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.