Finnish as a World Language

(as originally printed in "Sesquipedalian," vol. III no. 8-10, 1992, Stanford University)

Original text: Richard Lewis. Swedish translation: Gunnel Stenberg. Translated back from Swedish by Tomas Riad. Post-editing: Kyle Wohlmut. Additional Finnish consulting: Arto Anttila.

Is it now the time for Finnish to take its place as the international language? It is obviously difficult to answer this question with certainty. At the moment there seem to be several factors which would hinder such a development. First of all, Finnish is currently spoken by a mere .05% of the world's population; secondly one cannot learn the language in ten easy lessons; thirdly, a large number of Finns still do not understand it.

Although the advancement of Finnish has been a bit slow, there are Finns who point out the following advantages Finnish would have as a world language:

  1. It is an essentially logical language. The rules are absolute and reliable in all situations, except exceptions.
  2. It is a good sounding language; in other words, it is pleasing to the ear. This has to do with its wealth of vowels, which rules out ugly consonant clusters. It was recently suggested that some vowels should be exported to Czechoslovakia, where a shortage of vowels is imminent, and that some Czech consonants should be imported to Finland. However, negotiations collapsed at an early stage. The Finns would not deal with a language that calls ice-cream 'zmrzlina,' while the Czechs in turn distrusted a language that calls it 'jaeaeteloeae' (jäätelöä).
  3. It is a concise language. One Finnish word can mean several different things in English. Why lose time and energy saying 'the committee that takes care of negotiations concerning the truce' when you can use a simple little word like 'aseleponeuvottelutoimikunta?'
  4. Learning Finnish builds confidence. If you can learn Finnish, then you can learn anything.
  5. Finnish has longer and better swear words than any other language.

In light of these facts we can see that the introduction of Finnish as a world language would be a blessing to all mankind. The problem we now face is how to convince the remaining 99.95% of the global population to learn Finnish. We hope the world can receive the benefit of our own experience with the language. After a few months of intensive (and sometimes downright desperate) research we have developed a method of fording this linguistic barrier which has so far proved to be one of the world's most formidable ones.

Nouns and Their Cases

Remember, self-confidence is the key to success. Never hesitate. When you are about to use a noun, always reflect according to the following pattern:

  • which is the corresponding noun in Finnish?
  • singular or plural?
  • what case? Nominative, accusative, genitive, essive, partitive, translative, inessive, elative, illative, adessive, ablative, allative, abessive, comitative or instructive?
  • is it possible to avoid using the noun?

After you have contemplated this during the proverbial fraction of a second, take a deep breath and pronounce the first half of the noun in a huge, booming voice. Then gradually weaken the voice so that by the time you pronounce the case ending, it is only in a hoarse whisper. This method of demonstrating your mastery of case usage is completely safe since, although you cannot prove that you were right, nobody, Finn or otherwise, can ever prove that you were wrong. Above all, look confident.


Superficially, there are few similarities between the Finnish and English systems. For example:

        yksi        --  one
        kaksi       --  two
        kolme       --  three
        neljae      --  four
        viisi       --  five
        kuusi       --  six
        seitsemaen  --  seven
        kahdeksan   --  eight
        yhdeksaen   --  nine
        kymmenen    --  ten

A closer inspection, however, reveals the following facts that are useful to the beginner: (a) 'kolme' and 'three' each have five letters; (b) 'viisi' and 'five' are both formed around the letter 'v'; (c) 'seitsemaen' and 'seven' seem to share a common root (apparently a word beginning with 's').

Other cues for the acquisition of numerals:

  1. Forget the English numerals altogether. This done, you will have to learn the Finnish ones in order to tell the time. If you should run into problems when using English at a later stage you can consult a Finnish-English dictionary, or, when you need numerals up to twenty, make use of fingers and toes.
  2. Do not waste time learning numerals higher than 20,000,000. It is unlikely that you will ever have that much money, even in Finnmarks.
  3. Months and Days: Say 'the first day,' 'the third day,' 'the second month,' 'the next-to-last month,' etc. This will save you the two years it takes to learn these names and shifts the burden of labour over to the person you are talking to.

The Direct Object

Most Finnish grammars are particularly easy to understand on this point. The basic idea is: In Finnish the direct object (commonly called the accusative object) may occur in the nominative, the genitive, or the partitive case. In order to make things easier to understand, nominative and genitive are called accusative. There is also a real accusative which is not called anything at all. Utmost care must be applied when interpreting the grammatical terminology. If you encounter the word 'accusative,' it can mean nominative or genitive, but never the real accusative. The term 'nominative' can mean accusative or, possibly, nominative. 'Genitive' can mean accusative or simply genitive, while partitive is always called partitive, although it may be accusative.


The best piece of advice is do not use verbs at all. Sometimes you may find it a little difficult to pursue a meaningful conversation without one, but with diligent practice you will become adept at this. We reduced the number of conversational errors by 20% after discovering the method of omitting verbs. Another 15% can be eliminated by omitting all adjectives, adverbs and pronouns, although at this point conversation tends to sink to an extremely superficial level, unless you are very good with your hands.


Some difficult sounds:

  • aeae (ää): like 'e' in 'expatiatory,' but longer and more intense. Mouth as open as possible, ears backward and plastered to head.
  • aey (äy): half palatal, half alveolar, half dental. Look disgusted.
  • yoe (yö): be very, very careful with this one.
  • uu: as in Arabic
  • r: a forceful trill. Loose dentures will be an advantage here.

Conclusion: We hope that this article will be of great help to all those who wrestle with the question of whether to study Finnish. For those already studying the language, this method can provide helpful and easy applications for using conversational Finnish. As to the question of the prospect of Finnish as a global language, I think I do not misspeak myself by saying that the work of this article should settle the matter clearly and finally.