Elefantti or Norsu? Loanwords vs Finnish Words
Should you call an elephant elefantti or norsu in Finnish? Does it matter? Why are there two words when one would be enough?
1. Loanwords versus language purists
Loanwords are not a new phenomenon. Finnish language purists have always resisted loanwords and foreign language constructions. Nowadays, many loanwords come from English. In the past there have been large amounts of words taken from Russian and especially Swedish. German and Latin have also been at the base of many loanwords.
The earliest records we have of loanwords and their “more Finnish” equivalents are of course tied to the birth of the Finnish written language. Mikael Agricola used a lot of “loan translations” when he was translating the New Testament to Finnish. A loan translation is a word or phrase that’s loaned from another language, and then translated literally. Agricola borrowed for example the Latin word “benedicere” (to bless) and translated it literally as “hyvästipuhua“. This is no longer an accepted Finnish word; it’s called siunata now. Some of the loan translations were changed as soon as the next version of the Bible was published, while others stayed.
2. Why use a loanword when there’s a Finnish word?
I don’t have an answer to the above question. As you will see further down in the article, there are multiple layers of words with different degrees of acceptability. My own stance is generally to put communication before form. If the word “bussi” comes to mind faster than “linja-auto“, then why not use that one? The same issue is also true for using elefantti or norsu, in my opinion.
There are words where one version (e.g. klovni) can be considered much “uglier” than the more native Finnish word (pelle). However, that’s for you to judge. The main purpose of this article is to get acquainted with the different levels of loanwords. The more information you have, the better you can make your own decisions about the language you use.
3. Loanwords of equal status
The following loanwords all have a status that is more or less equal to the more Finnish equivalent. When looking in a Finnish-Finnish dictionary, the loanword will mention the Finnish equivalent, and the Finnish equivalent will mention the loanword as an explanation, without saying one is better than the other.
4. Often Used, Less Accepted Loanwords
The following loanwords are very commonly used and will definitely appear in a regular Finnish dictionary. However, when looking up the original Finnish word (e.g. yritys), the description won’t include the loanword as an explanation (firma). The words below can be found in Kielitoimiston sanakirja.
5. Spoken Language Loanwords
Next, there are spoken language words that you will find in a Finnish-Finnish dictionary, but they will be marked with “slang” or “colloquial”. I’m not going to list too many of these below, as there are thousands of them.
|tsekata||tarkistaa, varmistaa||to check|
|treenata||harjoitella, harjoittaa||to train|
6. Slang Loanwords
This last group of words won’t appear in a regular Finnish-Finnish dictionary, but you will find them in Urbaani Sanakirja, where they will probably have acquired many “thumbs up”.
You can find a lot of really interesting and entertaining articles and forum posts about loanwords. They cause resentment and annoyances for many. Below are some fun links to read through, if your Finnish is good enough:
So which one will you be using: elefantti or norsu?