All told, there are around five million speakers in the world today – too few to make it into the top 100 list of languages.
Written Finnish uses the Latin alphabet, although it is not a romance language. Until the middle ages, the language was strictly verbal – as with many European languages. The spread of Catholicism and the use of Latin as a common language between nations brought writing to the people of Finland.
Academies and churches sprang up, and the noble and merchant classes learned to use written language as a tool in commerce and legislation.
Later, the printing revolution brought written language to the masses – and general literacy soon followed. During this period, the spelling of words was formalized.
Before print, there were extra (non-Latin) letters in the language – you may be surprised to know that English also had additional letters, which were lost in the age of print.
As a result, some of these sounds have disappeared entirely from words in the standard language – although they do remain in rural dialects. It is this diversity that adds a layer of intrigue to the study of the Finnish language.