Let's face it, if learning Finnish was graded like judo, I would still be a white belt. This despite years of training with an excellent sensei.
However, there are some areas of the language where I think I might be awarded a yellow or even green belt. One of these is case declensions, or the fine Art of wrestling nouns into admitting what they've been up to. Yet, despite my amazing skills, I can still be surprised by the ability of Finnish nouns to fight back.
Caveat lector: If grammar bores you, don't bother reading what follows...
So the Finnish language has 15 noun cases, whereby a noun can modified to indicate all sort of things about its role in the sentence. Nothing in English comes close to the level of sophistication of noun cases in Finnish: there's "he, his, him" and that's about it in terms of variety.
As a student of the Finnish language, one needs to learn the special endings for the 15 cases, but one also needs to remember those endings wreck havoc within the words themselves, changing letters in a freaky way at times. So for example, "joki" (river), becomes "joessa" (in [a/the] river).
In other words, mastering Finnish case declensions is tricky for a foreigner. Yet I am getting pretty damn good at it. Yellow- or green-belt good.
So anyhow, the other day, I was on the virtual tatami mat of Finnish language, doing battle with a noun, which I assumed to be well within my range of abilities: the word koti (home).
So the case declension battle begun. Round one: the singular cases. Koti, kodin, kotia, koti/kodin, kodissa, kodista, kotiin, kodilla, kodilta, kodille, kotina, kodiksi, [none], koditta and [none]...
Oh yeah, check out my silky moves! I executed superbly the inner changes from "t" to "d" (aka consonant gradation) in the right places, anticipated majestically two forms of the accusative case and skilfully avoided inventing endings for the instructive and comitative cases that don't apply in the singular. A top performance, if I say so myself.
Round two: the plural cases. Breathe in... Kodit, kotien, koteja, kodit, kodeissa, kodeista, koteihin, kodeilla, kodeilta, kodeille, koteina, kodeiksi, kodein, kodeitta and koteineen.
Did you spot my opponent's crafty move to introduce an "h" out of nowhere in the illative case (koteihin, meaning "towards [the] homes")? But I was ready!
So not quite a victory by ippon, but a good win for me nonetheless.
But hold on... "I am at home" translates into "olen kotona", and not "olen kodissa" (I am in [the] home), as lesser judokas might think. What on Earth is that kotona case though???
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, after doing battle with 28 forms of the simple word koti, it turns out that cunning opponent had a special move up its sleeve: an ancient form that no longer exists in theory, but still gets used in practice!
And that's why I remain a white-belt in the Finnish language.
Back to the dojo then...