'Finglish' and the Finnish-American People
Katri Mattila, Helmiina Munukka and Sanni Pulkki (Fall 2008)
(Paper produced as a 2008 Group Project)
FAST-US-1 (TRENPK2) Introduction to American English (Hopkins)
The FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
This project examines 'Finglish,' a language mixture that was, and
to some extent still is, spoken by the Finnish immigrants and their
descendants in North America. What are the characteristics of 'Finglish',
and how did it emerge from the history and culture of Finnish Americans?
What is 'Finglish'?
As far as it is known, Professor Martti Nisonen at Suomi College in
Hancock, Michigan was the first to introduce the term 'Finglish' in the
1920s. The term was created to describe the way English and Finnish
languages were getting mixed in the everyday speech of Finnish immigrants
in America. It is typical of Finglish to borrow lexical items from
English, to nativize them and to insert them into the framework of Finnish
syntax and morphology (J. Tuominen).
'American Finnish' is another term for the language mixture of Finnish
and English, and it is sometimes regarded as being a more neutral and
appropriate term for the language used, instead of the colloquial and even
disparaging term 'Finglish' (Virtaranta 9). Finglish is at its strongest in
Today, the term 'Finglish' is often being used not only to describe the
language of the Finnish immigrants, but also to refer to any situation
where a Finn speaks English rather poorly. The term 'Finglish' could also
be understood in the sense of 'modern Finglish', which may be defined as
the Finnish language of 21st century Finland, which has been strongly
influenced by English (Palmgren 25). However, this project will regard
'Finglish' as the language of the Finnish-American immigrants.
The History of Finglish and the Finnish-American
The immigration of the Finns to the United States was most active
between the 1880s and the 1920s. By the start of World War I there were
more than 300,000 Finnish immigrants in North America, most of them in the
United States. Most of the emigrants who left Finland during that time
had their original homes in Western or Northern Finland (Martin and
There were different kinds of push and pull factors, in other words
reasons to move overseas, which finally led to a rather large wave of
emigration from Finland to North America or to other countries. The most
important reason for the emigration out of Finland was the economy: people
were poor, the Finnish population was growing quickly and there were not
enough jobs for everyone. Some people had personal reasons for why they
wanted to go, including controversies within the family or with one's
neighbors or even avoiding the army. Some people were simply looking for
some variety and excitement in their lives (Martin and Jönsson-Korhola
14). In Michael Loukinen's transcription of the 1982 film 'Finnish-American Lives',
a woman called Irene talks about her reasons for moving as follows:
They always tell me that money grows on
that's why I came
here, and I never see money--money growing on trees. You gotta work hard
The most popular areas where the Finnish immigrants settled were
Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Ontario. These states had rather
significant Finnish immigrant populations. Finns often lived close to each
other and formed their own communities in the countryside; some
cities had their own 'Finntowns' (Martin and Jönsson-Korhola 15). These
original Finntowns have died out in many places, but also new ones have
been formed, such as the Lake Worth area in Florida.
Many Finns who had arrived to the new country worked on farms, in the
lumber industry or in the mining industry. Finglish became strong in these
fields, since most of the Finnish immigrants had no prior knowledge of
English and therefore had to adopt some new vocabulary in order to
communicate with their English-speaking co-workers. Finglish was
especially strong in the mining industry; the mixed language that the
Finnish mine workers used was called 'mainiengelska'. In
mainiengelska there were numerous loan words from English, e.g.
crusher - krasseri or 'kivenmurskaaja' (Virtaranta 29).
Finglish also has much borrowed vocabulary for things that the Finns
were not familiar with while they were in Finland, for example vocabulary
dealing with automobiles, different animals or plants, certain technical
and medical terms, and nationalities that were new to them (Virtaranta
This is how the folklorist Richard M. Dorson described the Finns in
Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 1952:
The coming of the Finn has rocked the northwoods country. He is today
what the red man was two centuries ago, the exotic stranger from
another world. In many ways the popular myths surrounding the Indian
and the Finn run parallel. Both derive from a shadowy Mongolian stock -
"just look at their raised cheek-bones and slanting eyes". Both live
intimately with the fields and woods. Both possess supernatural
stamina, strength, and tenacity. Both drink feverishly and fight
barbarously. Both practice shamanistic magic and ritual, drawn from a deep
well of folk belief. Both are secretive, clannish, inscrutable, and
steadfast in their own peculiar social code.
