To improve my Finnish language comprehension, I’ve been gradually reading through one of my kid’s old lukio (high school) textbooks in history. This sluggish task is made easier by the fact that, in general terms, I already know most of the subject matter. It does help.
So, I was initially a bit confused when I ran across the following sentence about developments in Cuba and the fates of political dissidents (“toisinajattelijat”) there:
Kuubalaisia toisinajattelijoita tuomittiin 2003 pitkiin vankeusrangaistuksiin yhteistyöstä Yhdysvaltojen kanssa.
I understood the individual words well enough and the overall meaning of the sentence, at least the first part. What tripped me up was the word for “cooperation” (yhteistyö). You very often see this word used in the sense of “in cooperation” (yhteistyössä). (The inessive suffix –ssä denotes “in”.)
My first thought was to take that as the meaning for the word in this instance, in which case, the sentence would translate to:
Cuban dissidents were sentenced in 2003 to long prison terms in cooperation with the US.
What? “…in cooperation with the US”? That certainly sounded odd. When did that happen?
After a more careful re-reading of the sentence, I realized my mistake. The word is actually yhteistyöstä, not yhteistyössä, as any idiot could plainly see.
Unlike -ssä, the –stä suffix, which is used in the elative case, denotes “from” or “about” something, or in this case “for” something.
The correct translation...
Cuban dissidents were sentenced in 2003 to long prison terms for cooperation with the US.
...makes much more sense.
A tricky language, this Finnish, when a single-letter substitution – buried in a 12-letter word – can turn the meaning of a sentence topsy-turvy.
Side note: the Finnish word for “dissident” (toisinajattelija) is a compound word literally meaning “otherwise-thinker”. I like how plain and descriptive that is.