Finnish - interesting facts


Finnish, known as 'Suomi' to its native speakers, is a captivating language rich in history and cultural nuances. Native to about 5.4 million people, it constitutes approximately 0.08% of the world's population, placing it beyond the top 100 most spoken languages globally, considering the number of native speakers.

Officially recognized in Finland, Finnish also holds the status of a national minority language in Sweden and the Republic of Karelia, a region in northwestern Russia. This establishes its influence beyond its native borders, carving out a distinctive linguistic niche in these territories.

As a member of the Uralic language family, Finnish's development trajectory traces back to modern times. Before the Middle Ages, Finnish primarily existed as a spoken language, devoid of a formal written counterpart. This changed thanks to Bishop Mikael Agricola, who in the 16th century undertook the monumental task of translating religious texts into Finnish. His work culminated in the publication of 'Abckirja' in 1543, a primer regarded as the first book written in Finnish, significantly shaping the language's normalization and spelling.

Characterized by a rich tapestry of dialects, Finnish is divided into three main groups: northern, western, and eastern. The discrepancies span from phonetics to vocabulary, with substantial differences observed between the official language and the colloquial speech, primarily based on the Helsinki dialect. The Finnish language standards are meticulously regulated by the Research Institute of Languages of Finland, which standardizes all languages employed within the country.

Finnish's role as one of the official languages of the European Union further underscores its importance on the global stage.

Grammatically, Finnish is classified among the agglutinative languages, where suffixes attach to the root of a word. As a result, the meaning encapsulated in a single Finnish word often requires multiple words to express in Indo-European languages. One example is 'vaimollenikin,' which translates to 'also for my wife' in Polish.

Furthermore, Finnish grammar boasts a robust case system with up to 15 noun cases and no grammatical gender. An interesting feature is the usage of the third-person singular pronoun 'hän,' which corresponds to both 'he' and 'she' in English.

In Finnish, the stress consistently falls on the first syllable of a word. An intriguing example of Finnish word formation is the 61-letter word 'lentokone-suihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas,' meaning "an engineer trainee specializing in aircraft jet engines" in English.

Lastly, while the Finnish alphabet includes the letter 'å,' it appears only in words borrowed from Swedish. Interestingly, this letter has become a symbol of opposition against mandatory Swedish learning in Finnish schools, given that Swedish also holds official language status in Finland.


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Finnish - a short history and genesis

Finnish belongs to the group of Finnish languages, which in their history have had influences from both the East and West. Many scientists believe that Finnish is rooted in the Baltic languages, but this is still debatable. During the 19th century, there was a large increase in interest in the Finnish language, contributing to its standardization and development as a literary language.


Finnish - grammar and structure

Finnish grammar is renowned for its complexity and uniqueness, setting it apart from other Indo-European languages. Unlike many other languages, Finnish has no grammatical genders or articles. Instead, cases are crucial in determining the relationships between nouns, adjectives, and pronouns. Finnish has an impressive 15 cases, each with its own unique function and usage. Furthermore, Finnish words can be exceptionally long, consisting of multiple elements combined to form a specific structure. This aspect of the Finnish language can be both fascinating and challenging for learners. However, mastering the intricacies of Finnish grammar can be a rewarding experience, allowing one to appreciate this unique language's beauty fully.


Finnish - Sound and Pronunciation

The Finnish language is known for its logicality and consistency, especially in its phonetics and pronunciation, offering a stark contrast to English's more complex and irregular phonetic rules.

In terms of the alphabet, Finnish uses a Latin-script system similar to English but with three additional vowels: ä, ö, and å. The first two represent distinct phonemes, while 'å' appears only in words of Swedish origin and is pronounced like the English 'o' in 'hot'. Unlike in English, each Finnish letter corresponds to one sound only, which is a great help for learners.

