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May 19, 2013

The rise of Latin on Finnish radio: "Nuntii Latini" — News at VI

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Wrote John Tagliabue in an April 8 New York Times story, "... on Friday evenings before the main news broadcast, the Finnish Broadcasting Company presents five or six short news stories in Latin."

More: "Not even Vatican Radio, which broadcasts some prayers each day in Latin, reports the news in the ancient tongue."

Listen to Friday's broadcast here.

More from the article below.

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Tuomo Pekkanen, a retired professor of Latin who helped start "Nuntii Latini," or "Latin News," as the program is known, said the language is very much alive for him and for many educated Finns of his generation deeply influenced by Edwin Linkomies, his Latin professor at Helsinki University and prime minister during the difficult years of World War II. For them, Latin was a part of Finnish identity as well as of a sound education.

"In order to be educated," said Mr. Pekkanen, 78, who is proficient in not only Latin but also ancient Greek and Sanskrit, "it was once said that a real humanist must write poetry in Latin and Greek."

Mr. Pekkanen helped start the news program almost on a lark, then saw it steadily gain popularity. "Picking the subjects, that is the most difficult part of it," said Mr. Pekkanen, who in his spare time has translated all 22,795 verses of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, into rhymed Latin verse. "One principle is that we don't want to count the bodies of how many were killed in this or that country," he said. "That is dull."

It may be no coincidence that the broadcast began in 1989, the year Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and the Finns turned toward Western Europe. For educated Finns, Latin had long been the country's link to Western culture, and they were required to study the language in school.

While the broadcasts once went out over the airwaves, with shortwave reception for listeners outside Finland, more and more listeners tune in to the program's Web site, through podcasts and MP3 downloads.

It also reinforces a global trend among lovers of Latin to try to speak it, not just read it.

Antti Ijas, 27, a graduate student writing a thesis on Old English poetry, helps Mr. Pekkanen translate news spots and field emails from listeners across the world. "We do get linguistic feedback," he said, "especially from Germany," where Latin studies have a deep tradition.

Most comments, he said, focus on pronunciation. There are endless debates about how Cicero would have sounded as he addressed the Senate — and about the choice of words for modern things like "golf course" ("campus pilamallei") or iPad (they haven't found one).

The most common complaint about the broadcast is that at five minutes, it is far too brief. Mr. Pekkanen demurs. The choice of subjects and translation, he said, "takes much time."

"In my opinion, five minutes is quite suitable," he said.

Joonas Ilmavirta, a graduate student in mathematics and a regular listener, understands the challenge. "It's very labor intensive," he said. Mr. Ilmavirta, 25, who studied Latin in high school... keeps up his Latin by reading comic books in the language.

Many Finns know the broadcast because it precedes the popular Friday evening news, even though most these days cannot understand it.

Mr. Ilmavirta acknowledged that few of his contemporaries share his passion for Latin. "I don't really know of young people interested in Latin," he said. "And by young, I mean under 40."

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Why didn't my advanced Latin class at Milwaukee Washington High School do this?

Miss Shaw and Mr. Johnson — bless their impedimentum impedimenti souls — would've loved it.

May 19, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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Comments

"It may be no coincidence that the broadcast began in 1989, the year Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and the Finns turned toward Western Europe."
What absolute bollocks. Finns were never part of communist eastern Europe, nor admirers of it. In fact they went to war against it. Finland has always been more culturally linked with western Europe than with the Soviet Bloc.
"For educated Finns, Latin had long been the country's link to Western culture, and they were required to study the language in school." Educated Finns are likely to speak multiple languages, university entrance requires English, but it's not unusual to meet Finns who are competent in five or more languages. Friends of mine studying medicine would be reading texts in English, Swedish, German, French..... and, yes, Russian.
When I read this quotation from John Tagliabue's article, it lead me to wonder just how much of the rest of his article is nonsense.

Posted by: soubriquet | May 20, 2013 4:34:41 PM

"it was once said that a real humanist must write poetry in Latin and Greek."

Oh my, I haven't come close to mastering English.

Posted by: joepeach | May 19, 2013 4:58:36 PM

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