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Historical Finnish terms and their significance

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Languages are not merely tools for communication; they are windows into history and culture. Finnish, with its unique linguistic roots, offers an array of historical terms that provide insight into the values, social norms, and everyday life of its speakers. Here are some significant historical Finnish terms and their meanings.

The Kalevala is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology. It is considered the national epic of Finland and is of great importance to Finnish culture. The Kalevala has had a lasting impact on the country’s national identity and the Finnish language.
Opiskellessaan suomen kieltä, hän päätti lukea Kalevala alkuperäiskielellä.

Sisu is a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness. It expresses the historic Finnish spirit of never giving up. This term reflects an ideal deeply embedded in Finnish culture and is still used today to denote the idea of enduring with courage and resolve.
Vaikka projektin viimeistely oli haastavaa, hän osoitti todellista sisuta.

The word sauna is an ancient Finnish term that has made its way into many languages around the world. It refers to a small wooden room or house designed as a place to experience dry or wet heat sessions. In Finland, the sauna has been a place of physical and spiritual cleansing for centuries, and it remains a significant part of Finnish culture.
Lauantai-illat olivat perinteisesti saunomisen aikaa, ja jokainen kylässä osoitti kunnioitusta vanhalle saunatavalle.

A torppa was a type of leasehold in Sweden and Finland; it was a crofter’s leasehold or tenant farm. These farms were typically small and dependent on the main manor, with the crofter working part of their time for the manor. Historically, torppa system had a significant role in rural Finnish society.
Hänen isoisoisänsä asui torppassa, työskenteli päivät pitkät pelloilla ja eli vaatimattomasti.

Harakka means ‘magpie’ in Finnish, but historically, it also referred to a curious or talkative person. Magpies are known for their intelligence, gregarious nature, and in many cultures, they are associated with storytelling or prophecy. In Finnish, this term metaphorically extends to characterize a person who possesses similar traits.
Kylän harakka tiesi aina kaikki uutiset ennen muita ja välitti ne eteenpäin nopeasti.

A haltija is a spirit or a gnome in Finnish mythology that guards, helps, or protects something or someone. The concept reflects the Finnish people’s connection with nature and the belief in the sanctity and spirituality of the natural world.
Vanhan uskomuksen mukaan jokainen koti oli haltijan suojelema.

A kota is a traditional Finnish dwelling similar to a tepee or a hut. It serves as a temporary shelter for people, traditionally the Sámi, who were on hunting or fishing trips. It is cone-shaped and made of wooden poles covered with peat moss or similar materials. Nowadays, the term can also refer to grill huts where people gather to cook and socialize.
Talviretkellä he yöpyivät erämaassa vanhanaikaisessa kotassa.

Understanding these historical Finnish terms enriches one’s appreciation for the Finnish language and culture, offering a deeper glimpse into the values and lived experiences of the Finnish people. Language learners may find that embracing these terms can enhance their connection to Finnish history and its contemporary society.

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