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Vowel Lengths: Matemaatikko Matematiikka

It’s interesting how the vowel lengths in certain types of loanwords differ. This is clearly the case for words like matemaatikko and matematiikka.

Origin of loanwords

Many Finnish loanwords are borrowed from Swedish. In Swedish, different syllables are stressed in different words. Finnish has its main stress on the first syllable. It seems that – as a way to deal with this in loanwords – stressed syllables in Swedish loanwords have gotten long vowel.

For example, the Finnish word matemaatikko comes from the Swedish word matematiker (notice the underlined syllable, which is the one stressed). In contrast with this we have matematiikka from the word matematik (stressed syllable underlined). The same is true for muusikko (from musiker) and musiikki (from musik).

Meaning of -iikka nouns

Words ending in -iikka generally belong to one of two groups. First, they can express a field of science, like for example mathematics or physics. Second, they can refer to a movement in the arts, like lyrics poetry, tragedy or romanticism. The vowel lengths of these words is always the same: the one-but-last syllable will have a long vowel, while the syllable before that has a short vowel.

Meaning of -ikko nouns

Words ending in -ikko that are related to a noun ending in -iikka can be:

  • a researcher of the science (tutkija)
  • a expert on the topic (tuntija)
  • an enthusiast of the topic (harrastaja)
  • a practitioner of the art form (harjoittaja)

The vowel lengths of these words don’t always follow the same pattern, because it depends on the syllable in front of the -ikko. If this syllable is open in the -iikka noun, we will get a long vowel (prag-ma-tiik-ka → prag-maa-tik-ko). The vowel lengths of words with a closed syllable in front of the -iikka won’t change (dia-lek-tii-kka → dia-lek-ti-kko).

Words with different vowel lengths

Field of Science English Scientist English
analytiikka analytics analyytikko analyst
botaniikka botany botaanikko botanist
dialektiikka dialectics dialektikko dialectic
didaktiikka didactics didaktikko didactician
dogmatiikka dogmatics dogmaatikko dogmatician
dramatiikka dramatics dramaatikko dramatist
estetiikka aesthetics esteetikko esthete
etiikka ethics eetikko ethicist
fonetiikka phonetics foneetikko phonetician
fysiikka physics fyysikko physicist
genetiikka genetics geneetikko geneticist
grafiikka graphics graafikko graphic designer
keramiikka ceramics keraamikko ceramist
lyriikka lyric poetry lyyrikko lyric poet
magiikka, magia
magic maagikko magician
matematiikka mathematics matemaatikko mathematician
optiikka optics optikko optician
politiikka politics poliitikko politician
pragmatiikka pragmatics pragmaatikko pragmatist
romantiikka romance romantikko romantic
systematiikka systematics systemaatikko systematist
taktiikka tactic taktikko tactician
tragiikka tragedy traagikko tragedian

Words that don’t follow the vowel lengths pattern

-iikka without -ikko

There are plenty of -iikka nouns that don’t have a parallel -ikko noun. Generally this is due to the loanword not having a similar in the language it’s loaned from either. For example, an expert on pedagogiikka (pedagogics, Swedish: pedagogik), will be called pedagogi (a pedagog, Swedish: pedagog).

Some -iikka words have a different meaning than the ones above: they don’t refer to a field of science or a way of thinking. These words generally don’t have a parallel -ikko noun either. Take for example erotiikka “eroticism”. We don’t have a noun describing an erotic person, even though we could easily form the word erootikko in Finnish. The adjective eroottinen does exist, just like the English adjective “erotic”. Other -iikka words that don’t refer to a field of science or a way of thinking are for example akustiikka “acoustics”, diagnostiikka “diagnostics”

-ikko without -iikka

There are also many -ikko nouns that don’t have a parallel -iikka noun.  For example hygieenikko “hygienist” comes from the word hygienia “hygiene”. Many nouns have probably been created later based on other -ikko nouns. These nouns clearly don’t have a science at the base of them. For example, an anorektikko (anorexic) isn’t a researcher of the science of “anorectics”, nor does a dementikko (demented person) study “dementicism” or a fanaatikko (fanatic) “fanaticism”.

Are you interested in this type of articles?
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Eloise Maki

I have wondered about this pattern for a while–the Why and the What of it.