Finns - Orientation

Identification. Finns constitute the majority of the citizens of the Republic of Finland, which has a Swedish-speaking minority as well as Saami (Lapp) and Gypsy minorities.

Location. Finland is located approximately between 60° and 70° N and 20° and 32° E and is bordered on the east by Russia, on the south by the Gulf of Finland and Estonia, on the west by the Gulf of Bothnia and Sweden, and on the north and northwest by Norway. Four physiographic-biotic regions divide the country. An archipelagic belt embraces the southwestern coastal waters and the Aland Islands. A narrow coastal plain of low relief and clay soils, historically the area of densest rural settlement and mixed farming production, extends between the Russian and Swedish borders. A large interior plateau contains dense forests, thousands of lakes and peat bogs, and rocky infertile soils associated with a glacially modified landscape containing numerous drumlins and eskers. This interior lake and forest district lies north and east of the coastal plain toward the Russian border. Beyond the Arctic Circle, forests give way to barren fells, extensive bogs, some rugged mountains approaching 1,300 meters, and the large rivers of Lapland. Continental weather systems produce harsh cold winters lasting up to seven months in the interior eastern and northern districts. Annual fluctuation in daylight is great, and long summer days permit farming far to the north. The climate in southern and western Finland is moderated by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift Current, where more than half of the 60-70 centimeters of annual precipitation falls as rain. Maximum summer temperatures may be as high as 35° C with a mean July reading of 13-17° C. Minimum winter temperatures fall below —30° C with mean February readings of —3° to -14° C.

Demography. In 1987 the population of Finland was about 4,937,000, 95 percent of whom were ethnically and linguistically Finnish. High mortality from wars and famine dampened Finland' s population growth between the sixteenth and late nineteenth centuries. Over the past century falling birthrates and heavy emigration have perpetuated a very low population growth. Dramatic internal migration accompanied Finland's economic transformation between the 1950s and mid-1970s, when agriculture and the forestry industry were rapidly mechanized. At that time many young people left the rural areas of eastern and northeastern Finland to work in the urban industrialized south. While 75 percent of the Finnish population lived in rural areas just prior to World War II, by the early 1980s 60 percent of Finns were urban dwellers. Other substantial Finnish populations live in Russia, the United States, Canada, and Sweden, and smaller numbers have settled in Australia, South Africa, and Latin America.

linguistic Affiliation. Finnish belongs to the family of farflung Finno-Ugric languages in northeastern Europe, Russia, and western Siberia, including Saami (Lapp) and Hungarian. The languages most closely related to Finnish are Estonian, Votish, Livonian, Vepsian, and the closely allied Karelian dialects of the Balto-Finnic Branch. Although Finnish was established as a written language as early as the sixteenth century, its official status in Finland did not become equivalent to Swedish until after the Language Ordinance of 1863. Finnish is a euphonious language with a wealth of vowels and diphthongs, and its vocabulary has many Germanic and Slavic loanwords.

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