Finnish phonology


Finnish phonology

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.

Vowels

Finnish, like many other Finno-Ugric languages as well as Turkish, has a pattern called vowel harmony that restricts the distribution of vowels in a word. Due to vowel harmony, only certain vowels can appear in a given word, according to the vowel in the root of the word. The vowels "i" and "e" are considered neutral (they can appear anywhere), but the front vowels "y", "ö" and "ä" never mix with the back vowels "u", "o", and "a" in a single word (except across compound limits) [Robert W. Hellstrom. "Finglish." "American Speech" Vol. 51, Issue 1/2 (1976) 85-93. p. 86. Accessed from JSTOR December 16 2007.] . For example, "tyttö" "girl" is permissible because it has only front vowels, but "*tytto" is impossible, because it has both front and back vowels.

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.

Monophthongs

:IPA|/ɑ/ open back unrounded vowel. More or less as in English "father". Finnish spelling: "a".:IPA|/e/ mid front unrounded vowel:IPA|/i/ close front unrounded vowel:IPA|/o/ mid back rounded vowel:IPA|/u/ close back rounded vowel:IPA|/y/ close front rounded vowel. As in French "vu", German "müde".:IPA|/æ/ near-open front unrounded vowel. As in English "bat". Finnish spelling: "ä":IPA|/ø/ mid front rounded vowel. As in French "deux". Finnish spelling: "ö"

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 IPA|/e ø o/ actually have vowel qualities somewhat nearer to the open-mid cardinal vowels IPA| [ɛ œ ɔ] than the close-mid IPA| [e ø o] . 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.

Diphthongs

In the table below there are represented the possible phonemic diphthongs in Finnish. As phonemic units, they contrast with long vowels, short vowels and with each other. They are usually, phonologically speaking, analyzed not as phonemes of their own but as sequences of two monophthong phonemes. This is in contrast to languages like English, where the diphthongs are best analyzed as independent phonemes (see International Phonetic Alphabet for English). However, in speech (ie. phonetically speaking) they do not sound like sequences of two different vowels; instead, the sound of the first vowel gradually glides into the sound of the second one with full vocalization lasting through the whole sound. That is to say, they are not broken by a hiatus or stress pattern.

The vowel harmony acts as a restricting principle disallowing combinations with both IPA|/ɑ, o, u/ and IPA|/æ, ø, y/. 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 IPA| [ˈylæ͡osɑ] (with an /äo/ diphthong) in rapid speech. The proper pronunciation is IPA| [ˈylæ.ˌosɑ] (with those vowels belonging to separate syllables).

Diphthongs such as IPA|/e͡y/ and IPA|/i͡y/ are quite rare and mostly found in derivative words, where a derivational affix starting with IPA|/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 IPA| [u͡o i͡e y͡ø] (in some accents even IPA| [u͡ɒ i͡a y͡ɶ] ) and not as centering diphthongs IPA| [u͡ə i͡ə y͡ə] , which are more common in the World's languages. The opening diphthongs come from earlier long mid vowels: IPA| [oː] > [u͡o] , [eː] > [i͡e] , [øː] > [y͡ø] . 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 IPA|/ɑ/ vs. IPA|/u͡ɑ/ instead of standard IPA|/ɑ/ vs. IPA|/ɑː/.

Consonants

# is the equivalent of IPA|/t/ under weakening consonant gradation, and thus occurs only medially, in the infinitives of the verbs "nähdä" (to see) and "tehdä" (to do), or in non-native words; it is actually more of an alveolar tap rather than a true voiced stop, and the dialectal realization varies wildly; see main article.
# The glottal stop can only appear at word boundaries as a result of certain sandhi phenomena, and it is not indicated in spelling: e.g. IPA|/annaʔʔolla/ 'let it be', orthographically "anna olla". Moreover, this sound is not used in all dialects.
# The short velar nasal IPA| [ŋ] is an allophone of IPA|/n/ in IPA|/nk/, and the long velar nasal IPA|/ŋŋ/, written "ng", is the equivalent of IPA|/nk/ under weakening consonant gradation (type of lenition) and thus occurs only medially.

