Ural languages

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Uralic languages form a family of around 30 languages ​​spoken by around 25 million people. The distribution area extends over large parts of northern Eurasia from Scandinavia to the Urals on the Taimyr Peninsula . In addition, Hungarian belongs to this language family in Central Europe .

Typologically , the Uralic languages ​​have a wide range. Some properties are predominant or at least widespread: a rich agglutinative morphology , in particular a rich case system with up to 20 cases. In most languages, the negation is done with an auxiliary verb that can be inflected ; vowel harmony is present in some languages. The home of the common original language of all Ural languages, i.e. Proto-Ural , was probably in the central or southern Ural region . This assumed original home was decisive for the naming of the language family. About six thousand years ago, the separation of individual Ural groups and their migration to the later settlement areas began.

The science of the Uralic languages and the associated culture is Uralic or - with the limitation to one of the two main branches of the Ural - Finno-Ugric and Samojedistik .

Ural languages ​​(shown in dark red) alongside the other language families in the world
Geographical distribution of the Uralic languages
Geographical distribution of Ural (subgroups Finno-Permian (blue), Ugric (green), Samoyed (yellow) and (uncertain, see below ) Jukagirian (pink))

Main languages

The most important and most widely spoken Uralic languages ​​are:

Main branches and areas of distribution

The two main branches

Urals falls into two clearly defined main branches that are said to have separated at least 6,000 years ago:

  • the larger western branch Finno-Ugric with today over 99% of the Urals speakers and a total of 24 languages
  • the smaller branch of Samoyed, native to the north and east of the Urals, with four living languages ​​that are spoken by no more than 30,000 people in the vast, sparsely populated areas of northern Siberia.

The linguistic difference between Finnish and Hungarian - both members of the Finno-Ugric branch - can be compared to that between German and Russian ; the differences between individual Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages ​​are even greater.

The Finno-Ugric languages

The best-known Finno-Ugric languages ​​are Hungarian (14.5 million speakers), Finnish (6 million) and Estonian (1.1 million). These three are also the only Uralic languages ​​with national language status .

The Sami (the former name "Sami" is perceived as discriminatory) forms a group of ten languages with 35,000 speakers, mainly in Norway and Sweden , but also in Finland and Russia on the Kola Peninsula are spoken. The Liv is an extinct, closely related to Finnish language in Latvia was spoken. All other Uralic languages ​​have their distribution areas in today's Russia.

Initially, Estonian in Russia was joined by the languages Wotish , Ingrian (both almost extinct), Wepsish (8,000 speakers) and Karelian (70,000, Autonomous Republic of Karelia ) in a wide zone up to the Kola Peninsula . Wepsis and Karelian are almost exclusively spoken by older speakers. In the central Volga region, Mordovian (with 1.1 million speakers, the largest Ural language in Russia), Mari or Cheremiss (600,000 speakers) and Udmurt (600,000) can be found in their own autonomous republics . Further north, there is the Komi with the Syrian and Permyak varieties , which together have around 500,000 speakers. Some authors consider Syriac and Permyak to be separate languages.

East of the Urals , in the Ob region, the two Ob -Ugric languages Khanty (or East Yak, 15,000 speakers) and Mansi (or Vogul, 5,000 speakers) are spoken in a separate autonomous district (Okrug) of the Khanty and Mansi. They are the closest relatives of Hungarian, which has penetrated far to the west, and form with it the Ugric subgroup.

The Samoyed languages

The Samoyed , some of whom remained nomadic despite the Soviet settlement policy, live in a vast area in northern Russia from the White Sea to the Taimyr Peninsula . The approximately 41,000 Nenets or Juraks make up the vast majority of the Samoyed. They make up the titular nation in three autonomous districts ( Nenets Autonomous Okrug , Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and the former Taimyr Autonomous Okrug ), and around 1,200 forest-Nenets live in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and around 8,000 in Arkhangelsk Oblast . 27,000 people, or about 70% of the Nenets, speak their ancestral Nenets language . The closely related Enzen at the mouth of the Yenisei only number around 230 people, of whom around 100 older tribal members still speak Enzish .

To the north and east are the Nganasans , of whom about 1,000 speak Nganasan , and the Selkupen , who live southeast in the area of ​​the central Ob, with 2,000 speakers of Selkupic . The South Samoyed languages Mator and Kamas are extinct. Mator was superseded by a Turkic language in the early 19th century ; however, it was previously made accessible through intensive linguistic field work. The last Kamas speaker died in 1989.

