For our first Japanese-Finnish linguistic intel exhange session, Aoi, Hannele and I met at Cafe Europa, a coffee shop (kissaten/kahvila) in central Tampere. Aoi had expressed the desire to learn how to order stuff like coffee (koohii/kahvi), so we figured this would be the place to throw her right in the water with that. That part of the mission was successful, as Aoi’s order was understood perfectly without any involvement from her two Finnish bodyguards.
With our drinks securely at the table, we started out by going throw basic service phrases such as:
- How may I help you?
- Nanika osagashi desu ka? (Japanese)
- Kuinka voin auttaa? / Voinko (jotenkin) auttaa? (Finnish)
The Japanese phrase literally means “are you looking for something” (sagasu = “to search for”). For the Finnish phrases, I mentioned to Aoi that the -ko ending in Finnish words actually functions quite similarly to the Japanese “ka”, turning verbs into questions. Voin = “I can”, voinko = “can I?”.
Another familiarity between Finnish and Japanese we quickly went through was the genitive. In Japanese, the possessive form is done with the suffix “no”. In Finnish, practically the exact same thing is done by adding -n (and possibly conjugating the word beyond recognition, which makes Finnish-learning foreigners very pleased). So, in practice:
- A dog’s ball
- Inu no booru (Japanese)
- Koiran pallo (Finnish)
With our minds tired from the long school week, we spent a moment of deep Finnish silence, struggling to come up with the next topic and scanning the premises for inspiration. The pen in my hand saved us. Apparently, a mechanical pencil (“lyijytäytekynä” for the Finns out there) in Japanese is called “shaapupen” or “shaapen” for short. Those familiar to the Japanese language’s tendency to absorb English loan words as is and just make them fit their syllabary will notice that it means “sharp pen”. This interested me, because, well, other pens are sharp too. Why was this particular type of pen the “sharp” one? I googled this after I got home, and apparently it’s because of Eversharp, a company specializing in mechanical pencils.
Another thing to take away from the mechanical pencil was the shortening of those words with foreign origins. A “shaapu pen” becames just “shaapen”. Similarly, a smart phone is not “sumaato hoon” but a “sumaho”. As Aoi was explaining this to us, I came to think of one example myself from my dear hobby of collecting video games: “famikon” (or Famicom), the Japanese name for the Nintendo Entertainment System, shortened from “family computer”. No matter how far away you go from Japan, you will still bump into people with the treasured childhood memory of blowing dust off of software cartridges.
As our session went on, hunger took over and guided our frail mortal minds towards words concerning foodstuff. I was interested to find out what word Aoi would use about the wrapped chocolate candy if she was unaware of its contents being chocolate (a problem widely known as “The Schrödinger’s candy”). Apparently, the general Japanese term for all candy and the equivalent for Finnish “karkki” is “okashi”. Hard candy (like stuff you make lollipops out of) is known as “ame” and soft candy as “gumi”.
While we were on the subject of food, there was one thing that I needed clarified. Earlier on in my feeble attempts to learn Japanese, I had run into the term “chikin” being used widely for chicken. Unsatisfied with the idea that an Asian language wouldn’t have a more domestic, widely used word for a bird that originates from roughly that part of the world, I asked if there was a more Japanese term for it. It turns out that “toriniku” (literally: “bird meat”) is used for chicken meat and “niwatori” is the word for a live hen that hasn’t yet been sacrificed for the sake of human protein intake. If one were to use “niwatori o tabetai desu” instead of “toriniku o tabetai desu”, he would be expressing desire to pick up and eat a live chicken, feathers and all.
Let’s help that mental image sink in with one final phrase to learn:
- Enjoy your meal!
- Itadakimasu (Japanese; literally “I humbly receive”)
- Hyvää ruokahalua! (Finnish; literally “(Have a) good food desire!”)