Yes, that is what I assumed. I have never heard about "a small language" in English before, so when this sentence came up I wondered if it was equally strange in Finnish. Until a native speaker chimes in, I am going to assume "pieni kieli" is something one might hear often... and it refers to number of speakers a language has, not the size of its lexicon.
Doing some research into what dakkus2 says below, I found this article. I really like how you can see each language's origins as well as their relative "size."
"Suomi on pieni kieli" is a phrase commonly - and erroneously - repeated in Finland.
Finnish is among the most spoken 5% of languages on this planet, so it's a bit misleading calling it small. But, that's something that gets constantly repeated in Finland, so it defends its place on Duolingo.
Do you have anything to back that up? Not that I don't believe there are a gazillion tiny languages to count in the lower 95%, but Finnish does not make it into the top 100 most-spoken languages list, where you can find Sylheti, Camaroonian Pidgin, Sadri, Deccan, Chittagonian, Asamese, Chhattisgarhi (#72), Saraiki (#65), Odia (#40), and many other languages you probably didn't know existed.
There are about 7000 languages. Top 100 of them is the top 1,4 %. You can see that already with about 12 million speakers a language fits in the top 1,4 %. Seems quite clear that Finnish, with about 6 million speakers, will then fit within the top 5% (in other words: top 350) quite easily.
There's surely a top 300 list somewhere, but I cannot find it with the phone I've currently got in my hands.
Yes, that makes total sense. You are right! I think one of the reasons why Finnish is popular is that it is linked to a European country with rich cultural heritage. Some of those languages on the top 100 list I could not even pronounce their names, much less guess where they are spoken. At least I know the names of most of the African countries, and if I had a jigsaw puzzle I could put it together fairly quickly. But I'm not familiar with their languages, nor those of Indian states. Hindi is NOT universally spoken in India!
Other reasons why Finnish is popular? For me, the sound of it! I love how it sounds! Then I find it interesting because it's a Uralic language, not part of the Indo-European family (though now they say they are closer to one another than they are to any other family).
The word "theory", used by Mamemimomu here, is a bit misleading.
Finnish and Hungarian are from the same language family, and are related to each other in the same manner as Russian is related to English,
An English speaker mostly cannot recognize Russian words, but the grammar is mostly the same. For example, the Indo-European anomaly of separating people to "he" and "she" exists in both English and Russian. Also, in English you say "a lot of cake" instead of "a lot in cake" or "a lot cake". This works the same way in Russian grammar - you use the genitive ending with "mnogo" ("a lot"). Etc.
The similarities between Finnish and Hungarian go about the same way. Here some example words in English - Hungarian - Finnish:
House - Ház - Talo
In a house - Házben - Talossa
My house - Házom - Taloni
In my house - Házomben - Talossani
So, you can see that in Finnish and Hungarian we have an ending for "my" and we have an ending for "in". And, in both Finnish and Hungarian, we can add the words for "my" and "in" after each other, to form an ending meaning "in my". And, while in Indo-European languages the different forms are often glued kind of "inside" each other, in Uralic languages they are glued to each others' ends. For example, the German articles "das", "die" and "der" don't get conjugatge into "dasem", "dier" and "derem" in dative, but instead the endings -em and -er are put "inside" the words "das", "die" and "der", forming "dem", "der" and "der"!
Just like English and Russian grammars are very similar, and you basically just have to learn new ways to express the grammar you already know, thus making Russian a far easier language to learn for an English-speaker than Finnish is, Hungarian grammar is a piece of cake for me as a native speaker of another Uralic language, Finnish.
Also note that the Finnish endings are ordered -ssa-ni, (in-my), while Hungarians put them in the opposite order -om-ben (my-in). Finnish and Hungarian are about as far away from each other as possible withing the spectrum of Uralic languages, and that's easy to see. There are many similar words, and if you make an effort, you can even create a whole sentence that sounds essentially the same in Finnish and Hungarian:
A living fish swims under the ice - Eleven hal úszkál a jég alatt - Elävä kala ui jään alla.
(Mind you, almost all old words that have had /k/ in them in Finnish, now have /h/ in Hungarian. Kala -> Hal is not the only example of this phenomenon!)
We Finns and Hungarians have much harder time learning French, Turkish or Arabic grammar than each others grammars.
Hi there! I am a native Hungarian and there is a theory that Hungarian is part of the Finno-Ugric language family. If you listen to some Hungarian speaking then you will hear it sounds very similarly to Finnish. I can tell you that their grammar is somewhat similar too. For me it is extremely easy to pronounce and learn Finnish. I love its sound and it is nice and funny to listen to it. However, I do not understand the unknown words but once I learned them, I can easily distinguish them in spoken text. I started to learn Finnish because I am watching Sorjonen series (with Hungarian subtitles) :) Hyvä Suomi! :)
Thanks for your explanation, dakkus2. Kiitos :) I like your point of view very much :) Take a lingot from me. (Lingot, ole hyvä.) Let me add another grammatical similarity. Hungarians and Finns form "to have" the same way: minulla on - nekem van (on=van=is) and so on :)
I don't think it makes any more sense in Finnish than it does in English. It's not a common expression, but apparently used - in both languages - sometimes in the lack of a better, simple way of saying that a language isn't widely spoken. But it definitely sounds rather weird, and personally I hadn't come across it before.
I would say that none of these is wrong. The latter sentence is a bit clumsy. In English your sentences would be: "Is the Estonian language small?" "Is the Estonian language a small language?" Both in Finnish and English it sounds irrelevant to repeat the word "language". The best choice is the sentence that is proposed by Duolingo: "Onko viro pieni kieli?", and that is a direct translation of "Is Estonian a small language?"
They can click this chat open. Or try to figure out with logic, which is the best way to gain deeper cultural insight.
The whole "we are so very small and insignificant" is a very elementary part of contemporary Finnish culture. It's very visible in things like city planning and national politics. For example, Helsinki is un many ways planned with the same ideas as a 30 000 inhabitant city would be developed in Germany, because Finns have - for understandable historical reasons - difficulty accepting that there might be something big/great/awesome in Finland.
"Finnish is a small language" is a cultural concept that a learner of Finnish ought to understand.
It doesn't make much sense in Finnish either. I am native Finnish speaker and can't much any grammar, I learn by listening and repeating so can't tell you about grammar issues. I would need to know what the translators wanted to say with this sentence to get it right, but generally what I have noticed there are few words translated a little wrong way or left some words away that would lead to the right meaning.