The Uralic languages ​​and their classification

The history and current discussion of the genetic classification of the Uralic languages ​​is detailed below. Since the current scientific discussion offers divergent approaches for the internal structure of the Uralic languages ​​- especially for the Finno-Ugric branch - the "traditional" classification favored by most researchers is largely used here.

However, most Finnougrists agree that the unit Volga Finnish (combining Mordovian and Mari) has to be given up. Even a previously assumed Finnish-Sami unity is no longer represented by some researchers, so that both represent separate groups within the Finno-Permian. The following genetic structure of the Uralic language family is then obtained:

Genealogical structure

  • Ural
    • Finno-Ugric
      • Finno-Permish
      • Ugric
        • Hungarian
        • Ob-Ugrish
    • Samoyed
      • North Samoyed
      • South Samoyed

Classification of the Uralic languages

Bold type is used for genetic units, normal type for individual languages; Dialects and varieties are shown in italics. The speaker numbers come from ETHNOLOGUE 2005, current country statistics and the article given below as a web link. A † indicates extinct languages.

  • Ural 31 languages, including 4 †, a total of 24 million speakers
    • Finno-Ugric 25 languages, 2 †, 24 million speakers
      • Finno-Permish
        • Baltic Finnish (7 languages, 7.2 million speakers)
          • Finnish (Suomi) (6 million)  dialects: Southwest, Häme, South, Middle-North and Upper Pohjanmaa, Savo, Southeast
          • Karelian (130,000)  dialects: North = Viena, South, Aunus = Livvi = Olonetzisch, Lüdisch
          • Wepsish (6,000)
          • Ingrian (Ischorian) (300, ethnic 15,000)
          • Estonian (1.1 million)  dialects: Tallinn, Tartu, Mulgi, Võru, Seto
          • Wotisch (almost †)
          • Livisch (almost †)
        • Sami (11 languages, 2 †, 23,000 speakers)
          • Western Sami
            • Northern Sami (20,000, ethnic 40,000)
            • Lule (2,000)
            • Pite (almost †)
            • South Sami (600)
            • Ume (almost †)
          • Eastern Sami
            • Inari (300)
            • Skolt (300)
            • Akkala †
            • Kildin (1,000)
            • Ter (almost †)
            • Kemi †
        • Mordovian
          • Mordovian (1.1 million)  varieties: Ersyan (700,000), Mokshan (400,000)
        • Mari
          • Mari (Tscheremissisch) (600,000)  varieties: Ost-Mari or Wiesen-Mari, Berg-Mari
        • Permic
          • Udmurt (Votyak) (550,000, ethnic 750,000)  Dialects: Bessermyan (north), south
          • Komi (400,000)  varieties: Syrian, Permyak, Jaswa
      • Ugric
        • Ob-Ugrish
          • Khanty (East Yak) (12,000, ethnic 20,000)  Dialects: North, East, South, Awake
          • Mansi (Vogul) (3,200, ethnic 8,500)  Dialects: North (Soswa), South (Tawda), West (Pelym, Wagily), East (Konda)
        • West Ugric
          • Hungarian (Magyar) (14.5 million)
            • Dialects: West Hungarian, Transdanubian, South Hungarian, Tisza, Paloczen, Northeast Hungarian, Mezőseg, Szekler
    • Samoyed (6 languages, including 2 †, 30,000 speakers)
      • North Samoyed
        • Nganasan (Tawgy-Samoyed) (500, ethn. 1,300)  Dialects: Avamish, Wadeish
        • Enzish (Yenisei Samoyed) (100, ethn. 200)  Dialects: Forest Enzisch, Tundra Enzisch
        • Nentish (Jurak-Samoyed) (27,000, ethnic 35,000)  Dialects: Tundra-Nentish (25,000), Wald-Nentish (2,000)
      • South Samoyed
        • Selkupian (Ostyak Samoyed) (1,600, ethnic 4,000)  dialects: Tas, Tym, Narym, Western Ob-Ket
        • Kamassian (Koibalic) †
        • Matoric (motor; Taiga, Karagasy) †

The external link “Table of Uralic Languages ​​and Dialects” from the “Database of Uralic Typology Project” below offers an even finer classification with all sub-dialects .

Ural and Finno-Ugric word equations

The following tables with selected uralic word equations provide an impression of the degree of relationship between individual Uralic languages . At first glance, they show that Finnish and Estonian are very closely related and that the Samoyed Nentish - despite a recognizable relationship - differs greatly from it. The particular closeness of the chanty to Hungarian - both are Ugric languages ​​- is not readily apparent from the table, but only becomes apparent when more subtle linguistic techniques are used.

