Who Are the Finns?

By Ravila, Paavo | Scandinavian Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Who Are the Finns?


Ravila, Paavo, Scandinavian Review


This article appeared in the Scandinavian Review in June, 1961. Written by a renowned linguist in the field of Finno-Ugric languages, it is republished here as part of a series of memorable historic articles contained in early issues of the Review.

TOURISTS IN SCANDINAVIA EASILY OBSERVE THAT THE HIGH Nordic peoples form a unit of sorts and that they are quite similar in regard to general appearance, culture and their entire way of life. Especially close in this respect are Sweden and Finland; this is, of course, very understandable, for their twoi countries have for centuries been parts of the same state and, more particularly, at vthe very time when the foundation of Western society and culture was laid.

In one respect, however, the difference between Sweden and Finland is considerably greater than that between Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries. The majority of the Finnish people, more than 90 percent, speak the Finnish language as their mother tongue, and this, to Americans, very strange language is not related to the Scandinavian languages. Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, when spoken, sometimes present difficulties of mutual understanding, but are nevertheless so close to one another that it is evident to anyone that they are all in some manner related. But the Finnish language is something quite different. Linguists have been able to prove that there is a certain, although distant, relationship between the Slavic and Germanic languages, but the Finnish language is as far distant from the Russian language as it is from the Swedish. It is no wonder that people with even the slightest interest in Finland and its people are inclined to ask: Who, then, are the Finns?

In trying to find an answer to this question, we ought first of all to point out one deep-rooted prejudice. We are apt to think, and it was also generally the belief of scholars of bygone times, that language and race are inseparably connected with one another. Anyone who takes the trouble to think of the matter more precisely and to consider the evidence gained from his own experience, will realize that race signifies inheritance and blood relationships, but that language is an influence of the environment, of society. There are to be found some linguistically highly unified peoples, but very seldom, if ever, any people of pure race. The Finnish people are no exception to the rule, and it is easy for a traveler to notice that all the racial types of Northern Europe are represented among them. Incidentally, the claim that the Finns are of Asiatic or Mongolian origin is completely unfounded. In the heart of Finland, for instance, live some of the fairest and most blond racial types in the entire world.

There is no reason, however, to go to the other extreme and to contend that language and race are wholly independent of one another. It is evident from the sharp deviation of the Finnish language from the Scandinavian languages that the ancient core of the Finnish people originated elsewhere than did its Nordic neighbors.

The only science which is able to tell us something definite about the origin of the Finns is linguistics, but it gives concrete information about nthe phenomenon of the language only. The Finnish language is not as isolated as, for example, the Basque language, which is quite alone and without any relatives. The Estonians, living south of the Gulf of Finland, speak a highly developed language which is approximately as close to Finnish as the Scandinavian languages are to one another. The Estonians, the Letts and the Lithuanians make up a group called the Baltic peoples, but only the Letts and the Lithuanians are related: they speak a language which is distantly related to the Slavic languages. The origin of the Estonians lies somewhere else; they come from where the Finns come.

Surprising and extremely interesting light is shed on the prehistory of the Finns by the indisputable conclusion at which linguists arrived more than a century and a half ago, that the famed and valiant people of the puszta, the Hungarians, speak a language which is related to Finnish.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Who Are the Finns?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?