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Finnish phonology

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Finnish phonology

Unless otherwise noted, statements in this article refer to Standard Finnish, which is based on the dialect spoken in Häme Province in central south Finland.[1] Standard Finnish is used by professional speakers, such as the reporters and the news presenters on television.


Finnish monophthongs[2]
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i y u
Mid ø̞
Open æ ɑ

Phonetically, the phoneme /ɑ/ is usually central, although it is back in some dialects. The mid vowels are phonetically "true" mid, i.e. intermediate between close-mid ([e], [ø], [o]) and open-mid ([ɛ], [œ], [ɔ]).[2] However, since no language is known to phonemically distinguish all three of these levels of mouth opening, the International Phonetic Association (IPA) provides no separate symbols for mid vowel phones. If precision in phonetic transcription is desired, the mid front phones can be indicated by using the lowering diacritic with the symbols for close-mid front vowels, as follows: [e̞], [ø̞] and [o̞].

Finnish makes phonemic contrasts between long and short vowels, even in unstressed syllables, though long close-mid vowels are more common in unstressed syllables.[3] Each short monophthong has a long counterpart with no real difference in acoustic quality.[4] Long vowels are phonemically perceived as two identical vowels in succession and vowel length is not understood as a phonemic quality in Finnish such as vowel height.


The table below lists the conventionally recognized diphthongs in Finnish. In speech (i.e. phonetically speaking) a diphthong does not sound like a sequence 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, the two portions of the diphthong are not broken by a pause or stress pattern. In Finnish, diphthongs are considered phonemic units, contrasting with "long vowels" and with short vowels in Finnish. Phonologically, however, Finnish diphthongs usually are analyzed as sequences (this in contrast to languages like English, where the diphthongs are best analyzed as independent phonemes (see International Phonetic Alphabet for English.)

Diphthongization usually occurs only in initial syllables in Finnish, and it is usually taught that diphthongization occurs only with the combinations listed. However, there are recognized situations in which other vowel pairs diphthongize. For example, in rapid speech the word yläosa ('upper part', from ylä-, 'upper' + osa, 'part') can be pronounced [ˈylæo̯sɑ] (with an /æo/ diphthong). The proper pronunciation is [ˈylæ.osɑ] (with those vowels belonging to separate syllables).

Diphthongs Ending with /i/ Ending with /u/ Ending with /y/ Opening diphthongs
Starting with /ɑ/ /ɑj/ /ɑw/
Starting with /æ/ /æj/ /æɥ/
Starting with /o/ /oj/ /ow/
Starting with /e/ /ej/ /ew/ /eɥ/
Starting with /ø/ /øj/ /øɥ/
Starting with /u/ /uj/ /uo̯/
Starting with /i/ /iw/ /iɥ/ /ie̯/
Starting with /y/ /yj/ /yø̯/

The diphthongs /eɥ/ and /iɥ/ are quite rare and mostly found in derivative words, where a derivational affix starting with /y/ (or properly the vowel harmonic archiphoneme /U/) 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). Older *eɥ and *iɥ in initial syllables have been shifted to /øɥ/ and /yː/.

Opening diphthongs are in standard Finnish only found in root-initial syllables like in words tietää 'to know', takapyörä 'rear wheel' (from taka- 'back, rear' + pyörä 'wheel'; the latter part is secondarily stressed) or luo 'towards'. This might make them easier to pronounce as true opening diphthongs [uo̯ ie̯ yø̯] (in some accents even [uɑ̯ iɑ̯ iæ̯ yæ̯][5]) and not as centering diphthongs [uə̯ iə̯ yə̯], which are more common in the World's languages. The opening diphthongs come from earlier long mid vowels: *oː > [uo̯], *eː > [ie̯], *øː > [yø̯]. Since that time new long mid vowels have come to the language from various sources.

Among the phonological processes operating in Finnish dialects are diphthongization and diphthong reduction. For example, Savo Finnish has the phonemic contrast of /ɑ/ vs. /uɑ̯/ vs. /ɑː/ instead of standard language contrast of /ɑ/ vs. /ɑː/ vs. /ɑw/.

Vowel harmony

A diagram illustrating the vowel groups in Finnish.