The main sources of these tables are the UEW ( Ural Etymological Dictionary ) by Károly Rédei (1986–1991) and the web link given below. In the second line the frequently used alternative language names or their abbreviations are given. The indication "(FU)" after the reconstructed form means that this word equation is only used in Finno-Ugric, but not in Samoyed, so it is a reconstructed proto-Finno-Ugric basic form. All-Urural word equations are relatively rare; however, the fact that the Samoyed languages ​​belong to the Urals is undisputed.

Ural word equations I: nouns
meaning Finn. Eston. Sami Mordw. Mari Udmurt Komi Chanty Mansi Hungarian. Nenets Selkup Proto-
aging. Suomi   Lapp.   Tscher. Wotjak Syrian. Ostjak Wogul Magyar Jurak   Ural.
Vein, tendon suoni soon suodma san šün sen sen Jan tεn in th čen * se̮ne
eye silma silm čalbme sel'me činca . sin sem šäm szem sew sai * śilmä
heart sydan south a tšade sedej šüm sulem selem šem šäm szív sej sid ' * śiδämз
head pää pea . . puŋ pom . päŋ fej, ​​fő . . * päŋe (FU)
hand cheese cheese gietta ked kit ki ki köt, ket kät kéz . . * käte (FU)
blood veri veri varra ver wər ver vir who would vér . . * wire (FU)
Foot leg jalka jalg ju Follow jalgo jal . . . . gyalog 1 . . * jalka (FU)
Lap; thread syli süli salla säl šəl sul syl jöl valley oil . . * column (FU)
fish kala kala guolle cal col . . kul col hal χāľe kel * scale
louse tai tai dik'ke . ti tej toj tögtəm takəm tetű . . * taje (FU)
mouse hiiri here . čejer . šir šyr jönkər harder egér . . * šiŋer (FU)
Tree, wood puu puu . . pu pu pu . -pe fa pa po * puwe
ice yeah yeah jieegŋa ej ij ever ji jöŋk jöŋk jég . . * jäŋe (FU)
water vesi vesi . ved wət vu va . wit víz wit yt * wete
House, hut kota koda goatte kudo kuδə ka, ko ka, ko cat . ház . . * kota (FU)

Note: 1 'on foot'

Ural word equations II: verbs, numerals, pronouns
meaning Finn. Eston. Sami Mordw. Mari Udmurt Komi Chanty Mansi Hungarian. Nenets Selkup Proto-
aging. Suomi   Lapp.   Tscher. Wotjak Syrian. Ostjak Wogul Magyar Jurak   Ural.
go mennä mine manna . mije min mun men min menni min men-da * mene
feel, know tuntea hour dow'da . . todi ted . . tudni tumta (tymne) * tumbled
give antaa anda . ando . ud ud . . adni . . * amta (FU)
one yksi üks ok'ta vejke ik (te) OK et it ük egy . . * icts (FU)
two kaksi kaks looked kavto coke kik kik kät kit két, kettő . . * kakta (FU)
three kolme Kolm golbma kolmo kəm kwin kujim coləm korəm három . . * kolme (FU)
four neljä neli njaelje nile nəl Nile nol nelə nili négy . . * neljä (FU)
five viisi viis vitta vete wəc vit vit wet at öt . . * witte (FU)
six kuusi kiss good'ta koto kut kwat ' kvat kut cat Has . . * cowl (FU)
hundred sata sada čuotte sado šüδə see below so sat šat száz . . * sata (FU)
who kuka ke (s) gi, kä ki ke, kü kin kin . . ki . . * ke, ki (FU)

The following proto-Uralic pre-forms indicate an extraural relationship:

  • * kala 'fish' | Germanic * hwali- 'whale'
  • * kota 'tent, hut, house' | Indo-European * kata
  • * se̮ne 'vein; Tendon '| Germanic * senuwō 'tendon', to Indo-European * sneh₁- .
  • * wete 'water' | Indo-European * uodr̥
  • * ke , ki 'who' | Indo-European * kʷis
  • * sata 'hundred', most likely a borrowing from the Indo-Iranian , cf. avestic satəm , old Indian śatá- , to Indo-European * ḱm̥tóm

Ural phonetic equivalents

The etymologies given reveal some Urural sound equivalents , e.g. B. when comparing the Finnish and Hungarian words of a word equation:

  • Initial Finnish / p- / corresponds to Hungarian / f- / (e.g. puu: fa )
  • Initial Finnish / k- / corresponds to / a / and / o / Hungarian / h- / (e.g. kala: hal ), otherwise Hungarian / k- / (e.g. käsi: kéz )
  • Finnish / -t- / corresponds to Hungarian / -z / (e.g. sata: száz )
  • Finnish / -nt- / corresponds to Hungarian / -d- / (e.g. tunte: tud )
  • initial Finnish / s- / corresponds to Hungarian / sz- / or / Ø- / (e.g. silmä: szem , syli: oil ), which indicates that the Finnish / s / comes from two different s -sounds whose Difference in Hungarian still becomes clear.

