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Why Finnish is cooler than English

November 14, 2008 |  2:12 pm

Helsinkilibrary_1114

I admit, I don't spend a lot of time comparing English to Finnish. Someone far more qualified than me has, tho -- that's Tero Ykspetäjä, a science-fiction fanzine editor and recent guest blogger at Jeff Vandermeer's Ecstatic Days. In addition to posting about about science fiction in Finland, he came up with the Top Five Reasons Finnish Is Cooler Than English.

  1. Finnish is more equal. We don’t have gender-specific personal pronouns, there’s just “hän” meaning both “he” and “she”. This is sometimes a problem for translators, but otherwise pretty neat. It also means we don’t have a language-related problem with people who don’t identify either as a he or a she, and maybe are therefore a little better equipped to treat them more normally in other respects too. If you want, feel free to borrow the word from us. We don’t mind.
  2. We have more letters than you do. Your little alphabet ends with z, but we also have å, ä, and ö. And no, those aren’t umlauts. They are totally different letters that just look like a and o with umlauts. And more is naturally better.
  3. Finnish is elegant and economic. You can say so much more with just one word. For example “epäjärjestelmällistyttämättömyydellänsäkään”. Ok, so that isn’t a word anybody would really ever use, but technically it’s still correct. It means something like, “even with his or her (notice how awkwardly I need to express that) ability to not make others more disorganized”. The downside to this is that if you want to participate in NaNoWriMo in Finnish, you have to produce quite a lot more content.
  4. Finnish is clear and logical. Each letter corresponds with exactly one sound, always. No exceptions according to which letters it follows or where in the word it is. (With the single exception of “ng” which just makes the rule more precise.) No silent vowels either, so you always know how a word is pronounced by looking at it, even if you’ve never heard the word before. And the emphasis is always on the first syllable. If every language were this practical, learning them would be so much easier.
  5. There’s no future tense in the Finnish language. The present tense is used instead. “No future,” as the Tähtivaeltaja slogan says. This makes it easy to seize the day, to live in the moment and not worry about tomorrow. At least in theory. There are some who insist on trying to introduce a sort-of future tense by artificial constructs like “you will come to know this,” but they are clearly in the wrong and should stop immediately.

I've heard "No future" before -- not just as the slogan for Tähtivaeltaja, which is a Finnish science-fiction magazine, but also in the Sex Pistols' song "God Save the Queen." But the idea of not having a future tense in your language? That blows my mind. What does it mean for conceptions of time in Finnish, when the future is expressed in the present tense? Wow, Finnish is cool. 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo by Monika Bargmann via Flickr

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