I’m currently at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin. I arrived here on Wednesday evening and have been speaking and hearing lots of different languages. So far I’ve had conversations in English, French, Welsh, German, Irish and Mandarin, and spoken bits and pieces of Spanish, Italian, Russian, Czech, Portuguese, Toki Pona and Esperanto. I’ve also heard some Finnish, Punjabi, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Slovak, Sardinian, Dutch, Hebrew, Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish and other languages that I didn’t recognise.
Yesterday I went to talks on Portuguese Creole languages, Greek, language learning and linguistics, how to achieve advanced language competence, and on connections between cartoons and language learning. This morning I’ve been to talks on teaching multiple languages simultaneously, and languages and dialects of Sardinia. All the talks I’ve been to so far have been in English, apart from the Sardinian one, which was in Italian.
I’ve met lots of people I know from previous polyglot events, and lots of new people too. I might try to explore a bit more of Berlin at some point as well.
Apparently today is Finnish Language Day or Suomen kielen päivä. It is the anniversary of the death of Mikael Agricola (c. 1510-1557), a clergyman who is known as the “father of literary Finnish” – he translated religious works into Finnish, including the New Testament, and modern Finnish spelling is based on his work. Before then there was no standard form of written Finnish [source].
It is also my birthday – Ta mee shey bleeaney as daeed d’eash jiu.
I’m currently reading New Finnish Grammar, an English translation of Diego Marani’s novel Nuova grammatica finlandese. It is the story of a man who is found unconscious with a serious head injury on a street in Trieste and who is cared for by a Finnish doctor, who believes he is Finnish as his jacket has a name tag with the Finnish name Sampo Karjalainen. When the mystery man regains conscious he has no memory or language so has no idea who he is, where he’s from or how he ended up in Trieste. The doctor does his best to teach Sampo, the name he adopts, to speak Finnish, then later arranges for him to continue his treatment in Helsinki.
It’s a really good translation that reads as if it was originally written in English, the language used very expressive and interesting, and there are lots of interesting bits about language acquisition and about the Finnish language. Here is a selection:
“In the Finnish language the noun is hard to lay hands on, hidden as it is behind the endless declensions of its fifteen cases and only rarely caught unawares in the nominative.
Is this true?
In the Finnish sentence the words are grouped around the verb like moons around a planet, and whichever one is nearest the verb becomes the subject. In European languages the sentence is a straight line, in Finnish it is a circle, within which something happens.
Is this a good description of Finnish sentences?
I was beginning to be able to express myself, even if somewhat stiltedly. I would learn the words already declined, a different one for each case, and when I did not know how to put them together I made do with saying them at random, hoping that intonation and gesture would go some way towards making up for lack of syntax. And yet, while still lacking firm banks, the Finnish language was gradually carving itself out a bed in the quicksands of my mind, with the words that I had tamed coursing down it and gradually informing me of the meaning of others. Branching out and joining up, they sent the thousand drops of sound which make up a language into circulation, watering and strengthening my awareness, my ability to sense the boundaries of meaning.
I haven’t finished the book yet, but am enjoying it so far and would certainly recommend it.