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News, 4/3/2013

Day of Mikael Agricola – Finnish Language Day

Finland celebrates on 9 April Mikael Agricola and the Finnish language. Who was Mikael Agricola?

Youth years of Agricola

Mikael Agricola was born around 1510 in a wealthy peasant family. Already at an early age, he was so talented that his teacher persuaded his parents to send him to a school in Vyborg. At the age of 18, he became a clerk of the Bishop of Turku, Martti Skytte. Thanks to Agricola, the most remarkable religious reforms were carried out in Finland. He studied at the University of Wittenberg in Germany at the time of Martti Luther. After completing his studies, Agricola was chosen the Rector of the Cathedral School in Turku.

Literary work

Creating religious literature in the Finnish language became an entire life-work for Agricola, as according to the principles of Luther, everyone was entitled to the ability of reading the Bible in their own language. Agricola started to translate the New Testament into Finnish already in Wittenberg and it was published in 1548 under the name ’Se Wsi Testamentti’. Five years prior to that, he had already published the first book in the Finnish language, ‘Abckiria’, which consisted of the basics of reading and the Christian doctrine. A grand goal of Agricola was to translate the entire Bible into Finnish but he has no funding for it. He, however, translated various parts of the Old Testament in a number of books and he also wrote church manuscripts for the church services.

Father of the written language

In his translation work, Agricola actually had to create the written language in Finnish as at that time there still was no standard way of writing Finnish and there was no printed Finnish literature available. Sometimes he had to create suitable words for issues and items which did not even exist yet in the Finnish language at that time. For example, he is the creator of the Finnish words ‘hallitus’ (‘government’), ‘esikuva’ (‘example’) and ‘käsikirjoitus (’manuscript’).

There is no single opinion of the mother tongue of Agricola. According to the researchers of the Finnish language, he mastered Finnish so perfectly that he simply had to be Finnish-speaking. According to some historians, the childhood environment of Agricola in Pernaja was purely Swedish-speaking so based on that, he had to be Swedish-speaking. However, he must have learnt Finnish in any case at school in Vyborg at the latest.

Peace negotiator

Agricola was appointed the Bishop of Turku in 1554. At that time, there were some constant arguments about the border between Sweden and Russia and the King of Sweden of the time, Gustavus Wasa, made attempts to negotiate for the peace. Agricola was part of the peace negotiations committee sent to Moscow in 1557. During his return trip from Moscow, Agricola suddenly died of an attack of illness.

Photo Leena Maria Heikkola/Agricola 2007


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Updated 4/2/2013

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