'I am often asked the question: 'Why did you learn the Tatar language, nobody needs it anyway?'

The column by Finn Robin Easton about why he began to learn the Tatar language

'I am often asked the question: 'Why did you learn the Tatar language, nobody needs it anyway?' Photo: in Samarkand (facebook.com)

In 2011, Finn from Helsinki Robin Easton for the first time came to Kazan and almost instantly fell in love with this city and Tatar culture. At the request of Realnoe Vremya, in the series of author columns Robin tells in detail about why he liked the capital of Tatarstan and why he decided to learn the Tatar language.

''The knowledge of Tatar opened the door for me to the logic of Turkic languages''

Many consider it useful to learn only the world's major languages: English, French or Spanish. Learning languages of small ethnicities of the world is supposedly a waste of time and money. Such languages, according to some people, have neither prestige nor direct benefit at work. But we, the linguists, study all languages. All languages of this planet are equally interesting to us — both languages of the African ethnicities and world ones. Learning languages is a good exercise for brain that improves the quality of life.

I am often asked: ''Why did you start learning the Tatar language, nobody needs it anyway?''. First, I was interested in its relation to the Finno-Ugric languages, which, in turn, are related to my native Finnish. I am interested in learning the roots of my native language. Second, I liked the pronunciation and grammar of Tatar. He was something new and exotic to me.

In general, I wanted to learn Kyrgyz before Tatar. I lived in Moscow, and next to my work there was a cafe where people from Kyrgyzstan worked. I wanted to make fun of them a little, saying a few phrases in Kyrgyz, and in the end they learned the most important phrases in Finnish and wished us enjoy our meal! However, I did not study Kyrgyz for a long time, as there were few resources about this language on the Internet. But about Tatar I found many websites and tutorials.

''We, the linguists, study all languages. All languages of this planet are equally interesting to us — both languages of the African ethnicities and world ones. Learning languages is a good exercise for brain that improves the quality of life.'' Photo: facebook.com

The knowledge of Tatar opened the door to the logic of Turkic languages, Turkic culture, history, and, of course, Muslim culture. My view of the world has expanded. I realized that the Turkic peoples live in a vast territory from Europe to Asia. When I was in Kazan, I used my Tatar almost every day talking with friends. It is much easier to meet people if you speak their native language, not the second. You have more respect for a person who knows your native language or just tries to learn it.

''I read old, printed in Finland, Tatar books, in which poems were written in two alphabets''

After Tatar, I learned Turkish and Turkic languages of Central Asia: Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek. It was very easy for me to learn these languages because their grammar is similar to Tatar. In addition, the vocabulary is almost the same, with only a small difference. I travelled around Turkey and Central Asia, where I talked a lot with locals. I just talked, read advertisements, different inscriptions on the streets and quickly learned languages. It was fun to talk to locals in these countries — they were very surprised that I could even speak basic phrases in their native language. In some parts of Central Asia you have to know the local language because they do not know Russian. In such situations, I handled it so well, speaking in a mixture of Tatar and Uzbek.

There are many Persian borrowings in Tatar and related languages. That is why I started learning Persian. It is easy to switch from one language to another when there are some common elements. I became interested in the Arabic-Persian alphabet, in which the Tatars used to write. I quickly learned the alphabet through the Tatar language — I read the old, printed in Finland, Tatar books, in which poems were written in two alphabets.

''I travelled around Turkey and Central Asia, where I talked a lot with locals. I just talked, read advertisements, different inscriptions on the streets and quickly learned languages.'' Photo: alexlevitsky.com

The knowledge of Arabic letters proved useful at work: I worked in the field of migration, where we encountered Arabic documents. I can read the documentation freely – to learn the names, dates and place names. This is a rare ability for Finland. Also at work, I communicated with clients in Turkish and Persian.

Thus, I was able to benefit from the learning of Tatar. The knowledge of this language, which is spoken by only 6 million people, was useful in communication, travel and work. Even if the language itself seems useless, it always gives you some information that you may need in the future. The most particular benefit of the Tatar language — it is the understanding of general Turkic grammar, with which you can learn any Turkic language very quickly.

By Robin Easton
Tatarstan