Finnish People

This article is about the European ethnic group. For other uses of "Finns" or "Finn", see Finn (disambiguation).
Anders Chydenius
Total population
6,5 million
Regions with significant populations
 Finland      approx. 4,900,000[1]
Other significant population centers:
 United States 700,000[2]
 Sweden 470,000
 Canada 131,040[3]
 Russia 127,600
(with all Karelians)[4]
(with Ingrian Finns)
 Brazil 90,000
 Australia 34,000[5]
 Germany 16,000 (in 2002)[6]
 Norway 15,000-60,000
(including Forest Finns
and Kvens)
 United Kingdom 11,228[9]
 Estonia 11,000[10]
 France 6,000 (in 2005)
 Spain 5,000 (in 2001)[6]
  Switzerland 2,656 (in 2002)[11]
 Netherlands 2,087 (in 2006)[12]
 Denmark 2,084 (in 2002)[11]
 UAE 900 (in 2010)[13]
 Ireland 898 (in 2011)[14]
 Serbia 22 (in 2011)[15]
Finnish, Meänkieli dialects, Kven
Lutheranism and Orthodox Christiany
Agnosticism, Atheism and Roman Catholicism minorities.

The terms Finns and Finnish people (Finnish: suomalaiset, Finland-Swedish: finnar (ethnic Finns), finländare (citizens of Finland)) are used in English to mean "a native or inhabitant of Finland". They are also used to refer to the ethnic group historically associated with Finland or Fennoscandia, and they are only used in that sense here.[16][17]

As with most ethnic groups, the definition of Finns may vary. In every definition, the term includes the Finnic (Finnish-speaking) population of Finland. The group can also be seen to include the Finnish-speaking population of Sweden and the traditionally Swedish-speaking population of Finland, although the inclusion of the latter into the Finnish ethnicity is a subject of discussion. Smaller populations that may or may not be seen to fall under the term Finns include the Kvens in Norway, the Tornedalians of Sweden and the Ingrian Finns of Russia. Finns can be divided according to dialect into subgroups sometimes called heimo (lit. tribe), but such divisions have become less important with internal migration.

Linguistically, Finnish, spoken by most Finns, is part of the Uralic language family and is most closely related to other Finnic languages such as Karelian and Estonian, while Swedish, spoken by Swedish-speaking Finns, is unrelated to the Finnish language and a member of the Indo-European language family. Finnish has loanwords from Baltic, Germanic, Sami and Slavic languages.[18]


The Finnish Population Registry Center maintains information on the place of birth, citizenship and mother tongue of the people living in Finland, but does not specifically categorize any as Finns by ethnicity.[19]

Finnish-speaking Finns

Main article: Finnish language

The majority of people living in the Republic of Finland consider Finnish as their first language. According to Statistics Finland, of the country's total population of 5,300,484 at the end of 2007, 91.2% (or 4,836,183) considered Finnish as their native language.[20] It is not known how many of the ethnic Finns living outside Finland speak Finnish as their first language.

In addition to the Finnish-speaking inhabitants of Finland, also Kvens (people of Finnish descent in Norway), Tornedalians (people of Finnish descent in northernmost Sweden), and Karelians in the historic Finnish province of Karelia and Evangelical Lutheran Ingrian Finns (both in the northwestern Russian Federation), as well as Finnish expatriates in various countries are usually considered as Finnish people.[dubious ]

Finns have been traditionally divided in sub-groups (heimot in Finnish) on regional, dialectical and ethnographical grounds. These include the people of Finland Proper (varsinaissuomalaiset), Satakunta (satakuntalaiset), Tavastia (hämäläiset), Savo (savolaiset), Karelia (karjalaiset) and Ostrobothnia (pohjalaiset). These sub-groups express regional self-identity with varying frequency and significance.

