26: How different are Swedish and Finnish?
This article was published from the UK by Linden Alexander Pentecost on the 25th of September 2023. All articles on this website were published in the UK. This article includes: “Brief introduction:”, “A discussion of various differences:”, “List of root words in Swedish and Finnish, and examples:”, and “Other examples”. I wrote this article last year I think, before publishing it on the 25th of September 2023 for the first and only time. The fonts used in this article may be different to those in other articles on this website, but this is because I am experimenting with not using Italics so much. This article contains: 1185 words.
In this article, I talk about the Swedish and Finnish languages, and about how different they are. Often people have asked me in the UK if Swedish and Finnish are related to each other, or similar. But even though Swedish and Finnish share, in a sense, the same landscapes, their words and mythology in relation to these northern forests, stony mountains, lakes and rivers, is very different. Swedish is a North-Germanic language, and is usually classed as an Indo-European language, other Indo-European languages, or rather, languages with a similar set of formulaic structures that we call Indo-European, include for example English, Welsh, Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, Latin, Irish, Polish, Tocharian, Persian and Spanish.
Finnish on the other hand is in the Uralic language family, or rather, it shares formulaic and other connections to other languages, such as the other Finnic languages, such as Estonian, the Sámi languages in Arctic Europe, and the Hungarian language, to name a few. Even though Finnish and Swedish do doubtless share ancient links which are not readily visible through the Indo-European and Uralic formulaic codes, it is hard to see how these fit together.
As I have discussed elsewhere, the mythology and spiritual traditions of the Swedish and Finnish languages are very distinct and unique from each other, including in the cosmology and general ideas about how the world was created and shaped for example. I have discussed several of these topics before, but this article focuses on looking at the differences between Finnish and Swedish, with examples.
A discussion of various differences:
Swedish spelling and Finnish spelling can look quite similar in a few senses, particularly as both of these languages have the characters ä and ö. German, for example, also has these letters, but I feel that many English speakers can recognise German quite easily, with other rather well known letters, such as ü, ß, and letter combinations, perhaps most famously sch.
People may easily recognise that whilst Swedish spelling has ä and ö, it does not have these other letters and letter combinations found in German, at least, not normally, sch is used in some Swedish dialect spellings for example.
Because of the nature of Finnish and Swedish, a text in Swedish may contain several longer words, made of several combined roots, such as ofördröjligen – at once, or lantbrevbärare – a carrier or rural mail. In a Swedish text one will also frequently find much smaller link words, including for example prepositions, e.g. för – for, till – to, med – with, genom – through, efter – after, på – on, at. Generally speaking one may notice that although there is a visual, almost poetic balance of certain, commonly occuring letters and sounds in Swedish, such as ä, ö, å, sj, tj, ck, fr, sn, sk, that these do in fact make up a rather large group of sounds and spellings. For example, the letter f is relatively common in Swedish, so is the letter b. In a sense the balance of these consonants is not too dissimilar to English and Scots dialects.
This is where I will try to point out how written Finnish may appear very different. Finnish texts will also contain a number of short words, including nouns and verbs in certain forms, pronouns, prepositions and postpositions. Some examples of Finnish postpositions are yli – above, alla – below, kanssa – with, edessä – in front of, ympärillä – around, abouts, äärellä – on or at (in certain contexts).
But one will also find very long words in Finnish texts, and likely notice that they differ in form from longer words in Swedish. For example, the Finnish form of the word lantbrevbärare is maalaiskirjeenkantaja.
List of root words in Swedish and Finnish, and examples:
1. Lake is sjö in Swedish, or träsk in some places, in Finnish a lake is järvi.
2. Air is luft in Swedish, e.g. lufthamn – airport, in Finnish air is ilma, as in the name Ilmarinen, a Finnish deity
3. Stone is sten in Swedish, e.g. sandsten – sandstone, in Finnish ’stone’ is kivi, e.g. hiekkakivi
4. Sand in Swedish is sand, and in Finnish; hiekka
5. Wind in Swedish is vind, e.g. vinden blåser genom skogarna – the wind blows through the forests. In Finnish, wind is tuuli, e.g. tuuli puhaltaa metsien läpi – the wind blows through the forests.
6. Boat in Swedish is båt, e.g. den gröna båten är på sanden – the green boat is on the sand. In Finnish, boat is vene, e.g. vihreä vene on hiekalla – the green boat is on the sand.
7. Swamp in Swedish is myr, e.g. skipet kan inte segla in i myren – the ship cannot sail into the swamp. In Finnish, swamp or marsh is suo, e.g. laiva ei voi purjehtia suohon – the ship cannot sail into the swamp.
(Note though that svamp in the Swedish for mushroom, and related to the word swamp in English, and I feel it possible that both of these words are cognates in some way to suo, demonstrating that certain root words are shared across these languages, specific to certain areas regardless of the modern languages spoken there).
In Swedish to say ”I look at”, it would be jag ser på, literally ”I look on (upon)”. For example jag ser på filmen – I watch the film. This is different in meaning from jag ser filmen – I see the film, donating how prepositions following verbs are important in Nordic languages to give different meanings, whereas for example English has ’see’ and ‘watch’, two different verbs to show these meanings. In Finnish ‘I watch’ is katson, which is distinct from näen – I see. For example katson elokuvaa – I watch the film, elokuvaa is the partitive form of elokuva – film.
To say ”I saw a film about Finland”, in Swedish: jag såg på en film om Finland, where om is the preposition meaning ’about’, similarly to where ‘about’ is said in English, although om has a wider range of meanings in Swedish. In Finnish this would be katsoin elokuvaa Suomesta – I saw a film about Finland. To say ‘about Finland’ this would Suomi - Finland, plus the suffix -sta/-stä and so Suomi – Finland, Suomesta – about Finland, or from Finland, out of Finland, Finnish grammatical cases can give a wide range of different meanings depending on the context.
Note: I had to check the usage of purjehtia in the examples, and was corrected on a couple of points.
I hope this article was interesting to read!