The phonemes of Proto-Urals can be largely reconstructed from these and other observations. Ural studies assume that Finnish has essentially received the proto-Uralic consonants - those of Hungarian represent innovations, while the original vowels are most likely to be found in the Sami languages.

Oldest documents and written languages

The Hungarian is the Uralic language with the oldest written documents. After the first scattered individual words in texts in other languages, a funeral speech from the end of the 12th century is the earliest textual evidence. It consists of 38 lines and is 190 words in length. Around 1300 an old Hungarian lamentation of the Virgin follows , an artistically valuable copy of a Latin text, in a way the first Hungarian poem.

The oldest Karelian language monument dates from the 13th century and is a very short text written on birch bark. Old Permian , an early form of Komi , was given its own alphabet in the 14th century by the missionary Stefan von Perm with the old Permian script , which is based on the Greek and Cyrillic alphabet. The oldest Estonian book was printed in 1525 but has not survived; the first surviving Estonian text is 11 pages of a religious calendar printed in 1535. The Finnish literature begins in 1544 with the Rukouskirja Bibliasta of Mikael Agricola , 1548 following his translation of the New Testament . The oldest Sami texts date from the 17th century.

Besides the mentioned languages ​​with relatively early linguistic monuments, almost all Uralic languages ​​have now found a written form, even if actual literary production has only taken place in the larger languages. The Urals languages ​​in Russia use appropriate modifications of the Cyrillic alphabet , the Western languages ​​use the Latin writing system .


According to the Finnish linguist, the Uralic languages ​​are at home along the Yenisei River near Lake Baikal or the Sajan Mountains , on the border between Russia and Mongolia.

According to a linguistic, archaeological and genetic study from 2019, Ural or the early speakers of the Ural languages ​​have an origin in eastern Siberia. Some of these migrated to today's Baltic region in Europe more than 2500 years ago. Another part remained in Siberia and Central Asia. Later, the Magyars began to migrate from Central Asia to Central Europe.

Another relationship?

As with all kinship assumptions, it remains to be examined at each level whether it is about inherited similarities and thus arguments for a genealogical kinship, or whether long-term contacts in the form of a linguistic union have led to these similarities. Such decisions are of course all the more difficult, the further the relationship extends.

Ural and Jukagir

A serious hypothesis is that of the relationship of the Ural with the otherwise than isolated classified Paleosiberian language Jukagirisch . Jukagir is spoken by a few hundred people in north-east Siberia. According to Ruhlen (1987), works by Collinder (1965) and Harms (1977) show the relationship between Yukagir and the Uralic languages. Collinder notes: “The commonalities between Yukagir and Ural are so numerous and characteristic that they are remnants of an original unity. The case system of Yukagir is almost identical to that of northern Samoyed. The imperative is formed with the same suffixes as in South Samoyed and the most conservative Finno-Ugric languages. Jukagirian has half a hundred words in common with Ural, without the loanwords . It should be noted that all Finno-Ugric languages differ more from Samoyed than Yukagir in case inflection . "

It would then be quite possible to speak of an Ural-Yukagir language family. In this case the following classification is obtained:

  • Ural-Jukagir
    • Jukagirian
    • Ural
      • Samoyed
      • Finno-Ugric
        • Ugric
        • Finno-Permish


The Japanese linguist Kanehira Joji assumes that the Ainu is a split from the Proto-Ural languages, and refers to the agreement of some basic words, morphology and phonology. He also suspects that the Siberian / uralo-Altaic properties of today's Japanese go back to the influence of the Ainu language on early Japanese, and also refers to the genetic and assumed linguistic mixing of the Jomon / Ainu and Yayoi.


Many researchers see a controversial hypothetical relationship with Urindo-European , not least because of the millennia-old neighborhood, but also because of assumed lexical and grammatical relationships. In this way, convergent elements can be reconstructed for both the vocabulary and the grammatical structures between the Indo-European and Uralic languages. The epicentres of both ethnic groups were probably in Eastern Europe, with the Urals settling further north than the Indo-Europeans postulated. The linguists Károly Rédei and Jorma Koivulehto criticize this hypothesis. They show that the similarities are due to language contact and mutual loan words.


