HomeLiving in FinlandThe Finnish Language

A Fun Look at the Finnish Language...

I've been in Finland many years but I still can't get my head around this language. Maybe I'm just getting old. Some words had me stuttering worse than my old Fiat... it was fun trying to buy uusi sytytystulppat ja virranjakajan kansi .

When Finns Speak, Everbody Listens
- it's just that nobody else understands

By Bill Farmer (Knight-Ridder newspapers)
The language is like the Finns themselves - it has nothing to do with Russia or Sweden, despite their proximity. Finnish, I think, was invented by an ancient king who commanded the people in his dominion to speak like him upon the penalty of death. The monarch's name I shall give as Toivo I, or Toivo the Stutterer. It was Toivo's lingual philosophy that 'why use one letter when two or three would do.'

Take the word for a lighter. It is savukkeensytyttimen, which is the reason why so many Finns carry matches.

When Finns start a word they see how many foreigners they can weed out on the first syllable. Take the Finnish word for "93". The first three letters are yhd. That eliminates a lot of competition right there. For the full Finnish word for "93" I would advise you fasten your seat belts and put on your crash helmet. Here it goes - yhdeksankymmentakolme. According to Berlitz, that is pronounced simply: "EWHdayksaen-KEWMmayntaeKOALmay". Finns have died of old age trying to count to 100.

Part of the problem with the Finnish language is that Finns don't mess around with little bitsy words at all. If they are going to use the word "the" or "a" or "by" they just stick it onto a nearby word as an ending.

And don't think you are going to get away with not pronouncing every letter, either. Nothing is wasted in Finnish. Sometimes, when they use a couple or three vowels in a row, they'll put two little dots over the tops of some of them just to break the monotony. Those little dots mean something. In the word "pencil sharpener", which is spelled "kynänteroitin", they put two little dots over the "a" and that means it is pronounced like an "a" and an "e" slopped together. It also means that you are going to find a lot of dull pencils in Finland. It is the only language I know of where phonetic spelling is more complicated than regular spelling. To say "pencil sharpener" in Finnish, for example, you should start with a bottle of good Finnish beer. Take a deep breath, roll back your eyes and say:

KEWnae (run the "a" and "e" together now, remember?) nTAYR (stop here and have a sip of beer) roa (then comes a very, very small "i" that fools a lot of people, but, without it the word means "spinach" or something entirely different from "pencil sharpener") tin (more beer, please).

Okay, all together now:


There now, wasn't that easy? Where's the bottle opener?

During a recent visit of Finland I never saw a crossword puzzle. The papers weren't large enough to cover both horizontal and vertical I guess.

The word for "no" is "aye", which means yes in English, and the word "hyvaa" (with two little dots side by side over both "a"'s or "ae-ae") means hello or goodbye depending on what direction you're going.

Now the word for "yes" is simple. It is "kyllä". The trouble is, nobody uses it. They all say "joo" or "yoa" or "yo", which naturally, is not Finnish at all, but Swedish. To say "yes, yes" they all say "yo-yo". I can't imagine what the finnish word for "yo-yo" is, but it must be dandy-dandy.

Finnish is related to Hungarian by a previous marriage. That's why the second language of Finland is, of course, Swedish. Everyone speaks English, however, so don't worry if you ever go there.

For an emergency, I tried to learn the Finnish expression for "Get me a doctor, quick", which is "noutakaa nopeasti lääkäri", but by the time I memorized it I was well again.

Safari: Add to Home Screen
Chrome: Add to Home Screen