Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study (SASS)

The 105th annual meeting for SASS, indeed an old organization supporting Scandinavian Studies in North America, was held in Columbus, Ohio from May 7-10, 2015. The theme for this year’s conference was Indigenous Discourses, Methodologies, and Histories. To celebrate the theme, we heard a concert by Ulda, a Finnish-Sámi Joik Band. The Sámi, the only indigenous people in the EU, reside in the northernmost parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. This is how joiking is explained by Åsa Simma, a Sámi elder. Joiking (yoiking) is a way of singing the essence of a person or place or plant, etc.  It is not really a song, but more of a sung expression. Traditionally, each Sámi child is given a joik when they are born. Hearing a joik is like hearing the sound of one’s soul . . . they have a mystical quality that takes the listener to a deep place within. For many years, it was against the law for the Sámi to joik!  They were not allowed to joik the names of their children or family members, or even themselves – but that has now changed, and nowadays, joiking also often gets fused with jazz and folk with the use of more modern instruments than the traditional Sámi drum, which consists of wood for the base and reindeer hide for the face. If you have never heard joiking or yoiking, click here for a sample. This is the same joiker we heard at the SASS conference.

Typically, 2015 SASS conference had only a few papers regarding pedagogy. I gave one of those few titled, Skyping with Finland – Authentic Language Use with the Help of Technology. Here, I will, however, discuss a paper given by my FLTA (Fulbright TA), Mikael Varjo. Mikael’s paper was titled, The Use of Traditional Proverbs and Phrases in Contemporary Popular Music in Finland.

Mikael discusses how a rock band called Viikate has integrated traditional proverbs and phrases into their lyrics. The band uses the old expressions creatively by altering and mixing them to create the text genre of rock lyrics. Mikael has divided the examples into phrases and proverbs and managed to convey the Viikate idea even though the examples don’t translate directly from Finnish into English. I have chosen some examples to point out what Mikael found out the band Viikate has been doing with the Finnish language.

(1) Nyt vitriini ja takki – niin tyhjiä kuin tyhjät olla voi (KKY 2009: Avoimen maan äärellä)

In this example the word that has been coordinated with the word takki (coat) is now vitriini (glass showcase) but also the phrase behind the construction is different: takki on tyhjä (coat is empty (to be really tired, worn out, given his everything). In this case only half of the sentence can be read literally, as coat can’t usually be empty, but figuratively, the glass showcase is empty, is not an idiomatic expression itself. However, the latter can be interpreted as a euphemism for financial difficulties – a situation where one has been forced to sell even all his most valuables from the showcase.

(2) eräs kaunis päivä kaikki käy / kuin tanssi päällä ruusujen (KKY 2009: Eräs kaunis päivä)

Example two can be recognized as a simile by its comparative conjunction like. In addition to the phrase jokin sujuu ~ käy kuin tanssi (something works out like a dance (buoyantly, easily, cheerily)) also the phrase ruusuilla tanssiminen (dancing on roses = being carefree) has been mixed in the sentence so that the variation of the latter one is now used as an adverbial. The one factor entwining the two phrases together is the word dance (or its deverbal derivative tanssiminen – dancing). These two phrases are also very close to each other to begin with by their meanings (cheerful and carefree).

(3) Monokkeliin ennenkin on sahattu (PV 2012: Sysiässä)

In example three the verb phrase viilata linssiin (to file someone into lens = to pull wool over someone’s eyes) has been altered so that the word lens has been replaced with monocle, a single eyeglass. Thus the change seems to be metonymic instead of metaphoric for it is based on associations or similarities inside a certain concept hierarchy, not between two concept hierarchies. In addition the verb to file has been replaced with the verb sahata, to saw. This can be explained by the fact that sometimes the same phrase viilata linssiin also occurs in the form sahata silmään (to saw someone in the eye).

(4) ja vuoteeni petasin samaan aikaan kun toisissa makasin (PV 2012: Petäjäveräjä)

In example four the conjunction pair niin – kuin (as – so) has been replaced with a phrase samaan aikaan kun (at the same time as). In addition, the word order of the original proverb Niin sitä makaa kuinka petaa (You’ve made your bed; now lie in it) has been turned around. Also singular first person forms have been used instead of the general perspective of the original proverb. This has also created a word play with the figurative and literal meaning of the proverb, for if the elliptical toisissa [vuoteissa] makasin (I was lying in other beds) is to be taken literally it can be read as an implication of having sexual affairs as in adultery.

(5) Vihreä on oksa, joka alta sahataan (KL 2013: Myrkynvihreää)

In example five, using a relative clause phrase vihreälle oksalle (to a green branch = a good position) has been mixed together with the proverb Älä katkase oksaa jolla istut (don’t cut off the branch you are sitting on) that is also crystallized in the phrase form sahata omaa oksaansa (to be sawing one’s own branch (to harm him/herself)). Unlike in the original proverb/phrase the subject has been blurred by the use of the passive form.

(6) Niin metsä vastaa kuin pata kattilaa (KKY 2009: Viina, terva & hauta)

In example six, the latter part of the proverb Niin metsä vastaa, kuin sinne huudetaan [The forest answers in the same way one shouts at it. (The world you get is the world you give away)] has been replaced with the beginning of the proverb Pata kattilaa soimaa, musta kylki kummallakin (The pot calling the kettle black) in a way that it still holds its original (niin–kuin) structure. The two proverbs have quite similar meanings to begin with and this might also be the motivator behind mixing these two together: both of them deal with the relationship of a person/speaker and the surroundings.

(7) kunnes Luoja, suo ja kuokka kuulee kaivajansa katkenneen (KKY 2009: Avoimen maan äärellä)

In example seven, there is a word play that is based on homonymy of the singular 3rd person of verb suoda (to give, allow, bestow) and the noun suo (swamp). The verb suoda is often used in such expressions as Jos Luoja suo and Suokoon Jumala, että – – (if God may/will) and also in some proverbs. Therefore in example seven there are allusions not only to Jos Luoja suo expressions but also to the iconic first sentence in the famed Finnish author, Väinö Linna’s novel trilogy Under the North Star: Alussa olivat suo, kuokka ja Jussi (In the beginning there were the swamp, the hoe — and Jussi).

It was very interesting to me hear this talk as I have never analyzed any song lyrics in such detail. It gave me ideas to have the advanced Finnish students look into Finnish rock lyrics, as most of them are very attached to Finnish rock music anyway. If you’d like to hear a sample of Viikate songs, here’s a link to the quite melodic and beautiful song, mentioned in the last example.