Monday, April 28, 2014

Language Profile: Finnish

Today we're taking a look Finnish, a member of the Uralic language family. Finnish is the official language of Finland. It is spoken by about 90% of the population in Finland, while the country's other official language, Swedish, is spoken by about 5% of the population. Finish is also recognized as a minority language in Sweden, and has many speakers in nearby Norway. 

As a member of the Uralic language family, Finnish is related to Hungarian and Estonian. Due to this, it shares some morphology and vocabulary with these Uralic languages. Its lexicon has also expanded over the centuries due to borrowing terms from other languages. The earliest additions to Finnish came from Turkic, Slavic, and Germanic languages. More recently, loanwords into Finnish have come from Swedish and English. Terms from Swedish are generally related to government and administration, while English words have more to do with popular culture such as television and literature.

Repovesi National Park in Finland
There are two varieties of Finnish used in Finland, standard Finnish and spoken Finnish. Standard Finnish is regulated by the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland and is used in formal situations. It is used in official texts, for news reports, in court, and is taught in schools. Spoken Finnish, on the other hand, is used colloquially among friends and family, and is often used in television shows.

As is true of Hungarian, Finnish is an agglutinative language that uses suffixes to modify core vocabulary into new terms. For example, the Finnish word kirja ("book") is used as a root word for many book-related things. Modifying it with different suffixes produces new meanings, such as kirjain ("letter"), kirjallisuus ("literature"), and kirjata ("to write down"). Many suffixes have specific meanings, such as -ton, which means "lack of". The word "unhappy" in Finnish is onneton, which comes from onni, meaning "happiness". 

The first Finnish writing system was created in the 16th century by a Finnish bishop named Mikael Agricola, known as the "father of literary Finnish". His writing system was based on the Swedish, German, and Latin writing systems. An updated version of this writing system is used to this day, and is based on the Swedish alphabet. The Finnish alphabet contains 29 letters: the 26 used in English with the addition of åä, and ö. However, many of these included letters are not used for writing traditional Finnish words. The letter å is used only to write Swedish terms, while b, c, f, q, w, x, and z are only used to write words of foreign origin.