Finnish Slang Research

The article describes research on Finnish slang varieties and their evolution in the 20th century. It concentrates on Helsinki slang, slang varieties in other Finnish towns and special Finnish slang varieties, e.g. military, medical or prison slang. The article also treats the origin of slang words in the Finnish environment and describes the phonological, morphological and lexical features of the Finnish slang vocabulary. Furthermore, the article comments on attitudes towards slang use and assesses the future of slang research in Finland.

Slang has been used in Finland for more than 100 years, whereas research on Finnish slang varieties has been conducted for only 50 years. Although there are naturally many references to slang words in earlier literature, the features of slang varieties were not systematically analysed until the urbanization of Finland began after the 1940s.

To some extent, Finnish slang was collected even at the beginning of the century, although the first major youth slang collections were made in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Students and slang researchers have also collected slang words and phrases for their own purposes. Many of these collections have been published in dictionaries and master's theses.

The oldest slang dictionary in Finland was Suomalainen sotilasslangi (Finnish Military Slang) by SIMO HÄMÄLÄINEN (1963). The largest dictionary of general slang and of some special slang varieties is Nykyslangin sanakirja (Modern Slang Dictionary) by KAARINA KARTTUNEN (1979). In the 1980s and 1990s dictionaries of military slang, prison slang and medical slang have been published.

Although Finnish slang has been analysed in many articles and master's theses in various universities, there is still no comprehensive study of slang in Finland. The first Finnish slang researcher was AHTI RYTKÖNEN, who discussed the nature of a slang, in many of his articles in the 1950s. The first master's thesis by PENTTI LIUTTU (1951) deals with Helsinki slang in the 1940s. Since then many students and researchers have analysed both youth slang and special slang varieties, e.g. the Helsinki, Tampere, Kuopio slang varieties and the hospital, police, sailing, sporting slang varieties. Well-known researchers in the area have of course compiled the most extensive dictionaries, SIMO HÄMÄLÄINEN and KAARINA KARTTUNEN, and also HEIKKI PAUNONEN (Helsinki slang), MATTI LEIWO (slang as a sociolinguistic phenomenon), MATTI K. SUOJANEN (slang as a variety, Turku slang), KARI NAHKOLA (Virrat slang, metaphors in slang) and MARJA SAANILAHTI (Virrat slang).

Helsinki slang has evolved in a bilingual environment where Finnish- and Swedish-speaking young people have lived together. A large part of the oldest Helsinki slang (1890-1930) comes from Swedish (e.g. lande 'country'), although many of the slang words in Helsinki have also come from Russian (voda 'water'), English (kiltsi 'girl'), German (groussi 'large') and Italian (donna 'girl').

In recent decades youth slang in Helsinki has changed in many ways and to some extent influenced the youth language varieties in other Finnish towns. These are three typical lines of development: the Swedish influence has declined significantly, the English influence has increased, and the influence of other Finnish varieties has become more significant. Descriptive and derivative words in particular have become more important. Thus, in recent decades Finnish slang has become more Finnish, even if there are still many loan words in Finnish slang varieties. Naturally, the slang in Finnish environments other than Helsinki has always been more Finnish-influenced than Helsinki slang. The vocabulary of the various special slang varieties has traditionally been influenced by English more than general slang.

The phonology and the morphology of the Finnish slang have changed to some extent in recent decades. Firstly, at the beginning of the century Helsinki slang included voiced sounds more than today, e.g. gimma > kimma 'girl'. Those sounds are also typical of current slang, although there are also voiceless variants. Secondly, there have been many various consonant combinations in Helsinki slang, e.g. stara 'an old man', sklabbi 'foot', spläägät 'shoes'. Combinations with three consonants are less common now. The third typical feature of Helsinki slang has not changed very much in recent decades; there is no vowel harmony in Helsinki slang and this phenomenon makes it very different from other language and slang varieties in Finland.

Slang includes many derived words, and there are special favourite suffixes, e.g. -is, -Ari, -e, -de, -kkA, -tsA (suulis 'sun', smörgari 'sandwich', skole 'school', mude 'mother', Sörkka 'Sörnäinen, the district of Helsinki', kartsa 'street'). This is one of the creative features of Finnish slang. The second creative feature is metaphory, even though there is no reason to say that Finnish slang has more metaphors than other language varieties.

It is found that there are in slang varieties certain significant clusters of synonyms, "centres of attraction". In general youth slang there are many words for stupid people, people from the countryside and policemen. Sexual life and alcohol are also very popular themes in slang. Earlier military slang has many words for death or battle; today's soldiers talk much about military grades and the hierarchy in the army. Medical slang includes many synonyms for dying people, whereas prison slang users have many words for drugs. As in other speech communities, the status of slang has also been discussed in Finland by researchers, teachers, parents and teenagers themselves. Slang is also an important part of fiction.

At the end of the century, Finnish slang has a strong and diverse status within language varieties in Finland. Although we know a lot about Finnish slang today and researchers have published many interesting results, there are still important new areas for investigation. One such area will be the role of slang in various situations, the rules of interaction in slang.