The Finnish immigrants had to adapt to the new surroundings, language,
and culture. Many originally Finnish surnames have been changed in
spelling to make them shorter, easier or otherwise more suitable for the
English-speaking society of America. Many compound Finnish surnames have
lost either the initial or the final component throughout the years, such
as in Kallijärvi - Jarvi. Sometimes the spelling has become more
American, like in Heiskari - Hayskar, or occasionally the names
have even been translated into English, as for example in Kettunen -
Fox (Virtaranta 39).
The Past and Present of Finglish
Finglish was at its strongest between the end of the 19th century and
the middle of the 20th century. In the early days, the immigrants spoke
rather 'clean' Finnish. Those who worked on homesteads or in very
close-knit communities might have never learned more than the rudiments of
English. New loanwords started appearing rather quickly along with new
learning experiences, however, and the language used shifted towards what
is currently known as 'Finglish'. Majority of the new words were adopted
from English, but there are also some loans from different native
American tribes with whom the immigrants were in contact (Martin and
Jönsson-Korhola 11-14, 17).
Yet the interaction worked two ways: Finglish has given its unique
brand to many of the regional dialects spoken in areas close to the old
Finglish-speaking communities (Randell 15). The second generation of
immigrants 1 would
invariably learn how to speak English, and often English was their
dominant language. Approaching the third generation, the Finglish lexicon
had already changed irrevocably as the morphology had adopted new
strucures and the vocabulary was enriched by an abundance of new words.
Many advocates of this generation regarded themselves primarily as
Americans and never quite mastered Finglish (Martin and Jönsson-Korhola
Finglish speaking societies are slowly diminishing as the young spread
out all over the United States, and the old move into rest homes and
retirement communities. It is likely that over time the old standard of
Finglish will disappear. There are new immigrants slowly moving into the
United States, however, and their language will undoubtedly undergo some
changes comparable to those of their predecessors. When settling near the
old Finnish-American communities, the newcomers can help maintain the old
standard of Finglish, as Kent Randell suggested in his 2004 Boston
University paper titled Finglish (17). Time will tell whether
Finglish will survive.
Characteristics of Finglish
Following are examples which illuminate some of the characteristics of
Finglish in comparison with Finnish and English.
Finnish nouns and verbs tend to end with a vowel, which enables them to
fit naturally into the case system of the language. There is no such
restriction on English words, however; often they do end with a
consonant. When borrowing such words from English to Finnish or Finglish,
the new word must be adapted by adding an extra vowel to the end of the
word, if there isn't one already. This way the new word fits in the case
system and can be conjugated (as also observed by Randell 5 and Sahlman
5). The most frequently used "add-on"vowel is i.
Elk -> elkki ('hirvi')
Hasp -> häspi ('salpa')
Jar -> jaari ('tölkki')
Lemon -> lemoni, lemooni, lemuni, lemeni ('sitruuna')
Mash -> mässi ('(rehu)seos, muhennos')
Orange juice -> orenssijuusi ('appelsiinimehu')
Resort -> resortti ('lomakylä')
Subway -> sapvei ('maanalainen, metro')
Steam -> stiimi, tiimi ('höyry')
Toilet -> toiletti ('vessa, kylpyhuone')
Complain -> kompleinata ('valittaa')
Type -> taipata ('kirjoittaa koneella')
Union -> junio, junioni, unio ('ammattiyhdistys')
Welcome -> velkam ('tervetuloa') (Virtaranta 50, 70, 74, 112, 130,
136, 172, 182, 194, 209, 93, 202, 76,
The Finnish front vowels ä,ö and y cannot occur
inside a single word together with any of the back vowels a,
o or u, and the other way round. Neutral vowels e and
i can go with any of the front or back vowels.
Some Finglish words break the pattern, often due to their original English
pronunciation (Randell 6):
About -> äpaut, öpaut ('noin,
Heart attack -> haartätäkki ('sydänkohtaus')
Satisfied -> sätösfai ('tyytyväinen')
Surprise -> söpraissi ('yllätys') (Virtaranta 27,60,201)
Conventional Finnish does not tolerate consonant clusters, especially at
the beginning of a word. When an English word starts with two or more
consonants, all but the last one are removed to adapt the new word to the
Finnish lexicon (Randell 6).
Stripe -> raippi ('raita')
Knit -> nitata ('kutoa, neuloa') (Virtaranta 169,
The Syntax of Finglish
The syntax of Finnish is not entirely the same as that of Finglish.