There is a number of distinct dialects (murre s. murteet pl. in Finnish) of the Finnish language spoken in Finland, although the use of only the standard Finnish (yleiskieli) both in its formal written (kirjakieli) and more casual spoken (puhekieli) form at the Finnish school system and within media and popular culture, as well as internal migration and urbanization, have all contributed to the subduing of the regional varieties considerably, especially in the latter half of the 20th century. The first three historical dialects were the South-Western (Lounaismurteet), Tavastian (Hämeen murre), and Karelian (Karjalan murre), which were later mixed up with each other and/or neighboring languages as the population expanded geographically to form the Southern Ostrobothnian (Etelä-Pohjanmaan murre), Central Ostrobothnian (Keski-Pohjanmaan murre), Northern Ostrobothnian (Pohjois-Pohjanmaan murre), Far-Northern (Peräpohjolan murre), Savonian (Savon murre), and South-Eastern (Kaakkois-Suomen murteet) aka South Karelian (Karjalan murre) dialects.

Finland Swedes

Main article: Finland Swedes

The area of modern Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom for several hundred years, and about 360,000 present-day individuals with Finnish citizenship speak Swedish as their mother tongue. In Finland, language is typically considered the basic, but not the only criterion that distinguishes the Finnish-speakers and the Swedish-speakers from each other.[21] In general, Finland Swedes consider themselves to be just as much Finnish as the Finnish-speaking majority, but they have their own special identity distinct from that of the majority, and they wish to be recognized as such. In a 2005 survey by Svenska Finlands Folkting carried out among the Swedish speakers, when asked about the meaning of their identity, 82% of the respondents answered: "Both to belong to an own culture but also to be Finnish amongst the rest."[22]

On the other hand, the Finland-Swedish minority have been seen to fulfill the major criteria for a separate ethnic group: self-identification, language, social structure, and ancestry.[23] Swedish-speaking Finns have a special relationship with Sweden, constituted of shared language and culture.

Sweden Finns

Main article: Sweden Finns

These include recent immigrants from Finland and (at least originally) Finnish-speaking people that have lived in Sweden for centuries. An estimated 450,000 first- or second-generation Finns live in Sweden, of which approximately half speak Finnish. The majority moved from Finland to Sweden following the Second World War, with a peak in 1970 and declining thereafter. There are also historical Finnish-speaking minorities in Sweden, for example the Tornedalingar (Torne Valley Finns) and the Finns of Dalecarlia. As a result, the Finnish language has an official status as one of five minority languages in Sweden.[24]

Other groups

The term 'Finns' have also been employed generally for other Finnic peoples, including Izhorians in Ingria, Karelians and Veps.

In Russia, where most Finns (Karelians not counted) are Ingrians, the 2002 Census demonstrates that they have refused their distinct Ingrian identities and now identify themselves as ethnic Finns.[25]


The Finnish term for Finns is suomalaiset (sing. suomalainen).

The Finnish and Swedish terms for the Swedish-speaking population of Finland are the expressions suomenruotsalaiset and finlandssvenskar respectively, which translate literally with regard to each other. In Finland Swedish usage and mindset the following distinctions are usually made: The nation (people) consists of Finnish speakers (Finland Swedish: finnar) and Swedish speakers (Finland Swedish: finlandssvenskar) who together with smaller minorities constitute the people of Finland (Finland Swedish: finländare). In Swedish spoken outside of Finland, in particular in Sweden, the term finländare is less known, and these distinctions are not always made.

Translating this terminology accurately into foreign languages, including Sweden's Swedish, is a tricky matter because the terminology closely reflects the nation's entire language issue, which played an intricate part in the process of the crystallisation of the nation's self-perception and in the interpretation of its history, and because it still affects these. Indeed, one of the very first domestic matters addressed during the process of national awakening in the 19th century was the language question.

It is therefore debatable which English terms best match the Finnish and (Finland-) Swedish terms suomalaiset (finländare, finnar) and finlandssvenskar (suomenruotsalaiset). Nevertheless, Swedish-speaking Finns seems to be the English term most commonly used today for[26] and by[27] the Swedish-speaking population of Finland, although the term Finland Swedes is in wide use too, at least in English written by non-native speakers in Scandinavia.

