Uralic languages: Wikis


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Eastern and Northern Europe, North Asia
ISO 639-5: urj
Fenno-Ugrian people.png

The Uralic languages

The Uralic languages (pronounced /jʊəˈrælɨk/) constitute a language family of 39[1] 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 Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Slovakia.

The name "Uralic" refers to the suggested Urheimat (original homeland) of the Uralic family, which was often located in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains, as the modern languages are spoken on both sides of this mountain range. However, there is no reliable indication of any specific homeland. In recent times, linguists often place the Urheimat further to the west and south and in the vicinity of the Volga River, close to the Urheimat of the Indo-European languages, or to the east and southeast of the Urals.


Classification of languages

The Uralic family currently comprises nine undisputed language groups (in bold). Note that these are not all immediate daughter groupings; the family tree below places several of these nine into probable subgroupings. Obsolete names are displayed in italics.

There is also historical evidence of a number of extinct languages of uncertain affiliation:


Family tree

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, and there is some disagreement in the two views as to whether Proto-Uralic originally split into two or three branches. Severe doubt has been raised about the validity of most of the higher-order branchings, and the traditional binary tree.[2]

The traditional classification is as follows:[citation needed]

Three distinct subfamilies are usually recognized: Finno-Permic, Ugric and Samoyedic. It has 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.[2][3] A recent proposal even rather unites Ugric and Samoyedic as an "East Uralic" group, for which shared innovations can be noted.[4]

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.[5] The term Volgaic was used to denote a branch previously believed to include Mari, Mordvinic and a number of the extinct languages, but it is now obsolete[2] 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.

The homeland of Proto-Uralic

There are three main theories on the Urheimat—the 'original homeland'—of the people who spoke the Proto-Uralic language. 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 that the Uralic homeland was in western and northwestern Siberia.[6]

Possible relations with other families

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 presence of agglutination and vowel harmony in both sets of languages. For example, the word for "language" is similar in Finnish (kieli), 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. In either case, an especially close relationship with Altaic is widely considered to be improbable.[citation needed]

The theories that include Uralic as a node in a proposed macrofamily and that have any significant currency among linguists today are the following:


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.[7] Regardless, the theory is accepted by a few linguists and viewed as attractive by a somewhat larger number.


The Eskimo-Uralic theory associates Uralic with the Eskimo-Aleut languages. This is an old thesis whose antecedents go back to the 18th century. An important restatement of it is Bergsland 1959.


Uralo-Siberian is an expanded form of the Eskimo-Uralic hypothesis. It associates Uralic with Yukaghir, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, and Eskimo-Aleut. It was propounded by Michael Fortescue in 1998.


Nostratic associates Uralic, Indo-European, Altaic and various other language families, usually including the South Caucasian languages and Dravidian. Earlier versions also included Hamito-Semitic (now replaced by Afroasiatic). The Nostratic theory was first propounded by Holger Pedersen in 1903 and subsequently revived by Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Aharon Dolgopolsky in the 1960s.


The theory that the Dravidian languages display similarities with the Uralic language group, suggesting a prolonged period of contact in the past,[8] is popular amongst Dravidian linguists and has been supported by a number of scholars, including Robert Caldwell,[9] Thomas Burrow,[10] Kamil Zvelebil,[11] and Mikhail Andronov[12] This theory has, however, been rejected by some specialists in Uralic languages,[13] and has in recent times also been criticised by other Dravidian linguists like Bhadriraju Krishnamurti.[14]

Other Theories

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 Björn Collinder (1965:30–34).

Other unorthodox comparisons have been advanced such as Finno-Basque, Hungaro-Sumerian. These are considered spurious by specialists.

