Finno-Ugric languages


Finno-Ugric languages
Branch of the Uralic language family spoken by about 25 million people in northeastern Europe, northern Asia, and (through immigration) North America.

More than 20 million are accounted for by two languages, Finnish and Hungarian. The Ugric subbranch comprises Hungarian and Ob-Ugrian. The latter consists of two language complexes of western Siberia, Khanty and Mansi, spoken by fewer than 15,000 people. The Finnic branch comprises the Sami (Saami, Lappish) languages, the Baltic Finnic languages, Mordvin, Mari, and the Permic languages. Sami is spoken by some 20,000 people in northern Scandinavia and adjacent Russia. Baltic Finnic comprises Finnish, Estonian (with 1.1 million speakers worldwide), and a string of declining languages in Latvia and Russia. Mordvin is spoken by 1.1 million people in scattered enclaves of central European Russia. Mari is also spoken in central Russia and in scattered areas east toward the Ural Mountains; its two major varieties have about 600,000 speakers. The Permic languages, spread over a broad swath of northeastern European Russia, comprise Udmurt (spoken by some 500,000 people) and Komi (spoken by fewer than 400,000 people but with two literary forms). Finno-Ugric languages written in Russia use variants of the Cyrillic alphabet, while those outside Russia use the Latin alphabet.

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      group of languages constituting much the larger of the two branches of a more comprehensive grouping, the Uralic languages (q.v.). The Finno-Ugric languages are spoken by several million people distributed discontinuously over an area extending from Norway in the west to the Ob River region in Siberia and south to the lower Danube River in Europe. In this vast territory, the Finno-Ugric peoples constitute enclaves surrounded by speakers of Germanic, Slavic, Romanian, and Turkic languages.

      The Ugric division of Finno-Ugric languages is composed of Hungarian and the Ob-Ugric languages Mansi (Vogul) and Khanty (Ostyak). The Finnic division of Finno-Ugric languages is composed of five groups. The Baltic-Finnic (Baltic languages) group consists of Finnish (Finnish language), Estonian (Estonian language), Karelian (Karelian language) (including Olonets), Ludic, Veps, Ingrian, Livonian, and Votic (Votic language). The Permic (Permic languages) group consists of Komi (Zyryan), Permyak, and Udmurt (Votyak). The three remaining groups are the individual languages Mari (Mari language) (formerly Cheremis), Mordvin (Mordvin language), and Sami (Sami language) (formerly Lapp). Mari and Mordvin, however, are frequently classified together as the Volga-Finnic group of languages. Also, because the dialects of Sami are almost mutually unintelligible, they are often classified as separate languages.

      The vocabulary of the Finno-Ugric languages reflects a series of contacts with neighbouring non-Uralic peoples at different periods in history. Loanwords from Indo-Iranian seem to be the oldest. Finnish borrowed from Baltic languages in remote times and later from Germanic languages and Russian. Mari, Udmurt, and the Ob-Ugric languages are rich in Turkic loanwords. Hungarian has also borrowed at different times from several Turkic sources, as well as from Iranian, Slavic, German, Latin, and the Romance languages.

      The phonologies of the modern Finno-Ugric languages show a variety of forms, and virtually no feature is common to the entire group. For example, vowel harmony (in which vowels are divided into two or three classes, usually a back, front, and neutral category that may not occur together in the same word), which is sometimes thought of as characteristic of Finno-Ugric, is not found in Sami, Khanty, or the Permic languages. Consonant gradation—an intricate alternation between two classes of stem consonants—occurs in Sami and the Baltic-Finnic languages. The usual method of marking grammatical categories in these languages is by the addition of suffixes. Some of the group (e.g., Finnish and Hungarian) make use of an elaborate case system. Sami and the Ob-Ugric languages mark dual number as well as singular and plural.

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Universalium. 2010.

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