Finno-Ugric languages

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Finno-Ugric languages

(fĭn`ō-o͞o`grĭk), also called Finno-Ugrian languages, group of languages forming a subdivision of the Uralic subfamily of the Ural-Altaic family of languages (see Uralic and Altaic languagesUralic and Altaic languages
, two groups of related languages thought by many scholars to form a single Ural-Altaic linguistic family. However, other authorities hold that the Uralic and Altaic groups constitute two unconnected and separate language families.
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). The Finno-Ugric group of languages can be divided into two subgroups, Finnic and Ugric. These languages have about 24 million speakers distributed in enclaves scattered in a territory that stretches from Norway east to the Ob River of Siberia and south to the Carpathian Mts. About 10 million of these people speak the Finnic tongues, which include FinnishFinnish language,
also called Suomi, member of the Finnic group of the Finno-Ugric languages. These languages form a subdivision of the Uralic subfamily of the Ural-Altaic family of languages (see Uralic and Altaic languages).
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, native to about 5 million in Finland and about 1 million elsewhere; Karelian, used by close to 100,000 in Karelia in NW Russia; Estonian, the mother tongue of more than 1 million in Estonia; Sami (Lapp), native to some 60,000 mainly nomadic people living in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia; Mordovian, spoken by about 1 million in Russia in the neighborhood of the Volga River below its bend; Cheremiss, the mother tongue of 550,000 in the area where the Volga and Kama rivers join (W of the Ural Mountains); and the Permian languages Votyak, native to about 600,000 between the Kama and Vyatka rivers of European Russia, and Zyrian or Komi, spoken by some 400,000 living between the Pechora, Mezen, and Kama rivers (W of the Ural Mountains). The principal member of the Ugric subgroup is HungarianHungarian language,
also called Magyar, member of the Ugric group of the Finno-Ugric languages. These languages form a subdivision of the Uralic subfamily of the Ural-Altaic family of languages (see Uralic and Altaic languages).
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, with some 13 million speakers, 10 million of whom reside in Hungary and another 3 million in adjacent countries. Ostyak is spoken by about 25,000 in the area of the Ob River of W Siberia, and Vogul is the language of some 5,000 in the neighborhood of the Ob and Irtysh rivers of W Siberia. The Finno-Ugric languages are agglutinative in that they add large numbers of suffixes to an unchanging root (one suffix following the other) to indicate such features as case, number, person, tense, and mood. Derivatives are also frequently formed by suffixes.


See B. Collinder, An Introduction to the Uralic Languages (1965) and Survey of the Uralic Languages (2d ed. 1969); A. Raun, Essays in Finno-Ugric and Finnic Linguistics (1971, repr. 1977).

Finno-Ugric Languages


one of the two branches of the Uralic language family. Finno-Ugric is divided into six language groups: Balto-Finnic (Finnish, Ingrian, Karelian, Ludic, Veps, Votic, Estonian, and Livonian); Lapp; Mordovian (Erzia and Moksha); Mari; Permian (Komi-Zyrian, Komi-Permiak, and Udmurt); and Ugric (Hungarian, Vogul, and Khanty).

The Finno-Ugric languages are spoken in northeastern Europe from Scandinavia to the Urals, a large part of the Volga-Kama region, the middle and lower Ob’ Basin, and part of the Danube Basin. They are spoken by approximately 24 million people (1970, estimate), including approximately 4.5 million people in the USSR (1970 census). Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian possess a writing system and literary tradition that are several centuries old; most of the other Finno-Ugric languages have only recently acquired written forms, and some Balto-Finnic languages have no writing systems.

The systematic appearance of similar features suggests that the Uralic (Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic) languages are related to the Indo-European, Altaic, Dravidian, Yukaghir, and other languages and derive from a Nostratic parent language (seeNOSTRATIC LANGUAGES). According to the prevailing view, Proto-Finno-Ugric separated from Proto-Samoyedic about 6,000 years ago and existed until approximately the end of the third millennium B.C., when the Finno-Permian and Ugric branches divided. It was spoken throughout the Urals and the western Ural Region and, possibly, in some neighboring regions; hypotheses that the Finno-Ugrians originally came from Central Asia and the Volga-Oka and Baltic regions are not supported by recent data. Contacts with Indo-Iranians, which were established during this period, are reflected in several loanwords in the Finno-Ugric languages, such as agricultural terms and some numerals.

In the third and second millennia B.C., the westward migration of the Finno-Permians, which reached as far as the Baltic Sea, was accompanied by gradual isolation of the Balto-Finnic, Mordovian, Mari, and Permian languages, which formed independent groups. The Lapp group developed when the aboriginal population of the European Far North adopted a Finno-Ugric language similar to the Balto-Finnic parent language. It is possible that at an earlier period other Finno-Ugric languages and groups also existed in Eastern Europe, such as the Merja and Murom languages, and were supplanted by the East Slavic languages toward the end of the first millennium A.D.

By the middle of the first millennium B.C., the Ugric parent language was disintegrating, as was the Balto-Finnic parent language in the first centuries A.D and the Permian parent language in the eighth century A.D. Finno-Ugric contacts with Indo-European (Iranian, Baltic, Germanic, and Slavic) and Turkic (Bulgar, Kipchak, and Oghuz) languages played an important role in the independent development of individual Finno-Ugric groups.

The modern Finno-Ugric languages have numerous inflectional and derivational affixes and entire systems of affixes of common origin. There are regular phonetic correspondences between the languages, which have preserved at least 1,000 Proto-Finno-Ugric roots. However, prolonged divergence and areal interactions that dispersed in all directions brought about marked typological differences between the individual Finno-Ugric languages. Features common to all Finno-Ugric languages are few. The languages share an agglutinative structure with prominent inflectional features; inflection is sometimes predominant, as in the Balto-Finnic and Lapp languages. The Finno-Ugric languages also exhibit the absence of gender, the use of postpositions, a highly developed system of verbal aspect, and the prepositive use of the attribute.

Many Finno-Ugric languages have retained other features of the Finno-Ugric parent language, including the absence of voiced consonants and consonant clusters in initial position, the presence of the personal possessive declension of nouns, and the presence of a zero ending in the nominative case; adjectives and numerals used as attributes are indeclinable, and a special auxiliary verb is used to express negation. Many Finno-Ugric languages have also preserved a rich system of impersonal verb forms that are used in constructions analogous in meaning to subordinate clauses. Several Finno-Ugric languages exhibit synharmony, fixed stress (often on the first syllable), opposition between two tones—a high (rising) tone and a low (falling) tone—and a distinction between two types of verb conjugation—subjective-transitive and objective-intransitive.


lazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 3: Finno-ugorskie i samodiiskie iazyki. Moscow, 1966.
Osnovv finno-ugorskogo iazykoznaniia, fascs. 1–3. Moscow, 1974–76.
Collinder, B. Survey of the Uralic Languages, 2nd ed. Stockholm, 1969.
Collinder, B. Comparative Grammar of the Uralic Languages. Stockholm, 1960.
Collinder, B. Fenno-Ugric Vocabulary. Stockholm, 1955.
Hajdú, P. Finnugor népek és nyelvek. Budapest, 1962.
Hajdú, P. Bevezetés az uráli nyelvtudományba, 2nd ed. Budapest, 1973.
Décsy, G. Einführung in die finnisch-ugrische Sprachwissenschaft. Wiesbaden, 1965.
Itkonen, E. “Die Laut- und Formenstruktur der finnisch-ugrischen Grundsprache.” Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher, 1962, vol. 34, pp. 187–210.


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