Over time, the original Finnish syntax and morphology have experienced
some slight changes converted into Finglish. Certain forms that were not
idiomatic and grammatical in the old syntax are now more
acceptable (Jönsson-Korhola 102). Isolation and exposure to English have
left their mark, but part of the effect can also be attributed to the
gradually decreasing amount of spoken Finglish.
As the new generations of immigrants were born, English became
increasingly dominant until only a few spoke Finglish as their first
language. When there were not enough examples of conjugating, divergencies
started to appear (116). Despite this, many of those who could not produce
syntactically correct language still had a strong passive language
proficiency. In other words, their understanding of Finglish was good, and
they could tell when something went amiss even if they couldn't fix it
(Martin, Muoto-opin 97).
Incongruence is one of the defining features; the subject, verb, and
object do not necessarily agree with each other the same way they do in
the Finnish grammar. Difficulties with pronouns and rections are also
common (Jönsson-Korhola 102-127).
Following are examples of such changes:
Paljon suomalaisia menivät Suomeen.
Problem: The subject and the verb are not congruent with each
Correct form: Paljon suomalaisia meni Suomeen.
Em minä ole tästä oikeastaan ajatellut. (115)
Problem: an incorrect rection is used with the verb.
Correct form: En minä ole tätä oikeastaan
The consonant phones h,j,k,l,m,n,p,t and v usually stay in
their original form when borrowing words from English to Finglish,
although some exceptions do occur due to differences in pronunciation
between English and Finnish:
Consonant c and consonant cluster ck are usually replaced by
k, and letters y and u sometimes by the letter
j (Martin, Äänneopillisia 90).
Cure -> kiurata ('parantaa')
Hockey -> haki, haaki, haakki ('jääkiekko')
You bet -> juupet ('takuulla', 'varmasti')
Coal -> koli ('kivihiili') (Virtaranta 89, 61,
The letters b,d,f and g are not part of the original Finnish
alphabet and therefore do not fit the preceding rule. These letters may
occur in a word as they are but may also be replaced by k,p,t or
v, much depending on the language skills of the person in question.
Better knowledge of English is likely to result in the use of b,d,f
and g, whereas stronger competency in Finnish is likely to result
in forms including k,p,t or v instead (Martin, Äänneopillisia 90-91).
Baby -> peipi or beibi ('vauva')
To feel -> viilata or fiilata ('voida, tuntua, tuntea')
(Virtaranta 146, 223)
The different forms of s in English are transmitted into a plain
s in Finglish.
Also the dental spiral th is pronounced and spelled as a t
in Finglish. W often appears as a v or a u
(Martin, Äänneopillisia 91).
In general, there is some regional variation in both the spelling and
pronunciation of almost all Finglish loanwords. For instance:
Clerk -> klarkki, klerkki, klärkki, klörkki ('myyjä')
(Martin, Äänneopillisia 94)
Banana(s) -> pananas, pananus, panano, penaano, pinaana, pinana,
pinaani, pinaanu, pinanus, pinanes, punaanus ('banaani(t)')
Finnish-American Culture Today
Today there are approximately 700,000 Finnish Americans or Americans
with Finnish descent (Ancestry). The largest concentration is in
the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where they represent 16% of the
There are also Finns that have moved to America more recently,
many to Lake Worth, Florida, where there are some 30,000 Finns, many of
whom are retirees. There you can find, for example, an area called
"Pikku-Turku" and "Finlandia Boulevard" (H. Tuominen).
The Finnish-American culture and heritage is kept alive through various
things. There are about 15 different kinds of schools all across America
that teach solely Finnish culture and language 2 (Yhdysvallat). It is possible to study
Finnish even at university level, for example at Finlandia University in
Hancock, Michigan, among other institutions. There are two major Finnish
newspapers and also several magazines 3
(Yhdysvallat). Numerous societies and associations such as the Finnish American Heritage
Association4 organize activities and
help maintain the heritage within the communities.
Although the Finnish-American culture is decreasing, some unique
practices still live on.
The FINNFEST is a
yearly summer festival to celebrate Finland, Finnish America and Finnish
culture. It was started in 1982 and is held each year by a different
region and community with connections to Finnish-American culture and
history. This year (2008) it was held in Duluth, Minnesota. Attendance has
varied between 2,000 and 7,000 people (About).
