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the official language of Finland, also spoken in Estonia and NW Russia, belonging to the Finno-Ugric family
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the language of the Finns and the official language of Finland, where it is spoken by more than 4.3 million (1974, estimate). Finnish is also spoken in the USA, Canada, Sweden, and Norway by approximately 500,000 persons and by approximately 85,000 in the USSR (1970 census). Finnish belongs to the Balto-Finnic branch of the Finno-Ugric languages.

Finnish evolved from the languages of three ethnically related tribal groups: a central group, called the Häme; a southwestern group, the Suomi, who were ancient settlers from northern Estonia; and an eastern group, the Savo, who constituted a western group of the Korela tribe, which had migrated from the region of Lake Ladoga and the Karelian Isthmus. The preliterary period of Finnish, when the language represented dialect variants of Balto-Finnic speech, lasted until the 1540’s. Literary Finnish began with the creation of a Finnish writing system in 1540.

The development of the literary language is divided into two main periods: Old Finnish and New Finnish. Old Finnish (1540–1820), in turn, is divided into two stages. The initial stage (1540–1640) is associated with Micael Agricola, the founder of the Old Finnish literary language. Agricola based the written language on the southwestern Finnish dialect spoken in the vicinity of Turku, then the capital of Finland, which had been influenced by the Häme dialect. A complete translation of the New Testament in 1548 and the Psalter in 1551 laid the foundations of the Old Finnish literary language, which remained in. liturgical use until the 20th century. The second stage (1640–1820) of Old Finnish was characterized by the spread of Swedish as the official language. The liberation of Finland from Swedish rule in 1809 initiated a period of national awakening and created conditions favorable for the development of Finnish.

The New Finnish period, which began in 1820, is also divided into two stages: Early New Finnish (1820–70) and Modern Finnish (from 1870). The former was characterized by the expansion of the dialect base of the literary language through the influence of the eastern dialects. E. Lönnrot’s writings combined the standard literary language, based on the western dialects, and the figurative and expressive resources of the eastern dialects. Lönnrot had considerable influence on the development of Finnish and helped resolve the issue of the language’s dialect base. The literary language was brought closer to colloquial speech, and Old Finnish became a purely liturgical language. Finnish also became the national language of education and literature. By a special decree of 1863, it received equal status with Swedish. The works of A. Kivi were of great importance in the development of the Finnish literary language, and A. Alkvist was instrumental in establishing phonetic and morphological norms. By the 1870’s, the foundations had been laid for the Modern Finnish literary language.

In Finland, Finnish has two dialects—western and eastern—embracing seven subdialects. Leveling of the subdialects has occurred, and the literary language has achieved an equilibrium between the western and eastern dialect bases. Finnish is characterized by the frequent use of vowel sounds; in running speech, 100 vowels occur per 96 consonants. The language exhibits vowel harmony and alternation in consonant gradation. Modern Finnish is an agglutinative language; sentences are modeled on a nominative construction and have relatively free word order. Grammatical markers are added onto the word stem. The declension system comprises 15 cases; the attribute and the substantive it modifies agree in number and case. There is no category of gender. Verbs are inflected for two voices (active and passive), four moods (indicative, conditional, imperative, and potential), and four tenses (present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect). Infinitive forms of the verb combine some nominal features, such as case and possessive suffixes. The lexicon contains loanwords from the Baltic, Germanic, and Slavic languages. The writing system uses the Latin alphabet.


Hakulinen, L. Razvitie i struktura finskogo iazyka, parts 1–2. Moscow, 1953–55. (Translated from Finnish.)
Osnovy finno-ugorskogo iazykoznaniia, fasc. 2. Moscow, 1975.
Suomen kielen käsikirja. Helsinki, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.