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The Finnish language



Aldo da Rosa, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford, surprised me for praising the logical spelling of Finnish, giving a strange reason. He says: "When my children were babies, they spoke Finnish (in addition to Portuguese and English) although I did not. Nevertheless, every night I read them Finnish stories without understanding what I was saying. They understood and enjoyed them. This was possible because of the rigid spelling rules of the language and the extremely simple rule for stressing syllables in a word: always stress the initial syllable. [Apparently not: "Stress generally falls on the first or last syllable" My guess is that the children loved the sound of papa's voice. RH].

I asked Also how he became involved with Finnish: "The above occurred before I ever went to Finland (later, I taught, for a short time, in Otaniemi, a school whose undergraduate electrical engineering curriculum compares, in my opinion, favorable with Stanford's. Otaniemi is a few kilometers from Helsinki.) The reason for my children speaking Finnish is that this is Aili's (my wife) first language".

My comment: Otaniemi Technical University, near Espoo, northwest of Helsinki, is spectacular. Finnish architecture is world-famous. The focal point of the university is the auditorium building with two large halls (also intended for congresses). Its staircase-like ascending rows of windows suggest from the outside an amphitheater. All class rooms are in adjacent buildings grouped about small internal courts, where there are lecture-rooms, laboratories and professors' offices. The university is divided into three principal departments: general, geodetic and architectural. There is, as at Stanford, an adjacent science park. Finland is technically advanced, especially in the field of electronics.

Finnish is not an Indo-European language. It belongs to the so-called Ural-Altaic group, referring to the Ural Mountains and Altai, a region in Siberia. It is an odd name, since the family stretches from Finland. Estonia and Hungary in the west to Sakhalin on the Pacific; some say that Japanese and Korean belong to the group. It stretches from the Arctic in the north to Turkey and Central Asia in the south. It is an extremely complex family of languages, little studied generally because no major language belongs to it. However, knowing English, Portuguese and Finnish should give Aldo's children a great advantage in some professions, such as diplomacy.

We suggest that our friends at the Defense Language School add Finnish to the list of candidates for logical spelling. However, that should be offset by simplicity of grammar, and there English wins hands down. Now I must look up the origin of "Hands down". Is it just the opposite of "Hands up!"? I will report back to you.

Ronald Hilton - 2/11/02


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