A friend once posited the existence of a shadowy organization responsible for perverting language into the malevolent and confusing thing that it is. Perhaps language was once pure and intuitive until this secret society, perceiving the power it could gain from creating ambiguity and confusion, acted to twist it. How else can one explain the S in “lisp”? The unnatural sound of the word “onomatopoeia”? The excessive length of “abbreviation”? The final sabotaging of Esperanto by linking it inextricably with William Shatner?
False friends — words that look or sound alike in two languages but don’t have the same meanings — are among these pernicious phenomena. For example, “host” in Czech famously means “guest” in English.
Finnish and English are about as dissimilar as two languages can get while still retaining a common character set. I took a dictionary of each language, found the words common to both, removed the loanwords (e.g. medical and musical terminology, generally Latin and Italian, respectively) and was left with a set of just 27 words:
anti folio hake helmet home into lama levy made manner no on pane parka per piston pure rein side tanner vale vain veto vie vies villa visa
From these you can build sentences that can be interpreted as either English or Finnish. I’m calling it “hake villa vies parka”, which (apparently) is Finnish for “candidates for the poor communication”:
- Vie pure tie visa (“Takes bite the road quiz”)
- Into side vale vies (“Tie is cast into the message”)
- No villa helmet (“Well these beads”)
- Lama pane piston side vain folio manner (“The recession put a stitch bonding foil mainland”)
- Veto levy on parka hake (“The washer is a poor application”)
The result, counterintuitively, is a small subset of words that can be used equally effectively in either language — perhaps a dream for Chomskyites, if only that weren’t because the subset is totally useless to anyone.
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