12: Origins of Finnish
By Linden Alexander Pentecost, 8th November 2022

Brief summery of some of the things in this article: photo of Scots pines autumn near Helsinki, information about the origins of Finnish and in connection to Indo-European, How different is Finnish from English? Demonstrated by example sentences, photo of birch trees near Vantaa in autumn. This section contains 1133 words.


Photo below: forest near Helsinki in autumn - metsä Helsingin lähellä syksyllä

The story of Finnish

Finnish is a Finno-Baltic language, a language family that also includes for example Meänkieli, Estonian and Livonian. These Finno-Baltic languages are a part of the larger Uralic family, which also includes for example Hungarian and the Saami languages in northern Scandinavia.

The Finnish language and its neighbours have unique traits that make them different from other Uralic languages. They are connected to the Saami languages in northern Scandinavia. Even though the Finno-Baltic and Saami branches are very different in some ways, they share a common connection, certainly due to their common Uralic root words and grammar, in part, but also perhaps due to underlying common substrate features that might be described as pre-Uralic.

The Finno-Baltic languages, like Finnish, share a deep relationship with Indo-European languages as well, and this is often described in terms of Indo-European loanwords into Finno-Baltic, although I personally think it likely that it could have been the other way round, with Finno-Baltic languages being older and more archaic than Indo-European languages, and Indo-European, in a roundabout sort of way, 'branching off' from Uralic. This is not to say that the Finnish language today and its Uralic-ness is the exact same language that was spoken in Finland many thousands of years ago. Despite the similarities between Finno-Baltic and Indo-European, the structure of Finnish is really very different from Indo-European languages in a fundimental way; which I would simply describe as the "Way in which Finnish has a limited number of syllables and root words to create an enormous and complex vocabulary".

Although many Indo-European languages, like German, Gaulish or Sanskrit have a lot of noun conjugations, Finnish is aggluntatitve and freely moves root syllables to a much, much higher degree. Something like this may have been the case in early Indo-European languages, but even Proto-Indo-European likely had a larger number of root words than Proto Finno-Baltic did. So rather than Proto-Finno-Baltic having as many root words, it instead applied and adapted these root words more fluidly whilst also attached/conjugated.


How is Finnish different from English?


The example sentences below will hopefully help to demonstrate how describing something in Finnish is often very different to how it would be done in English and in most other Indo-European languages.


karhu on tullut kirkkaasta metsästä - the bear has come from the bright forest
karhu - bear, on tullut - has come, is come, on - is, tullut - come, kirkkaasta - elative form of kirkas - bright, metsästä - elative form of metsä - forest, so kirkkaasta metsästä - from the bright forest

mä en syönyt lakkoja tänään, koski mä en ollut paikassa, jossa niitä olisi ollut - I did not eat cloudberries today, because I was not in the place where they are
- I, en - first person negative verb, en syönyt - negative form of mä söin - I ate (syönyt is also the past participle, e.g. olen jo syönyt lakkoja - I have already eaten cloudberries), lakkoja - cloudberries, partitive plural form of lakka - cloudberry, tänään - today, koska - because, mä en ollut - I was not, negative form of mä olin - I was, paikassa - inessive form of paikka - a place, paikassa - in or at a place, jossain which, inessive form of joka - that, which, niitä olisi ollut -  they would have been, with niitä - the partitive form of ne - they, which can also be described as the partitive plural of se - it.


me olemme lukemassa uutta kirjaa - we are reading a/the new book
me - we, olemme - we are, me olemme - we are (with pronoun), lukemassa - in the act of reading, from lukea - to read, from which is derived the noun lukeminen - the act of reading, the inessive case of which is lukemassa - in the process of reading. The word uutta is the partitive form of uusi - new, kirjaa is the partitive form of kirja - book. The partitive case is used in this example to imply that the reading of the book will not be finished, we are not reading the whole book, but reading the book as an ongoing, incomplete process. Therefore 'new book', uusi kirja becomes uutta kirjaa.

Note: nouns like lukeminen - reading, ymmärtäminen - understanding, are rather like 'verb-nouns' in the Goidelic Celtic languages.


katson isoa laivaa, joka tulee rannikolle - I see a/the big ship, which is coming towards the coast
katson - I watch, or look at, isoa laivoa - partitive form of iso laiva - big ship, from iso - big, and laiva - ship; joka - that, which, tulee - comes (third person singular), rannikolle - to/into-towards the coast, from rannikko - coast

linnut laulavat syksyisellä taivaalla - birds sing in the autumnal sky
linnut - plural of lintu - bird, in this case the partitive plural form lintuja implies an uncountable number of 'birds' in a general sense; laulavat - they sing, the verb laulaa - to sing, plus the third person plural ending; syksyisellä - adessive form of syksyinen - autumnal, from syksy - autumn, taivaalla - adessive form of taivas - sky; thus syksyisellä taivaalla - in the autumnal sky.


mutkustan Raumaan purjehtimaan merellä - I travel to Rauma to sail on the sea
matkustan - I travel, Raumaan - to Rauma, purjehtimaan - to go towards or into the act of sailing, from purjehtiminen - the act or process of sailing, merellä - on the sea, from meri - sea


kissa purjehtii ison laivan lahteen - the cat sailed the big ship into the bay

kissa - cat, purjehtii - sailed, third person singular form of purjehtia - to sail; ison laivan - genitive form of iso laiva - big ship, lahteen - into the bay. The genitive is found in this context because the cat is doing the sailing of the ship.


haluaisin kuunnella joen ääntä - I want to listen the voice of the river
haluaisin - I would like, I want, from haluta - to want, kuunnella - to listen, joen - genitive form of joki - river, ääntä - partitive form of ääni - voice


Photo above: autumn colour in Vantaa - ruska Vantaassa


Note: several of my other ebooks contain sections about Finnish and Meänkieli, some sentences in both, some paragraphs in Finnish, there is an even greater amount of material I have written that references Finnish words and their long distance cognates, and Finnish mythology.