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Finnish language phonetics

This article deals with the sound patterns of the Finnish language. The grammar of Finnish and the way(s) in which Finnish is spoken are dealt with in separate articles.

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Phonetics Originally, Finnish had no initial consonant clusters, this however is changing due to influence from other European languages.

Older borrowings from (e.g.) Swedish have had initial consonant clusters eroded. For example "koulu" <- school, "tuoli" <- stool.

More recent borrowings have retained their clusters, for example 'presidentti' = 'president'. However, it is common to hear these clusters eroded in speech ("resitentti") particularly, though not exclusively, by Finns who have little or no Swedish or English and who are not used to making sounds for letters such as d, c or x.


Like the Turkish language, Finnish has vowel harmony, i.e. only certain designated vowels can appear together in a morpheme. 'i' and 'e' are neutral vowels, but front vowels 'y ö ä' never mix with back vowels 'u o a'; e.g., 'tyttö' = 'girl' is a possible Finnish morpheme because it has only front vowels, whereas *tytto is impossible because it has both front and back vowels.

Note that in the sections below, wherever 'a' is mentioned, 'ä' should also be understood, depending on vowel harmony.

Vowel phonemes /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/

/y/ as in French 'but', Old English and Finnish spelling: 'y'
/9/ as in French 'deux', Finnish spelling: 'ö'
/}/ as in English 'bat', Finnish spelling: <ä>


Consonant phonemes /k/, /p/, /t/, /d/

Finnish has no voiced plosives in native words - with the exception of /d/ that developed from /D/ (as in English 'the'). Without /d/, Finnish has (in native words) no distinctive voice at all.

/h/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /N/, /r/, /s/, /v/

[S] (as English 'sh') and [f] only appear in non-native words.

Consonant gradation

The consonant preceding the inflection of a word (either noun or verb) is subject to consonant gradation. Broadly, a consonant will adopt a 'strong' form if the following syllable is 'open' - containing a double vowel or not ending in a consonant - and a 'weak' form otherwise.

The following is a partial list of strong -> weak correspondences:

't' -> 'd'
'k' ->
'p' -> 'v'

Note that in any given grammatical situation, the consonant can grade either way depending on the word involved. Here are some examples:

'mäki' = 'hill' -> 'mäen' (genitive form)
'ranta' = 'shore' -> 'rannan' (genitive form)
'ranne' = 'wrist' -> 'ranteen' (genitive form)
'tavata' = 'to meet' -> 'tapaan' (I meet)
'tietää' = 'to know' -> 'tiedän' (I know)

There are rare exceptions to the general rule, some of which are noted in the noun cases section.


All phonemes except /v, d, N, j/ have distinctive length except in dialects.

Some example word pairs:

'tuli' = 'fire', 'tuuli = 'wind', 'tulli' = 'customs'
'muta' = 'mud', 'muuta' = 'other' (partitive sg.), 'mutta' = 'but'


Like Hungarian, Finnish always places the stress on the first syllable of a word.

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