Thursday, July 24, 2008

Favourite Finnish Words

The Finnish language is a beautiful language which is very different from most European languages. When I lived in Finland from 2003-2004, I had the opportunity to study this fascinating language. Though it is classified in the same language family as Hungarian (Uralic language family), the similarities between them are not as great as one might expect.

I decided to make a list of my ten favourite Finnish words. These are words that I consider among the most beautiful in the language. Because my knowledge of Finnish is rather limited, though, this list is far from perfect. Nevertheless, here it is. I provide the English translation next to the Finnish word.

1) vesi (water)

2) sininen (blue)

3) taivas (sky)

4) lumi (snow)

5) valkoinen (white)

6) lintu (bird)

7) aurinko (sun)

8) maailma (world)

9) kiitos (thank you)

10) rakkaus (love)

The word "maailma" consists of the word maa (land) and the word ilma (air). The combination of the two words creates the word "world". Though Finnish is a very challenging language to learn, I'm very grateful that I had the chance to study this beautiful language in the city of Jyva:skyla:, Finland. I use the colon after the "a" to represent the "a" with an umlaut over it. This vowel is pronounced similarly to the English vowel of "hat".

Monday, July 14, 2008

Adjectives formed from proper names

A number of people have become so famous that their last names have adjectival forms. However, the suffix used to transform proper names into adjectives is irregular in English. A number of suffixes can be used.

The great Armenian chessplayer Tigran Petrosian, a former world champion who was a master of prophylaxis, the art of preventing threats, and who was quick to take advantage of his opponents' mistakes, has given us the word "Petrosianesque" as in "That was a Petrosianesque manoeuvre". Other former world champions of chess whose names have adjectival forms are Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov- the adjectives are "Karpovian" and "Kasparovian". The suffix in Petrosianesque is rather unusual but it does occur in "Kafkaesque", the adjective formed from the name of Franz Kafka. However, the suffix attached to Karpov and Kasparov is rather productive.

This suffix occurs with many other names such as "Chomskian" for Noam Chomsky (note the change of the "y" to an "i"), "Darwinian" for Charles Darwin, "Newtonian" for Sir Isaac Newton, "Orwellian" for George Orwell, "Chaucerian" for Geoffrey Chaucer, "Saussurean" for Ferdinand de Saussure, "Shakespearean" for William Shakespeare, "Mozartian" for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "Bachian" for Johann Sebastian Bach and "Beethovian" for Ludvig van Beethoven.

The suffix -ist in used in the words "Marxist", "Leninist" and "Calvinist", adjectives formed from Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and John Calvin. This is a very productive suffix which also occurs in words such as "typist", "artist", "pianist" and "scientist". These words, however, are all nouns rather than adjectives.

In the word "Lutheran" formed from Martin Luther, the suffix is -an rather than the far more common -ian. In "Thatcherite" formed from Margaret Thatcher, the suffix is -ite, a suffix which is relatively rare. It is important to add that these words can also funtion as nouns. It is clear that these words are nouns in the following sentences: "She is a Lutheran"; "He is a Thatcherite".

The suffix -ic occurs in "Socratic", formed from the name of the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. It also occurs in "Napoleonic" for Napoleon de Bonaparte. An example of the use of "Napoleonic" is the phrase "Napoleonic code".

In English, a number of suffixes can be used to form words from proper names. The most common one by far, though, clearly appears to be the suffix -ian.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Canadian Spelling of English

When people think of English spelling, they tend to think of British and American spellings. Canadians, however, tend to use a combination of both. This is certainly true in my case. When I was learning to spell in elementary school, my teachers said that we could use either the American or the British spelling of a word, but we had to be consistent.

With words that end in either -or or -our, I use the British spelling. With younger Canadians, though, it appears that American spellings are becoming increasingly popular. Examples of such words include "neighbour", "favourite", "honour", "labour", "colour", "savour", "flavour" and "harbour". With words that end in either -er or -re, I also use the British variant- i.e., "centre", "metre", "theatre", "litre" and "fibre".

I use the British spellings "catalogue" and "dialogue" rather than the American "catalog" and "dialog" and "pyjamas" instead of "pajamas". I double the "l" in words such as "traveller", "cancelled" and "dialling" and use a single "l" in "skilful" and "wilful".

I also use the spellings "grey", "manoeuvre", "judgement", "axe" and "cheque"rather than "gray", "maneuver", "judgment", "ax" and "check". Note that Americans also use the spelling "grey" in the word "greyhound". I use the spelling "practise" for the verb ("practice" for the noun) rather than the American spelling "practice" and I use the spellings "licence" and "defence" rather than "license" and "defense".

All these examples may give the impression that I use British spellings exclusively, but this is far from the case. I use the spellings "realize", "organize" and "civilization" rather than the spellings "realise", "organise" and "civilisation" which are often used in British spelling. British English, however, also allows the spellings used in American English.

I also use the American spellings "mom", "program", "kilogram", "tire" (a car tire), "buses", "focusing" and "curb" rather than "mum", "programme", "kilogramme", "tyre", "busses", "focussing" and "kerb". The spellings "kilogramme","tyre" and "kerb" are very unusual in Canada.

Though I use the American spelling "mom", I use the British pronunciation of this word. For me, the word "mom" rhymes with "come" and not with "palm" as is the case in American English. This example serves to illustrate that Canadian English is often a variety of English that reflects both British and American influences.