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Eastern and Northern Europe, North Asia
ISO 639-2 and 639-5: fiu
Pie chart showing the percentage rates of specific nations speaking languages of the Finno-Ugric family

Finno-Ugric (pronounced /ˌfɪnoʊˈjuːɡrɪk/) is a group of languages in the Uralic language family, comprising Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian and related languages. It comprises the Finno-Permic and Ugric language families.



The term Finno-Ugric is currently somewhat controversial[1], with many historical linguists feeling that the Finno-Permic languages are as distinct from the Ugric languages as they are from the Samoyedic languages spoken in Siberia. It was earlier thought that the geographically distant Samoyed had separated first, and the branching into Ugric and Finno-Permic took place later, but this does not have strong support in the linguistic data.

The fact that the Finno-Ugric languages, unlike most of the other languages spoken in Europe, are not part of the Indo-European family, gave some initial impetus to the Finno-Ugric grouping. Indeed, in the past, and occasionally today as well, the term Finno-Ugric was used for the entire Uralic language family.


Proto-Finno-Ugric is the reconstructed protolanguage for the Finno-Ugric languages, that is the ancestor of the Baltic-Finnic languages such as Finnish, Estonian and Karelian, the Ugric languages, whose best known example is Hungarian, and all other Uralic languages excluding the Samoyedic languages. The parent language is Proto-Uralic, from which Proto-Finno-Ugric and Proto-Samoyedic had split. This classification is not without problems; Proto-Finno-Ugric may also be interpreted as a geographical grouping of Proto-Uralic dialects, because the differences are few. It has been suggested that the area where Proto-Finno-Ugric was spoken reached between the Baltic Sea and the Ural mountains.[2]


The first mention of a Uralic people is in Tacitus' Germania, mentioning the Fenni (usually interpreted as referring to the Sami) and two other possibly Finno-Ugric 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 look into linguistic evidence. In 1671, Swedish scholar Georg Stiernhielm commented on the similarities of Lapp, Estonian and Finnish, and also on a few similar words in 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 a Finno-Ugric 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 (published in Leibniz' Collectanea Etymologica) for the first time proposed a relation to the Samoyedic languages.

By 1770, all constituents of Finno-Ugric were known, almost 20 years before the traditional starting-point of Indo-European studies. Nonetheless, these relationships were not widely accepted. Especially Hungarian intellectuals 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 the hostile climate, the Hungarian Jesuit János Sajnovics suggested a relationship of 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 Finno-Ugric was thus more advanced than Indo-European research. But the rise of Indo-European comparative linguistics absorbed so much attention and enthusiasm that Finno-Ugric 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 Finno-Ugric 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 the wide acceptance of the Samoyed-Finno-Ugric relationship today.

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 (cf. Merlijn de Smit, see external links).

Structural features

See also: Typology of Uralic languages

All Finno-Ugric languages share structural features and basic vocabulary which find their origins in the hypothetical proto-Finno-Ugric language. Around 200 basic words in this language have been suggested, including word stems for concepts related to humans such as names for relatives and body parts. This common vocabulary includes, according to Lyle Campbell, at least 55 words related to fishing, 33 related to hunting and eating animals, 12 related to reindeer, 17 related to plant foods, 31 related to technology, 26 related to building, 11 related to clothing, 18 related to climate, 4 related to society, 11 related to religion, and 3 related to commerce.

Most Finno-Ugric languages typologically belong to the agglutinative languages, which share common features like inflection by adding suffixes (instead of prepositions as in English) and syntactic coordination of suffixes. Furthermore, Finno-Ugric languages lack grammatical gender and thus use one pronoun for both he and she; for example, hän in Finnish, tämä in Votic, tema in Estonian, ő in Hungarian.

According to Robert Austerlitz, Proto-Finno-Ugric had about seven cases; nominative, accusative, genitive, locative, allative, ablative, and adverbial.

In many Finno-Ugric languages possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns, such as my and your, are rarely used. Speakers suggest possession via declension. In those that have developed further towards fusional languages, the genitive of the personal pronoun is used to express possession. Examples: Estonian mu koer 'my dog' , colloquial Finnish mun koira, Northern Sami mu beana 'my dog' (literally 'dog of me') or beatnagan 'my dog' (literally 'dog-my').

In others, a pronominal suffix is used, optionally together with the genitive case of a pronoun: thus book Finnish (minun) koirani, 'my dog' (literally 'I-gen. dog-my'), from koira "dog". Similarly, Hungarian, lacking possessive pronouns in their own right, uses possessive noun suffixes, optionally together with pronouns; cf. 'the dog' = a kutya vs. 'my dog' = az én kutyám (literally, 'the I dog-my') or simply a kutyám (literally, 'the dog-my'). Hungarian, however, does have independent possessive pronouns; for example, enyém 'mine', tiéd 'yours', etc. These are also declined; for example, nom. enyém, acc. enyémet, dat. enyémnek, etc.