Similarly debatable is how to best designate the people living in Sweden who are current Finnish speakers or have Finnish or Finnish-speaking ancestors. The terms used include the traditional Sweden Finns and the more modern Finnish Swedes, instead of which it may be preferable to differentiate between (recent) Finnish immigrants and the indigenous Finnish ethnic minority in Sweden.[28]

As the meanings of these terms have changed in time, these terms may well be used with other meanings than those given above, particularly in foreign and older works.


Historical references to Northern Europe are scarce, and the names given to its peoples and geographic regions are obscure. Therefore, the etymologies of the names remain equally sketchy. Such names as Fenni, Phinnoi, Finnum, and Skrithfinni / Scridefinnum appear in a few written texts starting from about two millennia ago in association with peoples located in a northern part of Europe, but the real meaning of these terms is debatable. The earliest mentions of this kind are usually interpreted to have meant Fennoscandian hunter-gatherers whose closest successors in modern terms would be the Sami people.[29] It has been suggested that this non-Uralic ethnonym is of Germanic language origin and related to such words as finthan (Old High German) 'find', 'notice'; fanthian (Old High German) 'check', 'try'; and fendo (Old High German) and vende (Old Middle German) 'pedestrian', 'wanderer'.[30] Another etymological interpretation associates this ethnonym with fen in a more toponymical approach. Yet another theory postulates that the words finn and kven are cognates. The Icelandic Eddas and Norse sagas (11th to 14th centuries), some of the oldest written sources probably originating from the closest proximity, use words like finnr and finnas inconsistently. However, most of the time they seem to mean northern dwellers with a mobile life style.

An etymological link between the Sami and the Finns exists in modern Uralic languages as well. It has been proposed that e.g. the toponyms Sapmi (Sami for Lapland), Suomi (Finnish for Finland), and Häme (Finnish for Tavastia) are of the same origin,[30] the source of which might be related to the proto-Baltic word *žeme / Slavic земля (zemlja) meaning 'land'.[30] It has been proposed that these designations started to mean specifically people in Southwestern Finland (Finland Proper, Varsinais-Suomi) and later the whole area of modern Finland. But it is not known how, why, and when this occurred.

Petri Kallio has suggested that the name 'Suomi' may bear even earlier Indo-European echoes with the original meaning of either ’land’ or ’human’.[31]

Among the first written documents possibly designating western Finland as the land of Finns are two rune stones. One of these is in Söderby, Sweden, with the inscription finlont (U 582 †), and the other is in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, with the inscription finlandi (G 319 M) dating from the 11th century.[32]


With regard to the ancestry of the Finnish people, the modern view emphasizes the overall continuity in Finland's archeological finds[33] and (earlier more obvious) linguistic surroundings. Archeological data suggest the spreading of at least cultural influences from many sources ranging from the south-east to the south-west following gradual developments rather than clear-cut migrations.

Just as uncertain are the possible mediators and the timelines for the development of the Uralic majority language of the Finns. On the basis of comparative linguistics, it has been suggested that the separation of the Finnic and the Sami languages took place during the 2nd millennium BC, and that the proto-Uralic roots of the entire language group date from about the 6th to the 8th millennium BC. When the Uralic languages were first spoken in the area of contemporary Finland is debated, but current opinion leans towards the Stone Age.[33] It is thought, however, that Proto-Finnish (the proto-language of the Finnic languages) was not spoken in modern Finland, because the maximum divergence of the daughter languages occurs in modern-day Estonia. Therefore, Finnish was already a separate language when arriving in Finland. Furthermore, the traditional Finnish lexicon has a large number of words (about third) without a known etymology, hinting at the existence of a disappeared Paleo-European language; these include toponyms such as niemi "peninsula". A gradual displacement of the Sami people by Finns has continued to this day; toponyms suggest that the Sami lived in all of Finland in prehistory, and up to the 17th century, Finnish was not widely spoken in the north (Lapland).

Because the Finnish language itself reached a written form only in the 16th century, little primary data remains of early Finnish life. For example, the origins of such cultural icons as the sauna, the kantele (an instrument of the zither family), and the Kalevala (national epic) have remained rather obscure.

