'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 spoken language.

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 Population

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 Jönsson-Korhola 11-13).

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 trees, so that's why I came here, and I never see money--money growing on trees. You gotta work hard here. (Loukinen)

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 37-38).

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. (123)

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 17-20).

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.

Morphology Basics

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')

But also

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, 222)

Vowel Harmony

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, suunnilleen')
Heart attack -> haartätäkki ('sydänkohtaus')
Satisfied -> sätösfai ('tyytyväinen')
Surprise -> söpraissi ('yllätys') (Virtaranta 27,60,201)

Consonant Clusters

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, 306)

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. (Jönsson-Korhola 105)
Problem: The subject and the verb are not congruent with each other.
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 ajatellut.

Phonological Features

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, 77, 92)

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)') (Virtaranta 142)

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 population (UP).

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 (Legend).


  1. 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 Jönsson-Korhola 13).

  2. This include, for example, the Minnesotan Suomi-koulu, The Finnish Language School of North Texas, New Yorkin Suomi-koulu, SV Suomikoulu.

  3. Newspapers: "Amerikan uutiset" and "Pohjois-Amerikan uutiset", magazines: " Finlandia Weekly", "Palvelija", "Raivaaja", "The Finnish American Reporter", "The Finnish Update", "Veljeysviesti".

  4. Other such include Finns & friends, Finnladies of Chicagoland, Anchorage Suomi Club, Finland Foundation of Colorado (Yhdysvallat).

Works Cited

  • 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.

  • Legend. 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, 1993.

  • 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. Finglish. 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. 14-24. 1949.

  • 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.

  • UP Information. Upper Peninsula Health Education Corporation (UPHEC). Viewed 7 November 2008.

  • Virtaranta, Pertti. Amerikansuomen sanakirja - A dictionary of Finnish American English. Turku: Siirtolaisinstituutti, 1992.

  • Yhdysvallat: yhteystiedot. Ulkosuomalainen.com. Viewed 5 November 2008.

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Last Updated 22 November 2010