Languages of Finland

Languages of Finland
Languages of Finland
Official language(s) Finnish (1st: 92%, 2nd: 6%)
Swedish (1st: 6%, 2nd: 60%)
Minority language(s) official: Sami, Romani, Finnish Sign Language, Karelian language
Main immigrant language(s) Russian, Estonian
Main foreign language(s) English (63%)
German (18%)
French (3%)
Sign language(s) Finnish Sign Language
Common keyboard layout(s)
Basic Finnish/Swedish
KB Sweden.svg
Finnish Multilingual
KB Finnish Multilingual.svg
Source ebs_243_en.pdf (

The two “national” languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish. The official minority languages are three Sami languages, Romani, Finnish Sign Language and the Karelian language.



Municipalities of Finland:
  unilingually Finnish
  bilingual with Finnish as majority language, Swedish as minority language
  bilingual with Swedish as majority language, Finnish as minority language
  unilingually Swedish
  bilingual with Finnish as majority language, Sami as minority language

Finnish is the main language of 91%[1] of the population. It is a Finnic language and as such related to e.g. Estonian. The Finnic languages belong to the Uralic language family, so Finnish is distantly related to languages as diverse as e.g. Hungarian (a Ugric language), the Sami languages, and languages such as Nenets in Siberia.


Swedish is the main language of 5.4% of the population[1] (92.4% in the Åland autonomous province), down from 14% at the beginning of the 20th century. In 2005, 60% of Finnish citizens with another native language than Swedish could hold a conversation in the language[2]. Swedish is a North Germanic language, closely related to Norwegian and Danish; as a subbranch of Indo-European, it is also related to other Germanic languages such as German and English and (more or less distantly) to languages as diverse as Hindi, and Russian.

Swedish was the language of the administration until the late 19th century. Now it is one of the two national languages, with a position equal to Finnish in most legislation (but the working language in most governmental bodies is Finnish). Both national languages are compulsory subjects in school (except for children with a third language as their native language) and a language test is a prerequisite for governmental offices where a university degree is required.

All municipalities where both Finnish and Swedish are spoken by either at least 8% of the population each or at least 3,000 people each are considered bilingual. Swedish only reaches these criteria in Åland and the coastal areas of Ostrobothnia region, Finland Proper (especially in Åboland outside Turku) and Uusimaa. Outside these areas there are some towns with significant Swedish-speaking minorities not reaching the criteria. Thus the inland is officially unilingually Finnish-speaking. Finnish reaches the criteria everywhere but in Åland and in three municipalities in the Ostrobothnia region, which is also the only region on the Finnish mainland with a Swedish-speaking majority (52% to 46%).

The four largest Swedish-speaking communities in Finland, in absolute numbers, are those of Helsinki (Helsingfors), Espoo (Esbo), Porvoo (Borgå) and Vaasa (Vasa), where they constitute significant minorities. Helsinki, the capital, had a Swedish-speaking majority until late in the 19th century. Currently 6.1% of the population of Helsinki are Swedish-speaking and 9.6% speaks other language than Finnish or Swedish.[3]

The Swedish dialects spoken on the Finnish mainland are collectively known as Finland-Swedish, while the Åland dialect is closer to standard Swedish. There is a rich Finland-Swedish literature, including authors such as Tove Jansson, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Edith Södergran and Zacharias Topelius. Runeberg is considered Finland's national poet and wrote the national anthem, "Vårt land", which was only later translated into Finnish.

Sami languages

The Sami languages are a group of related languages spoken across Lapland. They are distantly related to Finnish. The three Sami languages spoken in Finland, Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami, have a combined native speaker population of roughly 1,800.[1]

The Karelian language

Up to the second world war the Karelian language and its dialects were spoken in the historical Border-Karelian region on the northern shore of Lake Ladoga. After the war immigrant Karelians were settled all over Finland. In 2001 the Karelian Language Society estimated that the language can be understood by 11,000–12,000 people in Finland, most of whom are elderly.

Karelian was recognized in a regulation by the President in november 2009, in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.[4]


Knowledge of foreign languages and Swedish as second language in Finland, in percent of the adult population, 2005.
Knowledge of the English language in Finland, 2005. According to the Eurobarometer[1]: 63% of the respondents indicated that they know English well enough to have a conversation. Of these 23% (per cent, not percentage points) reported a very good knowledge of the language whereas 34% had a good knowledge and 43% basic English skills.
Proportions of main languages in Finland 2007.
Number of speakers of the largest unofficial languages in Finland, 2007.
Residents of Finland by native language (2010)[5]
Language No. of speakers (>5,000)
Finnish 4,857,903
Swedish 291,153
Russian 54,559
Estonian 28,493
Somali 12,985
English 12,855
Arabic 10,415
Kurdish 8,032
Chinese 7,546
Albanian 7,113
Thai 5,722
Vietnamese 5,637
German 5,447
Turkish 5,374
Persian 5,020
Sami 1,832
Other 50,517

See also


External links

Media related to Languages of Finland at Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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