Thursday, April 20, 2006

Agglutinate Yourself

One of my dictionary correspondents has been regaling me with tales of Finnish, which he has learned. I love the idea of an agglutinative language, though I've never tried to learn one. Latin is as close as I've come to one.

One result of this type of grammar is that complex ideas can be contained in single words. Many Eskimo languages also are agglutinative, and I remember reading that in one of them the sentence "He also can make big boats" was a single word.

In Finnish, the word juoksentelisinkohan means "I wonder if I should run around aimlessly." I think someone should claim that as a Blog name.

Another result is that words exist in an overlapping range of cases, genders, and moods that can look utterly daunting to a writer in English or Chinese. My correspondent sent along this link to a site where Fred Karlsson, author of a book on Finnish grammar, lists the 2,253 ways to write kauppa (Finnish for "shop").

Kauppoineennekinkohan, for example, expresses in English "would that be with your shops, too?"

What's amazing to me is, everyone I've met who has learned Finnish (or Hungarian, which is similar, and related) tells me how delightfully easy it is once you get the hang of it.