Monday, 20 February 2012

When Lisa's More

There is Canadian writer by the name of Lisa Moore (pictured here). There is also an Australian avant-garde pianist by the same name (not pictured here).

Now, the amusing thing about their name (if you are an easily amused Finnophile), is that in Finnish "lisaa" means "more".

Except it doesn't really. That is because the Finnish word for "more" is actually "lisää", which apparently sounds very, very different to "lisaa", or indeed the Finnish equivalent of the girl's name, which is "Liisa".

From my point of view though "lisää" and "Liisa" are actually very similar but that is because, as I have documented before, I have real difficulty in differentiating aurally between "ä" and "a". Come to think of it, I also struggle with telling single and double letters apart.

I know the theory and I have practised, but I find it hard. Sigh.

I was pondering that Liisa/lisää dilemma the other day, when it struck me that many other Finnish girl's names have similarly confusing quasi-homonyms. Consider the following:
Riitta / riita (dispute)
Sanna / sana (word)
Tiina / tina (tin)
Kati / katti (moggy)
Minna / miina (mine, as in "landmine")
Emma / emmä (I ['m] not)
Heli / helli (cherished)
Saara / sara (sedge)
Sari / saari (island) / sääri (leg)

And I am sure there are many more.

So what's my point? I don't think there is one necessarily, aside from my continuing ineptitude in Finnish.

The fact remains though that I am never too sure if someone wants more or wants Liisa. Or whether they are looking for Riitta rather than a dispute. This could potentially lead to some difficult situations...

I must try harder.


  1. I've noticed a lot of the same name/word pairs, too. My biggest aural problem is with something like "Riitta / riita." When there's a long vowel followed by a long consonant, it's hard for me to tell whether it's one, the other, or both. I hate to think of how many years (which is probably optimistic, actually) it'll take for me to master that.

    1. I love the incredulous looks I get from Finns when I say some words sound the same. It's like: "Errr, no, they sound completely different!"

      I guess it's what your ear is trained to hear. I know people learning French struggle with the diphtongs "in", "en" and "on", which are very distinct sounds to my ear!

    2. Yeah, my hubby corrects me A LOT for the double consonants/double vowels if I say it the wrong way.

  2. Replies
    1. Indeed, some bit got deleted in my editing. Now restored (hopefully). Thanks for spotting that!

    2. You're very welcome. I had to look it up in the dictionary for fear I was the one who made a mistake ha ha...

    3. Interestingly, Miina is also a woman's name. :) When I was a kid there were these children's books where too cat-looking siblings had adventures, they were calles Miina & Manu :)

  3. I wish I could say this was my biggest issue with Finnish... I, too, have lots of trouble distinguishing between double and single sounds, but to be honest it's almost the least of my problems. The other day in class I made five grammatical errors in a five-word sentence - a new personal record. Such a long way to go...

  4. These posts are damn funny to read as a Finn :D
    Oh, and by the way miina means mine as in landmine, not a coal mine.

  5. This is not related to Finnish homonyms, but rather to funny coincidence with Estonian female name what I once encountered during my studies abroad. As I was studying in English-speaking country, where it was more rule than and exception that umlauted vowels were written without, my first impression on seeing course roster was that is there applied a practical joke by one of course assistants but then by reading surname of mentioned student I realised she was Estonian. I hope she was wondering why her name was replaced by Estonian word for 'Hawk', as it has different meaning in Finnish vocabulary. :)