Vowel harmony affects case suffixes and derivational suffixes, which often have two forms, one for use with front vowels, and the other with back vowels. For example: poikamainen ("boyish", from poika "boy") but tyttömäinen ("girlish"). Vowel harmony does not transcend intra-word boundaries in compound words, for example: seinäkello "wall clock" (from seinä "wall" and kello "clock"). The suffixes of compound words are determined by the last part of the word.
Many new loan words violate vowel harmony; for example, olympialaiset ("Olympic games"). In standard Finnish they are pronounced as they are spelled, but many speakers make them conform to the rule — olumpialaiset or even olumppialaiset is not uncommon.
Each monophthong has a long counterpart, which is always the same sound (never modified), but simply longer, and is fully phonemic.
The appropriateness of these IPA symbols traditionally used for Finnish has generated some discussion among phoneticians. Acoustic measurements indicate that the vowels in the middle series actually have vowel qualities somewhat nearer to the open-mid cardinal vowels than the close-mid . Practically speaking, however, they are more or less in the middleway of these two and since they do not contrast with each other, either one of them may be used.
The vowel harmony acts as a restricting principle disallowing combinations with both and . However, in compounds and certain other contexts, two adjacent vowels that properly belong to different syllables can be pronounced as diphthtongs that are not in the following table and that can even break the vowel harmony. E.g. yläosa ('upper part', from ylä-, 'upper' + osa, 'part') can be pronounced [ˈylæ͡osɑ] (with an /äo/ diphthong) in rapid speech. The proper pronunciation is [ˈylæ.ˌosɑ] (with those vowels belonging to separate syllables).
|Diphthongs||Ending with /i/||Ending with /u/||Ending with /y/||Opening diphthongs|
|Starting with /ɑ/||/ɑ͡i/||/ɑ͡u/|
|Starting with /æ/||/æ͡i/||/æ͡y/|
|Starting with /o/||/o͡i/||/o͡u/|
|Starting with /e/||/e͡i/||/e͡u/||/e͡y/|
|Starting with /ø/||/ø͡i/||/ø͡y/|
|Starting with /u/||/u͡i/||/u͡o/|
|Starting with /i/||/i͡u/||/i͡y/||/i͡e/|
|Starting with /y/||/y͡i/||/y͡ø/|
Diphthongs such as /e͡y/ and /i͡y/ are quite rare and mostly found in derivative words, where a derivational affix starting with /y/ (or properly the archiphoneme /U/ because of the vowel harmony) fuses with the preceding vowel, e.g. pimeys 'darkness' from pimeä 'dark' + -/(U)US/ '-ness' and siistiytyä 'to tidy up oneself' from siisti 'tidy' + -/UTU/ (a kind of middle voice) + -/(d)A/ (infinitive suffix).
Opening diphthongs are only found in syllables with primary or secondary stress like in words tietää 'to know', takapyörä 'rear wheel' (from taka- 'back, rear' + pyörä 'wheel'; the latter part is secondarily stressed) or yö 'night'. This might make them easier to pronounce as true opening diphthongs (in some accents even ) and not as centering diphthongs , which are more common in the World's languages. The opening diphthongs come from earlier long mid vowels: . Since that time new long mid vowels have come to the language from various sources.
Finnish dialects have diphthongization and diphthong reduction processes. For example, Savo Finnish contrasts /ɑ/ vs. /u͡ɑ/ instead of standard /ɑ/ vs. /ɑː/.
|Plosive||p, (b)||t, d 1||k, (ɡ)||ʔ 2|
[f] appears in native words only in the Southwestern dialects, but is reliably distinguished by Finnish speakers. The rest of the foreign fricatives are not. 'š' or 'sh' [ʃ] appears only in non-native words, often pronounced 's', although some educated speakers make a distinction between e.g. šakki 'chess' and sakki 'a gang (of people)'. The orthography also includes the letters 'z' [z] and 'ž' or 'zh' [ʒ], although their use is marginal, and they have no true phonemic status. For example, azeri and džonkki may be pronounced aseri and tsonkki without fear of confusion. In most words with 'z' in their orthography (mostly foreign words and names such as Zimbabwe) Finns tend to pronounce it as [t͡s], following German orthography, where the most familiar examples of the letter have traditionally been found.
With the phoneme /h/, speakers add weak frication consistent with the vowel, producing a voiceless approximant or fricative. Friction tends to be strongest when the phoneme occurs between a vowel and a consonant. The friction is pharyngeal [ħ̞] next to /ɑ/, labiovelar [ʍ] or [xʷ] next to /u/, palatal [j̊] or [ç] next to /i/ and with intermediate quality next to other vowels. Additionally, between vowels a breathy or murmured pronunciation [ɦ] can occur. For example, mahti can be pronounced [mɑħ̞ti] while as maha is [mɑɦɑ].
