A new dictionary series promotes integration and cultural exchange

Husein Muhammed

The Finnish Institute for the Languages of Finland (Kotus) is preparing a new dictionary series for speakers of mainly migrant languages.

The dictionary includes some 30 000 Finnish entries with their equivalents in other languages. In addition to the basic Finnish vocabulary, the dictionary includes words, phrases and institutions relevant to immigration and integration issues, for instance “Maahanmuuttovirasto” (Finnish Immigration Authority), “oleskelulupa” (residence permit) and “kotoutumiskoulutus” (integration training).

The dictionary goes well beyond only providing Finnish entries with their equivalents in each of the target languages. The dictionary provides information on which parts of speech the entry belongs to as well as on how the word is inflected. Vast majority of entries include also examples, often more than one.

The main targeted group of users of the dictionary series are migrants who have settled in Finland and want to learn the Finnish language and culture. Special attention has been paid to words and phrases essential in dealing with different authorities, be they from the Finnish Immigration Authority, social office, municipal health center or NewCo Helsinki advising new start-ups.

Aamu substantiivi KS
subax, aroor

aamu sarastaa
waagu wuu soo beryayaa
tänä aamuna paistoi aurinko
saaka qorrax baa jirtey
lähden aamulla
aroortii baan baxayaa
eilen aamulla satoi
shalay subax roob baa da’ay
hän ajaa parran joka aamu
subax walba garka wuu iska xiiraa
tavataanko heti aamusta?
isla subaxa horeba ma kulannaa?

But traditional Finnish culture has not been neglected either. The dictionary includes also entries like “sauna” (traditional Finnish bath) and other words related to sauna, for instance “kiuas” (sauna stove) and “löyly” (sauna steam or pressure).

The dictionary’s aimed groups include not only beginners of the Finnish language, but also, among others, interpreters and translators as well as second generation migrants who want to maintain their native language. The dictionary can also be helpful in culture exchange via, for example, helping to translate literature between Finnish and the other languages of the dictionary series.

The project began with translating the dictionary into the Somali language. The second language in the row is Kurdish, more specifically Kurmanji or Northern Kurdish. But translating the dictionary into other languages has also been planned. The main criteria for choosing target languages is that the language has a substantial amount of speakers, mainly migrants, in Finland but no good dictionaries are available in Finnish and the language in question.

The Finnish entries are usually simply provided with their equivalents in the target language, but not all entries have exact equivalents. Then the entries are given various definitions in the target language.

The dictionary series is theoretically one-sided, i.e. only Finnish words are provided as entries in an alphabetical order, but not the words of the other language of the dictionary. However, thanks to the new technology, one can also search words of the other language and find them if the word is given as an equivalent of one or more Finnish words in the dictionary. Thus, the dictionary is quite useful for searching both Finnish words and words of the other language of the dictionary.

Currently, Finnish-Somali dictionary is partly available with Finnish entries alphabetically from the beginning of the letter A until “röykkiö” (heap, huddle). The Kurdish dictionary, too, will soon be partly available on the Internet, in the first phase likely from the beginning of the A to “möyhentää” (to fluff).

Users can search for words not only beginning but also including or ending in a certain letter or syllable.

The dictionary can be used free of charge on: http://kaino.kotus.fi/somali/?p=main

Husein Muhammed is a lawyer, translator and journalist, who has worked in many institutions related to migration, refugees and human rights. Currently he also works as an editor of the Kurdish dictionary at The Finnish Institute for the Languages of Finland (Kotus) and with a report about Nordic-Kurdish literature for Culture for All / Norden2020. He has written a book Yhtä erilaiset – islam ja suomalainen kulttuuri (Teos 2011) about islam and Finnish culture and many articles and columns to different newspapers and magazines.


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