11 Feb

Poronkusema & the Finnish Linguistic Landscape

It’s been said that the best way to get to know a society is through language, for it reflects  the idiosyncrasy, values and worldview of its speakers. Take Finland, the land of a thousand lakes and the midnight sun. Its dense forests, fertile mires and pristine lakes, its harsh weather conditions and traditional lifestyles, have shaped the linguistic landscape of the Finnish language throughout the years, from surname conventions to everyday expressions.

One instance of this ever-present connection with nature is the obsolete unit of measurement poronkusema, used by the Sami people to describe the distance a reindeer can travel without having to stop to urinate – roughly 7 to 7.5 km. The compound is made of the elements poron (reindeer’s) and kusema (from the verb kusta, to pee; and the suffix -ma: the amount peed in one visit to the bathroom).

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Poronkusema and the Finnish Linguistic Landscape


Another example of nature’s presence in the Finnish language is the expression peninkulma, which refers to the distance a barking dog can be heard in still air (approximately 10 km after the 17th century conversion of Swedish versts to kilometers). Another interesting etymological fact: the compound is made of the words peni (archaic for dog, again penin being the genitive case; dog’s) and kuuluma (to be heard).

Moving on from travel distances to farming soil, back in the day the Finns used the units tynnyrinala, panninala and kapanala to refer to the area that could be sown, respectively, with one barrel, half a barrel and one thirtieth of a barrel of grain. But Finns weren’t the only ones having their linguistic baggage shaped by agricultural practices: “a barrel of land” was a widespread unit throughout Scandinavia (Danish tønde land; Swedish tunnland); Norwegian tønneland).

And since we are putting all the units on the table, here’s another voluminous fact: foods such as strawberries, cherries, mushrooms, peas and even potatoes are sold by liters in Finland. Why is that, you ask? Imagine the old John Doe farmer – or in this case, the old Matti Meikäläinen, since we are in Finland – collecting strawberries from the field and throwing them in a basket as he harvests. Back in the day, scales were not as reliable or affordable as they are now, so our Meikäläinen guy would go to the marketplace and use his strawberry basket as measurement of his goods, selling his produce by volume instead of weight. What started as a thrifty method of commerce stretched out to the current times. So, whenever you happen to be in Finland and the vendor asks how many liters of cherries you’d like, panic not, he’s not offering you smushed-cherry goop. But whether you end up with a carton of cherries or a glass of cherry milkshake, hyvää ruokahalua!

Ps. This article was written under the musical influence of Sibelius’s Finlandia, Op. 26.

: )

14 Jan

Alcohol & Foreign Language Skills

Recent pop-science articles have been claiming that alcohol does improve your foreign language skills. Well, I have news for you. Alcohol does not improve your foreign language skills, it merely increases GABA production in your brain, which lowers your inhibitions and makes you more obnoxious confident but less coherent.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Alcohol, Foreign language skills, perception, drunk

12 Nov

The Origins – Funny Spanish

Lately I’ve taken a few trips down memory lane trying to figure out where my passion for languages originated. How did it all start? Born in Andalusia, my first interactions with non-Spaniards took place whenever my family would go camping along the Portuguese coast during the summer holidays.
Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Portuguese, foreign languages, learning, exploring

Boy: What’s your name?
Me: Mom, he speaks funny Spanish.

18 Jun

The Brain Strain

We have all been there: you put all the lexical chunks together, check the sentence word order, repeat it a thousand times in your head until it’s foolproof and in the moment of truth, ugh…

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, language, brain, Finnish

04 Jun

The Weißwurstäquator

A new fun word I learnt this week! The Weißwurstäquator refers to the supposed cultural divide separating Southern Germany from the rest of the country. I believe it’s named after the white sausage, which is traditional in Bavaria, along with its lovely castles, medieval towns and tasty food. Road trip time, gell?

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Weißwurstäquator, Bavaria