"Does that cat speak French?"
Translation:Puhuuko tuo kissa ranskaa?
I'm sure the answer is well beyond my reading level, but I'd like to have a short explanation of this anyway, even if I don't fully understand it. That looks like an inessive (-ssA) form to me, but it appears to be a verb, which so far as I know cannot take case endings.
Is it one of the many infinitive forms acting as a noun with an inessive case ending, or is there something else going on here that I don't know about?
There are five (!) infinitives in Finnish and most of them behave like nominals in certain structures. puhumassa is the inessive form of the 3rd infinitive. In the present tense, you use it for actions that that are ongoing without any interruption or for if you're in the middle of something that you would like to keep on doing it after the interruption is over. It's particularly common to use this form when someone phones you and asks how you are or what you're doing.
- Olen kävelemässä. I'm on a walk.
- Olen käymässä isän luona. I'm visiting my father.
- Matti on tanssimassa. Matti has gone/is dancing.
- Vauva on nukkumassa! The baby is sleeping!
These work pretty much the same way as some more familiar expressions that have more obvious nouns in them. :)
- Vaari on kalassa. Grandpa has gone/is fishing.
- Olemme marjassa. We're picking berries.
Thanks! I suspected something along these lines, but of course I was far from sure. I knew that there were several different infinitive forms in Finnish, but I didn't and still don't really know how they're formed or when they're used.
In some respects, it doesn't really seem all that different on the surface from how we use verbs in English - we don't have quite the variety of forms, but the "-ing" form of a verb can be a participle (adjective) or a gerund (noun), and speakers just have to detect which usage is in play in any given utterance.