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:


  • extensive use of independent suffixes, a.k.a. agglutination.
  • a large set of grammatical cases marked with agglutinative suffixes (13–14 cases on average; mainly later developments: Proto-Uralic is reconstructed with 6 cases), e.g.:
    • Erzya: 12 cases
    • Estonian: 14 cases (and one is still under some debate)
    • Finnish: 15 cases
    • Hungarian: 18 cases (and some more case-like suffixes)
    • Inari Sami: 9 cases
    • Komi: in certain dialects as many as 27 cases
    • Moksha: 13 cases
    • Nenets: 7 cases
    • North Sami: 6 cases
    • Udmurt: 16 cases
    • Veps: 24 cases
  • unique Uralic case system, from which all modern Uralic languages derive their case systems.
    • nominative singular has no case suffix.
    • accusative and genitive suffixes are nasal sounds (-n, -m, etc.)
    • three-way distinction in the local case system, with each set of local cases being divided into forms corresponding roughly to "from", "to", and "in/at"; especially evident, e.g., in Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian, which have several sets of local cases, such as the "inner", "outer" and "on top" systems in Hungarian, while in Finnish the "on top" forms have merged to the "outer" forms.
    • the Uralic locative suffix exists in all Uralic languages in various cases, e.g., Hungarian superessive, Finnish essive, North Sami essive, Erzyan inessive, and Nenets locative.
    • the Uralic lative suffix exists in various cases in many Uralic languages, e.g., Hungarian illative, Finnish lative, Erzyan illative, Komi approximative, and Northern Sami locative.
  • a lack of grammatical gender.
  • negative verb, which exists in almost all Uralic languages, e.g., Nganasan, Enets, Nenets, Kamassian, Komi, Meadow Mari, Erzya (in the first preterite, the conjunctional, optative and imperative moods, sometimes there are alterations in choice of negative verb stems), North Sami (and other Samic languages), Finnish, Estonian, Karelian, etc. (Some innovative languages have lost this feature, e.g., Hungarian.)
  • use of postpositions as opposed to prepositions (prepositions are uncommon).
  • possessive suffixes.
  • dual, which exists, e.g., in the Samoyedic, Ob Ugrian and Samic languages.
  • plural markers -j (i) and -t (-d) have a common origin (e.g., in Finnish, Estonian, Erzya, Samic languages, Samoyedic languages). Hungarian, however, has -i- before the possessive suffixes and -k elsewhere. In the old orthographies, the plural marker -k was also used in the Samic languages.
  • no verb for "have". Note that all Uralic languages have verbs with the meaning of "own" or "possess", but these words are not used in the same way as English "have". Instead, the concept of "have" is indicated with alternative syntactic structures. For example, Finnish uses existential clauses; the subject is the possession, the verb is "to be" (the copula), and the possessor is grammatically a location and in the adessive case: "Minulla on kala", literally "I_on is fish", or "I have a fish (some fish)". In addition, Finnish can also employ possessive suffixes, e.g. "Minulla on kalani", literally "I_on is fish_my", or "I do have my own fish". In Hungarian: "Van egy halam", literally "Is a fish_my", or "I have a fish".
  • expressions that include a numeral are singular if they refer to things which form a single group, e.g., "négy csomó" in Hungarian, "njeallje čuolmma" in Northern Sami, "neli sõlme" in Estonian, and "neljä solmua" in Finnish, each of which means "four knots", but the literal approximation is "four knot". (This approximation is inaccurate for Finnish and Estonian, where the singular is in the partitive case, such that the number points to a part of a larger mass, like "four of knot(s)".)


