|Eastern and Northern Europe, North Asia|
|Linguistic classification:||A number of proposals linking Uralic to other language families have been made, all currently controversial|
The Uralic languages
The Uralic languages // (sometimes referred to as Uralian // languages) constitute a language family of some three dozen languages spoken by approximately 25 million people. The healthiest Uralic languages in terms of the number of native speakers are Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Mari and Udmurt. Countries that are home to a significant number of speakers of Uralic languages include Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Ukraine.
The name "Uralic" refers to the suggested Urheimat (original homeland) of the Uralic family, which is often located in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains, as the modern languages are spoken on both sides of this mountain range.
In recent times, linguists often place the Urheimat, (German: original homeland), of the Proto-Uralic language in the vicinity of the Volga River, west of the Urals, close to the Urheimat of the Indo-European languages, or to the east and southeast of the Urals. Gy. Laszlo places its origin in the forest zone between the Oka River and central Poland. E.N. Setälä and M. Zsirai place it between the Volga and Kama Rivers. According to E. Itkonen, the ancestral area extended to the Baltic Sea. P. Hajdu has suggested a homeland in western and northwestern Siberia.
The first mention of a Uralic people is in Tacitus's Germania, mentioning the Fenni (usually interpreted as referring to the Sami) and two other possibly Uralic tribes living in the farthest reaches of Scandinavia. In the late 15th century, European scholars noted the resemblance of the names Hungaria and Yugria, the names of settlements east of the Ural. They assumed a connection, but did not seek linguistic evidence.
In 1671, Swedish scholar Georg Stiernhielm commented on the similarities of Lapp, Estonian and Finnish, and also on a few similar words between Finnish and Hungarian, while the German scholar Martin Vogel tried to establish a relationship between Finnish, Lapp and Hungarian. These two authors were thus the first to outline what was to become the classification of the Finno-Ugric (and later Uralic) family. This proposal received some of its initial impetus from the fact that these languages, unlike most of the other languages spoken in Europe, are not part of the Indo-European family.
In 1717, Swedish professor Olof Rudbeck proposed about 100 etymologies connecting Finnish and Hungarian, of which about 40 are still considered valid (Collinder, 1965). In the same year, the German scholar Johann Georg von Eckhart, in an essay published in Leibniz's Collectanea Etymologica, proposed for the first time a relation to the Samoyedic languages.
By 1770, all the languages belonging to the Finno-Ugric languages had been identified, almost 20 years before the traditional starting-point of Indo-European studies. Nonetheless, these relationships were not widely accepted. Hungarian intellectuals especially were not interested in the theory and preferred to assume connections with Turkic tribes, an attitude characterized by Ruhlen (1987) as due to "the wild unfettered Romanticism of the epoch". Still, in spite of this hostile climate, the Hungarian Jesuit János Sajnovics suggested a relationship between Hungarian and Lapp (Sami) in 1770, and in 1799, the Hungarian Sámuel Gyarmathi published the most complete work on Finno-Ugric to that date.
At the beginning of the 19th century, research on Uralic was thus more advanced than Indo-European research. But the rise of Indo-European comparative linguistics absorbed so much attention and enthusiasm that Uralic linguistics was all but eclipsed in Europe; in Hungary, the only European country that would have had a vested interest in the family (Finland and Estonia being under Russian rule), the political climate was too hostile for the development of Uralic comparative linguistics. Some progress was made, however, culminating in the work of the German linguist Josef Budenz, who for 20 years was the leading Uralic specialist in Hungary.
Another late-19th-century contribution is that of Hungarian linguist Ignác Halász, who published extensive comparative material of Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic in the 1890s, and whose work is at the base of today's wide acceptance of the Samoyed-Finno-Ugric relationship (i.e. the Uralic family).
During the 1990s, linguists Kalevi Wiik, Janos Pusztay, and Ago Künnap and historian Kyösti Julku announced a "breakthrough in Present-Day Uralistics", dating Proto-Finnic to 10,000 BC. The theory was almost entirely unsuccessful in the scientific community.
The Uralic family currently comprises nine undisputed language groups. These are not necessarily primary branches of Uralic, but there is no consensus classification. (Some of the proposals are listed in the next section.) Obsolete names are displayed in italics.
There is also historical evidence of a number of extinct languages of uncertain affiliation:
All Uralic languages are thought to have descended, through independent processes of language change, from Proto-Uralic. The internal structure of the Uralic family has been debated since the family was first proposed. Doubts about the validity of most of the proposed higher-order branchings (grouping the nine undisputed families) are becoming more common.
