Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Just When I Thought I Had Mastered Finnish Declensions

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...



  1. Actually, it's an archaic use of essive combined with an archaic form of the word. That use of essive is still heavily used, though, but only in some specific cases.

    1. Thanks for the explanation! A form just left there to trip foreigners up! ;-)

    2. And don't forget about "kotoa," which means the exact same thing as "kodista" and translates to "from home" but is more commonly used (at least in my opinion) than the latter.

  2. Don't worry, I'm quite sure most Finns are white-belts in these as well. And, most Finns don't pay too much attention to the grammar of our complicating language. So, when you become a black-belt in Finnish, most Finns are still white-belts...

    1. Encouraging comments like that are most welcome! ;-)

    2. Yeah reading that as a finnish person I was really impressed with your ability to list those off, I certainly couldn't do it! I can ofcourse use them and write them properly, but no chance of listing them like that.

    3. Well thanks! But you see, I can list them, but I can't use them! I know what I would prefer! ;-)

  3. Here is a list of sentences. Most of them are just nonsense, especially second ones. Pretty funny though.

    On kori Koskenkorvaa.
    Onko rikos, ken korvaa?

    Annapa lakana, ajomies.
    Anna pala kanaa jo, mies.

    Saita Kati lastasi napin.
    Sai takatilasta sinapin.

    Keskusta lopetti rajalakon kurssiin.
    Keskustalo petti, Rajala konkurssiin.

    Vakavan haka tosiseikka Ilulle
    Vaka vanha katosi seikkailulle

    Ka tuoli, hei Kosti Vala, istu!
    Katu oli heikosti valaistu.

    Suo likaa suissa, kovaa rapaa. Valitus, Kati? Sotkin...
    Suolikaasuissako vaara, Paavali? Tuskat isotkin?

    Ripaukseen saostettava
    Ripa ukseensa ostettava

    Kyy neljästi pääsi sukasta paussille.
    Kyynel, jästipää sisukas tapaus sille.

    Kai sahaa paran tasan, aristi kotvan hankalaa pajalla.
    Kaisa Haaparanta, sanaristikot vanhan kala-apajalla.

    Saapas kantaa.
    Saa paskantaa.

    Rokkaava ja isottelija
    Rokka, avajaisottelija

    Taa visainen, älytyt
    Taavi sai nenälytyt.

    Aateloinut areenalla 2
    Aate: loin utareen allakaksi

    Hei, lankomies! Aina nuo niistää, iskät.
    Heilanko mie sain? Anu on Iistä, äiskät.

    Rep, res en tant!

    Hoituri setvii toista.
    Hoi, turiset viitoista.

    Varma ansio, illat akan apuri ja tuhkaa...
    Varmaan sioilla takana purijat uhkaa.

    Lehtiselle Ripa skannaamaan
    Lehtiselleri paskan naamaan

    On ne! Tarvii vaasalaista.
    Onnetar viivaa salaista.

    Koiraana alistaisin
    Koira anaalista isin

    1. Not sure of the context, but still very interesting. To me at least. Thanks.

  4. The sami language is similar to the Finnish language as it is in the same language type, namely the Finnish Ukrainian language tree. So as my native language is Samisk the Finnish language should be easy for me to learn

    1. Ugric, not Ukrainian.

  5. My personal favorite is yö - yön (nominative - genetive) in singular, but yöt - öiden in plural ('nights' - 'of the nights'). Apparently that is not irregular, but I'm glad I don't have to try to learn the rules.

    1. To be fair, yöiden would be quite a mouthful.

  6. Kotona == Kodissani?

    1. Just "kodissa". It can refer to anyone's home, but if you want to be precise, you can add all the usual person suffixes (or is there a more formal term for them? I'm not that much of a grammar nerd) to it. Kotonani, kotonasi, kotonaan, kotonamme...

    2. Of course, "kodissa" sounds cold and formal.

  7. And this is why I laugh when people from my school try to tell me that English is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. I've lived in the U.S. for a year now, and I can speak English almost fluently, but I doubt someone not from Finland would be able to do that. Maybe with the exception of Estonians, because from what I know about Estonian, it's a lot like Finnish. I've never studied it, so don't quote me on that.