“Istumaruuma, kitsi, paatitamppu, soopa.” These are just a few examples of Finglish words. Finglish is a linguistic vernacular that originated in Canada and America when Finnish immigrants used English in a predominantly English-speaking context.
Documentary filmmaker Soile Mottisenkangas filmed a documentary in 2014 at a private care home called Finlandia in Sundbury (Ontario), which is now home to Finnish Americans from all over Canada. At the Breakfast Well she told the audience about American Finnish and how she, as a documentarist, planned the making of her film.
Mottisenkangas, who did not want to make a historical documentary on the phases in the immigrants’ history, wanted to specifically focus on the present day. Of course, in order to understand the phenomenon you have to learn about its history. The cinematic and storytelling perspectives affected the making of the documentary in that the people with the most interesting linguistic characteristics were not necessarily chosen to appear in the film, as people’s stories and charisma were more important. However, Mottisenkangas has a lot of material on film that she hopes will be available to all in the future.
Mottisenkangas explained that the Finnish community was once so large that some people only ever spent time with other Finns. This is why, even today, is possible to find an elderly person who has spent the whole of his or her adult life in Canada but who still can speak only little English.
So what is Finglish then? Finglish does not sound the same everywhere, and different groups of professions, for instance, develop their own Finglish vocabulary. For example, miners and construction workers have their own special words for their technical terminology. A vicar who moved to the community from Finland a few years ago explains on the video that loan translations are common in Finglish. For example, you could ask:“Mille lattialle olet menossa?” (“What floor are you going to?” where the word “floor” means the floor under your feet. In standard Finnish, people say “Mihin kerrokseen olet menossa”.) Someone might also say that they are writing something down, when in Finnish you actually write something up.
The once significant Finnish community has now shrunk and is disappearing. The children of those people who speak Finglish, and especially their grandchildren, do not speak Finnish any more. These elderly people are like a disappearing “natural resource”. They do not understand modern Finnish and we do not understand them. That is why it is especially important to make a documentary film such as this one and at the same time document the language and heritage of these people for the future generations.