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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What languages are similar to Finnish?
Kati: And are they mutually intelligible?
Michael: At FinnishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Ben Lee, a college student, picks up the Finnish bestseller, Sinuhe egyptiläinen, but finds it surprisingly hard to read. He turns to his friend, who is shopping with him, and asks,
"Is this in Finnish?"
Ben Lee: Onko tämä suomea?
Ben Lee: Onko tämä suomea?
Miia Mäki: Ei, se on viroa.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Ben Lee: Onko tämä suomea?
Michael: "Is this in Finnish?"
Miia Mäki: Ei, se on viroa.
Michael: "No, it's in Estonian."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this conversation, we hear Ben Lee say,
Kati: Onko tämä suomea?
Michael: "Is this in Finnish?" In response, Miia Maeki says,
Kati: Ei, se on viroa.
Michael: "No, it's in Estonian."
Michael: In this lesson, we will talk about which languages are most similar to Finnish and what characteristics they share.
Michael:The Finnish language belongs to the Uralic language family,
Kati: uralilaiset kielet,
Michael: which includes around twenty languages spoken in the northern and eastern parts of Europe, Hungary, and Siberia. The Uralic languages are divided into two groups; the Samoyedic languages, and the Finno-Ugric languages, which include, for example, Finnish, Hungarian, and Estonian. Finnish is the most similar with Estonian
Kati: viro
Michael: and Karelian
Kati: karjalan kieli
Michael: languages. In this dialogue, we see that Ben Lee mistakes Estonian for Finnish when he asks,
Kati: Onko tämä suomea?
Michael: "Is this in Finnish?"
Michael: It can be common for language learners to confuse these two languages since they share many things in common. Finnish and Estonian are particularly similar because both languages fall under the Baltic-Finnic.
Kati: itämerensuomalaiset
Michael: subgroup. Vocabulary-wise, these two languages share many cognates. For example, to say "fire" in both Finnish and Estonian, you would say
Kati: tuli.
Michael: In the same way, "fish" translates identically in both languages to
Kati: kala.
Michael: "Hand" or "arm" translates in both languages as
Kati: käsi.
Michael: The words sound and look very similar in Hungarian as well, as Hungarian is also a Finno-Ugric language.
The list for cognate words between Finnish and Estonian goes on and on. In fact, several phrases between these languages can even be considered mutually intelligible. Other similar languages can be found in the northern regions of Russia, including Moksha, Sami, and Komi.
Cultural Insight/Expansion (Optional)
Michael: There are some amusing cases as well, where the same word has a different meaning in Finnish and Estonian. For example, the word "wedding" in Estonian is
Kati: pulm,
Michael: which for a Finn sounds like
Kati: pulma,
Michael: meaning "a problem." And the Finnish word for "mold" is
Kati: home,
Michael: while, in Estonian, it's
Kati: hallitus,
Michael: which, in Finnish means "the government."
Michael: Surprisingly, as Japanese and Finnish are also pronounced in a very similar way, these languages also share numerous words that are pronounced the same way, but have a different meaning. For example, the word for "a rabbit" in Finnish is
Kati: kani,
Michael: which in Japanese actually means "a crab." Or the Finnish word for "a twig" is
Kati: risu,
Michael: which in Japanese means "a squirrel."
Michael: Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and his works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, may also already know, or, if not, be surprised to learn, that Tolkien was greatly influenced and inspired by the Finnish language and the national epic Kalevala. The influence of these are shown in the characters of his stories and the made-up languages he created, and especially in the Elvish language Quenya, which is linguistically very close to Finnish.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Kati: Hei hei!
Michael: See you soon