Finnish (suomi in Finnish) is a language belonging to the Finnic branch of the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic language family. It is not an Indo-European language. Its closest linguistic relatives are the Estonian, Karelian, and Sámi languages. It is also somewhat distantly related to Hungarian and several minor languages spoken in northern Russia.
Altogether about six million people speak Finnish. It is spoken in Finland as an official language, as a minority language in Sweden (mainly in Northern Sweden and Stockholm), in the Russian Federation (in the Republic of Karelia and the province of Leningrad), in northern Norway (Finnmark) and in Finnish immigrant communities in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada.
The Language Structure
The language is structured mostly in the fashion of Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) like in English, but it also might go Object-Subject-Verb, Verb-Subject-Object or Object-Verb-Subject, as the word order is very flexible in Finnish. However its little quirks like the fashion of the prepositions (in Finnish, they are actually postpositions), vowel harmony and the absence of articles and sometimes pronouns, make it seem like a mishmash of consonants and vowels. For example the phrase “I am in the car” changes to “(I) am car|in”, “olen autossa”.
Differences between spoken and written Finnish
There is a significant difference between formal written Finnish and colloquial spoken Finnish. Most Finns, especially the younger generation, speak the language in an informal way, and while the differences between colloquial Finnish and formal Finnish aren't enormous, it can be difficult to develop a natural conversational style purely based on literary study. In practice, you will be understood without difficulty, but one should not expect the conversation of native speakers to match the precise grammatical fashion in which the language is taught. See also the slangs and accents of Finnish.
Finnish, like most languages, has "borrowed" words from other languages. However, many have been altered in the process of nativization to the extent that they may not even be recognizable. Finnish grammar does not allow words to end in any consonants other than a single 's', 'n', 't', 'l' or 'r', so in borrowing, a vowel is often added, e.g. vokaali. In addition, if the preceding consonant is geminate, it is borrowed as such, e.g. konsonantti.
Also, Finnish does not differentiate voiced-unvoiced pairs like 'b' and 'p', or 'g' and 'k', although newer loans preserve the spelling, if not the pronunciation. Foreign spelling idiosyncrasies such as the letter 'c' are rarely used. Consonant clusters are usually removed in older loans. For example, strand → ranta. Phonemic long vowels may be added, e.g. laki < lag (Swedish, cf. English "law"), but laaki < slag (Swedish, cf. English "slay").
- baari, pubi – bar, pub
- bussi – bus (the proper word is linja-auto)
- dieetti – diet
- elefantti – elephant (though the more Finnish, but equally used word is norsu)
- euro – euro (currency used in Finland)
- pankki – bank
- paperi – paper
- posti – post office
- radio – radio
- sekki (or shekki) – cheque
- shampoo (or sampoo) – shampoo
- tee – tea
- televisio – television
- turisti – tourist (although turisti is an international word, the more local word being matkailija)
Some of the false friends can be similar to Swedish, an example is appelsiini that is similar to the Norwegian and Swedish appelsin meaning orange (think of it as an apple from China). There aren't many false friends in Finnish, but beware, because there are a few!
- ale – sale, not "ale"
- appelsiini – orange, not "apple"
- dokumentti – both documentary and document
- greippi – grapefruit, not "grape"
- kinkkinen – tricky, not "kinky"
- kudos - tissue (as in muscle tissue), not "kudos"
- he – they, not "he"
- me – we, not "me"
- motoristi – motocyclist, not "motorist"
- viina – liquor, not "wine"
- likööri - liqueur, not "liquor"
Exercise Number One
Figure out what these Finnish words are in English. You will find the answers at the back of the book.
Exercise Number Two
These are more difficult. Many of them are loans from languages other than English but they still bear some similarity to their English translations.