking of subtitles, when you've spent the last half of a century shooting, the subtitles (and closed captioning) make it possible to actually know what's going on on that TV show:(. Three years into it I found that I actually liked Downton Abby after turning on the closed captioning.:D
     
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  9. robinpeck

    robinpeck Well-Known Member

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  10. stonecreek

    stonecreek SCC Secretary Forum Owner SCC Board Member

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    I'm sure the Bing translator is similar to Google Translate. The problem is that firearms nomenclature doesn't translate easily or accurately with translators designed for "everyday" language. They're better than nothing, however, since you can eventually figure out that words which may translate as "obese pipe with lock device" actually mean "heavy barrel action".
     
  11. stonecreek

    stonecreek SCC Secretary Forum Owner SCC Board Member

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    If you want some real fun start with a short paragraph which tells a brief story in English. Put it into an online translator and translate it to another language (let's say German). Then copy and paste the German translation and translate it to say, Spanish. Do the same thing again with Spanish to Swedish. Now translate the Swedish back into English. The results can be hilarious and often non-sensical, which highlights the critical need of accomplished linguists when translating something like a business contract or a nuclear weapons treaty.

    Here's an example: "He swung the light weight Franchi 20 gauge over his shoulder as his trusty spaniel sniffed for yet another covey of bobwhite quail." After going through the language sequence I outlined above it ultimately came out "He swung the lightweight 20-caliber franchise on his shoulder while his faithful water dog sniffed another flock of quail." Actually, not too bad! Although you wouldn't want to depend on it to avoid a nuclear war.
     
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  12. icebear

    icebear Well-Known Member

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    Stonecreek
    I love it! You're dead on. I sometimes use online translators or dictionaries as a shortcut, but I always double-check the results with my internal BS detector or another source. There's no substitute for actual knowledge of a language and its quirks and idioms. And the Finnish words for "action" and "barrel" of a firearm are, indeed the same words used for lock and pipe. And just to complete the triad of lock, stock, and barrel, the Finnish word for a gun stock is the same as the word for a log. (I've seen a few in this country that you could hardly tell the difference.)

    I will admit, though, that I've had moments when some sort of translation gadget would have come in handy. Back in the 1980's, visiting a friend in Budapest, I tried to convey the location of her apartment to the airport taxi driver. He did not speak a word of German, English, French, or Spanish. I even tried Chinese, knowing of course that there was zero chance that would work. Fortunately, my friend lived across the square from a very famous church in Buda, and I was able to get him to take me to the church. I then pointed to the correct apartment building across the way and he dropped me at the door. Of course, this was long before the invention of smartphones or even hand-held translators, but I sure could have used one that day!

    One trick I learned in Japan and Egypt was if you don't speak the language, and especially if the local language is not written in the Latin alphabet, always carry a card from your hotel or with the address where you are staying. That way you can always hail a taxi and get home.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
  13. robinpeck

    robinpeck Well-Known Member

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    "Jumala siunatkoon Suomea"...and also as my father would say, "Isten áldja Magyarországot."
     
  14. icebear

    icebear Well-Known Member

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    And God bless your father - he speaks better Hungarian than I do!
     
  15. ricksengines

    ricksengines Sako-addicted

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    I can speak fluent Finnish. SAKO! Nuff said.

    rick
     
  16. icebear

    icebear Well-Known Member

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    I once found myself in a discussion, in French, with a senior French official about nuclear weapons testing in French Polynesia. I somehow managed to hold my own (my French isn't exactly magnifique), but it was a bit stressful. On the other hand, that meeting was the biggest reason for an official trip to Tahiti, so it was worth it. I'll take a free all-expense-paid trip to Tahiti any day, even if I have to do some work for it.
     

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