There’s something about Finnish that just seems really cool. I don’t know if it’s the allure of not being widely spoken or first candidate in learning a second language or whether it’s spoken in a country with a generally cold climate. Nevertheless, we approach the language in the land of Suomi.
Finnish is spoken by about 5 million people, almost exclusively in Finland. Seems a bit isolated, doesn’t it? If you consider that Finnish is even more separated from nebula of Indo-European languages by residing in the Uralic family (there are only two others in that family), then the stage is set for intrigue.
But what about Finland in general? Well, this might surprise you, but Finland used to be part of Sweden for, oh, 600 years! From about the 1200s to 1800s Swedish influence dominated the land, as the Kingdom became a great power in northern Europe and appointed officials to govern the region. Swedish was the administrative language and feudalism was the way of life, while Finnish was used by everyday folk, local courts and for liturgy. Finland would later become a Grand Duchy of Russia after Sweden lost in the Finnish War, being under its eastern neighbor’s rule for another 100 years.
Around the mid-1800s, a wave of nationalism known as the Fennoman movement swept through Finland. One example of this is the push to make Finnish an official language, which was decreed by Czar Alexandar II. While the Russians had allowed suffrage (which was universal, as Finland was the first European state to give women the right to vote) and some rights for the Finns, they still didn’t have full autonomy. Swedish was also still the primary language, although only 1/7 spoke it. A little after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the same year Finland formally declared independence, a civil war broke about between the region’s two main parties, the White and Reds. Both were supported by Germany and Russia, respectively. The war caused many Reds, considered traitors, to be sent to internment camps, were many died from poor conditions. Even though the strain between the Whites and Reds would continue (and relations with Russia were strained), Finland became a presidential republic in 1919. After battles with Russia and Germany in WWII, Finland, suffering some land and industrial losses, boosted its economy through trade. Since then, it has become the second best place to live in the world according to recent indexes.
Finnish uses a Roman alphabet. There are a couple of letters that don’t exist in the English alphabet:
Å å – This is really a Swedish letter. It sounds like o in coat.
Ä ä – a as in cat
Ö ö – No similarities in English; sort of like an “uh” sound
Also, the Å doesn’t occur in Finnish words naturally. This has caused a bit of a controversy, as people have tried to dump mandatory Swedish, which is taught in schools.
There appears to be rising in spoken Finnish. Also, the r is trilled, which makes me love listening to it over and over. The words aren’t too terribly difficult to detect, but it could take some practice. Also, Finnish is an agglutinative language, which means prefixes are used to indicate word relationship. A long Finnish word could equal a five-word sentence in English. Hmm … that could be a good or bad thing. But we’ll find out, I suppose.
And now your Finnish treat for the day: