You know East Timor, poor unlucky East Timor, on the receiving end of everything? Still trying to recover from its most recent disaster, the spiteful and destructive behavior of the departing Indonesians? Yes. Well. East Timor is looking for a national language.
Trouble is, most of the SE Asian languages are historically the languages of East Timor’s oppressors. Lingua Francas like Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesian, French, and English are associated with colonialism. The original East Timorese language, Tetum, has a primitive grammar, and anyway it comes in eight or nine different tribal dialects so it doesn’t qualify as a unifying force.
But things are moving forward. It looks like they may have settled on a national language, which is now being taught in school to all the East Timorese children:
Of all the languages they could have picked, Finnish.
It’s spoken by no one else on earth except the Finns. It does have a slight but perceptible resemblance to Hungarian, but all that goes to show is that at some point in the past, both those peoples experienced significant amounts of alien contact. Linguists love it for its logical regularity and insane complexity. I suspect it’s their version of staring into the void.
I’m not a linguist, but I’ll admit that I (and James Capozzola, too) have also spent too many hours staring into that particular void. Finnish grammar is fairly amazing. As my Manual of Foreign Languages says, this is an agglutinative language in which:
The noun is declined according to cases, of which there are 15; according to number, of which there are 2; according to type of declension, of which there are 3; and according to its pronomial modifier (my, your, etc.). This involves the addition of various definite suffixes, subject, however, to the laws of vowel changes and contractions, of which there are 49.These fifteen basic cases are the nominative (the tree), partitive (a tree, some tree), genitive (of the tree), inessive (in the tree), elative (from out of the tree), ablative (away from the tree), illative (into the tree), adessive (done on or with the tree), allative (to the tree), abessive (without the tree), prolative (along the tree), translative (became a tree), essive (as a tree), comitative (together with the tree), and instructive (by means of the tree).
Some Finnish scholars deny the existence of the prolative, saying it’s only an adverbial suffix. Some regard the instructive case as having vanished, lingering on only in proverbs and adverbs. Some allege the existence of an accusative case whose form coincides with the form of the nominative or genitive, and which can therefore only be detected by the presence of specifically accusative forms of personal pronouns. The compositive, multiplicative, and excessive cases are currently regarded as theoretical.
Pronouns are declined like nouns, and come in personal, demonstrative, interrogative, relative, indefinite, and reflexive varieties.
Then there are the twelve adverbial cases, which Mr. Capozzola helpfuly lists: superessive, delative, sublative, lative, temporal, causative, multiplicative, distributive, temporal distributive, prolative, situative, and oppositive.
Verbs are a bit simpler, having three persons, two voices (active and passive), two uses (transitive and intransitive), and four tenses (present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect). However, they also have seven moods: indicative, imperative, conditional, verbal noun, verbal adjective, and the optative and concessive; the optative being the imperative for the first and third persons, and the concessive expressing probability or likelihood. These can make for interesting complications.
And, since Finnish is agglutinative, all these interacting bits of language join up together to form a small number of large words. “After having registered at the hotel, we went to our room, which was on the third floor” turns into five glutinous words: “registered-after-having-our hotel-into, went-we, third-in, floor-in, situated-being-in room-into-our”, Kirjoittauduttuamme hotelliin menimme kolmannessa kerroksessa sijaitsevaan huoneeseemme. “The negotiating committee for the discontinuation of armed hostilities” comes out as aseleponeuvottelutoimikunta.
It’s actually necessary for the words to be this long, because otherwise they’d have more inflections than they have letters.