The traditional classification is as follows:
Three distinct subfamilies are usually recognized: Finno-Permic, Ugric and Samoyedic. It had formerly been widely accepted to group Finno-Permic and Ugric as the Finno-Ugric family, but especially in Finland there has been a growing tendency to cut the family tree lower by rejecting the Finno-Ugric intermediate protolanguage. In more marked opposition to the traditionally accepted branching, a recent proposal unites Ugric and Samoyedic in an "East Uralic" group for which shared innovations can be noted.
The Finno-Permic grouping still holds some support, though the arrangement of its subgroups is a matter of some dispute. Mordvinic is commonly seen as particularly closely related to or part of Finno-Lappic. The term Volgaic (or Volga–Finnic) was used to denote a branch previously believed to include Mari, Mordvinic and a number of the extinct languages, but it is now obsolete and considered a geographic classification rather than a linguistic one.
Within Ugric, uniting Mansi with Hungarian rather than Khanty has been a competing hypothesis to Ob-Ugric.
Lexicostatistics has been used in defense of the traditional family tree. A recent re-evaluation of the evidence however fails to find support for Finno-Ugric and Ugric, suggesting four lexically distinct branches (Finno-Permic, Hungarian, Ob-Ugric and Samoyedic).
One alternate proposal for a family tree, with emphasis on the development of numerals, is as follows:
Another, more divergent from the standard, focusing on consonant isoglosses (which does not consider the position of the Samoyedic languages) is presented by Viitso (1997), and refined in Viitso (2000):
The grouping of the four bottom-level branches remains to some degree open to interpretation, with competing models of Finno-Saamic vs. Eastern Finno-Ugric (Mari, Mordvinic, Permic-Ugric; *k → ɣ between vowels, degemination of stops) and Finno-Volgaic (Finno-Saamic, Mari, Mordvinic; *δ́ → δ between vowels) vs. Permic-Ugric. Viitso finds no evidence for a Finno-Permic grouping.
Extending this approach to cover the Samoyedic languages suggests affinity with Ugric, resulting in the aforementioned East Uralic grouping, as it also shares the same sibilant developments. A further non-trivial Ugric-Samoyedic isogloss is the reduction *k, *x, *w → ɣ when before *i, and after a vowel (cf. *k → ɣ above), or adjacent to *t, *s, *š, or *ś.
Finno-Ugric consonant developments after Viitso (2000); Samoyedic changes after Sammallahti (1988)
|Medial lenition of *k||no||no||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Medial lenition of *p, *t||no||no||yes||yes||yes||yes||no||no||no|
|*δ||→ *δ||→ *t||→ *t||→ ∅||→ *l||→ l||→ *l||→ *l||→ *r|
|*δ́||*δ||→ *ĺ||→ ď <gy>, j||→ *ĺ||→ *j||→ *j|
|*s||*s||*s||*s||→ *š||*s||→ ∅||→ *t||→ *ɬ||→ *t|
|*ś||→ *ć||→ *s||*ś||*ś||→ s <sz>||→ *š||→ *s||→ *s|
|*ć||*ć||→ *s||→ *ś||*ć||→ č <cs>||*ć ~ *š||*ć||→ *s|
The inverse relationship between consonant gradation and medial lenition of stops (the pattern also continuing within the three families where gradation is found) is noted by Helimski (1995): an original allophonic gradation system between voiceless and voiced stops would have been easily disrupted by a spreading of voicing to previously unvoiced stops as well.
Many relationships between Uralic and other language families have been suggested, but none of these are generally accepted by linguists at the present time.
Theories proposing a close relationship with the Altaic languages were formerly popular, based on similarities in vocabulary as well as in grammatical and phonological features, in particular the similarities in the Uralic and Altaic pronouns and the presence of agglutination in both sets of languages, as well as vowel harmony in some. For example, the word for "language" is similar in Estonian (keel) and Mongolian (хэл (hel)). These theories are now generally rejected and most such similarities are attributed to coincidence or language contact, and a few to possible relationship at a deeper genetic level.
The Indo-Uralic (or Uralo-Indo-European) theory suggests that Uralic and Indo-European are related at a fairly close level or, in its stronger form, that they are more closely related than either is to any other language family. It is viewed as certain by a few linguists and as possible by a larger number.
