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Petteri Punakuono – Finnish Christmas Song Analyzed

If you like music and translating Finnish song lyrics, then you might like this article. I will be analyzing the Christmas song Petteri Punakuono. This is the Finnish version of the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

1. About the Song Petteri Punakuono

This tune of this song and the general idea of the lyrics are the same as the English Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. However, in order to make this song work in Finnish, some notable changes have been made in the translation. The beginning of the song, for example, does not contain the names of the other reindeer. Instead, it lists the name of popular fairytale creatures.

In addition to differences in the meaning of the lyrics, another challenging issue is the word order in this song. While the lyrics in itself are fairly straight-forward, as a learner of Finnish, the word order can make this song hard to understand. I’ve provided a neutral word order for most of these sentences.

2. Song Lyrics – Petteri Punakuono

♬ Finnish song lyrics ♬ English translated lyrics
Muistat Tuhkimon, Lumikin,
Ruususen varmaan
ja Punahilkan ja sudenkin harmaan,
mutta poro tää sulta usein unhoon jää.
You remember Cinderella, Snow White,
Sleeping Beauty probably
and Little Red Riding Hood and the grey wolf too,
but this reindeer often remains forgotten by you.
Refrain
Petteri Punakuono
oli poro nimeltään.
Ollut ei loiste huono
Petterimme nenänpään.
Haukkuivat toiset illoin,
majakaksi pilkaten.
Tuosta vain saikin silloin
joulupukki aattehen.

Refrain
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
was the reindeer called.
The shine wasn’t bad
of our Rudolph’s nose.
The others badmouthed in the evenings,
mocking him as a lighthouse.
From this, then,
Santa got an idea.

Aattoilta pitkä on,
taival valoton,
niin Petteri vois nenässään
valon tuoda pimeään.
Petteri siitä asti,
pulkkaa pukin kiskoen,
johtaa sen riemuisasti
luokse lasten kilttien.
Christma Eve’s evening is long
The passage lightless,
so Rudolph could in his nose
bring light into the dark.
From then on Rudolph,
pulling Santa’s sled,
leads it joyfully
to the well-behaved children.
Refrain 2x Refrain 2x

3. Glossary

The following grammar terms have been abbreviated.

  • sg2: second person singular
  • sg3: third person singular

I have marked different elements of the analysis using the following symbols.

  • in italics: base word
  • (in brackets): translation
  • ‘in single quotation marks’: literal meaning
  • “in double quotation marks”: intended meaning
  • [square brackets]: saying, idiom, fixed phrase; rection
  • <symbol: derived from

4. Petteri Punakuono – Finnish Song Analyzed

Muistat Tuhkimon, Lumikin, Ruususen varmaan
Muistat muistaa (to remember), sg2 present tense “you remember”
Tuhkimon Tuhkimo (Cinderella), genetive case because object of muistaa
Lumikin Lumikki (Snow White), genetive case because object of muistaa
Ruususen Ruusunen (Sleeping Beauty), genetive case because object of muistaa
varmaan probably, likely, adverb
You remember Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty probably

The English version of this song lists the names of all the other reindeer in this section. In the Finnish translation, they list the names of the most common fairytale characters. The other reindeers’ names just aren’t used in Finnish.

The verb muistaa generally has a total object: you remember the whole person or thing. You will use the genetive case in these sentences.

ja Punahilkan ja sudenkin harmaan,
ja and, conjunction
Punahilkan Punahilkka (Little Red Riding Hood), genetive case because object of muistaa
ja and, conjunction
sudenkin susi (wolf), genetive case because object of muistaa + -kin “also the wolf”
harmaan harmaa (grey), genetive case because object of muistaa
and Little Red Riding Hood and the grey wolf too,

Neutral word order: (Muistat) Punahilkan ja harmaan sudenkin. Word order is changed in order to maintain the correct rhythm and to make the sentences ending in varmaan and harmaan rhyme.

The clitic -kin is used in its most basic meaning in this sentence: it means “also”. We can rephrase “Muistat myös suden” as “Muistat sudenkin“. The word susi gets inflected in the same way as some other old words ending in -si, such as vuosi (vuoden) and uusi (uuden).

mutta poro tää sulta usein unhoon jää.
mutta but, conjunction
poro reindeer
tää <tämä (this), demonstrative pronoun in spoken language
sulta <sinulta (from you), personal pronoun in spoken language
usein often, adverb
unhohon unho (forgetting, oblivion), old-fashioned, mihin-form because of jäädä
jää jäädä (to remain, stay), sg3 present tense, rection: [jäädä + mihin]
but this reindeer often remains forgotten by you.

