Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Finnish vocal fry, and other adventures

Yesterday, we got a message from the girls' school. Jeremy and I read it together and...we understood it! We did not have to look anything up or run it through Google Translate. It was a fairly simple message with times and dates, but it did have some vocabulary words that we recently learned as well as some helpful English look-alikes (can you guess what "Turun filharmoninen orkesteri" means? Yeah. If the field trip had been to the "regional orienteering championships," we may not have been so lucky). I'll be stoking the embers of that success for quite a while to get me through all the times I finish reading an email at work or home and the sum total of my comprehension amounts to "......?"

Then there are the times that you get a letter from the bank in the mail, and it's all in Finnish, and there's a form in Finnish to fill out, and you just can't even, but you hack through it and decipher a few key bits but then give up and go to the bank to have a human being explain it to you, the dumb foreigner, maybe even in English. Then, at the bank, you take the letter back out and notice that on the opposite side, it was all in English, all along. This is a hypothetical situation, of course.

In other Finnish news, Magdalena pointed out to me the other day that vocal fry happens a lot in Finnish. She didn't use those words, of course. She said something like, "Mama, sometimes in Finnish at the end of a sentence, they talk in a whisper, kind of." And she's right. I'd noticed it, too. It doesn't seem to be an affectation as much as it can be in English; more of a result of Finnish intonation always going down (always. Even in questions. ARGH.), and sometimes by the time you get to the end of a sentence, the only register further down than the one you're in is in the vocal fry range.

That's my current theory, anyway! The intonation thing really is maddening, though. Think about it: when you only barely speak a language, you depend a lot on nonverbal cues to get you through any given interaction. Like, say, waiting for a rising intonation that would signal a question being asked, so you can scramble together an answer. Instead, in Finnish, a statement and a question often sound the same (unless you looked sharp for word order or the -ko marker), so it's entirely possible to think you're just listening until they stare at you a little too long and you realize they're waiting for an answer. Lovely.

Everyday procedures in Finland

Four church points