More recent borrowings have retained their clusters, e.g. presidentti ← Swedish president ('president' as a head of state). In the past decades it used to be common to hear these clusters simplified in speech (resitentti), particularly, though not exclusively, by either rural Finns or Finns who knew little or no Swedish or English. Even then Southwestern dialects formed an exception: consonant clusters, especially those with plosives, trills or nasals, are common: examples contain place names Friitala and Preiviiki near the town Pori, or town Kristiinankaupunki. Nowadays the overwhelming majority of Finns have adopted initial consonant clusters in their speech.
The following is a partial list of strong → weak correspondences:
Note that in any given grammatical situation, the consonant can grade either way depending on the word involved. Here are some examples:
There are rare exceptions to the general rule, attributable to historical forms and consonant syncope, some of which are noted in the noun cases section. For example, the verb juosta/juokse- (where the infinitive juos+ta comes from earlier juoks+ta).
Personal first names do not gradate in quality in most cases (e.g. Hilta - Hiltan, Hilla - Hillan); though do sometimes in quantity (e.g. Pekka - Pekan). Surnames, however, do. Acronyms do not gradate if they include the vowel (NaPa - NaPan, cf. common word napa - navan), but gradate if end in a consonant (PIK [pikki] - PIK:n [pikin]).
This pattern is, however, not fully established, e.g. kieltää → kielsi ('deny') but säätää → sääti ('devise (a rule)'), although both alternate forms (kielti and sääsi) are found. Apparently the end of its productivity was caused by word pairs such as noutaa → nouti ('bring') and nousta → nousi ('rise'), which were felt important enough to keep them contrastive.
Because one of the basic motivations for consonant gradation is syllable structure, other changes in behavior of consonant gradation can be traced to later sound changes which alter the syllable structure of words. One such example would be kuk.ka 'flower' → kuk.kaan 'flower+Illative'. If following the basic rule that a closed syllable causes the deletion of a syllable initial p , t, or k, then the conclusion would be ungrammatical: *kukaan. However, due to a historical development in which -h- was deleted in some unstressed medial positions, this particular instance does not result in consonant gradation (kuk.ka+han → kuk.kaan). The form kukkahan, without the deletion of the 'h', is still found in the southern Pohjanmaa dialect and occasionally in poetry.
The status of /d/ is somewhat different from /b/ and /ɡ/, since it appears in native Finnish words, too, as a regular 'weak' correspondence of the voiceless /t/ (see Consonant gradation below). At the time when Mikael Agricola, the 'father' of literary Finnish, devised a system for writing the language, this sound still had the value of the voiced dental fricative /ð/, as in English then. Since neither Swedish nor German of that time had a separate sign for this sound, Agricola chose to mark it with d or dh.
Later on, the */ð/ sound developed in a variety of ways in different Finnish dialects: it was deleted, or became a hiatus, a flap consonant, or any of t, r, l, j, jj, th. For example, of your (pl.) water could be:
In the middle of the 19th century, a significant portion of the Swedish-speaking upper class in Finland decided that Finnish had to be made equal in usage to Swedish. They even started using Finnish as their home language, even while very few of them really mastered it well. Since the historical */ð/ no more had a common way of pronunciation between different Finnish dialects and since it was usually written as "d", many started using the Swedish pronunciation [d], which eventually became the educated norm.
Initially, few native speakers of Finnish acquired the foreign plosive realisation of the native phoneme. Still some decades ago it was not entirely exceptional to hear borrowings like deodorantti ('a deodorant') pronounced as teotorantti, while native Finnish words with a /d/ were pronounced in the usual dialectal way. Nowadays, the Finnish language spoken by native Swedish speakers is not anymore considered "proper", but as a result of their long-lasting prestige, many people particularly in the capital district acquired the new [d] sound. Due to diffusion of the standard language through mass media and basic education, and due to the dialectal prestige of the capital area, the plosive [d] can now be heard in all parts of the country, at least in loanwords and in formal speech. Nowadays replacing /d/ with a /t/ is considered rustic, for example "Nyt tarvittais uutta tirektiiviä" instead of "Nyt tarvittaisiin uutta direktiiviä" ("Now we could use a new directive").
Väinö Linna uses the plosive d as a hallmark of unpleasant command language in the novel The Unknown Soldier. Lieutenant Lammio was a native Helsinkian, and his language was considered haughty upper-class speech. On the other hand, private Asumaniemi's (another native Helsinkian) plosive d raised no irritation, as he spoke Helsinki slang as his everyday speech.
