Today the country of Finland celebrates Finnish Language Day, also known as Mikael Agricola Day.
Mikael Agricola may not have started Finnish but he is celebrated as a national hero for creating and codifying the written version of what was largely an oral tradition up until the 16th century.
Agricola was appointed Lutheran bishop of Turku in 1554. One of the tenets of the Reformation was the translation and reading of scriptures in native languages.
Agricola translated the New Testament into Finnish in 1548.
Some of his top Finnish language hits include:
ABC-kiria (The ABC Book) The first book in Finnish, published in 1543. It was a primer of the Finnish language. [I’d like to say it taught kids to read Finnish, but as the first Finnish book, it taught everyone to read!]
Se Wsi Testamenti — the aforementioned Finnish translation of the New Testament, Agricola’s greatest achievement.
Three liturgical books (1549). Two include prayers, services, and rituals. The third is an amalgamation of the Four Gospels, detailing Christ’s suffering.
Agricola hoped to translate the Old Testament as well. But his life was cut short. Returning from Moscow where he had negotiated a peace treaty, Agricola became ill and died on April 9, 1557. He was 47.
He’s remembered each year on April 9 as the Father of the Finnish language.
The major languages of the Scandinavian countries—Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic—are all related except for Finnish. Near as we can tell, Finnish isn’t related to anything except perhaps Hungarian and Estonian. Finnish isn’t even an Indo-European language. The Finno-Ugric languages are their own distinct branch, though from what tree is anybody’s guess.
It’s possible that if Agricola hadn’t come along when he did, the language of Finland would have been overrun by the languages of its more powerful neighbors.
Finnish is known for being a ‘genderless’ language, and for lacking articles such as ‘a’ and ‘the’. Also, there is no word for ‘to have.’