These Finnish lessons were written by Josh Pirie.
Pronouncing Finnish will certainly not be the hardest part of learning the language. There are some very simple rules that will facilitate the understanding of the phonological system of this language. First, stress in Finnish is completely predictable: you stress the first syllable in every word, regardless of its status either as a native Finnish word or as a foreign borrowing. Second, there exist certain phonotactic constraints in Finnish: there can never be more than one word-initial or word-final consonant. The word Franska, then, would have to undergo a change because the cluster Fr- is not allowed. Consequently, the language spoken in France is referred to as ranska in Finnish. Word-medially, though, as many as three consonants are allowed, provided that the first one is a sonorant, i.e. a consonant that can only be voiced, such as /l/ or /r/ or /m/ or /n/. Finally, remember to pronounce everything you see, including double consonants or vowels. Doubling is phonemic in Finnish, unlike English. This means that where we see two p's in English approach, only one is pronounced. In Finnish, if there are two of any letters, they must be pronounced double, or the speaker runs the risk of not being understood. For example, Finnish kuusi ("six") has a radically different meaning from Finnish kusi ("urine"); Finnish tapan ("I kill") similarly has a different meaning from Finnish tapaan ("I meet").
|Finnish Vowel Orthography||English (or Other) Equivalent|
|a||uh as in the name "Dullah"|
|aa||ah as in "father"|
|ä||similar to "a" as in "hat" (consider German ä)|
|ää||similar to "bad" but without the glide|
|e||eh as in "met"|
|ee||longer "eh", no real English equivalent|
|i||ih as in "sit"|
|ii||long "ee" as in "read"|
|o||aw (but without the drawl) as in "cot"|
|oo||like British "sort"|
|ö||like British "erm" (consider German ö)|
|öö||like British "further"|
|u||halfway between the sound in "foot" and "boot"|
|uu||like "shoot" but further back in the mouth|
|y||similar to French u or German ü|
|yy||longer version of y, somewhat like Scottish "stew"|
|ai||eye as in English "line"|
|äi||eh-y as in Australian "say"|
|ei||eh-ee as in "day" but with both vowels full|
|oi||oy as in "toy" but with both vowels full|
|öi||like Bronx "heard"|
|ui||like "ooh-ee" but far back in the mouth|
|yi||consider Chinese /üi/|
|au||ow as in "sour"|
|ou||oh as in "owe"|
|eu||eh-oo but without glides|
|iu||ee-oo but without glides, similar to Portuguese|
|äy||no English equivalent (ä+y)|
|öy||similar to British "oh"|
|ie||similar to Spanish "sierra"|
|uo||oo-oh but without glides|
|yö||no English equivalent (ö+y)|
|Finnish Consonant Orthography||English Equivalent|
|j||y as in "yes"|
|h||always pronounced, even before consonants|
|r||trilled, as in Spanish or Italian|
|nk||/ŋk/ as in "bank" (not as in "non-king")|
|s||always hard, as in "sod" (not as in "rose"); however, it is palatalized more than in English (primarily due to the lack of /z/ and /s/ and /z/). So technically it's halfway between "sod" and "shod".|
Finnish has vowel harmony, which means that roots that contain front vowels will couple with endings that too have front vowels. Finnish has eight pure vowels: three front (ä, ö and y), three back (a, o and u) and two "neutral": e and i. This means that if a word such as loma- can only take one of -llä or -lla as an ending, it must take -lla (back vowel harmony). This yields lomalla ("on leave"). Within a root, only the neutral vowels can coexist with both front and back vowels. Exceptions to this are compound words such as äänihuulet ("vocal cords").
Plosives (stops) in Finnish undergo a process called gradation. Whereas some forms will naturally exist in "strong" grade, double consonants will appear, such as pp or kk. Some forms within the inflection, however, will require a "weaker" grade, in which case the doubling is removed, or a sonorant is inserted. Consider the following:
|Strong Grade||Weak Grade|
|pp||p||as in tappaa > tapan|
|kk||k||as in kakku > kakun|
|tt||t||as in tyttö > tytön|
|k -||nothing or j||as in arka > aran|
|p||v (in the absence of b)||as in saapua > saavun|
|t||d||as in katu > kadun|
|nk||ng||as in Helsinki > Helsingin|
|mp||mm||as in vanhempi > vanhemman|
|nt||nn||as in antaa > annan|
|lt||ll||as in kulta > kullan|
|rt||rr||as in ymmärtää > ymmärrän|
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