I have a question about sweet bread.

I have a question about sweet bread.

I have a question about sweet bread. I am Finnish American and where I live in Maine there are many folks of Finnish descent. In this county we all call the sweet braids 'nissua', but farther north they call them 'pulla'. Why is that?

Answer

Whether Finnish Americans say nisu or pulla most probably depends on when their ancestors left Finland.

In the 19th century nisu used to mean wheat. This meaning is now obsolete. Sweet wheat bread was also called nisu, and still is in western and northern dialects of Finnish.

Pulla is a loan word from Finland Swedish bulla (in Sweden they say bulle). Both Swedish words mean a small, round bun style pulla. In Finnish pulla is the general term for braided loaves, small bun-like pullas and any shape a kitchen artist may create.

The word pulla was introduced to Finnish in the early 20th century. In the 19th century the Swedish word bulle was usually translated as kakku or kakko (yes, the same as the English word cake!).

If we look at a map showing the regions most Finns came from, the colored western and northern areas are roughly where the dialectal nisu is still used for pulla; the whole Lapland should be included in a nisu map: http://hyl.edu.hel.fi/sivut/Jarmo/swork/98/heikki/siirto4.HTML (the blacker the region the more emigrants)

So, nisu really was the word most emigrants used even after pulla became popular.

It seems that the word current at the time of immigration is often still used in the family:
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/4168/finnish-nisu-aka-pulla (a nice photo of three braided loaves included)
http://www.murielanderson.com/recipes.html (scroll down the list of recipes and you'll find Finnish Coffee Bread)

(The history of the word pulla is in Kaisa Häkkinen's book Nykysuomen etymologinen sanakirja, WSOY 2004)

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