Diphthongs in Finnish

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Woods
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Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Woods » 2017-08-26, 13:55

As a general linguistic question, what determines if something is a diphthong, or just a combination of two standalone vowels?

I’m currently studying “Finnish: An Essential Grammar” by Fred Karlsson (second edition from 1999, even though a third one is already available), and I don’t quite get it from the examples.

According to the book, in Finnish there are “16 common diphthongs.” First of all, what the hell does the author mean by “16 common” – are there any uncommon ones in addition?

Second of all, as I read and pronounce the words to myself, I don’t really perceive some of them as diphthongs (the ones that do not sound like diphthongs to me I’ll mark in red):

ei (ei, leipä, Veikko)
äi (äiti, päivä, väittää)
ai (aika, vaikka, kaikki)
oi (voin, poika, toinen)
ui (uin, kuin, puissa)
öi (söin, töissä)
yi (hyi, lyijy)
uo (tuo, juon, Puola)
yö (yö, työ, syön)
au (taulu, kaula, sauna)
ou (koulu, krouvi, noudan)
eu (reuna, seutu, Keuruu)
iu (viulu, hius, kiusaan)
äy (täynnä, käyn, näytän)
öy (köyhä, löyly, löydän)
ie (tie, mies, vien)

What do you think – are all of the abovementioned vowel combinations diphthongs or not? What is the criterion? As far as I understand it, a diphthong is a combination of vowels that do sound as one, and it would be really hard to take them apart in order to form separate vowels. However, vowel combinations like tie, yö, tuo, Puola, juon, mies, syön etc. do not sound like diphthongs to me at all. Is it because my Finnish is not good enough, or is the author wrong in his description of the language (which by the way he has been many times throughout the book)?

Also, among the examples above there are ones about which I haven’t got much of a clue if they’re diphthongs or not. I have therefore not market them in red, but that doesn’t mean that I completely perceive all unmarked words as diphthongs.

Last but not least, do you guys know a good dictionary that has voice recordings of the words – this way I could probably hear for myself, without bothering you with such a long posting :)

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Naava » 2017-08-26, 18:40

Woods wrote:According to the book, in Finnish there are “16 common diphthongs.” First of all, what the hell does the author mean by “16 common” – are there any uncommon ones in addition?

Yep, eg. here's the complete list:
/yi, öi, äi, ui, oi, ai, äy, au, yö, öy, uo, ou, ie, ei, eu, iu, ey, iy/ (Wiik 1965; Karlsson 1983).

Your list doesn't have ey or iy.

What do you think – are all of the abovementioned vowel combinations diphthongs or not?

Yes, they are. There's only one syllable in or tuo. They used to be long vowels like in Estonia: öö, too.

As a general linguistic question, what determines if something is a diphthong, or just a combination of two standalone vowels?

I don't know about general rules, but in Finnish you get two standalone vowels if there's ever been a consonant between them. For example, rae doesn't have a diphthong because this word is in the weak grade that historically had a consonant between a and e. Compare with the strong grade: rake-

As far as I understand it, a diphthong is a combination of vowels that do sound as one --

What do you mean?

-- is the author wrong in his description of the language (which by the way he has been many times throughout the book)?

I'm curious - what has he said that wasn't true? :0

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Woods » 2017-08-26, 19:23

Many thanks :)

Your list doesn't have ey or iy.

Why do you think the author has omitted them? Are they very rare?

Could you please give some example words?


Naava wrote:
As far as I understand it, a diphthong is a combination of vowels that do sound as one

What do you mean?

Well, I mean that if you take the word Veikko for example, the ei sounds like ej, i.e. the whole word could as well be written as Vejkko and it’s obvious that the i is not a syllable-forming sound. Whereas the vowels in and tie sound like they’re part of two different syllables to me, but maybe that can be due to the fact that I haven’t heard these words pronounced properly. Next time I hear them I’ll try to listen more closely.


I'm curious - what has he said that wasn't true? :0

Hard to tell, I don't remember exactly, but I'll try to write back if I spot something again.

Many of his explanations (in the English translation at least) don’t make much sense to me – so I have to rephrase them to myself and do further research in order to use them. Let’s just say that he’s not exact in his explanations, and sometimes there are also typos in that edition, which can be very confusing when we’re talking about Finnish word endings.


