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The Nature of the Finnish Language

English speakers visiting any of the countries where a Romance language or Germanic language is spoken can pick out occasional words or phrases on signs or billboards. It is more dificult with the Slavic language because of the difference in the alphabet used but if one learns to the equivalents of the Cyrillic alphabet it is easy to find cognate words. But in Hungary and Finland the languages are so different from the Indo-European languages of the rest of Europe that nothing, absolutely nothing, is recognizable. Hungarian and Finnish are in another entirely different linguistic world. This is an explanation of that linguistic world.

Grammar

Finnish, along with other members of its language family Finno-Ugric such as Hungarian, Estonian and Sami, is an agglutinative language. This means that sentences are formed by adding affixes to a root word. Affixes can be prefixes, suffixes and even infixes. In the case of Finnish the affixes are suffixes. The suffixes are markers for meaning. A suffix could be for example be for past tense. A sequence of suffixes then establish modified meaning for the root word.

Nouns have cases. In English a noun can have two case forms: nominative and possessive. In Finnish there are 15 case forms for nouns.

In English there are two gender forms for third person pronouns: he and she, him and her. In Finnish there are no such gender forms. The Finnish word hän means both he and she.

There are no articles in Finnish, so a Finnish word like poika means both the boy and a boy.

Orthography (Spelling)

The orthography of a language is a matter of how careful and systematic were the people who wrote down the language. In the case of Finnish they were very careful to make Finnish spelling exact. Therefore Finnish spelling is highly phonetic. Each letter stands for one and only one sound. There are no silent letters.

Not all of the Roman letters are used in Finnish. The ones used in purely Finnish words are {a, d, e, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, y, ä, ö}. The letters not used in purely Finnish words but which might occur in foreign words used in Finland are {b, c, f, q, w, x, z}. This means that in the Finnish language the sounds corresponding to those letters do not occur.

Phonology

Vowels

There are eight vowels in Finnish, {a, ä, e, i, o, ö, u, y} and numerous diphthongs. The sounds of the vowels are:

VowelSound
aas in father
äas in fat
elike e in set
ilike i in sit
olike o in pot
ulike u in pull
ylike German ü
or French u

The diphthongs involving i as the second element are {ei, äi, yi, öi, ui, oi, ai}. Those including u as the second element are {au, eu, iu, ou}. There are two involving y as a second element {äy, öy}. And finally there are the three diphthongs {ie, yö, uo}.

Vowel Harmony

The Finnish vowels are divided into three groups: {a, o, u}, {ä, ö y} and {e, i}. Vowels of the first two groups do not occur in the same word. (Compound words do not count as the a single word.) Vowels of the third group do occur in words with vowels of either of the first two groups.

Consonants

One important aspect of the phonology of Finnish words is that the consonants p, t and k are unaspirated. The sounds of the consonants are:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ConsonantSound
plike p in sspuun
tlike t in ssteep
klike k in sskiin
dlike d in ddooor
mlike m in mmakke
nlike n in nneww
nklike nk in tthank
nglike ng in ffling
lclear l as in lane
dark l as in chuckle
rlike r in bburrr
slike s in ssisster
hlike h in hhugg
vlike v in vverry
jlike y in yyess

Consonants can be long or short. The long version of a consonant has the same sound as the short version, just extended.

Double
Consonant
Sound
ppas in top_place
ttas in flat_table
kkas in slick_kiss
mmas in room_mate
nnas in fan_noise
llas in million

Syllabification and Stress

Finnish words have syllable divisions

An open syllable is one ending in a vowel. A syllable ending in a consonant is called a closed syllable.

The stress in Finnish words is always on the first syllable. Compound words are multiple words each having their own stress.


(To be continued.)

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