Finnish phonetics are characterized by vowel harmony, a system in which vowels are divided into two groups - front vowels (ä, ö, y) and back vowels (a, o, u) - and a single word typically does not mix vowels from these groups. This is in contrast to English, where no such rules exist.

Finnish pronunciation is also distinguished by its lack of diphthongs, which are common in English. Whereas in English a vowel sound can change within the same syllable, in Finnish, all vowel and consonant sounds, even those within a diphthong, are pronounced separately.

Another notable feature is the Finnish stress pattern. Unlike English, where stress placement can be unpredictable and change the meaning of a word, Finnish always stresses the first syllable.

Finnish also uses double letters, both vowels and consonants, to indicate a longer sound duration. In English, double letters often don't affect the sound length, as in 'letter' vs 'later'.

Furthermore, Finnish lacks the 'sh' and 'ch' sounds familiar to English speakers, and the letter 'r' is rolled.

Finally, Finnish does not have a 'z' sound; instead, 'z' is pronounced like 's'. This is opposite to English, where 's' often sounds like 'z', as in 'rose'.


Finnish - influence on English

Finnish and English belong to two distinct language families - Uralic and Germanic, respectively - which means the intersection between them is relatively scarce. However, English has borrowed a handful of words from Finnish that are associated with Finland's culture and geography.

One such example is "sauna," a term adopted internationally, not just by English. Originating from the Finnish tradition of steam baths, the word "sauna" has become synonymous with relaxation and wellness worldwide.

Another example is "sisu," a Finnish concept expressing a mentality of stoic determination and resilience. While not a commonplace word in English, it has been recognized in Finnish culture and character discussions.

The word "rally," as in rally racing, also has Finnish origins, given the country's prominence in the sport. However, it's important to note that most English speakers wouldn't be aware of these Finnish origins.

Although the Finnish influence on English is not extensive, these words reflect Finland's cultural import and ability to convey unique concepts and traditions to the rest of the world.


Finnish - learning and teaching

Finnish is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world due to its unique grammar and complicated case system. Learning Finnish can be challenging, but it is also a fascinating adventure for many people. Many scholarship and student exchange programs offer Finnish language study in Finland, an excellent opportunity for students from Poland and other countries to deepen their knowledge of the Finnish language and culture.


Finnish Literature

Finnish literature has its roots in folk literature, and its origins date back to the 19th century. It was then that the first Finnish literary works began to be created, mainly to shape the national identity. One of the most important authors of this period was Elias Lönnrot, who collected Finnish folk songs and created an epic poem, "Kalevala" from them. This work has become a symbol of Finnish culture and is considered one of the most important works in the history of Finnish literature.

In the 20th century, Finnish literature developed in various directions. In the 1950s and 1960s, many works touched on social and political issues, reflecting the difficult period of change in Finnish society. Experimental works began to appear in the 1970s and 1980s, referring to the postmodern trend.

Contemporary Finnish literature is primarily diverse and experimentation with different literary genres. The most famous authors include Arto Paasilinna, Tove Jansson and Sofi Oksanen. Their works have gained recognition at home and abroad, primarily due to their originality and unique approach to literature.

Poetry also plays an important role in Finnish literature. Many Finnish poets such as Eeva-Liisa Manner, Paavo Haavikko and Pentti Saarikoski have gained international recognition. These poets often refer to Finnish nature and landscapes and explore emotions and human experiences.

Finnish literature is also often translated into different languages so that Finnish writers can reach readers worldwide. It is worth noting that in the last few years, several translations of the works of Finnish authors have appeared in Poland, which may indicate the interest of Polish readers in this literature.


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Essential Finnish Dictionary




yes kyllä
no ei
please ole hyvä
thank you kiitos
I'm sorry anteeksi
good morning hyvää huomenta
good evening hyvää iltaa
goodbye hyvää yötä
good night näkemiin
hi hei
how are you?  Miten menee?
well Kiitos, hyvin.
My name is... Nimeni on...
I don't understand En ymmärrä.



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