IPA| [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' IPA| [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' IPA| [z] and 'ž' or 'zh' IPA| [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 IPA| [t͡s] , following German orthography, where the most familiar examples of the letter have traditionally been found.

With the phoneme IPA|/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 IPA| [ħ̞] next to IPA|/ɑ/, labiovelar IPA| [ʍ] or IPA| [xʷ] next to IPA|/u/, palatal IPA| [j̊] or IPA| [ç] next to IPA|/i/ and with intermediate quality next to other vowels. Additionally, between vowels a breathy or murmured pronunciation IPA| [ɦ] can occur. For example, "mahti" can be pronounced IPA| [mɑħ̞ti] while as "maha" is IPA| [mɑɦɑ] .

Consonant clusters

Originally, Finnish (outside the Southwestern area, roughly the triangle Helsinki-Turku-Kristiinankaupunki) had no initial consonant clusters. This is changing due to influence from other European languages. In older borrowings, initial consonant clusters have been simplified. For example "koulu" ← Swedish "skola" ('school'), "tuoli" ← Swedish "stol" ('chair').

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.

Consonant gradation

If the onset of the last syllable is a plosive, it is subject to consonant gradation, which appears as simplification in case of the geminates and as a change to an archiphonemic fricative for simple consonants. The phonetic environment controls which actual phoneme corresponds to the "fricative". Generally speaking, the uninflected form is the strong form, but there are exceptions. (Sometimes this is described as a result of syllable coda, but verbal imperatives typically have weak-grade open syllables, e.g. "pukea" "to dress" → "pue" "dress!").

The following is a partial list of strong → weak correspondences:
*Simplification of geminates:*"tt" → "t" (katto - katot):*"kk" → "k" (pukki - pukit):*"pp" → "p" (pappi - papit)
*The most common:*"t" → "d" (lato - ladot):*"k" → hiatus (pako - paot):*"p" → "v" (läpi -lävet)
*Change into a chroneme following a sonorant:*"mp" → "mm" (kampi - kammet):*"nk" → "ng" (notice the odd spelling, phonetically [ŋk] → [ŋŋ] ) (kenkä - kengät):*"lt" → "ll" (kielto - kiellot):*"rt" → "rr" (merta - merrat):*"nt" → "nn" (lento - lennot)
*Examples of some exceptions:*"uku" → "uvu" and "yky" → "yvy", e.g. in "puku", "kyky":*"sC" → no change, e.g. "piispa" → "piispan", "kaski" → "kasken", "lasta" → "lastan"

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

:"ranta" "shore" → "rannan": strong in nominative, weak in oblique cases:"ranne" "wrist" → "ranteen": weak in nominative, strong in oblique cases:"tavata" "to meet" → "tapaan" "I meet": weak in infinitive, strong in oblique cases:"tietää" "to know" → "tiedän" "I know": strong in infinitive, weak in oblique cases

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] ).

Other consonant alterations

Many of the "irregular" patterns of Finnish noun and verb inflection are explained by a change of a historical *IPA|/ti/ to IPA|/si/. The change from *IPA|/ti/ to IPA|/si/ itself does not result from consonant gradation. However, words having this particular alternation are still subject to consonant gradation because these words do not incorporate this change in all inflectional stems. (Finnish words may have two, and sometimes three stems.) Thus, a word such as "vesi" 'water (sg. nom.)' may produce "veden" (sg. gen.):"vetenä" (sg. ess.):"vesissä" (pl. iness.); because the change from "t" to "s" has only occurred in front of "i". When "i" has changed to another vowel, words like "vesi" inflect just like other nouns with a single "t" alternating with the consonant gradated "d".

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.

Orthography

While Finnish orthography generally follows its phonology in a regular way, there are a number of noteworthy exceptions.

Velar nasal

The velar nasal IPA|/ŋ/ ("äng-äänne") does not have its own letter. A single velar nasal is written "nk", as in "kenkä" IPA|/keŋkæ/, while the doubled velar nasal is written "ng", as in "kengän" IPA|/keŋŋæn/. The treatment of the velar nasal in loanwords is highly inconsistent, following the original spelling of the word more than the proper Finnish spelling. IPA|/eŋlɑnti/ is written "englanti", IPA|/mɑŋneetti/ is written "magneetti" (cf. "gnu"), IPA|/koŋɡestio/ is written "kongestio", etc. (Note that most Finns would pronounce a word written like "kongestio" as IPA| [koŋŋestio] as it is not widely known that a /g/ sound should be heard.)

Voiced plosives

Traditionally, IPA|/b/ and IPA|/ɡ/ are not counted as Finnish phonemes, since they appear only in loanwords. However, these borrowings being relatively common, they are nowadays considered part of the educated norm. The failure to use them correctly is often ridiculed in the media, e.g. if a news reporter or a high official consistently and publicly realises "Belgia" ('Belgium') as "Pelkia". Even many educated speakers, however, still make no distinction between voiced and voiceless plosives in regular speech if there is no fear of confusion. Minimal pairs do exist: IPA|/bussi/ 'a bus' vs. IPA|/pussi/ 'a bag', IPA|/ɡorillɑ/ 'a gorilla' vs. IPA|/kori+llɑ/ 'with a basket'.

The status of IPA|/d/ is somewhat different from IPA|/b/ and IPA|/ɡ/, since it appears in native Finnish words, too, as a regular 'weak' correspondence of the voiceless IPA|/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 IPA|/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 IPA|*/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:

* "teiän veen"
* "tei'än ve'en"
* "teiä vede"
* "teirän veren"
* "teilän velen"
* "teijjän vejen"
* "teidän veden"
* "teitän veten"
* "teiðän veðen"
* "teidhän vethen"

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 IPA|*/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 IPA| [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 IPA|/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 IPA| [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 IPA| [d] can now be heard in all parts of the country, at least in loanwords and in formal speech. Nowadays replacing IPA|/d/ with a IPA|/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 IPA|/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.

Length

All phonemes have distinctive length, except for IPA|/ʋ/ and IPA|/j/.

Some example sets of words::"tuli" = fire, "tuuli" = wind, "tulli" = customs:"muta" = mud, "muuta" = other (partitive sg.), "mutta" = but, "muuttaa" = to change or to move

A double IPA|/h/ is rare, but possible, e.g. "hihhuli" "bigot". The distinction between IPA|/d/ and IPA|/dː/ is found only in foreign words; natively 'd' occurs only in the short form. Whereas IPA|/ʋ/ and IPA|/j/ may appear as geminates when spoken (e.g. "vauva" IPA| [ʋɑuʋːɑ] , "raijata" IPA| [rɑijːɑtɑ] ), this distinction is not phonemic, and is not indicated in spelling.

In dialects or in the "everyday language" IPA|/ʋ/, IPA|/d/, and IPA|/j/ can have distinctive length, especially due to final consonant mutation, e.g. "sevverran" ("sen verran"), "kuvvoo" ("kuvaa"), "teijjän" ("teidän").

tress

Like Hungarian and Icelandic, Finnish always places the primary stress on the first syllable of a word, and is thus quantity-insensitive. Secondary stress normally falls on odd syllables. Contrary to primary stress, Finnish secondary stress is quantity sensitive. Thus, if secondary stress would fall on a light (CV.) syllable, with a heavy (CVV. or CVC.) syllable following, than the secondary stress is moved one syllable to the right, and the preceding foot (syllable group) will contain three syllables. Thus, "omenanani" "as my apple" , contains light syllables only, and has primary stress on the first syllable and secondary on the third, as expected. In "omenanamme" "as our apple", on the other hand, the third syllable ("na") is light and the fourth heavy ("nam"), thus secondary stress falls on the fourth syllable. Certain Finnish dialects also have quantitiave-sensitive main stress pattern, but instead of moving the initial stress, they geminate the consonant, so that e.g. light-heavy CV.CVV becomes heavy-heavy CVCCVV. E.g. the partitive form of "fish" is pronounced "kalaa" in the quantity-insensitive dialects but "kallaa" in the quantity-sensitive ones.

