Created | Updated Jan 6, 2012
Finnish is a Finno-Ugric1 language spoken by about 5.5 million people, most of them in Finland. Pronunciation, the subject of this Entry, isn't the difficult part of Finnish. Although it might take decades to fully master some of the vowels and the concept of 'short' and 'long' sounds, these are not problems that will hold you back. After all, there are relatively few sound elements to learn, and what's best, the language is written almost completely phonetically. So why not give it a go?
The following examples in pronunciation refer to Standard British English.
- i - like the 'ea' in 'mean'
- e - as in 'set'
- a - as in 'far'
- o - as in 'not'
- u - as in 'ooh'
- y - like the German 'ü'
- ä - like the 'a' in 'cat'
- ö - as the 'i' in 'bird'
- p - as in English, but without aspiration2
- m - as in English
- v - as in English
- t - the place of pronunciation is closer to the English 'th' than 't' - behind your upper front teeth. Otherwise produced like the English 't' but without aspiration
- d - as in English
- n - as in English
- l - more or less as in English, but the back of your tongue lower, causing a 'flatter' sound
- r - a rolled 'r'
- s - as in 'cats'
- k - as in English, but without aspiration
- g - as in 'garden'
- ng - as in 'king'
- h - as in English
The Other Things You Should Know
This is relatively straight-forward: in Finnish, stresses are completely regular. The main stress always falls on the first syllable of the word, and secondary stresses follow on the third, fifth, seventh syllable etc. When an odd-numbered syllable is the last in a word, it has no stress. An example, with stresses in bold face: Hän oli ollut satamassakin siellä3.
Short and Long Sounds
So, Finnish has short and long sounds. Both consonants and vowels come in two lengths, and failure to produce the difference may result in confusion and/or the giggles in the people listening to you. Here are some examples of words where the length of sounds is crucial: tuli 'fire' - tulli 'customs' - tuuli 'wind'; valita 'choose' - valittaa 'complain'; katto 'roof' - kato 'loss' - kaato 'fall'; nukka 'fleece/nap?' - nuuka 'skimpy'; matto 'carpet' - mato 'worm'.
As the examples above show, the long sounds are spelled by writing the according letter twice. So 'piimä' has a long 'i' and 'pommi' a long 'm'. This can produce very silly-looking words, such as 'kuukahtamaisillaankaan'4.
The short sounds of Finnish are pronounced with basically the same length as the sounds in the English words 'let' or 'monastery'. If you asked a Finn how long the long sounds of Finnish were, they'd probably say something like 'twice as long as the short ones'. This isn't entirely true, as for example stressing lengthens a sound considerably. Nevertheless, for simplicity's sake you should probably adopt this view.
The interesting thing is that in Finnish even stops (p, t, d, k, g) can be 'long'. These are after all, as their name suggests, sounds that are audible only for an instant. What makes them long in Finnish is when you form the sound, wait a 'long' while and release it. The sound itself is still short, but its build-up has been long. This way words like 'kukka' or 'hattara' may sound like there is a pause in between.
Finally, here are some examples of Finnish words (names of cities) and how they should be pronounced.
|Oulu||Oh-l-ooh (with a short 'ooh')|
This is really all you need to know. Finnish grammar, on the other hand, is much less straight-forward.