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I am translating a book into my own language, and I have encountered the sentence like this:

Most of modern Finland still lay beneath the sea, which means that the first settlers must have arrived from the south and the south-east. It cannot be known for certain what language these nomads spoke and expert opinion is still divided on the matter. Some maintain that Finnish, which is not an Indo-European but a Uralic language, has been spoken in Finland for only the last 1,500 years.
— "A History of Finland" / HENRIK MEINANDER/ page 2

I cannot catch the meaning of the first sentence. I add 2 more sentence in order to make context clear. I have 2 variants:

Firstly, I thinks it is related to existence of many lakes in Finland. My second variant is that in the past Finland was called suomi, land of swamps. Is the author implying this?

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    I assume you should take it literally. The area of land that is now called "Finland" was at that time under the sea, probably due to sea level changes. There's no special use of English, can you explain why you think it could mean anything else?
    – James K
    Jun 21 at 19:27
  • In the sentence “modern Finland” is written, but nowadays Finland is not under the water. If it is related to the past why author use "still" in the sentence?
    – Shabnam
    Jun 21 at 19:40
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    Meinander is a (Swedish-speaking) Finnish professor, I think it is quite likely that his Finlands historia was translated into English by someone with less than perfect fluency. I would have probably written 'Most of what is now Finland still lay beneath the sea', and left out 'modern' altogether. Jun 21 at 19:41
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    'Still lay' - in the past (see tense of 'lay'). 'Still' can apply to a time in the past. In 1492, Christopher Columbus was using a fork to eat, when most Europeans were still eating with their fingers. I made that up as an illustration. A real one: For members of the Allied forces who were still serving overseas on VE Day, the occasion was bittersweet.. Jun 21 at 20:30
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    Was still, is still, will still be, all are OK. The word is not limited to present situations. Jun 21 at 20:37

2 Answers 2

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A common thing in English is to leave out phrases that "should" be understood. "Should" in scare quotes because even native speakers can often be confused. (I don't have enough experience with any other language to know if it happens in other languages, but I expect it does.)

Try to re-write the sentence as follows.

  • Most of (what would become) modern Finland still lay beneath the sea, which means that the first settlers (who could not have come from the directions requiring crossing over water) must have arrived from the south and the south-east.

That is, the bits in ( ) are to be understood. Now it is understandable. But also, now it is very long. Writing a good sentence is often a difficult balance between length and ease of understanding.

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To build a bit on the comments, "still" is not limited to situations involving the present. It may apply to situations in the past or future.

He will still love her after she leaves

means that his love will persist after her future leaving.

He still loved her after she left

means that his love persisted in the past, at least for a while, after her past leaving.

So the sense in your sentence is that parts of Finland had been under water before the first settlers arrived and remained under water after they arrived.

The sentence means

When the first settlers arrived, only the parts of [modern] Finland in the South and Southeast were above sea level. Consequently, those settlers must have come from those directions.

I agree with those that view "modern" as somewhat redundant, but it does not strike me as offensive. It is emphasizing that the Finland of the remote past and the Finland of the present are strikingly different geographically.

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  • I am thankful for your help!
    – Shabnam
    Jun 22 at 17:08

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