Norwegian and Finnish: similar or very different languages?

Norway and Finland share a 736 kilometer border above the arctic circle, and in the south they are separated by Sweden.

But are their languages, Norwegian and Finnish similar? Let's find out.

Norwegian vs. Finnish: different language families

Finnish and Norwegian come from completely different language families.

Norwegian is a Germanic language which comes from Old Norse, the language which was spoken by the Vikings.

As a Germanic language, Norwegian is part of the family of Indo-European languages, a very large family which encompasses in addition to the Germanic languages, the Romance languages, the Celtic languages and many others.

Finnish is one of the few languages spoken in Europe which is not part of the Indo-European family of languages. Finnish is part of the Uralic family of languages, together with Estonian and Hungarian.

This completely different origin explains why Finnish is not similar to Norwegian.

The differences between Finnish and Norwegian are numerous and are interesting from a linguistic point of view.

Norwegian vs. Finnish: Vocabulary

Vocabulary is an area where the difference between Norwegian and Finnish is particularly visible.

The vast majority of Finnish vocabulary words look completely different from their Norwegian counterparts.

Table: Some basic vocabulary words in Norwegian and Finnish
English Norwegian Finnish
father far isä
woman kvinne nainen
snow snø lumi
language språk kieli
art kunst taide
dog hund koira
mountain fjell vuori
freedom frihet vapautta
computer datamaskin tietokone
bird fugl lintu
fish fisk kalastaa
moon måne kuu
friend venn ystävä
money penger raha
teacher lærer opettaja
beautiful vakker kaunis
sun sol aurinko
green grønn vihreä
telephone telefon puhelin
happiness lykke onnellisuus

One noticeable feature in the spelling of Finnish vocabulary words are the repeated vowels. The Finnish language distinguishes between short and long vowel sounds. Repeated vowels are used to indicate long vowels.

Most Norwegian vocabulary words come from old Norse. There are also some Norwegian vocabulary words which come from German. (see article: Norwegian-German similarities)

Norwegian vs. Finnish: Grammatical gender

In terms of grammatical gender, Finnish and Norwegian are not at all similar.

Finnish is a genderless language, whereas Norwegian is not.

Norwegian nouns have genders and Finnish nouns don’t. Norwegian has gendered pronouns - and those don’t exist in Finnish.

Male:
English he
Norwegian han
Finnish hän
Female:
English she
Norwegian hun
Finnish hän

Finnish is not the only genderless language. For example, Hungarian and Estonian are also genderless languages.

Norwegian vs. Finnish: Grammatical cases

Grammatical cases are another area where Finnish and Norwegian are quite different.

Norwegian comes from a lineage of languages which had grammatical cases. The proto-Indo European language (which is the reconstructed parent language to the Indo-European family) had grammatical cases.

The old Norse language, which is a more recent ancestor to the Norwegian language, again had grammatical cases.

Even old Norwegian had grammatical cases. However between the 12th and 16th century the Norwegian language underwent many changes, one of which was the loss of grammatical cases.

In contrast, Finnish is one of the languages with the most grammatical cases. There are 15 grammatical cases in Finnish.

Because of these grammatical cases, a Finnish noun encountered in a text may have a different ending than its dictionary form.

Nominative:
English a cat plays
Norwegian en katt leker
Finnish kissa leikkii
Accusative:
English I see a cat
Norwegian Jeg ser en katt
Finnish Näen kissan
Dative/Allative:
English I give food to a cat
Norwegian Jeg gir mat til en katt
Finnish Annan kissalle ruokaa

Norwegian vs. Finnish: Grammatical articles

A quick reminder: articles are those frequently used words in English (the, a, an).

There are two types of articles: definite articles (the) and indefinite articles (a, an).

Articles don't exist in Finnish, but they do exist in Norwegian.

Norwegian has both definite and indefinite articles. In Norwegian the indefinite article is placed in front of the noun (like in English), whereas the definite article is added to the end of the noun as a suffix.

1
English book
Norwegian book
Finnish hän
2
English the book
Norwegian boken
Finnish kirja
3
English a book
Norwegian ei bok
Finnish kirja

More facts about Norwegian and Finnish

Conclusion

We have covered many reasons why Norwegian and Finnish are not similar languages. These two languages don't have that much in common besides the use of the Latin alphabet and the proximity of the geographical locations where they are spoken.

In terms of difficulty, Norwegian is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn, while finish is one of the hardest languages.

For an English speaker, learning Norwegian is relatively easy because English and Norwegian are both Germanic languages and because Norwegian grammar is relatively simple.

In contrast, learning Finnish is is a challenge for English speakers because there is very little vocabulary in common and because the grammatical patterns in Finnish are very different from what English because are used to.

To continue learning about the differences between Norwegian and Finnish, have a look at these lists of the 1000 most common Norwegian words, and the 1000 most common Finnish words.