Finnish, like many other Uralic languages, has the phenomenon called vowel harmony, which restricts the cooccurrence in a word of vowels belonging to different articulatory subgroups. Vowels within a word "harmonize" to be either all front or all back.[6] In particular, no native noncompound word can contain vowels from the group {a, o, u} together with vowels from the group {ä, ö, y}. Vowel harmony affects inflectional suffixes and derivational suffixes, which have two forms, one for use with back vowels, and the other with front vowels. Compare e.g., the following pair of abstract nouns: hallitus 'government' (from hallita "to reign") versus terveys 'health' (from terve "healthy").

There are exceptions to the constraint of vowel harmony. For one, in Finnish there are two front vowels that lack back counterparts: /i/ and /e/. Therefore, words like kello 'clock' (with a front vowel in a nonfinal syllable) and tuuli 'wind' (with a front vowel in the final syllable), which contain /i/ or /e/ together with a back vowel, count as back vowel words; /i/ and /e/ are effectively neutral in regard to vowel harmony in such words.[7] Kello and tuuli yield the inflectional forms kellossa 'in a clock' and tuulessa 'in a wind'. In the absence of back vowels, /i/ and /e/ count as front vowels, e.g. tietiellä "road – on the road". For another, compound words do not have vowel harmony across the compound boundary;[8] e.g., seinäkello 'wall clock' (from seinä 'wall' and kello 'clock') has back /o/ cooccurring with front /æ/. In the case of compound words, the choice between back and front suffix alternants is determined by the immediately preceding element of the compound; e.g., 'in a wall clock' is seinäkellossa, not seinäkellossä.

New loan words may exhibit vowel disharmony; for example, olympialaiset ('Olympic games') and sekundäärinen ('secondary') have both front and back vowels. In standard Finnish, these words are pronounced as they are spelled, but many speakers apply vowel harmony – olumpialaiset, and sekundaarinen or sekyndäärinen.


Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar/
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n 1 ŋ 4
Plosive p, (b) t, d 1,2 k, (ɡ) ʔ 3
Fricative (f) s 5 (ʃ) h
Approximant ʋ l j
Trill r
  1. For most speakers, /n/ and /d/ are actually alveolar consonants instead of dental; /t/ is the only true dental consonant.
  2. /d/ in native vocabulary is the equivalent of /t/ under weakening consonant gradation, and thus in occurs only word-medially, either by itself (e.g. sade 'rain'; cf. sataa 'to rain') or in the cluster /hd/ (e.g. lähde 'fountain, spring, source'; cf. lähteä 'to depart'). In recent loanwords and technical vocabulary the sound can occur somewhat freely (e.g. addiktio, adverbi, anekdootti, bulevardi, demoni, formaldehydi, sandaali), likewise in slang vocabulary (e.g. dorka 'idiot', kondis 'condition'). The typical standard Finnish realization is actually more of an alveolar tap rather than a true voiced plosive, and the dialectal realization varies widely; see main article.
  3. 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. /annaʔːolla/ 'let it be', orthographically anna olla. Moreover, this sound is not used in all dialects.
  4. The short velar nasal [ŋ] is an allophone of /n/ before /k/, and the long velar nasal /ŋː/, written ng, is the equivalent of /ŋk/ under weakening consonant gradation (type of lenition) and thus occurs only medially.
  5. /s/ may be retracted [s̠].[9]

[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' [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. The letter 'z', found mostly foreign words and names such as Zimbabwe, may also be pronounced as [t͡s], thus 'Zimbabwe' /tsimpapʋe/, given that Finnish lacks also /w/ and the /b/–/p/ contrast is inconsistently followed.

With the phoneme /h/, speakers add weak frication consistent with the vowel, producing a voiceless fricative /h/. Friction tends to be strongest when the phoneme occurs between a vowel and a consonant, e.g. mahti, 'might'. The friction is pharyngeal [ħ] next to /ɑ/, labiovelar [xʷ] next to /u/, palatal [ç] next to /i/ and with intermediate quality next to other vowels. Additionally, between vowels a breathy or murmured [ɦ] can occur. For example, mahti can be pronounced [mɑħti] or [mɑhti], while maha ('stomach') can be [mɑɦɑ].

Voiced plosives

Traditionally, /b/ and /ɡ/ were 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: /busːi/ 'a bus' vs. /pusːi/ 'a bag', /ɡorilːɑ/ 'a gorilla' vs. /kori-lːɑ/ 'on a basket'.

