As collectors of Finnish rifles, we frequently come across Finnish words. I am working on a guide to the language for the collector of Finnish weapons. Here is the first installment, which provides background information on the language and a rough guide on how to pronounce it and deal with some of its quirks. The next installment will list basic terms for types of firearms, parts, ammo, etc. After that, I will deal with some military, hunting, and other relevant words. This first installment is kind of long, but I thought I should at least put out some basic information before starting in on specific terms. I'll be adding more parts as I get the time to write them. Comments, questions, etc. are welcome. A Gun Collector's Guide to the Finnish Language As we try to learn as much as we can about the Finnish weapons we collect, we invariably encounter the Finnish language, which can be quite opaque to the English speaker. This modest guide is intended to help the gun collector with some basic facts about the Finnish language, and some vocabulary that will help to understand Finnish documents about firearms. First, let us understand that Finnish is NOT a Western language. It is often mistakenly lumped with the Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish), but in fact it is utterly unrelated to them except for some words borrowed from Swedish. Finnish is classified as a Fenno-Ugrian language. Its origins are somewhat obscure, but its roots are in Central Asia and linguists have found common elements with Turkish and Mongolian. The Fenno-Ugrian languages include Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Sami, Mordvinian, and Udmurt. These languages all have similar grammar, but very little vocabulary in common. Finnish contains many loan words from Swedish and Russian, and a few from German, English and other languages. Finnish grammar and syntax are extremely complex, and thoroughly non-intuitive to an English speaker. A Finnish speaker will think about putting a sentence together in a different way than you or I would. It was quite frustrating for me in Finland. I could speak fairly correct Finnish, and any Finn would generally understand what I was saying – but if the idea was anything at all complex, I would not express it the same way a native speaker would. Finnish Pronunciation and Spelling The first thing we need to know about Finnish is that the accent is always on the first syllable. That means that the capital of Finland, Helsinki, is pronounced HEL-sink-ee, not Hel-SINK-ee as most Americans say it. This is the exact opposite of French, which always accents the last syllable. Hungarian and Estonian also follow this rule; I cannot speak for Sami, Mordvinian, or Udmurt. Finnish is written in the Latin alphabet, but the Finnish version is somewhat different from ours. The consonants b, c, d, g, q, w, x, and z are not native to Finnish and will be found only in foreign words. When a word containing the letter B is incorporated into Finnish, the b is normally replaced by p, as in pankki, meaning bank. Similarly, d becomes t and g becomes k. J is pronounced like a Y in English, as is the case in many European languages. W is pronounced like english V, as it is in German. The Finnish language is rich in vowels. There is a long-standing joke that the Finns should trade some of their excess vowels to the Czechs in exchange for the excess consonants in Czech. A is pronounced as a short A as in aha, never as a long A as in ape. E is pronounced as long A as in ape, or short E as in echo. I is a long E as in Easter or a short I as in idiot. U is like oo in English. Y is pronounced sort of like Ü in German. In addition to our familiar vowels, the Finns have Ä, which is pronounced like a as in and and Ö, which is pronounced as in German. In Finnish all the written letters in a word are pronounced, and there are few two-letter combinations such as we have in English. There are no consonant combinations such as ch and th. There are a few vowel combinations (diphthongs) that have a single sound. The combination ou, for instance, is pronounced as a long o in English. For example, Tourula, where the Valmet factory was located, is pronounced TOE-roo-lah. Ai is pronounced as a long I in English, and ei is pronounced as a long a. Double letters are pronounced distinctly, although a non-Finnish speaker may be unable to hear the difference. Double vowels are stretched out, and double consonants are noticeably doubled when spoken. Double letters in Finnish are a constant problem for non-native speakers, as you will frequently encounter cases where two completely different words are distinguished only by which one has a double letter somewhere. The classic school example is the difference between tili (an account), tiili (brick), and tilli (dill). Try sorting that one out, in small print, when you have astigmatism. An important feature of Finnish is that, like German, it is agglutinative, that is, you can string words together to make a longer word with a combined meaning. For instance, where we would say assault rifle as two words, in Finnish the words are combined into rynnäkkökivääri. Finnish words can get very, very long and complex. Finnish does not use articles (a, an, the). It is also genderless in both nouns and pronouns. That is to say, unlike Spanish, French, or German, nouns are not identified as masculine or feminine. Also, Finnish does not have separate pronouns for he and she. The pronoun hän is used for either. That was the good news about Finnish nouns. The bad news is that Finnish nouns have cases. Lots and lots of them, 15 in all. We don't worry much about case in English. We have a nominative case (he) a possessive case (his) and an objective case (him). However, Finnish uses noun cases to express things where we use a preposition such as to, from, in, or on. Each case has its own unique ending, which makes it much harder to recognize a noun if you see it in context. To make it worse, many nouns change their actual stem spelling when they change case or number. Here's a very simple example. Helsinki is the capital of Finland. “Of Helsinki” is Helsingin. “In Helsinki” is Helsingissä. The stem can also change with number. Kekkonen is a common Finnish surname that happens to be that of a former president. “The Kekkonens” would be Kekkoset in Finnish. I could go on about cases for several pages, but suffice it to say that the stem changes mean that you can see a word in, say, the illative case, and not even recognize it as a different form of a familiar word. And each and every adjective in Finnish has 93 different forms. I counted them. OK, this has been long. And maybe a bit confusing. However, it provides some basic guidance on how to pronounce things in Finnish and why the language looks so weird. The next installment will feature a basic firearms vocabulary, and a third will get into some military and hunting terms. NOTE: I welcome comments, corrections, and clarifications. I make no claim to speaking perfect Finnish. Any native Finns reading this are invited to improve my understanding.