See also: Classification of Uralic languages
Geographical span of Uralic languages. Nenets, Enets, Selkup and Nganasan are Samoyedic, the rest are Finno-Ugric.

The Finno-Ugric subfamily of the Uralic languages has the following members:



The relation of the Finno-Permic and the Ugric groups is remote by some standards. With a time depth of only 3 or 4 thousand years, it is far younger than many major families such as Indo-European or Semitic, and about the same age as, for instance, the Eastern subfamily of Nilotic. But the grouping is still far from transparent — the absence of early records constitutes an obstacle to exact reconstruction not found in, for example, Indo-European or Semitic. While much has been speculatively deduced about the Finno-Ugric Urheimat, little is certain, and, of course, the relatedness of the languages does not necessarily imply any racial or cultural unity of the peoples speaking them.[citation needed]

Linguists criticizing the Finno-Ugric group (especially Angela Marcantonio, see References) believe that Ugric and Finno-Permic are more distantly related than proponents advertise, and possibly no closer than, for example, the Turkic and Ugric groups. These linguists propose a Ural-Altaic supergroup and deny the validity of the Uralic node within this grouping. Such proposals do not contest the ultimate relatedness of Finno-Ugric, but rather try to include more languages (on even more tenuous grounds) into the family. However, this approach has been rejected by nearly all specialists in Uralic linguistics (for critical reviews, see e.g. Aikio 2003; Bakró-Nagy 2003, 2005; De Smit 2003; Georg 2003; Kallio 2004; Laakso 2004; Saarikivi 2004).

Common vocabulary

This is a sample of cognates in basic vocabulary across Uralic, illustrating the sound laws (based on the Encyclopædia Britannica and Hakkinen 1979). In general two cognates do not have the same meaning; they merely have the same origin. Thus, the English word in each row should be regarded as an approximation of the original meaning, not a translation of the other words. According to Estonian philologist Mall Hellam, the only entire sentence that is mutually intelligible is, "The living fish swims in water" (although it is not in fact mutually intelligible)[3].

English Finnish Estonian North Sami Inari Sami Mari Komi Khanty Hungarian Finno-Ugric reconstruction
heart sydän, sydäm- süda, südam- - - šüm śələm səm szív *śüδä(-mɜ) (*śiδä(-mɜ))
lap syli süli salla, sala solla šəl syl jöl öl *süle (*sile)
vein suoni soon suotna, suona suona šön sən jan ín 'sinew' *se̮e̮ne
go mennä, men- minna, min- mannat moonnađ mije- mun- mən- menni, megy *mene-
fish kala kala guolli, guoli kyeli kol kul hal hal *kala
hand käsi, käte-
gen. käden, part. kättä
käsi, kät-
gen. käe, part. kätt
giehta, gieđa kieta kit ki köt kéz *käte
eye silmä silm čalbmi, čalmmi čalme šinča śin sem szem *śilmä
ice jää jää jiekŋa, jieŋa jiena ij ji jöŋk jég *jäŋe
louse täi täi dihkki tikke tij toj tögtəm tetű *täje

(Orthographical notes: The hacek denotes postalveolar articulation ('š' [ʃ]), 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 and 'δ' in reconstructions represent a voiced dental fricative [ð]. The Sami 'č' is a voiceless postalveolar affricate [t͡ʃ].)


The numbers from 1 to 10 in several Finno-Ugric languages. Forms in italic do not descend from the reconstructed forms.

Number Baltic-Finnic Samic Mordvinic Mari Permic Ugric Proto-F-U
Finnish Estonian Võro Livonian North Sami Inari Sami Erzya Moksha Meadow Mari Komi Mansi Khanty Hungarian
1 yksi
gen. yhden, part. yhtä
gen. ühe, part. üht(e)
ütś ikš okta ohta vejke fkä ikte ətik äkwa ĭt egy[4] *ükte
2 kaksi
gen. kahden, part. kahta
gen. kahe, part. kaht(e)
katś kakš guokte kyeh´ti kavto kaftə kokət kɨk kityg kät kettő/két *kakta
3 kolme kolm kolm kuolm golbma kulma kolmo kolmə kumət kuim hurum koləm három, harm- *kolme
4 neljä neli nelli nēļa njeallje nelji ńiľe nilä nələt nəľ nila ńelä négy *neljä
5 viisi viis viiś vīž vihtta vitta veƭe vetä wizət vit ät wet öt *viite
6 kuusi kuus kuuś kūž guhtta kutta koto kotə kuðət kvajt hot kut hat *kuute
7 seitsemän seitse säidse seis čieža čiččam śiśem sisäm šəmət sizim sat hét N/A
8 kahdeksan kaheksa katõsa kōdõks gávcci käävci kavkso kafksə kandaš(e) kəkjamɨs ńololow nyolc N/A
9 yhdeksän üheksa ütesä īdõks ovcci oovce vejkse veçksə indeš(e) əkmɨs ontolow kilenc N/A
10 kymmenen kümme kümme kim logi love kemeń keməń lu das low loŋət tíz *luke

