Sunday, 18 September 2011

The i-Trick

This summer, a group of us were walking along Esplanadi in Helsinki on our way to the restaurant Kapelli, when Noah, aged 14 and visiting from the UK, declared: “I’ve been thinking... Finnish is quite easy really!”

Finnish, easy???

“To make a Finnish word”, Noah explained, “all you have to do is take the English word and add the letter ‘i’ if it’s not already there, like bulevardi or esplanadi!”

Really? Let’s see: banaani, halli, kioski, posti, maili, metri, musiikki, traktori, salaatti, hotelli, komposti, kuppi, tomaatti, siideri, kulttuuri, bussi, blogi, taksi, elefantti, leopardi, gaselli, simpanssi, spagetti, makaroni, ravioli, tortellini (OK, I'm getting a bit carried away here)...

Actually, there does seem to be some truth in Noah’s remark.

Of course, it doesn’t always work: portti is not a port (it’s a gate), joki is not a joke (it’s a river) and kaveri is not a caver (it’s a friend). Even the former Finnish ski-jumper, singer, stripper and occasional philosopher, Matti Nykänen got it wrong when he famously declared: “elämä on laiffii” (“life is life” – using the i-trick to coin a word that exists neither in English nor Finnish, much to the amusement of his fellow Finns).

But my own learning of Finnish has been transformed by Noah’s remark. When I don’t know a word, I now try the i-trick. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (“Tarzani asuu junglissa” - not quite “Tarzan lives in the jungle”). But it never fails to raise a smile when it doesn’t.

Thanks Noah!


  1. I've been doing that too, and it always surprises Finnish natives ! Since they usually speak English, they get it in the end, and they tend to find it very funny. Plus, it solves the recurrent problem of the sentence you're trying to make but you need one word that you don't know.

  2. They taught a very useful rule of thumb in my Finnish class so you know järvi -> järven but posti -> postin:

    Did we have these things in Finland two and a half thousand years?

    If yes, use -en.

    If not, use -in.

    We had järvi, joki, lahti, susi -> -en.

    We didn't have posti, baari, banaani, elefantti -> -in.

  3. Great way to think of/remember it :) -@raitapaita