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The Finnish language is spoken by approximately 6.000.000 people. The major part of the speakers live in Finland. Significant communities of speakers are reported in Sweden and the Russian Federation. Lesser numbers of speakers also live in Canada, Estonia, Norway and the USA.

Finnic belongs to the Baltic-Finnic or Fennic subbranch of the Finno-Ugric languages, which form a top level constituent of the Uralic language family.

Dialects of Finnish are Southwestern Finnish, Häme, South Pohjanmaa, Central Pohjanmaa, North Pohjanmaa, Peräpohja, Savo and Southeastern Finnish (also called 'Karelian Finnish'). The Finnish standard language is primarily based on Southwestern Finnish.

The speakers call their language suomi ('Finnish') or suomen kieli ('Finnish language').

Finnish is the national language of the Republic of Finnland (Suomen Tasavalta).
The Finnish orthography is very close to the ideal of an one-to-one grapheme-phoneme correspondence.

Finnish has eight short vowel phonemes and eight long vowel phonemes.

Finnish phonotactics do not allow word-initial or word-final consonant clusters. There are phonotactical restrictions for syllable boundary as well: the onset cannot consist of more than one consonant and the offset cannot consist of more than two consonants.

The lexical accent always occupies word-initial position.

Finnish features vowel harmony: The back vowels u, o and a never co-occur with the front vowels y, ü and ä within one word. The vowels i and e are neutral vowels and can co-occur with both of the former vowel sets. However, there are cases in which these rules are violated, for instance in loan words and compounds. Suffix vowels, which follow vowel harmony, are subject to the same rules.

Another characteristic property of Finnish morphophonology is consonant gradation, i.e. lenition or deletion of consonants in morphological paradigms. Both nouns and verbs are affected by consonant gradation.

Vowel mutation is a cover term for several morphophonological processes that affect stem-final vowels before suffixes that have an initial i.

The morphology of the Finnish language has primarily agglutinative structure, viz morphemes have clear-cut boundaries, grammatical morphemes bear mostly one single meaning, the word stem is not modified by internal inflection like 'umlaut' or 'ablaut'. Nevertheless, there exists a considerable amount of morphonological alternation, like consonant gradation and vowel mutation. Thus Finnish is not a purely aglutinative language. The Finnish morphology exclusively uses suffixes.

Finnish nouns and verbs have two numbers: singular and plural.

Finnish nouns have no grammatical gender.

The declension in Finnish has 15 cases: nominative, accusative, essive, partitive, translative, inessive, elative, illative, adessive, ablative, allative, abessive, comitative, and instructive. Nouns and adjectives are inflected the same way.

The adjective agrees with its head noun in case and number. Finnish declines not only its adjectives, but also its comparative and superlative forms.

Possession is expressed by pronominal suffixes, that indicate person and number. These suffixes may follow each case ending.

Finnish is a nominative-accusative type language, i.e. subjects of transitive and intransitive verbs are treated the same way: both are marked by the nominative case. Direct objects are treated differently from those two: They are marked by the accusative case.

Finnish verbs can be inflected either for tense or mood, for voice (active or passive) and for person. The verb has two tenses (non-past and past) and four moods (indicative, imperative, conditional and potential).

An inflected negative auxiliary verb is used for clause negation.

There are various non-finite verb forms: six participles and three infinitives. Participles are used as modifiers of nouns and as parts of analytic tense forms. Infinitives are often used as adverbial modifiers of verbs.

Finnish adpositions are for the most part spatial nouns. There is a huge number of postpositions, whereas prepositions are rare.

The unmarked order of constituents in simple transitive sentences is SVO. Other orders are possible, mainly for pragmatical purposes. Quantifiers, adjectives (including demonstratives and other pronominal adjectives) and genitive attributes precede the head noun. Modifiers in the partitive case follow the head noun.

Clauses with finite verbs can be linked by simple parataxis, by co-ordinating and subordinating conjunctions or enclitics. Instead of finite subordinate clauses often constructions with non-finite verb forms such as participles are used.

The majority of words in the Finnish lexicon is of Finno-Ugric origin. There are five major layers of loan words: 1) Old Iranian, 2) Old-Baltic, 3) Old Germanic, 4) Slavic (primarily Russian) and 5) Swedish. Recently a reasonable amount of English loan words has entered the basic word stock of Finnish.

Bernhard Scheucher

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