The number '2' descends in Ugric from a front-vocalic variant *kektä.

The numbers '9' and '8' in Finnic thru Mari are considered to be derived from the numbers '1' and '2' as '10–1' and '10–2'. One reconstruction is *yk+teksa and *kak+teksa respectively, where *teksa cf. deka is an Indo-European loan; notice that the difference between /t/ and /d/ is not phonemic, unlike in Indo-European. Another analysis is *ykt-e-ksa, *kakt-e-ksa, with *e being the negative verb.

Finno-Ugric Swadesh lists

100-word Swadesh lists for certain Finno-Ugric languages can be compared and contrasted at the Rosetta Project website: Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Erzya. Notice that particularly the Finnish list is unreliable, because it contains several neologisms or formal words, for example, henkilö (from henki life + place suffix) instead of the more commonly used ihminen, which is a Baltic Finnic word. The Finnish list has also spelling errors suggesting it was compiled by a person who does not know Finnish.


The relative numbers of Finno-Ugric-speaking peoples

The Finno-Ugric peoples is a presumed historic group of those peoples who currently speak Finno-Ugric languages. Like the speakers of Indo-European languages, Finno-Ugric peoples include multiple races and origins, although to a lesser degree.

The four largest ethnicities speaking Finno-Ugric languages are the Hungarians (15 million), Finns (6–7 million), Estonians (1.1 million), and Mordvins (0.85 million). Three (Hungarians, Finns, and Estonians) inhabit independent nation-states, Hungary, Finland, and Estonia, while the Mordvins have an autonomous Mordovian Republic within Russia. The traditional area of the indigenous Sámi people is in Northern Fenno-Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula in Northwest Russia and is known as Sápmi. Some other Finno-Ugric peoples have autonomous republics in Russia: Karelians (Republic of Karelia), Komi (Komi Republic), Udmurts (Udmurt Republic), Mari (Mari El Republic), and Mordvins (Moksha and Erzya; Republic of Mordovia). Khanty and Mansi peoples live in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug of Russia, while Komi-Permyaks live in Komi-Permyak Okrug, which formerly was an autonomous okrug of Russia, but today is a territory with special status within Perm Krai.

Population genetics

The linguistic reconstruction of the Finno-Ugric language family has led to the postulation not just of an ancient Proto–Finno-Ugric people, but that the modern Finno-Ugric–speaking peoples are ethnically related.[5] Such hypotheses are based on the assumption that heredity can be traced though linguistic relatedness[6], and this premise is rarely accepted by the modern scientific community: It has not been shown that any contemporary group originated from one single ancient people, barring the earliest humans. Like perhaps all populations, individual groups of Finno-Ugric speakers have a diverse array of cultural, environmental, and genetic influences. However, modern genetic studies have shown that the Y-chromosome haplogroup N3, and sometimes N2, having branched from haplogroup N, which, itself, probably spread north, then west and east from Northern China about 12,000–14,000 years before present from father haplogroup NO (haplogroup O being the most common Y-chromosome haplogroup in Southeast Asia), is almost specific, though certainly not restricted, to Uralic or Finno-Ugric speaking populations, especially as high frequency or primary paternal haplogroup.[7][8]

Some of the ethnicities speaking Finno-Ugric languages are:

(Baltic Finnic)