For example, rae doesn't have a diphthong because this word is in the weak grade that historically had a consonant between a and e. Compare with the strong grade: rake

I have to admit that I haven’t heard the term ‘weak grade’ yet (except when studying German, I guess). I’ll check in my grammar tomorrow… Well, I have to admit that this grammar is still a great starting point for someone who hasn’t learnt Finnish yet :)

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Virankannos » 2017-08-27, 8:25

The definition of a diphthong is two adjacent vowels that belong in the same syllable, whereas two adjacent vowels that belong in different syllables, i.e. have a syllable boundary in between, are vowel sequences. What constitutes a diphthong is different in every language: some languages may have no diphthongs (e.g. Russian according to some descriptions) many languages have only closing diphthongs (like /ai/, /ou/ and the like) and some languages have very few diphthongs and all of them are opening (such as North Sámi which has four: ea, ie, oa and uo).

Most Finnish diphthongs are closing (ei, öi, äi, oi, ai, ey, öy, äy, eu, ou, au), some are close (yi, ui, iy, iu) and three are opening (ie, yö, uo). The uncommon diphthong ey is only found in a handful of words beginning in leyh- (meanings are related to 'fanning' or 'wafting').

"Weak grade" refers to consonant gradation (found in Chapter 4 in my edition of Karlsson's book) which is an important sound alternation in Finnish. The weak grade of k is zero, which often causes vowel sequences to appear where the k disappears, like in vika : vian 'fault, flaw (nominative singular and genitive singular forms)'.

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby linguoboy » 2017-08-27, 14:29

Woods wrote:Well, I mean that if you take the word Veikko for example, the ei sounds like ej, i.e. the whole word could as well be written as Vejkko and it’s obvious that the i is not a syllable-forming sound. Whereas the vowels in and tie sound like they’re part of two different syllables to me, but maybe that can be due to the fact that I haven’t heard these words pronounced properly. Next time I hear them I’ll try to listen more closely.

More likely it's due to how your perceptions have been shaped by the languages you're familiar with. It sounds like it's specifically the "opening diphthongs" that are causing you trouble. As far as I can tell, this definition is specific to Finnish. Here's what the Wikipedia article on Finnish phonology has to say about them:
Opening diphthongs are in standard Finnish only found in root-initial syllables like in words tietää 'to know', takapyörä 'rear wheel' (from taka- 'back, rear' + pyörä 'wheel'; the latter part is secondarily stressed) or luo 'towards'. This might make them easier to pronounce as true opening diphthongs [uo̯ ie̯ yø̯] (in some accents even [uɑ̯ iɑ̯ iæ̯ yæ̯])[a] and not as centering diphthongs [uə̯ iə̯ yə̯], which are more common in the world's languages.
Offhand, it is difficult to find examples of other languages with these particular diphthongs. The particular dialect of Irish I've been learning does have [iæ̯] which is very similar to a common realisation of /ɛ/ in American English varieties with certain forms of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (such as a broad local Chicago accent). But I'd be surprised if you'd ever heard either of those.

Woods wrote:I have to admit that I haven’t heard the term ‘weak grade’ yet (except when studying German, I guess).

Where did you hear the term "weak grade" when studying German?
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Woods » 2017-08-27, 21:55

Naava wrote:I'm curious - what has he said that wasn't true? :0

Example:

According to § 32.2 of the aforementioned edition, talking of the partitive, “in words of three or more syllables, the ending -a~-ä occurs when the last vowel of the stem is dropped, and otherwise when the penultimate syllable of the word ends in a consonant (…) or in two vowels.” Right under the paragraph follow the examples, and the one that strikes me right away is kysely. The plural partitive, according to the book, is kyselyjä. If we break it into three syllables, we get ky-se-ly. The final vowel is still there, and the preceding syllable does not end either in a consonant or in two vowels. So here he fits something in a category where it does not belong.

Further on, he also continues in a very unclear way: “Many nouns of three or more syllables, with a penultimate syllable ending in a short vowel, take the partitive plural ending -ta~-tä.” What is ‘many?’ Is it the most, some, half of them, or what? The book really sounds like a draft that hasn’t been finished and figured out by the author yet.

Furthermore, the word omena is included in both categories (omen-ia or omeno-ita), but without any hint that it can be up to the speaker to choose which form they prefer – both times it looks like the word must be only in the category, where it’s been given as an example.



Virankannos wrote:The definition of a diphthong is two adjacent vowels that belong in the same syllable

Well, that still doesn’t answer the question what is perceived as a syllable by speakers of different languages (for me “tuo” definitely sounds like two syllables – I would say it sounded like one if the uo was pronounced like the Chinese for example, because then the w would be only half a sound, and with half a vowel you can’t make a syllable. But in tuo, both vowels are equally long, or aren’t they?) But this thing with the consonant in between which has disappeared sounds like a good way to distinguish what is perceived as a diphthong by Finns.