The status of /d/ is somewhat different from /b/ and /ɡ/, since it also appears in native Finnish words, as a regular 'weak' correspondence of the voiceless /t/ (see Consonant gradation below). Historically, this sound was a fricative, /ð/ ('th' as in English the). It has become a plosive in standard Finnish, in part because when mass elementary education was instituted in Finland, the spelling 'd' in Finnish language texts was mispronounced as a plosive, under the influence of how Swedish speakers would pronounce this letter.[10] (In the close to seven centuries during which Finland was under first Swedish, then Russian rule, Swedish speakers dominated the government and economy.) Initially, few native speakers of Finnish acquired the foreign plosive realisation of the native phoneme. As for loanwords, /d/ was often assimilated as /t/. Even well into the 20th century it was not entirely exceptional to hear loanwords like deodorantti ('a deodorant') pronounced as teotorantti, while native Finnish words with a /d/ were pronounced in the usual dialectal way. 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.

Consonant gradation

"Consonant gradation" is the term used for a set of alternations which pervade the language, between a "strong grade" and a "weak grade". These alternations are always conditioned by both phonology and morphosyntax. The phonological factor which triggers the weak grade is the syllable structure of closed syllable. However, there are contexts where weak grade fails to occur in a closed syllable, and there are contexts where the weak grade occurs in an open syllable. Morphosyntactically, the weak grade occurs in nominals (nouns, pronouns, adjectives) usually only before case suffixes, and in verbs usually only before person agreement suffixes.

The "strong grade" is usually the phonologically basic form. Usually, the strong grade occurs in an open syllable (one ending in a vowel) and the weak grade occurs in a closed syllable (one ending in a consonant). The consonants subject to this change are the plosives {p, t, k} when preceded by a vowel or a sonorant ({m, n, l, r}). Consonant gradation appears as degemination in case of the geminates and as a change to an homorganic consonant for single plosives.

The following is a partial list of strong ~ weak correspondences. All the examples involve the nominative singular versus nominative plural.

  • Degemination
    • /pː/ ~ /p/ (pappi ~ papit 'priest(s)')
    • /kː/ ~ /k/ (pukki ~ pukit, 'billy goat(s)')
    • /tː/ ~ /t/ (katto ~ katot, 'roof(s)')
  • Lenition
    • /p/ ~ /ʋ/ (läpi ~ lävet 'hole(s)')
    • /k/ ~ hiatus (pako ~ paot 'escape(s)')
    • /t/ ~ /d/ (katu ~ kadut 'street(s)')
  • Assimilation to a preceding sonorant
    • /mp/ ~ /mː/ (kampi ~ kammet 'crank(s)', 'rotating arm mechanism(s)')
    • /ŋk/ ~ /ŋː/ (kenkä ~ kengät 'shoe(s)'; note that ng does not represent [ŋɡ])
    • /nt/ ~ /nː/ (lento ~ lennot 'flight(s)')
    • /lt/ ~ /lː/ (kielto ~ kiellot 'prohibition(s)')
    • /rt/ ~ /rː/ (parta ~ parrat 'beard(s)')
  • Some exceptions
    • /lke/, /rke/, /hke/ ~ /lje/, /rje/, /hje/ (jälki ~ jäljet 'trace(s)', kurki ~ kurjet 'crane(s)', lahjex ~ lahkeet 'pant leg(s)')
    • /uku/, /yky/ ~ /uʋu/, /yʋy/ (puku ~ puvut 'suit(s)', kyky ~ kyvyt 'skill(s)')

Historical phonological changes occasionally complicate the picture, creating exceptions to the general correspondence of strong grade : open syllable :: weak grade : closed syllable.

ranne "wrist" ~ ranteen
tavata "to meet" ~ tapaan "I meet"

Because one of the triggers for consonant gradation is syllable structure, some exceptions in consonant gradation can be traced to later sound changes which alter the syllable structure of words. One such example is found in the illative singular of nouns, e.g. kukka 'flower' ~ kukkaan '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: ˣkukaan. 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 (kukka+han ~ kukkaan). Forms such as kukkahan, without the deletion of the 'h', are still found in the southern Pohjanmaa dialect and occasionally in poetry.

As most long vowels in non-initial syllables result from loss of former intervening consonants, it can be stated as a phonological rule that the weak grade rarely occurs before a long vowel. Other examples include strong grade verb forms like tapaan (from *tapaðan). However, the present tense passive ending -taan shows a weak grade compared to the strong grade of the other passive forms such as the past (-ttiin) and conditional (-ttaisiin) passive. As the conditional ending is clearly segmented into three parts -tta-isi-in, where -isi- is the conditional mood suffix, it could be argued that the present tense simply lacks any infix at all. By this reasoning, the suffix is underlyingly *-tta-an, which consists of a long vowel with no lost consonant, so that the initial consonant is weakened.

