Challenges when translating or localizing into Finnish

The Finnish language is often referred to as a Scandinavian language, however from a linguistic perspective they couldn’t be more different.

Swedish, Danish and Norwegian all belong to the Indo-European family of languages whereas Finnish belongs to the family of the Uralic languages which include Estonian, Hungarian as well as Udmurt, Komi and Mari.

Finnish is a synthetic language with an agglutinative morphology, i.e. it does not use prepositions, pronouns or articles, but rather suffixes which are connected to the stem of the word.

For example, talo (house), talossa (in the house), talossani (in my house), talolla (at the house).

Case heavy

Finnish is a case heavy language with 15 cases compared to English which has just the two. These can be divided into five groups – each of which consists of three cases.

Localizing product names

Product names localised into Finnish will have suffixes added to them depending on the grammatical structure of the sentence.

Clients often require a company name or a product name to have a single form. This is pretty much impossible for Finnish – imagine losing a preposition in front of the English product name. One of the ways around this is to use a hyphenated compound word with the product/company name being the first part and a generic noun being the second part.

For example, “Manage the apps that connect to your Salesforce organisation” could be translated as “Hallitse Salesforce-organisaatioosi yhdistyviä sovelluksia’”.

When translating abbreviations, a colon “:’’ can be used. For example, EU:ssa (in the EU).

Trademark and copyright symbols should also be treated with caution when localizing product names into Finnish. The symbol should normally be placed in the following order: product name+suffix +symbol and not product name+symbol+suffix.

Let’s take an example from Microsoft:

Source text: This is a Microsoft® Proprietary Technology.

Wrong: Tämä on Microsoft®:in patentoima tekniikka.

Correct: Tämä on Microsoftin® patentoima tekniikka.

Creating variables

Creating a list of variables for a Finnish version of a user manual or software is a long, long time consuming task if you take into consideration the 2,000 various forms of a noun depending on the grammatical structure of the sentence. To make matters even more challenging, verbs can be conjugated and modified in almost 10,000 different ways.

Length of words and hyphenation

It is very common for Finnish to have seriously long compound words. For example, ‘’The License Management Organisation’’ would be translated as “Lisenssinhallintaorganisaatio”. This plays havoc when localizing software strings into Finnish especially when considering the length limitations within the user interface. One of the options when dealing with such long words would be hyphenation and we often see incorrectly hyphenated words produced by localisation engineers who simply do not understand Finnish. This can easily be avoided if you always assign the task to a native Finnish linguist.

Another common mistake is to abbreviate a word by cutting off some characters at the end of the noun. This can result in a totally unusable user interface as you might simply end up cutting off whole words. Abbreviating long words in Finnish should be treated with caution.

Lack of any he or she distinction

Finnish has no separate male or female pronoun. To avoid ambiguity when translating into Finnish it’s quite common to replace pronouns with nouns and people’s names. Therefore it is essential to have as much context as possible when localizing software into Finnish.

Capitalization rules

It is quite common in English to capitalize several words in a sentence to emphasize importance. However avoid this in Finnish where only the first letter in a sentence and proper nouns are capitalized.

To summarize:

  • Be ready for some seriously LONG words
  • Plan really carefully for conjugation with cases and verbs especially with software strings
  • If you’re using variables, try to give context for them where possible
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