Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Language Oddity #4: No Future in Finland's Dreaming

It might be unfair to say that that Finns are pessimists, but they definitely don't believe in the future.

Future tense that is.

In Finnish, the future is expressed using the present tense – leaving it to the context to make clear that the action is to take place at a later date:

Huomenna menen kaupunkiin
[Literally] Tomorrow, I go to the city

Who said Finnish was difficult?.

To be fair, having no future is not that unusual. Languages such as Hebrew or Japanese don't have one either apparently(1). In contrast, French has at least 3 ways of expressing the future (future simple, future perfect and near future). What does that say about the respective nations' attitude to life?

As I wrote this, I couldn't help wondering how many Finnish punks listened to the Sex Pistols' “God Save The Queen” back in 1977 and thought: “no future, so what?” OK, that would be just the Finnish punks with an interest in linguistics and grammar. And with a very silly sense of humour. Mmmm, probably not that many then...

Still, it gives me an excuse to include this:

“No future / No future / No future for you.....”

(1) Pedants will also point out that English (and other Germanic languages) don't have a proper future tense either, as the future is expressed with the help of an auxiliary (“I will go”) rather than a morphological inflection (“je partirai" in French). But that's just being pernickety.

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