Personal first names and recent loans do not gradate in quality in most cases (e.g. Hilta ~ Hiltan, wiki ~ wikin); 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 [pikːi] ~ PIK:n [pikin]).

Other consonant alternations

Many of the remaining "irregular" patterns of Finnish noun and verb inflection are explained by a change of a historical *ti to /si/. The change from *ti to /si/ itself does not result from consonant gradation but a phenomenon known as assibilation. 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 has, however, been reverted in some cases, e.g. kieltää ~ kielsi ('deny') but säätää ~ sääti ('adjust'), although both alternate forms (kielti and sääsi) are found. Apparently this was caused by word pairs such as noutaa ~ nouti ('bring') and nousta ~ nousi ('rise'), which were felt important enough to keep them contrastive.

Assibilation occurred prior to the change of the original consonans cluster *kt to /ht/, which can be seen in the inflection of the numerals yksi and kaksi: yhden, kahden.

In many recent loanwords, there is vacillation between representing an original voiceless consonant as single or geminate: this is the case for example kalsium (~ kalssium) and kantarelli (~ kanttarelli). The orthography generally favors the single form, if it exists. (More completely assimilated loans such as farssi, minuutti, ooppera generally have settled on geminates.)


All phonemes (including /ʋ/ and /j/, see below) can occur doubled phonemically as a phonetic increase in length. Consonant doubling always occurs at the boundary of a syllable in accordance with the rules of Finnish syllable structure.

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 /h/ is rare in standard Finnish, but possible, e.g. hihhuli, a derogatory term for a religious fanatic. In some dialects, e.g. Savo, it is common: rahhoo, or standard Finnish rahaa "money" (in the partitive case). The distinction between /d/ and /dː/ is found only in foreign words; natively 'd' occurs only in the short form. While /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.

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


The phonemic template of a syllable in Finnish is CVC, in which C can be an obstruent or a liquid consonant. V can be is realized as a long vowel or a diphthong. A final consonant of a Finnish word, though not a syllable, must be a coronal one.

Originally Finnish syllables could not start with two consonants but many loans containing these have added this to the inventory. This is observable in older loans such as ranska < Swedish franska ("French") contrasting newer loans presidentti < Swedish president ("president"). 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, the Southwestern dialects formed an exception: consonant clusters, especially those with plosives, trills or nasals, are common: examples include place names Friitala and Preiviiki near the town Pori, or town Kristiinankaupunki ("Kristinestad"). Nowadays the overwhelming majority of Finns have adopted initial consonant clusters in their speech.

Consonant phonotactics[11]

Word-final Consonants

  • Only /t, s, n, r, l/.
  • Glottal stop /ʔ/ occurs almost exclusively at word boundaries, replacing what used to be word-final consonants /k/ and /h/.

Word-Initial Consonants

  • Only /d/ and /ŋ/ cannot occur word initially (except /d/ in loan words).

Word-Initial Consonant Clusters

  • Only stop+liquid combinations are allowed, which is a result of the of influence of mostly post-WWII loan words (e.g. /klinikka/ = “clinic”, /plane:tta/ = “planet”).

Word-Final Consonant Clusters

  • None, except in obscure dialects via vowel dropping.

Word-Medial Consonant Clusters

  • The following clusters are not possible in Finnish:
    • any exceeding 3 consonants
    • stop + nasal
    • labial stop + non-labial stop
    • non-dental stop + semivowel
    • Nasal + non-homorganic obstruent (except /nh/)
    • nasal + sonorant
    • liquid + liquid
    • semivowel + consonant

Vowel phonotactics[12]

Word-final and word-initial vowels

  • Any of the vowels can be found in this position.

Vowel sequences

  • Double/long vowels
    • Usually only the vowels /a, æ, i, y, u/ are long.
    • Sometimes the mid vowels /e, o, ø/ can be long in cases of contraction.
  • Diphthongs
    • Of the 17 diphthongs, 14 are formed from any vowel followed by a close vowel. The 3 exceptions are /uo, yø, ie/.
  • Vowel combinations
    • Approximately 20 combinations, always at syllable boundaries.
    • Unlike diphthongs, the second vowel is longer, as is expected, and it can be open /a/ or /æ/.
    • Sometimes 3–4 vowels can occur in a sequence if a medial consonant has disappeared.