Neutral word order: mutta tää poro jää sulta usein unhoon. Very complicated word order in the song!

The phrase “jäädä unhohon” means “to be forgotten”. You could translate it more literally as “to remain in oblivion”. This is a very poetic phrase, which is also clear by the use of unhohon rather than unhoon. We will use the verb unohtua in everyday language. This means we could replace “Poro jää unhoon” with the phrase “Poro unohtuu” (the reindeer is forgotten).

The keneltä-form sulta (sinulta) is used because of the verb jäädä. We could consider the verb jäädä to have two separate rections. First and foremost, you will use the mihin-form: Jäin kotiin, jäin opiskelemaan.

Occasionally, you will also find the keneltä-form, like in this song. It’s not especially common to add this element, but you can find it in sentences such as:
Minulta jää harvoin kirja kesken means literally “From me a book rarely remains unfinished”.
Minulta ei jäänyt ruoantähteitä means literally “From me no food scraps remained”.

Petteri Punakuono oli poro nimeltään.
Petteri Finnish first name, equivalent of Peter
Punakuono puna (red) + kuono (snout, muzzle)
oli olla (to be), sg3 imperfect tense “was”
poro reindeer
nimeltään <nimi (name), phrase: [olla nimeltään] “called, by name”
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the reindeer called.

Neutral word order: Poro oli nimeltään Petteri Punakuono.

The word nimeltään belongs to the same group as the words koulutukseltaan and ammatiltaan. You can learn more about these types of words here.

The name Rudolph is such a foreign name that the translators of this song picked a totally different name for the reindeer: Petteri. This is the Finnish alternative of the English name Peter. I’m going to call him Rudolph when explaining things in the sections below.

Ollut ei loiste huono Petterimme nenänpään.
Ollut olla (to be), NUT-participle
ei sg3 negative imperfect when combined with ollut: “wasn’t”
loiste shine, brilliancy
huono bad
Petterimme Petterin, genetive case, + -mme possessive suffix “of our Rudolph’s”
nenänpään nenänpää (tip of the nose), genetive case “of the nose”
The shine of our Rudolph’s nose tip wasn’t bad.

Neutral word order: Petterimme nenänpään loiste ei ollut huono. The word order in this section can be hard to understand. The neutral word order’s “Petterimme nenänpään loiste” is most clearly translated as “the shine of the nose tip of our Rudolph”, though the word order matches up better with “Rudolph‘s nose tip‘s shine”.

In the English version of this song, this line goes as follows: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose”. During translation, the “very shiny nose” was changed to say “not a bad shine”. Changes like this can be necessary when translating a song in order to match the original song’s rhythm.

Haukkuivat toiset illoin, majakaksi pilkaten.
Haukkuivat haukkua (to badmouth, diss, bash), pl3 imperfect tense, rection: [haukkua + ksi]
toiset toinen (other), T-plural “the others”
illoin ilta (evening), illoin instructive case “in the evenings”
majakaksi majakka (lighthouse), translative case because of pilkata
pilkaten pilkata (to mock, taunt), modaalirakenne, rection: [pilkata + ksi] “mocking”
The others badmouthed in the evenings, mocking him as a lighthouse

In this song, toiset “the others” means “the other reindeers”.

The verb haukkua means to badmouth or to diss someone. The verb pilkata has a similar meaning: to mock, to taunt. In this song, Rudolph is being called a lighthouse: maljakka. This differs from the English version, where it’s not specified what names the other reindeers are calling Rudolph.

The translative case (majakaksi) is used with both haukkua and pilkata whenever you want to specify the name someone is called. Both pilkata and haukkua have a translative rection.

The instructive form of ilta is usually present in the phrase “aamuin illoin“, which means “mornings and evenings”, ie. the whole day, every day. The more common phrase used to say “every evening” would be iltaisin.

If this was a regular sentence rather than the lyrics of a translated song, it would likely sound more like: “Toiset haukkuivat ja pilkkasivat häntä majakaksi iltaisin“, ie. “The others badmouthed and dissed him as a lighthouse in the evenings”.

