"The living fish"

Johanna Laakso johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at
Sat Feb 4 17:20:22 UTC 2006

Dear fellow Uralists,

a few weeks ago, the UGRIMUGRI list announced a special (very interesting
and warmly recommended) "Finno-Ugric" report published in "The Economist"
na_tran=1 ). Together with the basic background information on the remote
relatedness of the Finno-Ugric languages, the story also repeated an
interesting statement:

> An Estonian philologist, Mall Hellam, came up with just one mutually
> comprehensible sentence: ³the living fish swims in water.²

Today, a docent of geography from Switzerland wrote to me and asked me to
confirm basically the same statement: a Finnish acquaintance of his had
claimed that (roughly) the same sentence ("elävä kala ui veden alla") is
comprehensible to all Finno-Ugric speakers.

The idea that this sentence (or, in an extended version of this
misunderstanding, ONLY this sentence) can be understood by all Finno-Ugrians
seems to be (developing into) a common mythologem. What interests me now is
the genesis of this idea. Does anybody, by chance, know
- who and where was the first one to use this sentence to illustrate
Finno-Ugric language relatedness (I vaguely remember reading it in "Pikku
Jättiläinen", an all-round handbook first published in 1949)
- whether this example is still being used in school textbooks or similar

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Johanna Laakso
Universität Wien € Institut für Europäische und Vergleichende Sprach- und
Literaturwissenschaft (EVSL)
Abteilung für Finno-Ugristik
Universitätscampus AAKH, Spitalg. 2-4 Hof 7, A-1090 Wien
Tel. +43 1 4277 43019 | Fax +43 1 4277 9430
johanna.laakso at univie.ac.at | http://homepage.univie.ac.at/Johanna.Laakso/

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