(also known as Uralic
) languages are a small language group with some
23 million speakers, notable primarily for sticking out like a
sore thumb in otherwise (almost) solidly Indo-European Europe
Finno-Ugrian languages are highly inflected, meaning
that affixes are used instead of prepositions. A not unusual
example of literary Finnish:
Kirjoittauduttuamme hotelliin menimme kolmannessa kerroksessa sijaitsevaan huoneeseemme.
registered-after-having-our hotel-into went-we third-in floor-in situated-being-in room-into-our
After having registered into the hotel we went to our room, which was on the third floor.
See the node longest word
for a few even more silly examples.
s, in particular, have a nearly ridiculous number of cases: Finnish
has 15 while Hungarian
racks up two dozen. Verb
inflected by person. Finno-Ugrian languages also employ a
rather odd construct called the possessive suffix
indicate ownership, and this has been of prime importance for
fleshing out the family tree.
In terms of pronunciation, Finno-Ugrian languages aren't particularly
difficult. They are not tonal,
usually stress the first syllable in every word,
and (with the possible exception of the front vowels) do not
feature many unusual sounds. English speakers will, however, have
to learn to differentiate between short and long vowels and
to articulate unstressed syllables clearly. Then there's
consonant gradation and vowel harmony, but I'll skip the
in-depth explanations so you won't run away screaming quite yet...
Anthropologists used to think that all speakers of
Finno-Ugrian languages shared a common ancestry and that they
had migrated out from somewhere deep in the Ural mountains,
but this theory doesn't hold much water these days; there is
some evidence that forms of proto-Finnish were spoken around
the Baltic Sea as long as 9,000 years ago. It thus seems likely
that such proto-Uralic languages were spoken across northern Eurasia,
and modern-day Finno-Ugrian languages are evolved remnants.
All Finno-Ugrian languages have borrowed vocabulary
very heavily from Indo-European languages, most notably Russian,
although Finnish has done most of its (later) borrowing from
Swedish. "Truly" Finno-Ugrian words are few and far between --
for example, only 300 are still reckoned to exist in modern Finnish --
and this makes linguists' lives difficult.
The two main languages in the Finnic group are Finnish,
with some 5 million speakers, and Estonian, with a bit over
one million. The two languages are almost, but not quite,
mutually intelligible. Karelian (40,000) and
Olonetsian (30,000) retain a chance of survival,
Vepsian (6,000) and Ludian (5,000) are borderline,
while Ingrian, Votian and Livonian only have 20-300 native
speakers and are headed for extinction.
Sámi (aka Saami) languages are spoken by the people of the
same name in Lapland. 10 distinct languages are recognized,
although all except North Sámi (aka Davvi Sámi, with some 30,000 speakers) are
highly threatened or already existinct.
Mordvin, Mari, Permian groups
In Central Siberia are three related groups of Finno-Ugrian
languages, with a bit less than one million speakers each:
Mordvin consists of Erzya (500,000) and Moksha (250,000), and is
spoken primarily in the Republic of Mordovia, a part of Russia.
Mari, aka Cheremis, is usually divided into Eastern Mari
(500,000+ speakers) and Western Mari (less than 50,000). The
Mari also have their own republic, called -- surprise surprise -- the Mari Republic.
The Permian group contains Udmurt aka Votyak with half a million
speakers and Komi with 350,000, this sum further subdivided
into Permyak and Komi (aka Zyrian).
The Udmurts live in the Republic of Udmurtia, while the Komi inhabit the Komi Republic.
The largest Finno-Ugrian language is Hungarian, which clocks in
with over 14 million speakers. Oddly enough, despite their clear
linguistic resemblance the other so-called Ob-Ugric languages
are all tiny and located far away; Mansi (Vogul) and
Khanty (Ostyak), spoken on the Siberian side of the Ural
mountains, have around 3,000 and 13,000 speakers respectively.
And finally we have the Samoyed languages from northern Siberia
near the Kola Peninsula. Nenets is the most sizable group
with an estimated 27,000 speakers; Selkup manages 1,500,
Nganasan 600, and Enets already has a foot in the grave with
grand total of 50 (split among two incompatible dialects at that).