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People, Language & Religion


The Finns are thought to be descended from Germanic stock and from tribes that originally inhabited west-central Russia. Excluding the Swedish-speaking minority, there are only two very small non-Finnish ethnic groups: Lapps and Gypsies. In 1998, Finns constituted 93% of the total population; Swedes made up 6%; Lapps accounted for 0.11%; Roma (Gypsy) for 0.12%; and Tatars for 0.02%. Several societies have been established to foster the preservation of the Lappish language and culture.


Most of the Finnish people (92%) speak Finnish as their mother tongue. Finnish is a member of the Baltic-Finnic subgroup of the Uralic languages and is typologically between inflected and agglutinative languages. It modifies and inflects the forms of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, numerals and verbs, depending on their roles in the sentence. In practice, this means that instead of prepositions and prefixes there is a great variety of different suffixes and that compounds form a considerable percentage of the vocabulary of Finnish. It has been estimated that approximately 65-70% of all words in Finnish are compounds. A close linguistic relative to the Finnish language is Estonian, which, though similar in many aspects, is not mutually intelligible with it. These languages, together with Hungarian (all members of the Uralic language family), are the primary non-Indo-European languages spoken in Europe. Finland, together with Estonia and Hungary, is one of the three independent countries where an Uralic language is spoken by the majority.

The largest minority language is Swedish, which is the second official language in Finland, spoken by 5.5% of the population. Other minority languages are Russian (0.8%) and Estonian (0.3%). To the north, in Lapland, are also the Sami people, numbering around 7,000 and recognised as an indigenous people. About a quarter of them speaks a Sami language as their mother tongue. There are three Sami languages that are spoken in Finland: Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami. Other minority languages are Finnish Romani, Finnish Sign Language (spoken natively by 4,000-5,000 people) and Finland-Swedish Sign Language (spoken natively by about 150 people). The rights of minority groups (in particular Sami and Romani people) to cherish their culture and language is protected by the constitution.

The majority of Finns learn enough English in school and from media to be proficient in that language. Other common foreign languages studied are German and French. Education in the other national language is compulsory in junior high school for both Finnish and Swedish speakers. The exception is the autonomous Åland Islands, where Finnish is not compulsory due to Swedish being the sole official language of the province.


Freedom of religion has been guaranteed since 1923. The Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church are considered state churches. As of 2002, about 86% of the inhabitants belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. As a state church, an elected Church Assembly makes legislative proposals to the Parliament, which can be approved or rejected, but not altered. Approximately 1% of the inhabitants, largely evacuees from the Karelian Isthmus, are members of the Orthodox Church in Finland. The church has three dioceses, in Helsinki, Karelia and Oulu, and owes allegiance to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Other religious bodies, making up 1% of the population, include the Free Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, Baptists, Swedish Lutherans and Jews. About 12% of the population claim no religious affiliation.





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