Culture and nature geography of Finland > THE PEOPLE > Language and religion > Language (page 1)
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Language (page 1)

The official languages are Finnish and Swedish. Sami has official status within the Sami home region. Finnish is a language that belongs to the Finno-Ugric family of languages. Finno-Ugric tribes reachedarrived into Finland both from east and from south. Another member of the Finno-Ugric tribes, Hungarians, travelled a different path and were the last greater ethnic group to arrive in Europe. Today, there are several dozens small Finno-Ugric nations (all small) settled in North Europe, in the Volga and Ural region, and in Siberia and the Russian Far North. Finno-Ugric languages are today spoken by a total of about 20 million peoples (mostly by Hungarians ca.13 millions, Finns ca.5 millions, ca.1 million Estonians and the rest being smaller tribes) (Humphreys, 1999).

People often guess that Finnish must be similar to Russian. This is not so. Contrarily to most of the languages spoken in Europe, the Finno-Ugric languages are not part of the Indo-European family of languages. Thus, Finnish is related neither to the Slavic languages such as Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, or Polish, nor to the Germanic languages such as German, Dutch, or Swedish, nor to the Baltic languages, Latvian and Lithuanian. Not mentioning the Romance languages such as French, Italian, or Romanian (Institute of the Estonian Language, 2001).

In Finland 93% of the population speaks Finnish as the mother tongue. Swedish as mother tongue is spoken by a little bit less than 6% and Sami by 0.03%.

Closest to Finnish is the Estonian language: the separation of Estonian and Finnish into different languages began less than two thousand years ago and that is a relatively short time in the history of a language. Finnish is also related to several tiny ethnic groups living in the St. Petersburg region such as Karelian, Vepsan, Ingerian, the practically extinct Livonian (Institute of the Estonian Language, 2001). Most Estonians, especially those who live in the northern part of the country can understand quite a bit of Finnish, whereas the Finns have more difficulties to learn to understand Estonian. There are many similar words in Finnish and Estonian but often with different meaning. In the table below you will find some few exampels on words that may cause confusions when a Finn discusses with an Estonian - same word but different meaning.

FinnishEstonian
Kama = garbage, waste, in slang drugsKama = traditional national food made of different kinds of flour
Kalju = boldKalju = rock
Ori = stalloneOri = slave
Raiskaaminen = to rapeRaiskamine = to waste

Source: (Vool, 1991).

The relationship between Finnish and Hungarian is completely different. It only means that they belong to the same linguistical family, it is at the closest something like how the English language is related to the German language. Very few words are alike, here some few examples that can be found:

FinnishEstonianHungarianEnglish
käsi
käsik é zhand
veri
veri
v é rblood
mesi
mesi
m é zhoney
sarvi
sarv
s z a r vhorn
voi
võiv a jbutter

(Source: Pauli Kruhse's homepage, 2001)