Virtuaalinen vanha

Virtual Studies in Old Finnish – A Resource for Learning and Pleasure

Pirkko Forsman Svensson
University of Helsinki, Department of Finnish

Virtual Studies in Old Literary Finnish (Vvks) is an online resource that can be used for studies of Old Finnish as part of a course, either tutored or self-directed. The online resource is primarily intended for students who have to acquire their knowledge of Old Finnish by themselves. If you use the Vvks material for coursework, it is wise to meet with a tutor who will explain to you how to best use the material in order to meet the requirements for the course. For those who have acquired the basics of Old Finnish, the online resource gives an opportunity to attain a more advanced level of skills.

Idea and Inspiration

I got the idea of preparing material for a complete course on Old Finnish through my own studies at the Department of Finnish, Umeå University in the late 70s and early 80s. My curriculum included Old Literary Finnish, where the only aids for comprehension and analysis were Vanhan kirjasuomen lukemisto ‘Reader in Old Literary Finnish’ by Martti Rapola (SKS, 1968), its limited vocabulary and the booklet Vanha kirjasuomi ‘Old Literary Finnish’ by the same author (Tietolipas 1, SKS, 1969). In my first year of study (1977-78) I was a so-called distance student, and the resources available at that time were far from sufficient for self-directed learning.

In Sweden, students were expected to write a C essay (C-uppsats) as part of their 60-credit studies; 80-credit studies included a D essay (D-uppsats). According to the Swedish system of that time, one credit point corresponded to 40 hours of study. In those years both the C essay and the D essay were worth 5-10 credits. As the subject of my C essay I chose the memorial poem Wijmeinen Muisto by Ericus Justander (Vvks text 27).

Working on my thesis (1980-83) gave me insight into 17th century genres as well as problems in text reading. Besides my research topic, participle structures in 17th century texts, I was puzzled by several linguistic problems that I felt needed a closer look.

Brief History

In 1987-1989 the Humaniora of Umeå University granted me two semesters of research time, free of teaching. I had applied for funding in order to prepare course material for self-directed studies because the Department of Finnish was planning a C-level distance learning course to be held in Luleå in the academic year 1989-1990. Since the course included studies in Old Finnish, there was a need for a new kind of course material.

The series of books Vanhinta kirjasuomea (‘Earliest Finnish Texts’), which I completed in September 1989, is the original paper version of the current Vvks. The books deal with 16th and 17th century texts. The Umeå University series comprised three finished volumes: texts, commentary and grammar. The fourth volume, syntax, with samples mostly based on 17th century texts, was a mere draft until I started updating it in April 2007.

I tested my material in practice when teaching Old Finnish to the students of the Luleå distance course in the fall semester of 1989. At that time no Internet or email was available, so between the study weekends that were organized once a month, the students were guided by letters from the teacher.

In 1990 I was appointed Visiting Associate Professor of Finnish at Indiana University, Bloomington. I used my one-year-old material in a graduate level Old Finnish course in the academic year 1992-93, and the outcome was promising. I used the same material in several docent courses at the Department of Finnish, University of Helsinki in the years 1995-2008. The books were also used by lecturers of Finnish at some foreign universities.

My material differs from previous Old Literary Finnish textbooks or readers in the following respects:

My leading principle in organizing the text commentary is as follows: the earliest, i.e., 16th century texts, have an abundance of explanations and links to the grammar section, whereas the number of links decreases in later texts. The student is expected to have mastered the basics by the time he/she moves on from 16th century texts. For this reason, it is wise to start with a multitude of texts by Agricola and his contemporaries.

Vvks - From Print to the Web

There was more than one reason for transforming the books into a web resource. Self-directed studies had become common in the 1990s, and more and more course materials became available on the Internet. The advantage of virtual studies was the availability of the material irrespective of where the course was held, as well as the possibility of updating and correcting the material when needed. It was also difficult to physically cope with the books spread on the table, reading texts in one book and searching for information in the other two (student comment). The web-based version received positive feedback from the students of an Old Finnish course in spring 2007, even though the freshmen, who suddenly became guinea pigs in the middle of their standard course, found the parallel use of the old and the new system rather difficult.