See also


Further reading

  • Aikio, Ante (2003). Angela Marcantonio, The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics. (Book review.) In: Word - Journal of the International Linguistic Association 3/2003: 401–412.
  • Bakró-Nagy Marianne 2003. Az írástudók felelőssége. Angela Marcantonio, The Uralic Language Family. Facts, myths and statistics. In: Nyelvtudományi Közlemények 100: 44–62. (Downloadable: [3])
  • Bakró-Nagy Marianne 2005. The responsibility of literati. Angela Marcantonio, The Uralic Language Family. Facts, myths and statistics. In: Lingua 115: 1053–1062. (Downloadable: [4])
  • Benkő, Loránd: Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Ungarischen (Etymological Dictionary of Hungarian). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1992-1997., ISBN 963-05-6227-8.
  • Collinder, Björn: Fenno-Ugric Vocabulary. Uppsala, 1955, ISBN 3-87118-187-0.
  • Collinder, Björn: An introduction to the Uralic languages. Berkely, California.
  • Campbell, Lyle: Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. Edinburgh University Press 1998.
  • Csepregi Márta (ed.): Finnugor kalauz (Finno-Ugric Guide). Budapest: Panoráma, 1998., ISBN 963-243-862-0.
  • De Smit, Merlijn 2003: A. Marcantonio: The Uralic language family. Facts, myths and statistics (review). In: Linguistica Uralica 2003, 57-67.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica 15th ed.: Languages of the World: Uralic languages. Chicago, 1990.
  • Georg, Stefan 2003. Rezension: A. Marcantonio: The Uralic Language Family. Facts, Myths and Statistics. In: Finnisch-Ugrische Mitteilungen Band 26/27.
  • Häkkinen, Kaisa: Suomalais-ugrilaisten kielten etymologisen tutkimuksen asemasta ja ongelmista (About the situation and problems of the etymological research of the Finno-Ugric languages) (1979), in Nykysuomen rakenne ja kehitys (Structure and development of modern Finnish) volume 2, (NRJK 2) Pieksämäki 1984, ISBN 951-717-360-1.
  • Kallio, Petri 2004. (Review:) The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths, and Statistics (Angela Marcantonio). In: Anthropological Linguistics Vol. 46, no. 4: 486-489.
  • Laakso, Johanna: Karhunkieli. Pyyhkäisyjä suomalais-ugrilaisten kielten tutkimukseen (A Bear Tongue. Views on the Research of the Finno-Ugric Languages). Helsinki: SKS, 1999.
  • Laakso, Johanna (ed.): Uralilaiset kansat (Uralic Peoples). Porvoo - Helsinki - Juva: WSOY, 1992, ISBN 951-0-16485-2.
  • Laakso, Johanna 2004. Sprachwissenschaftliche Spiegelfechterei (Angela Marcantonio: The Uralic language family. Facts, myths and statistics). In: Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen 58: 296-307.
  • Marcantonio, Angela: What Is the Linguistic Evidence to Support the Uralic Theory or Theories? - In Linguistica Uralica 40, 1, pp 40–45, 2004.
  • Marcantonio, Angela: The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics. 2003.
  • Marcantonio, Angela, Pirjo Nummenaho, and Michela Salvagni: The "Ugric-Turkic Battle": A Critical Review. In Linguistica Uralica 37, 2, pp 81–102, 2001. Online version.
  • Ruhlen, Merritt, A Guide to the World's languages, Stanford, California (1987), pp. 64–71.
  • Saarikivi, Janne 2004. Review of: Angela Marcantonio. Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics. In: Journal of Linguistics 1/2004. p. 187-191.
  • Sammallahti, Pekka: Historical phonology of the Uralic languages. - In: Denis Sinor (ed.), The Uralic languages. Description, history and foreign influences. Leiden - New York - København - Köln: Brill, 1998.
  • Sammallahti, Pekka, Matti Morottaja: Säämi - suoma - säämi škovlasänikirje (Inari Sami - Finnish - Inari Sami School Dictionary). Helsset/Helsinki: Ruovttueatnan gielaid dutkanguovddaš/Kotimaisten kielten tutkimuskeskus, 1983, ISBN 951-9475-36-2.
  • Sammallahti, Pekka: Sámi - suoma - sámi sátnegirji (Northern Sami - Finnish - Northern Sami Dictionary). Ohcejohka/Utsjoki: Girjegiisá, 1993, ISBN 951-8939-28-4.
  • Sinor, Denis (ed.): Studies in Finno-Ugric Linguistics: In Honor of Alo Raun (Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series: Volume 131). Indiana Univ Research, 1977, ISBN 0-933070-00-4.
  • Vikør, Lars S. (ed.): Fenno-Ugric. In: The Nordic Languages. Their Status and Interrelations. Novus Press, pp. 62–74, 1993.
  • Wiik, Kalevi: Eurooppalaisten juuret, Atena Kustannus Oy. Finland, 2002.
  • Языки народов СССР III. Финно-угорские и самодийские языки (Languages of the Peoples in the USSR III. Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic Languages). Москва (Moscow): Наука (Nauka), 1966. (Russian)
  • A magyar szókészlet finnugor elemei. Etimológiai szótár (The Hungarian Vocabulary of Finno-Ugric Origin. Etymological Dictionary). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1967-1978.

External links


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