  • vowel harmony: this is present in many but by no means all Uralic languages. It exists in Hungarian and various Baltic-Finnic languages and is present to some degree elsewhere (Mari, Khanty, Mordvinic, and Samoyedic). It is lacking in Sami and Permic.[15]
  • palatalization of consonants; in this context, palatalization means a secondary articulation, where the middle of the tongue is tense. For example, pairs like [ɲ] – [n], or [c] – [t] are contrasted in Hungarian, as in hattyú [hɒccuː] "swan". Some Sami languages, for example Skolt Sami, distinguish three degrees: plain <l> [l], palatalized <'l> [lʲ], and palatal <lj> [ʎ], where <'l> has a primary alveolar articulation, while <lj> has a primary palatal articulation. Original Uralic palatalization is phonemic, independent of the following vowel and traceable to the millennia-old Proto-Uralic. It is different from Russian palatalization, which is of more recent origin. The Baltic-Finnic languages have lost palatalization, but the eastern varieties have reacquired it, so Baltic-Finnic palatalization (where extant) was originally dependent on the following vowel and does not correlate to palatalization elsewhere in Uralic.
  • lack of phonologically contrastive tone.
  • the stress is always on the first syllable, except for the Mari, Udmurt and Komi-Permyak languages. The Erzya language can vary its stress in words to give specific nuances to sentential meaning.


  • 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. According to Estonian philologist Mall Hellam, the only entire sentence that is mutually intelligible between Estonian/Finnish and Hungarian is "The living fish swims in water" (although it is not in fact mutually intelligible)[16].

Selected cognates

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.

English Proto-Uralic Finnish Estonian North Sami Inari Sami Erzya Mari Komi Khanty Mansi Hungarian Nenets
'fire' *tuli tuli (tule-) tuli dolla tulla tol tul tyl- - - - tu
'fish' *kala kala kala guolli kyeli kal kol - kul kul hal xalʲa
'nest' *pesä pesä pesa beassi peesi pize pəžaš poz pel pitʲii fészek pʲidʲa
'hand, arm' *käti käsi (käte-) käsi giehta kieta ked´ kit ki köt kaat kéz -
'eye' *śilmä silmä silm čalbmi čalme śel´me šinča śin sem sam szem sæw°
'fathom' *süli syli süli salla solla sel´ šülö syl ɬöl täl öl tʲíbʲa
'vein / sinew' *sïxni suoni (suone-) soon suotna suona san šün sën ɬan taan ín te'
'bone' *luwi luu luu - - lovaža lu ly loγ luw - le
'liver' *mïksa maksa maks - - makso mokš mus muγəl maat máj mud°
'urine' *kunśi kusi (kuse-) kusi gožža kužža - kəž kudź kos- końć- húgy -
'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-
'to wash' *mośki- - mõskma1 - - muśke- muška- myśky- - - mos- masø-

1Võro dialect

(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 represent a voiced dental fricative [ð].

See also


  1. ^ Ethnologue report for Uralic
  2. ^ a b c Salminen, Tapani (2002): Problems in the taxonomy of the Uralic languages in the light of modern comparative studies
  3. ^ Häkkinen, Kaisa 1984: Wäre es schon an der Zeit, den Stammbaum zu fällen? – Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher, Neue Folge 4.
  4. ^ Häkkinen, Jaakko 2009: Kantauralin ajoitus ja paikannus: perustelut puntarissa. – Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Aikakauskirja 92. http://www.sgr.fi/susa/92/hakkinen.pdf
  5. ^ Bartens, Raija (1999) (in Finnish). Mordvalaiskielten rakenne ja kehitys. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura. p. 13. ISBN 952-5150-22-4. 
  6. ^ The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, p.231
  7. ^ Rédei, Károly 1999: Zu den uralisch-jukagirischen Sprachkontakten. – Finnisch-Ugrische Forschungen 55.
  8. ^ Tyler, Stephen (1968), "Dravidian and Uralian: the lexical evidence". Language 44:4. 798–812
  9. ^ Webb, Edward (1860), "Evidences of the Scythian Affinities of the Dravidian Languages, Condensed and Arranged from Rev. R. Caldwell's Comparative Dravidian Grammar", Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 7. 271–298.
  10. ^ Burrow, T. (1944) "Dravidian Studies IV: The Body in Dravidian and Uralian". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 11:2. 328–356.
  11. ^ Zvelebil, Kamal (2006). Dravidian Languages. In Encyclopædia Britannica (DVD edition).
  12. ^ Andronov, Mikhail S. (1971), "Comparative Studies on the Nature of Dravidian-Uralian Parallels: A Peep into the Prehistory of Language Families". Proceedings of the Second International Conference of Tamil Studies Madras. 267–277.
  13. ^ Zvelebil, Kamal (1970), Comparative Dravidian Phonology Mouton, The Hauge. at p. 22 contains a bibliography of articles supporting and opposing the theory
  14. ^ Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju (2003) The Dravidian Languages Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-77111-0 at p. 43.
  15. ^ Austerlitz, Robert. 1990. "Uralic Languages" (pp. 567–576) in Comrie, Bernard, editor. The World's Major Languages. Oxford University Press, Oxford (at p. 573).
  16. ^ [1]



