Languages of Finland

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Languages of Finland
Official languages Finnish (1st: 94%, 2nd: 6%)
Swedish (1st: 5%, 2nd: 44%)
Minority languages official: Sami, Romani, Finnish Sign Language, Karelian language
Main immigrant languages Russian, Estonian
Main foreign languages English (70%)
German (18%)
French (3%)
Sign languages Finnish Sign Language, Finland-Swedish Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
Basic Finnish/Swedish
KB Sweden.svg
Finnish Multilingual
KB Finnish Multilingual.svg
Source [2] (

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
Main article: Finnish language

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


Main articles: Finland Swedish and Åland Swedish

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 2012, 44% of Finnish citizens with another registered primary language than Swedish could hold a conversation in this 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.

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 languages other than Finnish and 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[edit]

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[edit]

Up to World War II Karelian was 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 is 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]

The Russian language[edit]

The Russian language is the third most spoken native language in Finland and one of the fastest growing ones in terms of native speakers as well as learners as a foreign language.[5] Its use in territory of present-day Finland can be traced back to as early as the 10th century, the name of the old Finnish capital (Turku) being a borrowing of a Russian word meaning market. Currently, the Russian language has no official status in Finland, though historically it served as the third co-official language with Finnish and Swedish for a relatively brief period between 1900 and 1917. Russian language is again becoming more prominent due to increase in trade with and tourism to and from the Russian Federation and other Russian-speaking countries and regions.[6] At the end of 2013 the economy of Finland was 5% smaller than in the pre-crisis 2008 and still shrinking whereas the Russian economy was 5% larger and growing.[7]

Hence there is a steadily increasing demand for the knowledge of Russian in the workplace, also reflected in its growing presence in the Finnish education system, including higher education.[8] In Eastern Finland Russian has already begun rivaling Swedish as the most important foreign language.[9]

Territorial bilingualism[edit]

All municipalities outside Åland where both of the two official languages Finnish and Swedish are spoken by either at least 8% of the population or at least 3,000 people are considered bilingual. Swedish reaches these criteria in 59 out of 336 municipalities located in Åland (where this does not matter) and the coastal areas of Ostrobothnia region, Finland Proper (especially in Åboland outside Turku) and Uusimaa.[10] 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 Sami languages have an official status in the northernmost Finland, in Utsjoki, Inari, Enontekiö and part of Sodankylä, regardless of proportion of speakers.

In the bilingual municipalities signs are in both languages, important documents are translated and authorities have to be able to serve in both languages. Authorities of the central administration have to serve the public in both national languages regardless of location, and in Sami language in certain circumstances.

Places often have different names in Finnish and in Swedish, both names being equally official as name of the town. For a list, see Names of places in Finland in Finnish and in Swedish.


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 (2012)[11]
Language No. of speakers (>5,000) Percentage
Finnish 4,866,848 89.68%
Swedish 290,977 5.36%
Russian 62,554 1.15%
Estonian 38,364 0.71%
Somali 14,769 0.27%
English 14,666 0.27%
Arabic 12,042 0.22%
Kurdish 9,280 0.17%
Chinese 8,820 0.16%
Albanian 7,760 0.14%
Thai 6,926 0.13%
Vietnamese 6,549 0.12%
Persian 6,422 0.12%
Turkish 6,097 0.11%
German 5,792 0.11%
Spanish 5,470 0.10%
Sami 1,900 0.04%
Other 66,908 1.23%

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Media related to Languages of Finland at Wikimedia Commons