On the topic of diphthongs, when suffixes are added to word stems, and the end vowel of the stem is one that usually would bind with the suffix in a diphthong, is a diphthong formed?

Examples:
omeno-ita
päärynö-i
ankkure-ita
arvelu-ita

I guess it is, but I’d rather be sure (especially with this crazy language when things may not be what they seem) :)



linguoboy, many thanks for your explanations too :)

linguoboy wrote:Where did you hear the term "weak grade" when studying German?

You got me again – it’s weak declension indeed (schwache Beugung) ;)
But the word ”weak” reminded me of it :(

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Naava » 2017-08-28, 8:49

Woods wrote:Right under the paragraph follow the examples, and the one that strikes me right away is kysely. The plural partitive, according to the book, is kyselyjä. If we break it into three syllables, we get ky-se-ly. The final vowel is still there, and the preceding syllable does not end either in a consonant or in two vowels. So here he fits something in a category where it does not belong.

I checked and yeah, that kysely doesn't really belong there. I mean, its plural partitive is kyselyjä* but the penultimate syllable doesn't end with a consonant or long vowel nor is there any vowels disappearing before -j-. I wonder if he forgot to add something there in the "rules". :|

*it can also be kyselyitä. Welcome to the Finnish language!

I think this explanation is much easier to understand than what Karlsson says:
If a word ends in two or more vowels, a consonant, or a relic consonant, and the strong-grade plural stem ends in two vowels, the partitive ending is -ta/-tä in the plural. Otherwise the ending is -a/-ä.


Back to Karlsson:
“Many nouns of three or more syllables, with a penultimate syllable ending in a short vowel, take the partitive plural ending -ta~-tä.” What is ‘many?’ Is it the most, some, half of them, or what?

It sounds like it's just a short introduction/description of the grammar rather than meant to be used by people learning Finnish. That could explain why it's so vague.

To answer your question, I'd say that the most common plural for 3+ syllable words that end with -A is -tA: peruna - perunoita, käymälä - käymälöitä, lukija - lukijoita. However, you can hear people say stuff like perunoja. I could imagine someone saying käymälöjä too, if I reaaaally tried. I don't think anyone would ever say lukijoja though, because it's a bit awkward to have two J's so close to each other.

I'm not so sure about 3+ syllable words which have some other vowel than -A. The two words in the list, ankkuri and arvelu, both sound ok as ankkureita/arveluita and ankkureja/arveluja. I tried to think about other examples, but here I couldn't imagine anyone using else than -tA:

kantele - kanteleita
penkere - penkereitä
askare - askareita

So... Looks like you need to learn by heart when it's only -tA and when it's possible to have -A also. :hmm: But if you had to guess, use-tA.

(for me “tuo” definitely sounds like two syllables – I would say it sounded like one if the uo was pronounced like the Chinese wǒ for example, because then the w would be only half a sound, and with half a vowel you can’t make a syllable. But in tuo, both vowels are equally long, or aren’t they?)

It seems the problem here is that for you, a diphthong is a vowel + semivowel or a semivowel + vowel. In Finnish, a diphthong is two vowels that belong to the same syllable.

And yes, they're equally long. They do not sound any different from two vowels that belong to different syllables. For example, rae (no diphthong) sounds the same to me as kaekki (dialectal 'kaikki', has a diphthong).


On the topic of diphthongs, when suffixes are added to word stems, and the end vowel of the stem is one that usually would bind with the suffix in a diphthong, is a diphthong formed?

Yes.

//Woah, this must be the longest post I've ever written here!

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Woods » 2017-08-28, 21:43

Naava wrote:Woah, this must be the longest post I've ever written here!

Many thanks!

I'll read it a couple more times in the following days to make sure I get the a/ta thing... It really looked terrifying at first, but now it seems not that hard after all :)

I intend to learn a lot of Finnish these days :) Soo... I may have some more questions :)

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Naava » 2017-08-29, 7:52

Woods wrote:I'll read it a couple more times in the following days to make sure I get the a/ta thing... It really looked terrifying at first, but now it seems not that hard after all :)

Just wait till you get to the plural genitive... :twisted:

I'm glad to (try to) help if you have more questions!

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Re: Diphthongs in Finnish

Postby Woods » 2017-08-29, 9:39

Naava wrote:Just wait till you get to the plural genitive... :twisted:

I'm scared :doggy:


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