"MOJAKKA" is a soup served in
Finnish-American households in Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Michigan and Western Ontario. The main ingredients are potatoes
and either beef or fish, but there are many possible varieties. Each year
the Mojakka cook-off is held in Cloquet, Minnesota (Mojakka).
ST. URHO is
the patron saint of the Finnish vineyard workers. The legend is that the
grapes the Finnish people grew here before the last glacial period were
threatened by a plague of grasshoppers, and St. Urho banished them by
chanting "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" ['Grasshopper,
grasshopper, get the hell out of here!']. Now each year St. Urho's Day is
celebrated on March 16 (the day before St. Patrick's Day.) There are quite
a few versions of how the legend was born among the Finnish Americans
- Those people who were born in Finland and moved to the United States
at the age of 15 or older are usually regarded as the first generation of
immigrants. Those who were born in the United States or had moved there
under the age of 15 are called the second generation, the third generation
being their children and the fourth their grandchildren (Martin and
- This include, for example, the Minnesotan Suomi-koulu, The Finnish
Language School of North Texas, New Yorkin Suomi-koulu, SV Suomikoulu.
- Newspapers: "Amerikan
uutiset" and "Pohjois-Amerikan uutiset", magazines: " Finlandia
Weekly", "Palvelija", "Raivaaja", "The Finnish American Reporter", "The
Finnish Update", "Veljeysviesti".
- Other such include Finns & friends, Finnladies of Chicagoland,
Anchorage Suomi Club, Finland Foundation of Colorado
- About. Festival
locations. Finnfest USA. Viewed 1 November 2008.
Ancestry for people with one or more ancestry categories reported.
U.S. Census bureau. American Fact Finder. Viewed 1 November 2008.
- Dorson, Richard M. Finns.
Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of The Upper
Peninsula, 1952, pp. 123-149. Migration from Finland 1866-1970. Viewed
5 November 2008.
FALL & SPRING MASTER COURSE SCHEDULE. Finlandia University.
Viewed 5 November 2008.
- Jönsson-Korhola, Hannele. Lauserakenteesta toisen ja kolmannen
polven kielenkäytössä. Amerikansuomi. Pertti Virtaranta,
Hannele Jönsson-Korhola, Maisa Martin, and Maija Kainulainen. Helsinki:
Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden seura, 1993.
Ultimate St. Urho Site.
Viewed 1 November 2008.
- Loukinen, Michael. Transcript of 'Finnish
American Lives'. Folkstreams. Up North Films. Northern
Michigan University. Last Updated 27 July 2004.
- Martin, Maisa. Muoto-opin seikkoja. Amerikansuomi.
Virtaranta, Pertti, Hannele Jönsson-Korhola, Maisa Martin, and Maija
Kainulainen. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden seura, 1993.
- - - - . Äänneopillisia havaintoja.
Amerikansuomi. Pertti Virtaranta, Hannele Jönsson-Korhola, Maisa
Martin, and Maija Kainulainen. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden seura,
- Martin, Maisa, and Hannele Jönsson-Korhola. Amerikansuomalaiset
ja heidän kieliolonsa. Amerikansuomi. Pertti Virtaranta,
Hannele Jönsson-Korhola, Maisa Martin, and Maija Kainulainen. Helsinki:
Suomen kirjallisuuden seura, 1993.
- Mojakka. Wink Timber
Media Agency. Viewed 1 November 2008.
- Palmgren, Nina. Ammattislangina
finglish - Teknisten viestijöiden anglohybridi osana
globalisaation diskurssia. Master's Thesis. Department of
Translation Studies, University of Tampere, Finland. December 2007.
- Randell, Kent.
LX250, April-May 2004, Boston University. Viewed 30 October 2008.
- Sahlman, Selma Siiri. The Finnish
Language in the United States. Published in American Speech 24, p.
- Tuominen, Hannu.
Pikku-Turussa huojuvat palmut. Turun Sanomat. 1 February 2004.
- Tuominen, Jenni. An Introduction to
Finglish. A FAST-US-1 (TRENPP2A) Introduction to American English
First Paper. Viewed 5 November 2008.
Information. Upper Peninsula Health Education Corporation
(UPHEC). Viewed 7 November 2008.
- Virtaranta, Pertti. Amerikansuomen sanakirja - A dictionary of
Finnish American English. Turku: Siirtolaisinstituutti,
yhteystiedot. Ulkosuomalainen.com. Viewed 5 November 2008.
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