The FINNISH Language
Background and status
Finnish is spoken by about six million people, most of whom reside in Finland. It is one of two official languages of Finland, the other being Swedish. It enjoys the status of an official minority language in Sweden and has achieved some popularity as a second language in Estonia.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Finnish had no official status and Swedish was used in Finnish education, government, and literature. The publication in 1835 of the Kalevala, a national epic poem based on Finnish folklore, aroused Finnish national feeling. This new sense of nationalism inspired the need for the establishment of Finnish as a fully functional national language and gradually became the predominant language in government and education. Efforts were made to modernise and standardise the Finnish language in a way that would allow it to be used in everyday circumstances. By the 20th century, the Finnish language had undergone significant developments and is now used in literature, administration, journalism, and science.
Modern Finnish language includes two primary varieties: the standard language, referred to as yleiskieli, and the spoken language, known as puhekieli.
The standard language, however, has always been a consciously constructed medium for literature. The literary language certainly still exerts a considerable influence upon the spoken word, because illiteracy is non-existent and many Finns are avid readers. Also, with e-books and print-on-demand, the current publishing environment has transformed the traditional role of the general-interest publisher. In recent years, Finland has seen the establishment of professionally run small presses that focus primarily on Finnish literature and nonfiction. Furthermore, there has been growth in the sale of translation rights: currently, approximately 200 Finnish titles appear in translation each year in almost 40 languages. Finland has a broader tip of good literature these days, translator training has been bolstered, and sales efforts have been intensified.
The new generation of writers, born in the 1970s and ‘80s and raised in an international environment, is gradually solidifying its position. Many of them write flexibly across genre boundaries: poems and prose for children and adults.
The voice of contemporary Finnish literature is indeed carrying further than ever.