Facing Finnic: Some Challenges to Historical and Contact Linguistics

I picked up Facing Finnic: Some Challenges to Historical and Contact Linguistics at Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in Helsinki about fifteen years ago. This is a collection of twelve papers that were presented at the symposium “Facing Finnic” in Tartu, Estonia in August 2000. To commemorate the Finnish centennial of independence, I have decided to read all of the books I have about Finland that are heretofore unread. The last book I read wasn’t a pleasure at all. It took me four weeks to get through A History of Finland, a book I so thoroughly despised that I will not be keeping it, and another ten days to get through this 234-page collection. Unfortunately I found the essays so dry I could barely sustain any interest.

I am no stranger to linguistic academia; I have read and written reviews about multiple languages including Jersey Norman French, Tristanian English and other Finnic minority languages. The dissertations in Facing Finnic, however, were not as stimulating as I had originally thought. While a glance at the table of contents–why I bought this book in the first place–reveals such topics as Finnic verb patterns; sound history versus historical grammar; the alternation of e with a or ä in non-initial syllables, the only two essays I thoroughly enjoyed were about the influence of Estonian on the endangered language of Ingrian, and about Karelian language and identity. What drove me to such extreme boredom was the fascist highfalutin verbosity. As a student of linguistics I understand why some verbosity is necessary (linguists do make it a habit of needing to write entire paragraphs to state the most crushingly obvious banalities), yet this collection of essays was not a pleasure to read. Perhaps it wasn’t the editor’s intent for anyone to read all twelve essays in the first place. I wonder if anyone read Facing Finnic cover-to-cover as a pleasure read. Maybe I should have just read one essay a month. Ten of the papers were written in English and two of them were in their original German. I chose to read the German ones last. I felt it would be better to immerse myself in German in one fell swoop than to switch between languages. Yet the final essay, in German, on the ratio of rules and exceptions in the grammar of Vepsian verbs was dry-as-dust dull.

I already find linguistics entertaining, so I am not looking for an adventure story. I get off on the study of minority and severely endangered languages such as those in the Finnic family. But these essays were hardly enlightening, and a disappointment. I will not be keeping this book either.

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