June 27, 2014

A multilingual world

Over the past month I have visited Stockholm (Sweden), Reykjavik (Iceland), Helsinki (Finland), and stopped over in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Singapore. I am constantly amazed by the multilingual dexterity of the people I interact with in each country. The people I have talked with have switched to converse with me in English as soon as I have opened my mouth (and sometimes before I do). In contrast, I have only learned a few simple words:
  • Swedish: hej (hello), tack (thank you)
  • Icelandic: halló (hello), takk (thank you), Þetta reddast (she'll be right mate)
  • Finnish: hei (hello), kiitos (thank you)
A sign in downtown Reykjavik
 Code switching is such a regular part of life for the Nordic countries. Children learn other Nordic languages in school, as well as English. For example, children in Iceland learn Danish and English. Children in Finland learn Swedish and English. Russian is also seen in the streets of Finland.
Herkullissia marjoja (the delicious berries) of Suomi (Finland)
It is said that one of the reasons these Nordic languages have survived and remained distinct was due to the translation of the Bible. For example, in Iceland, the New Testament was translated in 1540 and the entire Bible in 1584. The first Finnish translation was in 1548. I also learned about the importance of the translation of the Bible for the Irish people when I saw the Book of Kells earlier this year.
Helsingin tuomiokirkko, Suurkirkko in Helsinki