Day 59 of 98 – Official Languages

15 Nov

So I’m in Finland now visiting the Land of the Finns (a.k.a. Finland). It’s a very strange county. Did you know that Finland is bilingual and that it has two official languages? Until recently neither did I. The languages are Finnish and Swedish. See, for the longest time Finland was a province of the Kingdom of Sweden and when the Swedes were in charge they opened a bunch of adult learning centres to teach the locals how to speak Swedish. These learning centres (or schools) were moderately successful in that about 5% of the population of modern Finland considers themselves to be Swedish-speaking.

After you visit Finland you understand what constitutes a legitimate problem concerning bilingualism. Even without talking to anyone about the issues you can see them for yourself. Check out this calendar. That word in between the English and Swedish is the Finnish word for the fifth month of the year.

The Finnish word for "December" is literally "Christmas month". I'm not making this up.

And here is the display on the tram. They have to show the stops in both languages.

The Finnish name

And the same stop in Swedish.

There’s not very much real estate on there but they cram it in anyway.

Two things:

  1. Swedish and Finnish are completely different. English and French are like cousins where you can kind of understand what being yelled at you even if don’t speak the other language. You have Rideau Centre and Centre Rideau. Not too far apart. Ottawa is Ottawa. Toronto is Toronto. Montreal is Montréal. But in Finland Turku is Åbo. Helsinki is Helsingfors. Kokkola is Karleby. Thank God for GPS.
  2. The Finns seem to get paid by the letter: their words are super long. Check this out. In English Canada, children are forced to go to “mass” on Sunday morning. On the same mornings in Sweden people sleep in and skip “mässa”. Now compare this with Finland where on Sundays the hungover stumble out of bed to attend “ehtoollisjumalanpalvelus”.

So the next time you hear someone complain about Canadian official language “problems” you have my permission to laugh in their face and tell them to get their asses to Finland.

2 Responses to “Day 59 of 98 – Official Languages”

  1. Jason Chapman (@jasonAchapman) November 15, 2011 at 13:59 #

    I just had to point out, as one who was once a kid in English Canada, that “mass” was what Catholic kids went to while us protestant kids either went to “church” or stayed home. Not a universal term.

    Finnish looks like it might give my nightmare language, Japanese, a run for its money!

  2. Sanna December 1, 2011 at 14:33 #


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: