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About Finnish Language

Finnish ( suomi (help·info), or suomen kieli) is the language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland (92% as of 2006[update]) and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. It is one of the official languages of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a Finnish dialect, are spoken. The Kven language, a Finnish dialect spoken in Northern Norway, is an official minority language in Norway.

Finnish is the eponymous member of the Finno-Ugric language family and is typologically between fusional and agglutinative languages. It modifies and inflects the forms of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, numerals and verbs, depending on their roles in the sentence.


Finnish is a member of the Baltic-Finnic subgroup of the Finno-Ugric group of languages which in turn is a member of the Uralic family of languages. The Baltic-Finnic subgroup also includes Estonian and other minority languages spoken around the Baltic Sea.

Finnish demonstrates an affiliation with the Uralic languages in several respects including:

  • Shared morphology:
    • case suffixes such as genitive -n, partitive -(t)a / -(t)ä (< Uralic *-ta), essive -na / -nä
    • plural markers -t and -i-
    • possessive suffixes incl. 1st person singular -ni (< Uralic *-mi), 2nd person singular -si (< Uralic *-ti).
    • various derivational suffixes
  • Shared basic vocabulary displaying regular sound correspondences with the other Uralic languages.

Several theories exist as to the geographic origin of Finnish and the other Uralic languages, but the most widely held view is that they originated as a Proto-Uralic language somewhere in the boreal forest belt around the Ural Mountains region and/or the bend of the middle Volga. The strong case for Proto-Uralic is supported by common vocabulary with regularities in sound correspondences, as well as by the fact that the Uralic languages have many similarities in structure and grammar.

The Finns are more genetically similar to their Indo-European speaking neighbors than to the speakers of the geographically close Finno-Ugric language, Sami. It has been argued that a native Finnic-speaking population therefore absorbed northward migrating Indo-European speakers who adopted the Finnic language, giving rise to the modern Finns.

According to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, Finnish is classified as a level III language in terms of learning difficulty for native English speakers.

Geographic distribution

Finnish is spoken by about six million people who reside mainly in Finland. There are also notable Finnish-speaking minorities in Sweden, Norway, Russia, Estonia, Canada, and the United States. The majority of the population of Finland, 91.51% as of 2006[update], speak Finnish as their first language. The remainder speak Swedish (5.5%), Sami (Northern, Inari, Skolt) and other languages. It has achieved some popularity as a second language in Estonia.

Official status

Finnish is one of two official languages of Finland (the other being Swedish, spoken by 5.49% of the population as of 2006) and an official language of the European Union. It enjoys the status of an official minority language in Sweden. It is also one of the working languages of the Nordic Council. Under the Nordic Language Convention, citizens of the Nordic countries speaking Finnish have the opportunity to use their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable to any interpretation or translation costs.


The Balto-Finnic languages evolved from the Proto-Finnic language after Sámi was separated from it around 1500–1000 BCE. Current models assume three or more hypothetical Proto-Finnic proto-dialects evolving over the first millennium BCE. The Baltic Finnic languages separated around the 1st century, but continued to influence each other. Therefore, the Eastern Finnish dialects are genetically Eastern Proto-Finnic, with many Eastern features, and the Southwestern Finnish dialects have many genuine Estonian influences.

Medieval period

Finland was annexed to Catholic Sweden in the Middle Ages. Prior to this, Finnish was an oral language. Even after, the language of larger-scale business was Middle Low German, the language of administration Swedish, and religious activities were held in Latin, leaving few possibilities for Finnish-speakers to use their mother tongue in situations other than daily chores.

The first known written example of Finnish comes from this era and was found in a German travel journal dating back to c.1450: Mynna tachton gernast spuho somen gelen Emyna dayda (Modern Finnish: "Minä tahdon kernaasti puhua suomen kieltä, [mutta] en minä taida"; English: "I willingly want to speak Finnish, [but] I cannot"). According to the travel journal, a Finnish bishop, whose name is unknown, was behind the above quotation.

Writing System

The first comprehensive writing system for Finnish was created by Mikael Agricola, a Finnish bishop, in the 16th century. He based his orthography on Swedish, German, and Latin. His ultimate plan was to translate the Bible, but first he had to define rules on which the Finnish standard language still relies, particularly with respect to spelling. He also invented single-handedly[clarification needed] many words such as armo meaning both "mercy" and "grace" (as in "from grace alone, not out of good works...") and vanhurskas "righteous". More than fifty percent of these words are still in use.

Agricola's written language was based on western dialects of Finnish, and his intention was that each phoneme should correspond to one letter. Yet, Agricola was confronted with many problems in this endeavour and failed to achieve uniformity. This is why he might use different signs for the same phonemes depending on the situation. For example he used dh or d to represent the voiced dental fricative /ð/ (English th in this) and tz or z to represent the geminate unvoiced dental fricative /θ/ (the th in thin). Additionally, Agricola might use gh or g to represent the voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ and either ch, c or h for /h/. For example he wrote techtin against modern spelling tehtiin.

Later others revised Agricola's work, striving for a more phonemic system. Along the way, Finnish lost some of its phonemes. The sounds /ð/ and /θ/ disappeared from the standard language, surviving only in a small rural region in Western Finland.[11] Elsewhere, traces of these phonemes persist as their disappearance gave Finnish dialects their distinct qualities. For example, /θ/ became ht or tt (e.g. meþþä → mehtä, mettä) in the eastern dialects and in some western dialects. In the standard language, however, the effect of the lost phonemes is thus:

  • /ð/ became /d/
  • /θ/ became /ts/
  • /ɣ/ became /v/ but only if the /ɣ/ appeared originally between high labial vowels, otherwise lost entirely.

Modern Finnish punctuation, along with that of Swedish, uses the colon character (:) to separate the stem of the word and its grammatical ending in some cases (such as after abbreviations), where some other alphabetic writing systems would use an apostrophe. Suffixes are required for correct grammar, so this is often applied, e.g. EU:ssa "in the EU".


In the 19th century Johan Vilhelm Snellman and others began to stress the need to improve the status of Finnish. Ever since the days of Mikael Agricola written Finnish had been used almost exclusively in religious contexts, but now Snellman's Hegelian nationalistic ideas of Finnish as a full-fledged national language gained considerable support. Concerted efforts were made to improve the status of the language and to modernize it, and by the end of the century Finnish had become a language of administration, journalism, literature, and science in Finland, along with Swedish.

The most important contributions to improving the status of Finnish were made by Elias Lönnrot. His impact on the development of modern vocabulary in Finnish was particularly crucial. In addition to compiling the Kalevala, he acted as an arbitrator in disputes about the development of standard Finnish between the proponents of western and eastern dialects, ensuring that the western dialects Agricola had preferred preserved their preeminent role, while many originally dialectical words from Eastern Finland were introduced to the standard language enriching it considerably. The first novel written in Finnish (and by a Finnish-speaker) was Seven Brothers, published by Aleksis Kivi in 1870.


The dialects of Finnish are divided into two distinct groups, the Western dialects and the Eastern dialects.[13] The dialects are almost entirely mutually intelligible and distinguished from each other by only minor changes in vowels, diphthongs and rhythm. For the most part, the dialects operate on the same phonology, grammar and vocabulary. There are only marginal examples of sounds or grammatical constructions specific to some dialect and not found in standard Finnish. Two examples are the voiced dental fricative found in Rauma dialect and the Eastern exessive case.

The classification of closely related dialects spoken outside Finland is a politically sensitive issue that has been controversial since Finland's independence in 1917. This concerns specifically the Karelian language in Russia and Meänkieli in Sweden, the speakers of which are often considered oppressed minorities. Karelian is different enough from standard Finnish to have its own orthography. Meänkieli is a northern dialect entirely intelligible to speakers of any other Finnish dialect, which achieved its status as an official minority language in Sweden for historical and political reasons regardless of the fact that Finnish is an official minority language in Sweden, too.


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