  • Abondolo, Daniel M. (editor). 1998. The Uralic Languages. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-08198-X.
  • Austerlitz, Robert. 1990. "Uralic Languages" (pp. 567–576) in Comrie, Bernard, editor. The World's Major Languages. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Collinder, Björn. 1955. Fenno-Ugric Vocabulary: An Etymological Dictionary of the Uralic Languages. (Collective work.) Stockholm: Almqvist & Viksell. (Second, revised edition: Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag, 1977.)
  • Collinder, Björn. 1957. Survey of the Uralic Languages. Stockholm.
  • Collinder, Björn. 1960. Comparative Grammar of the Uralic Languages. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.
  • Collinder, Björn. 1965. An Introduction to the Uralic Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Décsy, Gyula. 1990. The Uralic Protolanguage: A Comprehensive Reconstruction. Bloomington, Indiana.
  • Hajdu, Péter. 1963. Finnugor népek és nyelvek. Budapest: Gondolat kiadó.
  • Hajdu, Péter. 1975. Finni-Ugrian Languages and Peoples, translated by G. F. Cushing. London: André Deutsch. (English translation of the previous.)
  • Laakso, Johanna. 1992. Uralilaiset kansat ('Uralic Peoples'). Porvoo – Helsinki – Juva. ISBN 951-0-16485-2.
  • Rédei, Károly (editor). 1986–88. Uralisches etymologisches Wörterbuch ('Uralic Etymological Dictionary'). Budapest.
  • Sammallahti, Pekka. 1988. "Historical phonology of the Uralic Languages." In The Uralic Languages, edited by Denis Sinor, pp. 478–554. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
  • Sinor, Denis (editor). 1988. The Uralic Languages: Description, History and Foreign Influences. Leiden: Brill.

External classification

  • Bergsland, Knut. 1959. "The Eskimo-Uralic hypothesis." Journal de la Societé finno-ougrienne 61, 1–29.
  • Fortescue, Michael. 1998. Language Relations across Bering Strait. London and New York: Cassell.
  • Greenberg, Joseph. 2000–2002. Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family, 2 volumes. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Pedersen, Holger. 1903. "Türkische Lautgesetze." Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 57, 535–561.
  • Sauvageot, Aurélien. 1930. Recherches sur le vocabulaire des langues ouralo-altaïques ('Research on the Vocabulary of the Uralo-Altaic Languages'). Paris.

Linguistic issues

  • Künnap, A. 2000. Contact-induced Perspectives in Uralic Linguistics. LINCOM Studies in Asian Linguistics 39. München: LINCOM Europa. ISBN 3895869643.
  • Wickman, Bo. 1955. The Form of the Object in the Uralic Languages. Uppsala: Lundequistska bokhandeln.

External links


"Rebel" Uralists

Simple English

The Uralic languages are a language family. They were originally spoken in eastern Europe and Asia.

=List of Uralic languages


  • Finno-Ugric languages
    • Hungarian
    • Khanty
    • Mansi
    • Estonian
    • Finnish
    • Karelian
    • Livonian
    • Votic
    • Ingrian
    • Saami
    • Erzya
    • Moksha
    • Mari
    • Udmurt
    • Komi
    • Samoyedic languages
    • Nenets


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