The Uralic–Yukaghir theory identifies Uralic and Yukaghir as independent members of a single language family. It is currently widely accepted that the similarities between Uralic and Yukaghir languages are due to ancient contacts. Regardless, the theory is accepted by a few linguists and viewed as attractive by a somewhat larger number.
Nostratic associates Uralic, Indo-European, Altaic, and various other language families of Asia. The Nostratic theory was first propounded by Holger Pedersen in 1903 and subsequently revived by Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Aharon Dolgopolsky in the 1960s.
Eurasiatic resembles Nostratic in including Uralic, Indo-European, and Altaic, but differs from it in excluding the South Caucasian languages, Dravidian, and Afroasiatic and including Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Nivkh, Ainu, and Eskimo–Aleut. It was propounded by Joseph Greenberg in 2000–2002. Similar ideas had earlier been expressed by Heinrich Koppelmann (1933) and by Björn Collinder (1965:30–34).
The theory that the Dravidian languages display similarities with the Uralic language group, suggesting a prolonged period of contact in the past, is popular amongst Dravidian linguists and has been supported by a number of scholars, including Robert Caldwell, Thomas Burrow, Kamil Zvelebil, and Mikhail Andronov. This theory has, however, been rejected by some specialists in Uralic languages, and has in recent times also been criticised by other Dravidian linguists such as Bhadriraju Krishnamurti.
All of these theories are minority views at the present time in Uralic studies.
Structural characteristics generally said to be typical of Uralic languages include:
Basic vocabulary of about 200 words, including body parts (e.g., eye, heart, head, foot, mouth), family members (e.g., father, mother-in-law), animals (e.g., viper, partridge, fish), nature objects (e.g., tree, stone, nest, water), basic verbs (e.g., live, fall, run, make, see, suck, go, die, swim, know), basic pronouns (e.g., who, what, we, you, I), numerals (e.g., two, five); derivatives increase the number of common words.
For the most part, there is little or no mutual intelligibility between modern speakers of the various language sub groups. There are however word cognates, and the Estonian philologist Mall Hellam has even provided an example of an entire sentence that is mutually intelligible among the three most widely-spoken Uralic languages of Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian, and traceable to the common ancestor of the three languages.
The sentence reads:
The University of Edinburgh linguist Geoffrey Pullum, who speaks some Finnish, is suspicious of claims of mutual intelligibility; in a post on his blog, he reported that a Finnish friend of his living in Hungary claimed that neither Finns nor Hungarians could understand the other language's version of the sentence. Nevertheless, each word is traceable to Proto-Uralic, not a more recent loanword.
The following is a very brief selection of cognates in basic vocabulary across the Uralic family, which may serve to give an idea of the sound changes involved. This is not a list of translations: cognates have a common origin, but their meaning may be shifted and loanwords may have replaced them. In general, Finnic languages, and of them Finnish is considered to be the most conservative of the Uralic languages, especially with regard to vocalism. (An example is porsas ("pig"), loaned from Proto-Indo-European *porḱos or pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian *porśos, unchanged since loaning save for loss of palatalization, *ś → s.)
|English||Proto-Uralic||Finnish||Estonian||North Sami||Inari Sami||Erzya||Mari||Komi||Khanty||Mansi||Hungarian||Tundra Nenets|
|'hand, arm'||*käti||käsi (käte-)||käsi||giehta||kieta||ked´||kit||ki||köt||kaat||kéz||–|
|'vein / sinew'||*sïxni||suoni (suone-)||soon||suotna||suona||san||šün||sën||ɬan||taan||ín||te'|
|'to go'||*meni-||mennä (men-)||minema||mannat||moonnađ||–||mija-||mun-||mən-||men-||megy-/men-||mʲin-|
|'to live'||*elä-||elää (elä-)||elama||eallit||eelliđ||–||ila-||ol-||–||–||él-||jilʲe-|
|'to die'||*kaxli-||kuolla (kuol-)||koolema||–||–||kulo-||kola-||kul-||kol-||kool-||hal-||xa-|
(Orthographical notes: The hacek denotes postalveolar articulation ('ž' [ʒ], 'š' [ʃ], 'č' [t͡ʃ]), while the acute denotes a secondary palatal articulation ('ś' [sʲ]). The Finnish letter 'y' and the letter 'ü' in other languages represent a high close rounded vowel [y]. The letter 'đ' in the Sami languages represents a voiced dental fricative [ð]. The vowels 'ä' and 'ö' are the fronted [æ] and [ø], respectively.
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