HELSINKI — Quick, what is the Latin for the Commonwealth of Independent States--and why are the Finns even asking?
Radio Finland wants to know. It is keeping alive on international airwaves what is generally considered a dying language.
Every week, Radio Finland transmits "Nuntii Latini," a five-minute news bulletin, to all corners of the world.
"It's a gimmick, but a good gimmick. It's brought us a lot of fame, and many interesting people listen to us," said Juhani Niinisto, head of external services at the Finnish Broadcasting Co.
Radio Finland receives letters each week from students, teachers, priests, nuns and others, from China to Harvard University.
Pope John Paul II praised the program after he heard a cassette of "Nuntii Latini" last year. The Vatican broadcasts programs in Latin, but not the news.
The Finnish Broadcasting Co. was the first to begin regular radio news bulletins in Latin, said producer Hannu Taanila, who started the programs in September, 1989.
Taanila had asked Reijo Pitkaranta, a Latin lecturer at the University of Helsinki, to translate a speech for a joke.
But Taanila said he was told "Latin is very much alive, contrary to what I had believed."
Taanila proposed a Latin news bulletin on the domestic radio service, but was turned down because so few Finns study Latin.
"So, I just inserted it into my weekly arts review program on a regular basis," said Taanila. "It was a cultural deed and I have not regretted it."
Two months later, Niinisto started broadcasting the program on the international service, over short, medium and long waves.
When Finland Broadcasting managers learned how popular it was, they gave Latin news its own slot on the domestic service in autumn of 1990.
Tuomo Pekkanen, a University of Jyvaskyla professor, helps Pitkaranta compile the program.
"It forces us to find Latin expressions for new concepts," Pekkanen said. A recent challenge was the name of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which replaced the Soviet Union.
"We came up with 'Communitas rerum publicarum independentium,' which I think is pretty good. It's a bit long, but then it's long in any language," Pekkanen said.