Finnish language

Finno-Ugric language of Finland, spoken by some six million people worldwide, including perhaps 200,000 speakers in North America.

Finnish was an unwritten language until the 16th century, when Mikael Agricola (1509–57) produced an alphabet book (1543) and a translation of the New Testament (1548); he is regarded as the founder of the Finnish literary language. Finnish was accorded official status in 1809, when Finland entered the Russian Empire after six centuries of Swedish domination. The publication in 1835 of the national folk epic, the Kalevala, created from folk songs collected by Elias Lönnrot, gave increased impetus to the movement to forge a common national language encompassing all dialect areas. Finnish shares with other Baltic Finnic languages a stock of ancient loanwords from Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, and Sami.

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      member of the Finno-Ugric group of the Uralic language family, spoken in Finland. At the beginning of the 19th century, Finnish had no official status, with Swedish being used in Finnish education, government, and literature. The publication in 1835 of the Kalevala, a national epic poem based on Finnish folklore, aroused Finnish national feeling. In the century that followed, Finnish gradually became the predominant language in government and education; it achieved official status in 1863.

      Finnish belongs to the Baltic-Finnic branch of the Finno-Ugric languages, being most closely related to Estonian, Livonian, Votic, Karelian, Veps, and Ingrian. Characteristic phonological features include vowel harmony, in which vowels are divided into two contrasting classes such that vowels from opposing classes may not occur together in a word; and consonant gradation, in which stop consonants (such as p, t, k) are altered before closed syllables (e.g., p is replaced by v, pp by p). There are also two lengths distinguished in vowels and in consonants. Many words have been borrowed from Indo-European languages, particularly from the Baltic languages, German, and Russian.

      Finnish has a written tradition dating from the 16th century, when the Lutheran bishop Mikael Agricola translated the New Testament into Finnish. See also Finno-Ugric languages.

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Universalium. 2010.

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