Finnish and Russian: Similar or completely different languages?

Finnish and Russian are languages which come from completely different language families. As a result Finnish and Russian are very different languages.

However there are still some interesting similarities between them, in particular their extensive use of inflections to indicate grammatical cases, and the absence of grammatical articles in both these languages.

Languages Families

Russian is a Slavic language. Slavic languages are a branch of the Indo-European family of languages.

The Indo-European family of languages is a very large family which includes many other groups of languages besides the Slavic languages. For instance the Romance languages, the germanic languages, the Celtic languages and even the Indo-iranian languages: all these are part of the Indo-European family of languages.

All but 4 the 24 official languages of the European Union are from the Indo-European family of languages. Finnish is one of these 4 languages, alongside Estonian, Hungarian and Maltese.

This means that Finnish and Russian are languages with very different origins.

Finnish belongs to the Uralic family of languages, Some other languages from this family are Hungarian and Estonian.

Russian loanwords in Finnish

Despite Finnish and Russian being languages with completely different origins, there are a few similar vocabulary words between these languages. Here are some Russian loanwords which the Finnish language has absorbed:

Finnish Russian English
kapakka каба́к (kabák) bar, pub
siisti чи́стый (čístyj) clean, neat
porkkana боркан (borkan) carrot
lusikka ложка (ložka) spoon
leima клеймо́ (klejmó) stamp, seal

Finnish and Russian both rely heavily on inflections to indicate grammatical cases

Different languages have different ways of indicating the grammatical relations between nouns in a sentence.

In English, grammatical function is mostly indicated using prepositions as well as word order. Examples of English prepositions are: “to”, “in”, “from”, etc..

Instead of relying on prepositions, Finnish and Russian both use inflections to indicate grammatical cases. This basically means that the endings of nouns change depending on the grammatical case.

Russian has 6 grammatical cases. These 6 cases are: nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental, and prepositional.

Finnish has 15 grammatical cases.

Because Finnish and Russian rely on inflections instead of prepositions, the sentences in those languages typically have fewer words than their English translations. For example :

English I gave the key to a friend 6 words
Russian Я дал ключ другу 4 words
Finnish Annoin avaimen ystävälleni 3 words

Another example:

English The book is in the library 6 words
Russian книга находится в библиотеке 4 words
Finnish Kirja on kirjastossa 3 words

Russian and Finnish are both languages which don't have articles.

In English the most frequently occurring words are the articles (“the”, “a”, “an”). There are two types of articles: definite articles (“the”) and indefinite articles (“a”, “an”). A definite article is used to indicate a specific item, whereas an indefinite article is used otherwise.

Finnish and Russian are both languages in which articles don't exist. Finnish and Russian have neither definite, nor indefinite articles. This is another reason why sentences in Finnish and in Russian are shorter than their English equivalents.

Unlike Russian, Finnish is a genderless language

Russian is a language with grammatical gender. Those who have studied Spanish or French for instance know that in those languages each noun has a specific gender (either masculine or feminine). Languages like German or Russian have not just two but three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine and neuter).

Unlike Russian, Finnish is a genderless language. In Finnish, not only do nouns not have genders, but in addition personal pronouns are gender neutral.

Finnish distinguishes vowel length

Another characteristic difference between Finnish and Russian, is that in Finnish is a language which distinguishes between short vowels and long vowels. Basically, in Finnish the length of a vowel can change the meaning of a word.

In Finnish a long vowel is indicated by writing the letter twice. This is why the spelling of so many Finnish words includes double vowels.

Finnish and Russian use different writing systems

Finnish uses the Latin alphabet, while Russian uses the cyrillic alphabet.

The Finnish language uses the same Latin script which we use in English but with a few extra letters (ä,ö, and å ). The letter “å” Is taken from the Swedish alphabet, it is not really used for writing Finnish words but appears in some names.

Finnish is a highly phonetic language. In Finnish, words are spelled the way they are pronounced. This is in contrast to languages like English and French which are not very phonetic.

Russian is a fairly phonetic language but it contains some sounds which are difficult for English speakers to pronounce.

Finnish and Russian: which is hardest to learn?

Finnish and Russian are both difficult languages for English speakers to learn.

What makes Finnish difficult for English speakers to learn is the extensive use of inflections to indicate grammatical cases (Finnish has 15 different grammatical cases).

Also aside from the word “sauna” there is very little vocabulary in common between English and Finnish.

When learning French for example, you can recognise some words by noticing the shared common Latin roots between some English and French vocabulary words. This is not the case with Finnish.

Grammatical cases are also one of the main challenges in learning Russian. Although Russian has fewer grammatical cases than Finnish, Russian has three grammatical genders and these genders affect the case inflections.

Learning and becoming comfortable with the Cyrillic alphabet is another difficulty but that one is minor compared to the inflections of the grammatical cases.

The foreign service Institute ranks both Finnish and Russian in the same difficulty category. They are both in the category 4 which is the category of “difficult languages” with significant linguistic differences compared to English.

Based on the observed time for diplomats to become fluent in these languages, the foreign service Institute has estimated that Finnish and Russian both take about 1100 classroom hours in order to reach a working proficiency in those languages.

PS: you can use our free language tool, VocabChat to record your own vocabulary and phrase lists.