What is the official language of the European Union?

Easterner   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 08:18 GMT
For those interested in the relationship between Hungarian and Finnish, here is a wee bit of information I have posted on an earlier forum (there are some slight modification):

Finnish and Hungarian are quite different worlds. I actually learnt Finnish for about half a year, just out of curiosity, and its grammar and vocabulary are quite different from Hungarian. It has a lot of Baltic and Swedish loanwords (even the names of the week are of Old Scandinavian origin). The two languages belong to different sub-branches, and they have gone quite a different way of development. It's true, there are some languages that are a link between the two, mostly in Russia, but they have less and less speakers. The sounds are quite similar though, when listening from a distance you cannot be sure if somebody is speaking Hungarian or Finnish. Besides, there is vowel harmony in both languages.

Just some examples of related words:


Magyar is the name we use for both the people and the language. "Hungarian" comes from the name of the Onogurs - it was a Turkish ethnic group with whom they formed a tribal alliance before they came to Europe. Some people like to create myths and say that Hungarians are related to the Sumerians, but Finno-Ugric origin is quite well-established by now.
Easterner   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 08:33 GMT
Just one more remark about my previous post: the Finno-Ugric group has a western sub-branch (Finnish) and an eastern one (Ugric). Finnish, along with Estonian, Karelian, Mordvinian, Marian, Cheremissian, etc. belongs to the former one, while Hungarian belongs to the latter, together with two languages spoken by several thousand people in Siberia.
Damian   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 09:55 GMT
Is it true that most Finns speak Swedish, and that Swedish is Finland's second "official" language? That is so interesting, if there is no linguistic relationship between the two. Maybe it is simply due to physical proximity. Finland is in a very interesting position, up there between the Scandinavian group countries and the vastness of Russia. I wonder how many Finns have a knowledge of Russian....a significant number I would imagine.

Off to work now....I hope I have a chance to see some of those interesting Slavic speaking people ;-) It seems that I should use Slavic instead of Slavonic.
Easterner   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 10:45 GMT

Concerning you question: Finland was actually an integral part of Sweden up to the beginning of the 19th century, but the Swedish population formed some kind of an elite afterwards, too. The first initiators of the Finnish national revival actually spoke Swedish (like the poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg). As I know, a lot of Finns of Swedish descent changed their last names to sound more Finnish when Finland became independent (therefore if your name was Nyman you could change it to Nieminen). As a matter of fact, as I know a large part of the inhabitants of Helsinki or Turku (the second biggest city) are actually Swedish by descent ("real" Finns used to live more in the rural areas). I think this is the main reason why Swedish is an official language (and a second language for non-Swedes!) besides Finnish, although just 5-6 per cent of the population are Swedish - they live in the "strategic" areas. Actually I think this is a good example of positive discrimination for a minority language, but I do not think this would be possible without the role of Sweden and the Swedes in Finnish history.
Jordi   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 12:11 GMT
Slavonic: 1. relates to the group of languages, including Polish, Czech, and Russian, which are spoken in Eastern Europe. 2-relates to people who speak these languages. EG. He had broad Slavonic cheekbones.
Slav: a member of any of the peoples of Eastern Europe who speak a Slavonic language. Eg. He had something of the Slav temperament.

Therefore, Damian, people on this board are supposed to improve their English and you're not supposed to worsen yours, which is native, excellent and educated. Well, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy your Edinburgh dialectal sentences. I certainly do. So, as far as English is concerned, this a thread of mainly Slavs speaking mainly of Slavonian culture and languages.
Damian   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 20:39 GMT

That posting was so nice to read and I thank you for your complimentary comment. You are a fountain of knowledge, wisdom and perception....It's a pleasure to discuss the myriad of topics ensuing from the study of language and culture from all over the world as well as from this wonderfully diverse Europe of ours.

Your posting made me feel better..I am prone to migraine attacks and today has been awfie baud wi'me sair heid...thunner'n'brattle makes it real waur. (awfully bad with my headache and thunderstorms make it worse).
Damian   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 20:43 GMT

Thank you very much indeed for your equally brilliant and informative posting.....I am very grateful to you for explaing the situation in Finland to me so clearly and in such an interesting way.
Random Chappie   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 21:50 GMT
"Why Britons are language barbarians"
Oh, deplorable, deplorable.
Ceaser   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 23:32 GMT
Dear Easterner,

I have been heavily considering German as my next project. How does German, in terms of grammar, compare to English? For a language that is a relative of English, German is very different and very difficult to understand. Yet, German will get me far in the long run. At one point, I used to be fluent in Italian, but, from lack of use, my Italian has become severely rusty, yet with review, immersion classes, or better yet, a trip to Italy, my Italian will come back. Yet, I am off the point, what is German like and is it easy?

Clark   Thursday, August 05, 2004, 00:03 GMT
Ceaser, was ist dein Muttersprach?/was iss dei Mudderschprooch?
Criostóir   Thursday, August 05, 2004, 04:55 GMT
Hi old friends...long time since I posted, but I've read the threads, so...

Clark - sprichst du Deutsch? Oda soi i sågn, sprichs' du Boårisch? I aa!

Nic - es-tu Québécois? Je viens d'habiter à Montréal quatre ans, pendant lesquelles je faisais mes étdues des langues classiques et de l'allemand à l'université McGill (bien que mes études fussent en anglais ou en allemand, j'avais un grand nombre d'amis francophones qui m'ont enseigné la langue française)

Easterner - puhutko suomea? I must agree with you that German is a very common lingua franca in Eastern Europe. Whenever I've visited the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Poland, I get further using it than using English.