Like Hungarian and Icelandic, Finnish always places the primary stress on the first syllable of a word.[13] 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, then 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 (cf. also the examples under the "Length" section).

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


Finnish is not really isochronic at any level. For example, huutelu "shouting" and huuhtelu "flushing" are distinct words, where the initial syllables huu- and huuh- are of different length. Additionally, acoustic measurements show that the first syllable of a word is (physically) longer than other syllables, in addition to its phonemic length (long or short). Thus, there are four distinct phonetic lengths.


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:

  • /n + k/ → /ŋk/, velarization due to 'k', e.g. sen kanssa /seŋ kɑnsːɑ/
  • /n + p/ → /mp/, labialization due to 'p' e.g. menenpä /menempæ/
  • /V + V/ → /VʔV/, dissimilation of a sequence of individual vowels (compared to diphthongs) by adding a glottal stop, e.g. kuorma-auto /kuo̯rmɑʔɑwto/ (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. Gemination or a tendency of a morpheme to cause gemination is sometimes indicated with a superscripted "x", e.g. vene /ʋeneˣ/. Examples of gemination:

  • nouns in -e (apart from some new loanwords)
e.g. hakelava /hɑkelːɑʋɑ/ "open-box bed for wood chips"
  • 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)
e.g. osta vene /o̞stɑʋːene/ "buy a boat"
  • 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' /tehkøkːæːn/
  • first infinitives (the dictionary form)
e.g. täytyy mennä käymään /tæɥtyːmenːækːæɥmæːn/
  • 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 /minulːe/ + /kin//minulːekːin/ 'to me, too' (orthographically minullekin), between parts of a compound word as in /perhe/ + /pɑlɑʋeri/[perhepːɑlɑʋeri] 'family meeting' (orthographically perhepalaveri), or between separate words as in /tule/ + /tænːe/[tuletːænːe] 'Come here!'. In elaborate standard language, the gemination affects even morphemes with a vowel beginning: /otɑ/ + /omenɑ/[otɑʔːomenɑ] 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. Even in the standard language there is idiolectal variation (disagreement between different speakers); e.g., whether kolme 'three' should cause a gemination of the following initial consonant or not: [kolmeʋɑristɑ] or [kolmeʋːɑristɑ] '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.

Historically, morpheme-boundary gemination is the result of regressive assimilation. The preceding word originally ended in /h/. For instance, the modern Finnish word for 'boat' vene used to be veneh (a form still existing in the closely related Karelian language). At some point in time, these /h/'s were assimilated by the initial consonant of a following word, e.g., veneh kulkevi 'the boat is moving'. Here we get the modern Finnish form [ʋenekːulkeː] (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 at morpheme boundaries has become more widespread due to the loss of additional final consonants, which appear only as gemination of the following consonant, cf. French liaison. For example, the standard word for 'now' nyt has lost its t and become ny in Helsinki speech. However, /ny/ + /se/ 'now it [does something]' is pronounced [nysːe] 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/[seomːu] 'It is mine'. Preceding an approximant, the /n/ is completely assimilated: [muʋːɑjmo] 'my wife'. Preceding a vowel, however, the /n/ however appears in a different form: /mu/ + /omɑ/[munomɑ] or even [munːomɑ] 'my own'.

See also


  1. ^ Iivonen & Harnud (2005:60)
  2. ^ a b Iivonen & Harnud (2005:60, 66)
  3. ^ Iivonen & Harnud (2005:60–61)
  4. ^ Iivonen & Harnud (2005:66)
  5. ^ In these dialects, ie may be reflected as either [iɑ̯] or [iæ̯] depending on vowel harmony.)
  6. ^ van der Hulst & van de Weijer (1995:498)
  7. ^ van der Hulst & van de Weijer (1995:498–499)
  8. ^ Hellstrom (1976:86)
  9. ^ Suomi, Toivanen & Ylitalo (2008:27)
  10. ^ Campbell 2004:79
  11. ^ Sulkala, Helena; Merja Karjalainen (1992). Finnish. London: Routledge. pp. 369–372.  
  12. ^ Sulkaka, Helena; Merja Karjalainen (1992). Finnish. London: Routledge. pp. 372–374.  
  13. ^ Iivonen & Harnud (2005:59, 61)


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