Tuosta vain saikin silloin joulupukki aattehen
Tuosta tuo (that), elative case, “from that”
vain just, only
saikin saada (to get), sg3 imperfect tense + -kin “did get”
silloin then, at that time
joulupukki Santa Clause
aattehen aate (idea, concept), old-fashioned genetive case “an idea”
From this, then, Santa got an idea

Neutral word order: “Silloin joulupukki saikin tuosta vain aatteen

The phrase “tuosta vain” (which means ” just like that”) is used to express that Santa suddenly got an idea, out of nowhere.

The particle -kin has many meanings, which you can read about more here. In this sentence, it’s used to express that something happened unexpectedly: Santa’s idea came out of nowhere.

The word aate usually means “ideology, concept”. A more everyday word is idea: Joulupukki sai idean. In addition to using the more old-fashioned word aate, the form used is also old-fashioned: the sentence contains the archaic aattehen genetive case form rather than the current Finnish genetive form aatteen.

Aattoilta pitkä on, taival valoton,
Aattoilta (Christmas) Eve’s evening
pitkä long
on olla (to be), sg3 present tense “is”
taival passage, journey
valoton lightless
The evening before Chrismas is long, the passage lightless,

Neutral word order: Aattoilta on pitkä (ja) taival (on) valoton.

On the evening of Christmas Eve, Santa goes on his long round of people’s homes, a passage which is dark (pimeä), lightless (valoton).

niin Petteri vois nenässään valon tuoda pimeään.
Niin so, thus
Petteri Rudolph
vois <voisi, spoken language “could”
nenässään nenä (nose), inessive case + sg3 possessive suffix, “in his nose”
valon valo (light), genetive case, total object of the verb tuoda
tuoda to bring
pimeään pimeä (dark), illative case, “into the dark”
so Rudolph could in his nose bring light into the dark.

Neutral word order:  Petteri vois nenässään tuoda valon pimeään.

The light is in Rudolph’s nose: nenässä. The -än and the end of nenässään is the third person possessive suffix. We could both say nenässään and nenässänsä. The -än suffix is far more common.

The verb tuoda comes with the mihin-form: Rudolph brings light into the dark.

Petteri siitä asti…
Petteri Rudolph
siitä se (it, the), elative case because of asti
asti “from then on”, rection: [mistä + asti]
From then on, Rudolph…

The adverb asti has a different meaning depending on which case ending is used with it. The mistä-form can be used to express the beginning of the situation (eg. keväästä asti “from spring, starting in spring”). The mihin-form can be used to express the endpoint of a situation (eg. jouluun asti “until Christmas”). In addition to timespans, asti can also be used with locations in much the same way. We can form sentences such as “Metsä kasvaa [rantaan asti]” and “Tavarat tuotiin [kaupungista asti]“.

…pulkkaa pukin kiskoen, johtaa sen riemuisasti…
pulkkaa pulkka (sled), partitive case, object of kiskoa
pukin pukki (Santa) <joulupukki, genetive case “Santa’s”
kiskoen kiskoa (to pull, drag), second infinitive, “pulling”
johtaa johtaa (to lead), sg3 present tense “leads”
sen se (it), genetive case, total object of johtaa
riemuisasti joyfully, adverb
…pulling Santa’s sled, leads it joyfully…

The second infinitive expresses the way in which something is done. I have a separate article on the use of the modal substitute construction (modaalinen lauseenvastike, modaalirakenne). In the song, we’re describing in what way Rudolph leads Santa to the children: he leads them by pulling the sled.

The name joulupukki (Santa Clause) literally means “Christmas goat”. It’s not uncommon for people to use pukki as an affectionate way to talk about Santa.

…luokse lasten kilttien.
luokse mihin-form of luona, postposition: [genetive + luokse] “to”
lasten lapsi (child), plural genetive because of luokse
kilttien kiltti (well-behaved, nice), plural genetive because of luokse
…to the well-behaved children.

The word order has once again been switched: luokse is a postposition, so generally you will find the neutral word order “kilttien lasten luokse“.

The postposition luokse expresses a movement towards (the homes of) the children. In addition to the mihin-form, this postposition also has a missä-form (luona) and a mistä-form (luota). Read more about the inflection of postpositions here.

As always with these songs I post, do let me know in the comments if you have a song suggestion for me to tackle next!

  • You can learn more Finnish Christmas vocabulary here.
  • I have another Christmas song analyzed here.
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