Agus do na gaelgeoirí ar na cláracha seo - dia daoibh! cad é mar atá sibh? A Cheasair, an bhfuil tú san Oileáin Sgitheanach faoi láthair, nó in áit eile? Dar liom is maith é gur féidir leat rudaí as trí nó ceithre theanga a labhairt le sé bhliana déag, agus iad go liofa! Maith ort!

Slán go fóill / Bis bald / A bientôt / Näkemiin,

nic   Thursday, August 05, 2004, 07:02 GMT
Criostor (sorry for the accent on the o, i can't do it on my keyboard),

Non je suis français, mais j'ai passé un mois à Montréal, mon frère y a fait un stage en architecture et j'en avais profité pour visiter cette ville (superbe du reste). Le Québec m'a beaucoup plu. Et toi, tu es allemand?
nic   Thursday, August 05, 2004, 07:09 GMT

Considering you are scottish, may be you have some norwegian bllod, i have read scottish are not only celtic origins but norwegians too, especially in the north. Of course you must know it.
Easterner   Thursday, August 05, 2004, 07:21 GMT
Dear Ceaser,

I will be happy to give you some idea of German grammar.

First of all I would say it really *is* different than English. Why? The first thing is - it has grammatical gender (masculine, feminine and neuter), but not in such a clear-cut way as say Italian or Spanish where most masculine nouns end in "o" and most feminine ones in "a". Nay, it is different in German, as the following examples show:

der Mann (m) - man
der Lehrer (m) - teacher
der Tag (m) - day
die Frau (f) - woman
die Kirche (f) - church
die Burg (f) - castle
das Kind - (n) child
das Regen (n) - rain
das Mädchen (n) - girl (!) - this is by the way a diminutive, and all diminutives are in neuter (the word root is the same as for "maid")

Apart from this fact, there is also declension. Nouns have a nominative, genitive, dative and accusative case, but with the exception of the genitive, only the article undergoes flexion. This may give you something of the thrill of excitement you encounter while learning Latin, Greek or Russian declension, but it is more rudimentary in German. An example:

N: der Mann
G: des Mannes (!)
D: dem Mann
A: den Mann

I wouldn't bother you with the plural, because it is irregular. This is by the way another speciality of German: all sorts of irregular plurals (Frau-Frauen - regular, Mann-Männer, Kind-Kinder, Mädchen-Mädchen (!), Tag-Tage, Hund-Hünde - irregular).

With some reserve it may be said that gender and declension is almost fully restricted to the article, and to the personal pronouns of course.

Another curious thing is the word order, especially in subordinate clauses. Therefore here is a simple sentence:

Ich sage es ihr oft. - I often tell this to her. (literally: I tell this to her often)

And here is a one with a subordinate clause:

Sie will, dass ich es ihr sage. - She wants me to tell it to her (literally: she wants that I it to her tell).

I think it's this that triggered mark Twain's lucid remark:

"Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth."

Finally, there is a little bit more irregular verb flexion than in English. In fact, this was the most thrilling thing for me, because it made me encounter the good old Saxon kinship. Some examples:

sehen/sah/gesehen - to see
brechen/brach/gebrochen - to break (cf. "brake" instead of "broke")
sprechen/sprach/gesprochen - to speak (cf. spake)
singen/sang/gesungen - you can make a guess :-)

By the way, having mentioned Mark Twain, I would refer to an essay of his: "The Awful German Language", available at http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/awfgrmlg.html. Of course I recommend it for entertainment and for the useful information it contains, not as a means of discouragement (though I do think it has some Yankee bias - disregard it!).

Finally, if you want to warm up to the melody of German, I suggest that you read any poem by Heinrich Heine or Rainer Maria Rilke, I think they have been the best to capture the music of the language.

Sorry for being too long, but at least I think it has been useful. I think German is a great language to learn :-)!
Criostóir   Thursday, August 05, 2004, 07:34 GMT
To reply to Dulcinea's posting about Finnish and inflections/vowel harmony:

1) Finnish is also agglutinative, but has a different order of suffix placement.

Finnish talo = house

taloni = my house
talossa = in the house
talossani = in my house

So the personal suffix comes after the case suffix. Also, in Finnish it is very common to reiterate the possession using the genitive of the personal pronoun before the modified noun. So in spoken Finnish it's not uncommon at all to hear

minun talossani

=literally, of me in my house.

2) Finnish also has vowel harmony, although slightly different from Hungarian. The case endings and one verb ending which contain vowels all have pairs. In Finnish, the back vowels a/o/u are one group, the front ä/ö/y one group, and i/e are neutral - that is, they can belong to words of either group, although if the word only contains i/e vowels, they take fronted endings. Here are some examples:

talo = house, back vowels
-ssa/-ssä = inessive suffix ("in, at")

talo-ssa = vowel harmony

kylä = village, front vowels
-lta/-lta = ablative suffix ("from")

kylä-ltä = vowel harmony

Helsinki = capital of Finland, only i/e vowels
-sta/-stä = elative suffix ("out of/from")

Helsingistä = vowel harmony (change of k to g is grammatical as well, called consonant gradation, something else I can discuss if you'd like).

In verbs, the only real case of vowel harmony occurs in the third person plural ending, -vat/-vät. Thus we have

haluavat = they wish
menevät = they go
kysyvät = they ask.

This is also seen with the negating verb in Finnish:
En ole = I'm not
Et ole = You are not
Ei ole = He/She is not

This verb is made of only i/e vowels, so the 3.pers.plural is
Eivät ole = They are not.