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Ari Meriläinen: News in Latin – created by fluke and lasted thirty years

Potretti Ari Meriläisestä
Potretti Ari Meriläisestä Yle,ari meriläinen

For many, Nuntii Latini has been a surprise element in Yle’s programming during its thirty years. First, it took the powers that be at Yle by surprise, and caused some apprehension. This is what usually happens to good ideas. Now, after thirty years, it is time to thank the creators and listeners of the news in Latin.

For Latinists both in Finland and across the globe, Nuntii Latini has been a refreshing memento of a language no longer in active use. It has proven to the listeners that Latin is still a vibrant thread in the fabric of our culture.

The final broadcast of Nuntii Latini will be on 14 June on Yle Radio 1.

The programme came to be through a stroke of luck. The father of the idea was journalist and cultural figure Hannu Taanila. Other important figures were his organist wife and her sisters, a wine club in the town of Rovaniemi, and a number of coincidences.

A key person is also Reijo Pitkäranta, at the time adjunct professor in Latin at the University of Helsinki, who has been the editor of the programme throughout its thirty years. He came on board without thinking too much, and translated Hannu Taanila’s festive address to a wine club in Rovaniemi into Latin. After the speech, Taanila (who basically did not know Latin at all) was inspired to ask: “Would it be possible to write the news in Latin?”

The answer was “yes” – and the rest is history.

Nuntii Latini was an unparalleled innovation.

Tuomo Pekkanen, professor emeritus from the University of Jyväskylä and Virpi Seppälä-Pekkanen, joined Reijo Pitkäranta to see the programme through from the beginning to the end: thirty years of weekly newscasts in Latin, all year round, with just a short break in the summer.

Moreover, the news in Latin has been a major institution among Latinists. The programme has involved a great number of contributors, mainly Latinists at university level. In recent years, the programme has been the handiwork of close to ten people.

The news broadcasts on Friday nights have had a loyal audience of about 40,000 listeners. Over the radio waves, they have from the very start also had listeners all over the world. There has been lively correspondence, and even the pope has sent the programme creators his thanks.

In the beginning, the news was also published as books. Since then, the Internet and Yle Areena have made the programme more easily accessible overseas and attracted thousands of new listeners. It has an active weekly audience of 600–800 listeners and, every week, a few hundred users browse the multilingual Latin glossaries that make the news easier to follow.

Nuntii Latini's material will be kept available for Latin enthusiasts and students.

Lately, Nuntii Latini was in the limelight in the Italian broadcaster Rai1’s popular prime-time quiz L’Eredità. The participants were asked if Nuntii Latini was a programme from the public broadcasting company of the Vatican City State, Germany, Andorra or Finland. It was not an easy question.

Six years ago, the New York Times ran a big article about the programme’s history, The interesting article included an interview with professor emeritus Tuomo Pekkanen. Towards the end, the otherwise factual article veered off track when the American journalist claimed that the programme, launched in 1989, was linked to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the walls around Eastern Europe, and indicated the turning of Finland’s towards the West. Latin had long been Finland’s link to Western culture as many other major European languages, but not in any political way when Sovien Union collapsed.

O tempora, o mores!

Howsoever it may be, Nuntii Latini has been more or less unique – in terrarum orbe unicum – and worthy of all its international acclaim. It has given Finland credit as a land of innovation and Yle as an intrepid public broadcaster. For thirty years, it has given Latinists all over the world – at both schools and universities – a top notch service.

An extraordinary cultural feat.

Ari Meriläinen, producer
yle.fi/nuntii

The commenting of this opinion is exceptionally closed because the author is on annual leave.