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Suomen Kielen Päivä – Hyvää Agricolan Päivää! 9.4.

Hyvää Agricolan päivää!

Tänään vietetään Agricolan päivää. Today, on the 9th of April, we celebrate Agricola Day, also known as suomen kielen päivä “day of the Finnish language”. Mikael Agricola is considered Suomen kirjakielen isä (the father of Finnish written language). He was the first person to publish (julkaista) books in Finnish. Before that point, Finnish was just a spoken language (puhekieli) which was composed of many dialects (murre).

The first book Agricola published was ABCkiria (The ABC book), which was a primer (aapinen) to teach the basics of reading (lukeminen) and writing (kirjoittaminen). He was also the first person to translate (kääntää) the New Testament (Se Wsi Testamenti) to Finnish in 1548.

It makes sense that the first books in Finnish were mainly religious (uskonnollinen). In order to familiarize Finns with the Bible (raamattu), it had to be translated. Finnish priests studied Latin and preached in Finnish, but an official translation wasn’t available before Agricola. The common people were mostly illiterate (lukutaidoton) at the time. The reformation movement (uskonpuhdistus) brought along the idea that people had to learn to read for the very purpose of being able to read the Bible.

Se Wsi Testamenti

The New Testament (Se Wsi Testamenti – spelling in current Finnish Uusi testamentti) was translated before the Old Testament (Vanha testamentti). In the first translation, Agricola used the word “se” in the title because it was a translation. The “se” corresponds with “the” in English but this is unusual because, normally, Finnish doesn’t have definite pronouns.

It took Agricola ten years before he published the New Testament in Finnish. It was slow going, and Agricola didn’t get any financial support during the process. The biggest problem by far was that Agricola was faced with many issues translating things to Finnish.

Agricola’s New Vocabulary

In Agricola’s time, Finnish was just a language spoken by the common people in the countryside. There wasn’t any formal version of Finnish: there were just local dialects. Agricola used these dialects to translate his books, picking up words from what people around him used.

However, because Finnish was mostly used in the everyday life of rural Finns, it lacked more abstract and religious vocabulary. Agricola is said to have used versions of the New Testament written in German, Swedish, Latin and Greek while making his translations. The influence of these can be seen clearly in Agricola’s work. A lot of direct translations came into being through these works.

One typical grammatical solution Agricola employed was compound verbs, such as poissulkea “to away-close” and uloslähteä “to out-go”. Some of the compound verbs Agricola introduced are still in use, while others have been replaced by more Finnish expressions. You can read more about compound verbs in Finnish here.

It’s said that Agricola brought about 8000 new words into the Finnish language by inventing (keksiä) and borrowing (lainata) them from other languages. We can’t be sure about the amount, because dictionaries didn’t exist yet back then.

Finnish English
kirjakieli written Finnish
puhekieli spoken Finnish
murre dialect
liputuspäivä flag day
kääntäjä translator
kääntää to translate
käännös translation
käännöslaina direct translation
lainasana loanword
omaperäinen sana original word
aapinen ABC book
julkaista to publish
keksiä uusia sanoja to invent new words
kirjallisuus literature
lainata sanoja to borrow words
liputtaa to fly the national flag
lukutaidoton illiterate
Raamattu the Bible
uskonnollinen religious

There is a lot more to say about the development of written Finnish, as well as about Agricola and other writers of that time period. I will add links to additional articles later, when I get around to writing them.

Read more

Happy Agricola day! Hyvää Agricolan päivää kaikille!

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