In Helsinki slang, the slang used by some, more rarely nowadays, in Helsinki, the voiced stops are found in native words even in positions which are not the result of consonant gradation, e. g. dallas "s/he walked" (< native verb root talla-), bonjata "to understand" (< Russian /ponʲiˈmatʲ/ понимать). In the Southwestern dialects of Rauma-Eurajoki-Laitila area, b, d and g are commonplace, since the voicing of nasals spread to phonemes /p/, /t/ and /k/, making them half-voiced, e.g. sendä ← sentään or ningo ← niin kuin. They are also found in those coastal areas where Swedish influenced the speech.
Some example sets of words:
A double /h/ is rare, but possible, e.g. hihhuli "bigot". The distinction between /d/ and /dː/ is found only in foreign words; natively 'd' occurs only in the short form. Whereas /ʋ/ and /j/ may appear as geminates when spoken (e.g. vauva [ʋɑuʋːɑ], raijata [rɑijːɑtɑ]), this distinction is not phonemic, and is not indicated in spelling.
Secondary stress falls on the first syllable on non-initial parts of compounds, , for example the compound puunaama, meaning "wooden face" (from puu "tree" and naama "face"), is pronounced but puunaama, meaning "which was cleaned" (...followed by an agent in genitive, "by someone"), is pronounced .
Finnish sandhi is extremely frequent, appearing between many words and morphemes, in formal standard language and in everyday spoken language. In most registers, it is never written down; only dialectal transcriptions preserve it, the rest settling for a morphemic notation. There are two processes. The first is simple assimilation with respect to place of articulation (e.g. np → mp). The second is predictive gemination of initial consonants on morpheme boundaries.
Simple phonetic incomplete assimilations include, using Finnish notation:
Gemination of a morpheme-initial consonant occurs when the morpheme preceding it ends in a vowel and belongs to one of certain morphological classes:
The gemination can occur between morphemes of a single word as in /minulle/ + /kin/ → /minullekkin/ 'to me, too' (orthographically minullekin), between parts of a compound word as in /perhe/ + /pɑlɑʋeri/ → [perheppɑlɑʋeri] 'family meeting' (orthographically perhepalaveri), or between separate words as in /tule/ + /tænne/ → [tulettænne] 'Come here!'. In elaborate standard language, the gemination affects even morphemes with a vowel beginning: /otɑ/ + /omenɑ/ → [otɑʔʔomenɑ] or [otɑʔomenɑ] 'Take an apple!'. In casual speech, this is however often rendered as [otɑomenɑ] without a glottal stop.
These rules are generally valid for the standard language, although many Southwestern dialects, for instance, do not recognise the phenomenon at all. Still in the standard language there is disagreement between different speakers, whether for instance kolme 'three' should cause a gemination of the following initial consonant or not: [kolmeʋɑristɑ] or [kolmeʋʋɑristɑ] 'three crows'. Both forms occur and neither one of them is standardised, since in any case it does not affect writing. In some dictionaries compiled for foreigners or linguists, however, the tendency of geminating the following consonant is marked by a superscript x as in perhex.
The historical origins of the morpheme-boundary gemination are in complete assimilation of a consonant sound to another. For instance, the modern Finnish word for 'boat' vene used to be veneš, which was changed by a regular sound change to veneh. Now consider this being combined with other words of the language, as in veneh kulkevi 'the boat is moving'. At some point of history, the sequence /h+k/ on morpheme boundaries was reduced to /kk/, thus manifesting a complete assimilation of the /h/ to the /k/ sound. Here we get the modern Finnish form [ʋenekkulkee] (orthographically vene kulkee), even though the independent form [ʋene] has no sign of the old final consonant /h/.
In many Finnish dialects, including that of Helsinki, the gemination on morpheme boundaries has become more widespread due to the loss of additional final consonants, which appear only as gemination of following consonant, cf. French liaison. For example, the standard word for 'now' nyt has lost its t and become ny in Helsinki speech. However, in a sequence like /ny/ + /se/ 'now it [does something]' you can still sense the original final consonant, since the combination is pronounced [nysse] and not *[nyse] (although the latter would be permissible in the dialect of Turku).
Similar remnants of a lost word final /n/ can be seen in dialects, where e.g. the genitive form of the first singular pronoun is regularly /mu/ (standard language minun): /se/ + /on/ + /mu/ → [seommu] 'It is mine'. Preceding an approximant, the /n/ assimilates completely: [muʋʋɑimo] 'my wife'. Preceding a vowel, however, the /n/ however pops up in a different form: /mu/ + /omɑ/ → [munomɑ] or even [munnomɑ] 'my own'.