The digitizing of the material started in September 2006 when the Department of Finnish sponsored the project by employing an assistant (Johanna Eerikäinen) on an hourly basis. I rechecked and updated the paper versions, and Johanna worked out Dreamweaver versions for the Internet. A great deal of time was spent on checking the references and, in many cases, rewriting the examples by filling in missing text. Checking was relatively easy if the text was available in Kaino, the online material service of Kotus. However, some 500 pages of 17th century sermons are still missing from Kaino. In the draft version of the syntax, the hundreds of examples had to be numbered. What is more, in the draft version of the syntax, when using the material in my courses, I had changed the original order of chapters and paragraphs. So, even in this case much rewriting was required.

Old Finnish is studied at several universities and institutions outside Finland, especially in the Nordic countries, Estonia, Russia, Germany and the US. The Vvks material can also be used in teaching Finnish language and literature courses at Finnish upper secondary schools.

The Contents of Vvks

The forewords to the three original books are available in an online version for the reason that they give information on contents, sources etc. Vvks includes an overview of the old orthography and literature of Finland. There is a bibliography that combines the references from the original books and new references. Links to online articles on Old Finnish and to other Old Finnish materials can also be found on the website.

The present material is composed of the following four sections:

The 16th century text samples are divided into those by Agricola and his contemporaries and other texts of that time. The 17th century texts are thematically divided into religious prose, legal language and lyrics. In 2010 and 2011, the text section will be expanded with 18th century samples.

The first texts in the material are Agricola’s poems, forewords in verse, with modern orthographical presentation on the same page. The purpose is to train the student’s ability to read old orthography. In some cases the original pages in Gothic letters are linked to the texts. Each sample is its own page, and the links to explanations are given in superscript after the word or phrase (with a running numbering of references in each text). Clicking a number opens the link to commentary and/or an explanation. Some of the texts have audio snippets.

In studying Old Finnish, text reading is of great importance, not only orthography and grammar. Text comprehension does not happen in an instant; it requires learning little by little, working through texts with the help of commentary. For this, Vvks provides an opportunity independent of time and location.

Links sometimes lead to explanations that contain numbers or consist of mere numbers. These numbers guide the reader to chapters or paragraphs in the phonology, morphology or syntax sections that provide necessary information. Each grammar chapter is on its own page, so the user can read a whole chapter at a time if he/she chooses. The syntax section offers much research data that enables comparison between Old and Modern Finnish. The most important study on present-day Finnish, in this respect, has been Suomen murteiden lauseoppia ja tekstikielioppia (‘Syntax and text grammar of Finnish dialects’) by Osmo Ikola, Ulla Palomäki and Anna-Kaisa Koitto (SKS, 1989).

Exercises with Key for Self-Study

In the summer of 2007 an independent exercises section with a key was added. Today (as of 2010) there are some sixty exercises covering the various fields of Old Literary Finnish. Approximately two-thirds of the exercises were designed by Laila Lehikoinen for her courses. They can be found either in her A4-size course material publication Kirjasuomen historiaa (’History of Literary Finnish’) or in the textbook Kirjasuomen kehitys (‘Development of Literary Finnish’) by Silva Kiuru and Laila Lehikoinen (Department of Finnish, University of Helsinki, 1st ed. 1989, 2nd ed. 1998). The authors have given me permission to use their exercises in Vvks. The rest of the exercises have been designed by me, and they are based on the Vvks material. I have also written the key to all sixty of the exercises. The base texts from sources other than Vvks have been rewritten by Johanna Eerikäinen.

Using exercises (and base texts) designed by a colleague has an important pedagogical aspect: the peculiarities and grammar of the text samples in Vvks have been explained in the links, while exercises based on other texts force the student to apply the skills that he/she has acquired through Vvks. For students and teachers alike, the exercise section provides a tool for testing their knowledge of Old Finnish.

New, relevant exercises will be added to the website when the text section has been expanded with 18th century samples. This is planned to take place in 2011.