Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Making my way through the dark forrest of the Internet searching for an overview of the Ge'ez script as used by the speakers of Tigrinya (to use with my newly acquired Grammar of Tigrinya), I stumbled across this wonderful site. As its title suggests, it is devoted to all the minority languages of Sweden, both official and non-official. A praiseworthy project indeed, with a billionzilliontrillion links for just about any language freak. In just a few clicks, I found these glossaries of everyday items and concepts in 15 languages, this multiscript online keyboard, a Syriac-English dictionary with a Firefox search plugin and a list of mathematical terms in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. Pretty cool, he?
And I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. After all, the site includes information on Finnish, Saami, Arabic, Farsi, Tagalog, Tigrinya, Luganda, Albanian, even Yiddish, Romani and Syriac/Aramaic, Somali, Thai, Meänkieli, Kurdish...
Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it right there. Meänkieli?



So meänkieli (meidän kieli = 'our language'), also known as Tornedalen Finnish, is a dialect of Finnish spoken in the area around and including the twin-city of Tornio-Haparanda on the Swedish-Finnish border in Lappland. In Sweden, it is also spoken in Gällivare, Kiruna, Pajala and Övertorneå by immigrants from Finland who started arriving in Sweden in the Middle Ages and whose numbers grew after the Russian annexation of Finland. With 30.000 to 80.000 speakers in Sweden, a grammar and a Gospel translation, an active writer community and a few TV and radio programs, meänkieli was declared an official minority language in 2002.
As for the linguistic characteristics, the Wikipedia article only mentions the lack of the comitative and the instructive case. Hm. How to put it nicely... Duh? Both cases are rarely used in written, let alone spoken Finnish nowadays, so their absence in a dialect is hardly surprising. Longing for more information, I remembered the old saying ("You wanna get something done right...") and set out to investigate the matter. And thus here are a few characteristic features of meänkieli I have observed so far:

1. assimilation:
-ts- > -tt- (Ruotsin > Ruottin; merkitse > merkittee)
-ks- > -k- (mielenkieliksi > mielenkieliki)

2. lack of gemination:
-lla/-llä > -la/lä (samala laila, meänkielelä)
-lle > -le (täysille > täysile)

3. aspiration:
-t- > -th (kutsutaan > kuttuthaan; yhteyksissä > yhtheyksissä, toteutetaan > totheutethaan)
-p- > -ph (lopuun > lophuun; tarpeeksi > tarpheeksi)
-øN- > -hN- (voimaan > voihmaan; kokonaan > kokohnaan)
-ø- > -h- (lauseita > lausheita; kokoon > kokhoon; meänkiehleen)
-N- > -Nh- (viranomaista > viranomhaista; opettaneet > opettanheet; puhuneet > puhuhneet)

It would appear that this phenomenon occurrs in a syllable with a long vowel, such as the passive or the Illative case suffix (kuttuthaan; ...tavalishiin kysymykshiin...) and/or in the syllable immediately preceding long vowels (meänkieli, but meänkiehleen). From where I sit, it looks like the "h" may be at least partly involved in the stem gradation (see e.g. Ruothiin).

4. elision:
-d- > -ø- (rakkauden > rakhauen; oikeuden > oikeuen)
-t# > -# (tullut > tullu)

5. monophtongization:
-oi- > -o- (tarkoittaa > tarkottaa; antoi > anto, but voihmaan)

6. personal pronouns and the copula:
mie olen, sie olet, se oon, met olema, ?, ?

Mie, sie etc. is actually a quite common feature of Finnish dialects and/or spoken Finnish. Met (olema), however, appears to be a typical feature of meänkieli.

7. lexical borrowings from Swedish:
frästaus (frestelse)
förlaaki (förlag)

Discovering a 'new' language is bound to make any day brighter. Doubly so today, since I feel like shit - I'm running a fever, every joint in my body seems to have walked out on me and I can't hear squat 'cause of some gorram infenction in my ears. So with your permission I shall now retire and make an appoitment with my doctor. If he won't help me, it will at least get majki off my ass. Yeah, right, like that's ever gonna happen...


Alexander said...

Just a warning about this site: while it initially appears super-useful, it's extremely riddled with errors. I only looked at languages I had some degree of knowledge about, so I can't speak for all of them, but all those written with Arabic script (Arabic, Persian, and so on) are written reversed and without connecting letters, thus completely unintelligible. Furthermore, the Persian and Dari words are written with Arabic-specific letters when they should use Persian letters, for instance ی instead of ي.

The Spanish and Turkish pages have some accurate Spanish and Turkish words, respectively, but they are mixed in with Swedish words when the creator apparently didn't know the Spanish or Turkish equivalents. It's very confusing. Just a heads up!

bulbul said...

Thanks for the info, Alexander. As for Arabic, I would suspect this is a technical issue, since the page is displayed somewhat garbled in Firefox, but properly in Internet Explorer. I haven't noticed anything wrong with Farsi and Dari, though.

Alexander said...

If it shows up properly on your computer, then it must be a technical issue as you said, but when I view the page with Internet Explorer 6 on Windows XP, I get precisely the same problem as with Firefox. Curious and curiouser...

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