Friday, April 11, 2014

Day of the Finnish Language: Part 2

On Wednesday, we celebrated the Day of the Finnish Language with a look at Mikael Agricola, the Finnish clergyman who is considered to be the founder of literary Finnish. While the celebration of the day coincides with the death of Mikael Agricola, it also coincides with the birthday of Elias Lönnrot, a Finnish physician and philologist. We feel a birthday is a much better reason to celebrate than somebody's death.

Sammatti, Elias' birthplace.
Elias Lönnrot was born in 1802 in the Grand Duchy of Finland. He studied his first academic year in the very same place that Agricola was acting bishop. However, the fire of Turku destroyed the university, forcing Lönnrot to move to Helsinki and graduate from the newly established university there which replaced the one in Turku.

He studied medicine and became a district doctor in Kajaani, in eastern Finland. Sadly, he was the only doctor for a population of around 4,000 people who lived across the length and breadth of a wide geographical area.

While his work in medicine seems depressing, it was really his work in linguistics that earned Lönnrot his fame. Lönnrot loved the Finnish language and collected folk tales in the language. He was a founder of the Finnish Literature Society in 1831 and as a result received financial support for his work.

He often took leave from his work as a physician to tour areas of Finland, including Lapland (where Santa lives) and part of Russian Karelia. His travels led to the writing of several books, and he was appointed to the Chair of Finnish Literature at the University of Helsinki thanks to his work preserving Finland's oral traditions.

He worked on the the Finnish-Swedish dictionary between 1866 and 1880, compiling over 200,000 entries in the process. Thanks to his experience with Finnish poetry he was considered a respected figure when it came to the Finnish language. Many of his translations had never been seen before and he coined many of the translations seen in the dictionary. Lönnrot also coined a number of neologisms when it came to scientific terminology with Latin or Greek roots.

Lönnrot's work with Finnish language is the second reason Wednesday was the celebration of the Finnish language. The work conducted by both Agricola and Lönnrot has been incredibly influential in the history of the Finnish language, and that is why Finland celebrated both of these great men in their efforts to preserve their mother tongue.

Part 1 | Part 2