HELSINKI, Finland — For nearly three decades, Finland’s YLE radio has broadcast a weekly news program in Latin to a small group of committed listeners around the globe.
By broadcasting radio news in Latin, “Finland has done something that had earlier been experimented with only in the Vatican in the 1930s,” wrote Latin professors Christian Laes from the University of Antwerp and Dirk Sacre from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in an op-ed article published recently in Finland’s leading daily, Helsingin Sanomat.
With the audience numbering just 10,000 and people increasingly turning to the internet for content, Friday was meant to be the end of the road for “Nuntii Latini,” which means “news in Latin.” But don’t underestimate the passion of Latin aficionados — more than 3,000 of them wrote in from around the globe, some in fluent Latin, encouraging the station to save the program.
YLE leadership listened, agreeing to extend it until at least its 30th anniversary in 2019.
“Ne umquam desperaveris,” (loosely translated: “never give up,”) said co-announcer Reijo Pitkaranta, a docent and lecturer in Latin at the University of Helsinki.
He’s one of the original creators of the five-minute program that hit the airwaves in 1989 and has ever since inspired Latin students, academics and language lovers around the globe, from China and Vietnam all the way to Belgium and the United States.
One listener based in Thailand, who signed a letter to the station as CJ Hinke, said he became aware of “Nuntii Latini” through listening to shortwave radio broadcasts while he was living on a remote island off the Pacific coast of Canada.
“I began to teach Latin to our 4- and 6-year old children, and about the world through Latin,” he wrote. “‘Nuntii Latini’ gave my children the lesson of being a world citizen, of caring about our past, where we came from.”
Though the program has always been broadcast for small audiences, Lauri Kivinen, director general for YLE, Finland’s national radio and television broadcaster, says the station was taken aback by the passionate feedback. YLE also provides news in English, Finnish, Swedish, Russian and the indigenous Sami language spoken in the northern parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.
“It’s not just about the language,” Kivinen says, acknowledging the special nature of “Nuntii Latini,” which tackles both domestic and international issues. “It is also a question of the perspective that is brought to issues by expressing them in Latin. And it’s very much about culture and education.”
Latin is generally considered Europe’s own mother tongue, as it forms the basis of the Romance languages and has contributed many words to English and German, too. After the Roman Empire collapsed, Latin developed into French, Italian, Spanish and other languages.
There is currently plenty of Latin to be heard on Vatican Radio since any Mass celebrated by Pope Francis will feature at least some prayers if not entire Gospel readings in Latin.
It’s the official language of the Vatican, and the pope recently praised the teaching of Latin to young people, saying it can help them navigate “the path of life.” Nevertheless, Latin isn’t one of the 39 languages Vatican Radio regularly uses.
Though far from Rome geographically, Finland — a Nordic country of 5.5 million — has wholeheartedly embraced Latin in recent years, with a full-scale opera and Elvis Presley songs being performed in the language.
Local experts believe Finns are attracted to Latin due to its grammar and that it’s pronounced much like it is written – a clear similarity to Finnish, a Finno-Ugric language that has no relation to Latin.
“I think it’s wonderful if the program inspires someone into getting acquainted with Latin language that is the basis of our European culture,” YLE’s Kivinen said.
Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this article.