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 IPA| [ˈpuː-ˌnɑː-mɑ] but "puunaama", meaning "which was cleaned" (...followed by an agent in genitive, "by someone"), is pronounced IPA| [ˈpuː-nɑː-mɑ] .

andhi

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:
*n + k → ŋk, velarization due to 'k', e.g. "sen kanssa" IPA|/seŋ kɑnssɑ/
*n + p → mp, labialization due to 'p' e.g. "menenpä" IPA|/menempæ/
*V + V → VIPA|ʔV, dissimilation of a sequence of individual vowels (compared to diphthongs) by adding a glottal stop, e.g. kuorma-auto IPA|/kuormɑʔɑuto/ (not obligatory)

Gemination of a morpheme-initial consonant occurs when the morpheme preceding it ends in a vowel and belongs to one of certain morphological classes:

* nouns in "-e" (apart from some new loanwords)
* imperatives and connegative imperatives of the second-person singular, as well as the negative form of the present indicative (these three are always similar to each other)
* connegative imperatives of the third-person singular, first-person plural, second-person plural and third-person plural.::"älkää tehkökään sitä" 'actually, don't do it' IPA| [tehkøkːæːn]
* first infinitives (the dictionary form)
* noun cases in "-e": allative "-lle" as well as the more marginal sublative "-nne" (as in "tänne") and prolative "-tse" (as in "postitse"); not the instructive, though
* some other words such as "kai" 'probably', "luo" 'to, towards (a person, a place)', "tai" 'or'

The gemination can occur between morphemes of a single word as in IPA|/minulle/ + IPA|/kin/IPA|/minullekkin/ 'to me, too' (orthographically "minullekin"), between parts of a compound word as in IPA|/perhe/ + IPA|/pɑlɑʋeri/IPA| [perheppɑlɑʋeri] 'family meeting' (orthographically "perhepalaveri"), or between separate words as in IPA|/tule/ + IPA|/tænne/IPA| [tulettænne] 'Come here!'. In elaborate standard language, the gemination affects even morphemes with a vowel beginning: IPA|/otɑ/ + IPA|/omenɑ/IPA| [otɑʔʔomenɑ] or IPA| [otɑʔomenɑ] 'Take an apple!'. In casual speech, this is however often rendered as IPA| [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: IPA| [kolmeʋɑristɑ] or IPA| [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 IPA|/h+k/ on morpheme boundaries was reduced to IPA|/kk/, thus manifesting a complete assimilation of the IPA|/h/ to the IPA|/k/ sound. Here we get the modern Finnish form IPA| [ʋenekkulkee] (orthographically "vene kulkee"), even though the independent form IPA| [ʋene] has no sign of the old final consonant IPA|/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 IPA|/ny/ + IPA|/se/ 'now it [does something] ' you can still sense the original final consonant, since the combination is pronounced IPA| [nysse] and not IPA|* [nyse] (although the latter would be permissible in the dialect of Turku).

Similar remnants of a lost word final IPA|/n/ can be seen in dialects, where e.g. the genitive form of the first singular pronoun is regularly IPA|/mu/ (standard language "minun"): IPA|/se/ + IPA|/on/ + IPA|/mu/IPA| [seommu] 'It is mine'. Preceding an approximant, the IPA|/n/ assimilates completely: IPA| [muʋʋɑimo] 'my wife'. Preceding a vowel, however, the IPA|/n/ however pops up in a different form: IPA|/mu/ + IPA|/omɑ/IPA| [munomɑ] or even IPA| [munnomɑ] 'my own'.

ee also

*List of phonetics topics

References


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