Agriculture supplemented by fishing and hunting has been the traditional livelihood among Finns. Slash-and-burn agriculture was practiced in the forest-covered east by Eastern Finns up to the 19th century. Agriculture, along with the language, distinguishes Finns from the Sami, who retained the hunter-gatherer lifestyle longer and moved to coastal fishing and reindeer herding. Following industrialization and modernization of Finland, most Finns were urbanized and employed in modern service and manufacturing occupations, with agriculture becoming a minor employer (see Economy of Finland). Western and southern coastal regions and islands have concentrations of the Finland-Swedish; although differences occupational structure are minor in modern times, the most common occupation of Finland-Swedes is as fishermen.

Finland's Swedish speakers descend from peasants and fishermen who settled coastal Finland ca. 1000–1250,[27] from the subsequent immigration during Swedish sovereignty over Finland,[34] and from Finns and immigrants who adopted the Swedish language.[27] Fennomania in the 19th and early 20th century led to some minor language change into Finnish, but this was of little consequence in comparison to ordinary demographic trends, which reduced the proportion of Swedish-speakers during the entire 20th century from 12.9% (1900) to 5.6% (2003).


Finns are traditionally assumed to originate from two different populations speaking different dialects of Proto-Finnic (kantasuomi). Thus, a division into West Finnish and East Finnish is made. Further, there are subgroups, traditionally called heimo,[35][36] according to dialects and local culture. Although ostensibly based on late Iron Age settlement patterns, the heimos have been constructed according to dialect during the rise of nationalism in the 19th century.

  • Western[37]
    • Häme: Tavastians or Häme people (hämäläiset)
    • Ostrobothnia: Ostrobothnians (pohjalaiset)
      • Southern Ostrobothnians (eteläpohjalaiset) have a particularly distinct identity and dialect
      • Central Ostrobothnians (keskipohjalaiset)
      • Northern Ostrobothnians (pohjoispohjalaiset)
        • Norrbotten, Sweden: speakers of Meänkieli, a Far Northern dialect of Finnish
    • Southwestern Finland: varsinaissuomalaiset
  • Emigrants
    • Forest Finns (Metsäsuomalaiset) of Sweden
    • Finnish immigrants to Sweden (ruotsinsuomalaiset)
    • Kvens (kveenit) of Finnmark, Norway
    • Other emigrant Finns (ulkosuomalaiset)
  • Swedish-speakers also have several dialectal subdivisions.

The historical provinces of Finland and Sweden can be seen to approximate some of these divisions. The regions of Finland, another remnant of a past governing system, can be seen to reflect a further manifestation of a local identity.

Today's (urbanized) Finns are not usually aware of the concept of 'heimo' nor do they typically identify with one, although the use of dialects has experienced a recent revival. Urbanized Finns do not necessarily know a particular dialect and tend to use standard Finnish or city slang but they may switch to a dialect when visiting their native area.


Recently, the use of National Geographic Genographic Project and the Suomi DNA-projekti. Haplogroup U5 is estimated to be the oldest mtDNA haplogroup in Europe and is found in the whole of Europe at a low frequency, but seems to be found in significantly higher levels among Finns, Estonians and the Sami people.[38] Of modern nationalities, Finns are closest to Cro-Magnons in terms of anthropological measurements.[39]

With regard to the Y-chromosome, the most common haplogroups of the Finns are N1c (58%), I (29%), R1a (7.5%) and R1b (3.5%).[40] Haplogroup N1c, which is found only in a few countries in Europe (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland and Russia), is a subgroup of the haplogroup N (Y-DNA) distributed across northern Eurasia and estimated in a recent study to be 10,000–20,000 years old and suggested to have entered Europe about 12,000–14,000 years ago from Asia.[41]

Finns show very little if any Mediterranean and African genes but on the other hand almost 10% of Finnish genes seem to be shared with Siberian populations. Nevertheless more than 80% of Finnish genes are from a single ancient Northeastern European population, while most Europeans are a mixture of 3 or more principal components.[42]

Variation within Finns is, according to fixation index (FST) values, greater than anywhere else in Europe. Greatest intra-Finnish FST distance is about 60, greatest intra-Swedish FST distance about 25.[43][44] FST distances between for example Germans, French and Hungarians is only 10, and between Estonians, Russians and Poles it is also 10.[45] Thus Finns from different parts of the country are more remote from each other genetically than are many European peoples from each other.[46] The closest genetic relatives for Finns are Estonians (FST to Helsinki 40 and to Kuusamo 90) and Swedes (FST to Helsinki 50 and to Kuusamo 100).

