Finnish: Anteeksi …

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:

11 thoughts on “Finnish: Anteeksi …

  1. I was mistaken for a local on a bus in Helsinki by an elderly lady once. She just launched into a conversation with me in Finnish. I didn’t even know how to say, “I’m sorry I don’t speak Finnish,” so I had to just smile and shake my head like the dumb tourist I was. Wonder if it was that I was blonde at the time? Or just that most tourists didn’t ride the local bus.

  2. I lived in Finland for a few years and adore the language. I loved that the rules for pronunciation didn’t change. Letters are always pronounced in the same way and the first syllable is always stressed hardest. Makes up for the grammar being so very complicated!

  3. I plan to study one year in Finland, so I started to learn a little bit of Finnish. It’s a beautiful and logical language, really nice to talk and to learn.

  4. Dana: that’s so weird.. Usually Finns never talk in public transport, not even to each other. Having a local spontaneously talk to a tourist is pretty much un hear of 😀 Might also be that you visited the city during a less tourist-friendly season, so the woman didn’t think there could be tourists in a bus.

  5. I had always heard that Finnish is related to Turkish—apparently both are part of the Uralic family you mention. Fascinating how we can see the history of human migrations in the languages.

  6. I’m a Finn, and it really seems somehow strange that someone could find our language cool. 😀

    I’ve always found it somehow ugly and opt for English nowadays.

    Although the fact that it’s an agglutinative language is nice. Playing around with prefixes and suffixes etc is an art in itself in Finnish.

    As for how it being an agglutinative language affects, at least books that have been translated into Finnish from, for example, English, tend to be considerably longer than the original work was in English…

  7. there are actually many languages in this family (uralic). there are only three (finnish, hungarian, estonian) outside of russia. the rest (ex: karelian, khalmyk, ect) are still on the european continent, but inside russia autonomous regions (ex: karelia, khalmykia, etc). just fyi.

    finnish is a very cool language; beautiful and complex. nice song.

  8. “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.”

    Huh? As Noel pointed out, there are up to 40 languages that are referred to as Uralic with some 25 million speakers.

    @ Jenny. Turkish isn’t a Uralic language. It is a Turkic language.

    Where do you people get your information from?

  9. I too am Finnish and very impressed and touched by your kind words of my language. 🙂 I love Finnish, but I thought it was only because I am Finnish and VERY patriotic 🙂
    BTW, There are several other Finno-Ugric languages too… even in Europe and not just some dying minorities in Russia. But I’m sure you know that by now, at least 😀
    I took it to mean that there are only three Uralic languages that are spoken as the national, official majority language in any country, and those are Finnish, Estonian and Hungary. Sami is an official language in Finland and Sweden, perhaps even in Norway now-a-days, but it is a minority language.
    But – Finnish is cool 🙂 Even Tolkien thought so 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s