Genetics of the Swedish-speaking Finns

In a recent study (2008) a joint analysis was performed for the first time on Swedish and Finnish autosomal genotypes. Swedish-speakers from Ostrobothnia (reference population of the study representing 50% of all Swedish-speakers in Finland) did not differ significantly from the Finnish-speaking population of western Finland, but when Swedish samples were used as reference the Swedish-speaking Finns' samples clustered with the Swedes.[47] Moreover, according to a recent Y-DNA study (2008) Swedish-speaking reference group from Larsmo, Ostrobotnia, differed significantly from the Finnish-speaking sub-populations in the country in terms of Y-STR variation.[48]

Theories of the origin of Finns

In the 19th century, the Finnish researcher Matthias Castrén prevailed with the theory that "the original home of Finns" was in west-central Siberia.[49] But later, it is considered more credible that an ancient homeland of all Finno-Ugric peoples was situated in a region between the Volga and Kama rivers in the European part of Russia. Grouping Finnic with the controversial Altaic macrofamily ("Turanian") was popular in the 19th century, and much serious research was made to link Finns with "Altaic-speaking" peoples such as Mongolians.

Until the 1970s, most linguists believed that Finns arrived in Finland as late as the first centuries AD. But accumulating archaeological data suggested that the area of contemporary Finland had been inhabited continuously since the end of the ice-age, contrary to the earlier idea that the area had experienced long uninhabited intervals. The hunter-gatherer Sami were pushed into the more remote northern regions.[50]

A hugely controversial theory is so-called refugia. This was proposed in the 1990s by Kalevi Wiik, a professor emeritus of phonetics at the University of Turku. According to this theory, Finno-Ugric speakers spread north as the Ice age ended. They populated central and northern Europe, while Basque speakers populated western Europe. As agriculture spread from the south-east into Europe, the Indo-European languages spread among the hunter-gatherers. In this process, both the hunter-gatherers speaking Finno-Ugric and those speaking Basque learned how to cultivate land and became Indo-Europeanized. According to Wiik, this is how the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and Baltic languages were formed. The linguistic ancestors of modern Finns did not switch their language due to their isolated location.[51] The main supporters of Wiik's theory are Professor Ago Künnap (Univ. of Tartu), Professor Kyösti Julku (Univ. of Oulu) and Associate Professor Angela Marcantonio (Univ. of Rome). Wiik has not presented his theories in peer-reviewed scientific publications. Many scholars in Finno-Ugrian studies have strongly criticized the theory. Especially Professor Raimo Anttila, Petri Kallio and brothers Ante and Aslak Aikio have renounced Wiik's theory with strong words, hinting strongly to pseudoscience and even at right-wing political biases among Wiik's supporters.[50][52] Moreover, some dismissed the entire idea of refugia, due to the existence even today of arctic and subarctic peoples. The most heated debate took place in the Finnish journal Kaltio during autumn 2002. Since then, the debate has calmed, each side retaining their positions.[53] Whilst the refugium theory proved unpopular amongst Finns, substantial genotype analyses across the greater European genetic landscape have mostly confirmed the Last Glacial Maximum refugiums to be correct and have substantial backing of the greater scientific community.[54][55][56][57][58]

See also


External links

  • FTDNA Finland Geographic DNA Project
  • The Finnish Heritage Museum of Fairport Harbor, Ohio, USA
  • Folktinget
  • Åbo Akademi
  • Finno-Ugric media center

Template:Uralic peoples

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