A hypothesis that has been refuted today is that of the “ Ural-Altaic ” language family. The following table shows some consonant formantia (usually suffixes) that are common both in the Uralic, Yukagir and Altaic languages ​​(Turkish, Mongolian, Tungusian) (after Marcantonio 2002 and Greenberg 2000).

Distribution of consonant formantia in Ural, Jukagir and Altaic

consonant meaning Finn. Sami Perm. Hungarian. Ob-Ug. Samoj. Jukag. Turk. Mong. Tung. number
m my x x x x x x x x x x 10
n locative x x x x x x x x x - 9
m gerundive x x x - x x x x x x 9
n Genitive x x x - - x x x x x 8th
t Plural x x x - x x - x x x 8th
t ablative x x x - - x x x x x 8th
t locative - - - x x x x x x x 7th
m accusative x x x - x x - - - x 6th
k imperative x x - - - x x x x - 6th
l Plural - - x - x x - x x x 6th
k Lative x x x - - - x x - x 5
n Lative x - x - x x x - - - 5
t your x x x x - - - - - x 5
s be x x x x - - - x - - 5
s Lative x x x - - - - - x x 5
k Plural - x x x - x - x - - 5

Ural to Nostratic or Eurasian?

A hypothetical extension of the Indo-European and Altaic relationship leads to the Nostratic or even Eurasian macro family. The following table gives an overview of the controversial reconstructed proto-linguistic personal and possessive endings in some Eurasian language families.

Reconstructed personal and possessive endings in Eurasian language families

Num. Pers. Proto-
Sing. 1 m m m m
. 2 t ng t s
. 3 s (V) s (V) n t
Plural 1 m + PL m + PL m + PL me (n)
. 2 t + PL ng + PL t te
. 3 s + PL O t ent

History and current discussion of the classification

Early approaches

The earliest perceptions of kinship between languages ​​that we now call Uralic date back to the end of the 9th century. The Viking Othere reports that Sami is similar to the Bjarmer language . In the 15th century, relationships between Hungarian and Khanty and Mansi were recognized, but less on a linguistic basis than through the similarity of names 'Ugria' and 'Hungaria'. Other important milestones: In 1671 the Swede Georg Stiernhielm noticed the close relationship between Estonian, Sami and Finnish, and he also recognized that this group had a more distant relationship with Hungarian. In 1717, J. G. von Eckhart noted in Leibniz 's collection Collectanea Etymologica the relationship between Samoyed and the Finnish and Ugric languages.

Strahlberg and Schlözer

In 1730 the Swede Philip Johan von Strahlberg classified the Finnish-Ugric languages ​​down to Sami, in 1770 the German historian August Ludwig von Schlözer Strahlberg added the Sami component to the classification. Thus, the structure of the Finno-Ugric language family, which is essentially still accepted today, already existed six years before William Jones' famous speech, which lays the foundation for an Indo-European linguistics.

Sajnovics and Gyarmathi

Further consolidating steps are the works of the Hungarians János Sajnovics 1770 and Sámuel Gyarmathi 1799. They show that Hungarian is the closest relative of Khanty and Mansi and that these three form a separate branch, Ugric; They use valid word equations to prove the relationship between Ugric and Finnish and summarize the Samoyed languages ​​known at the time to form a separate group.

Castrén and Halász

In 1840 the Finn Matthias Alexander Castrén systematically developed Samoyed language through field studies, clarified the internal north-south structure of Samoyed and established the division of the entire family into a Samoyed and Finno-Ugric branch. The Hungarian Ignácz Halász finally put Castrén's work on secure ground in 1893 by means of 245 all-Urural word equations . (Today we assume around 150 accepted all-Urural word equations.)

Newer structural theses

Despite these early classification achievements, by no means all problems of the internal structure of Urals have been solved. In the last few years in particular, apparently certain findings - such as the division of Finnish-Ugric into a Finnish-Permian and Ugric component - have been called into question. Another problem is the classification of Sami. The following statements can be considered generally accepted:

  • Ural is a family of languages ​​that is primarily divided into a Finno-Ugric and a Samoyed branch.

Other valid genetic subunits of Finno-Ugric are

  • Baltic Finnish (with Finnish, Estonian, Karelian, Wepsish, Ingrian, Wotisch, Livisch)
  • Sami (with 10 languages ​​or dialects)
  • Permisch (with Udmurt table and Komi) and
  • Ugric (with Hungarian and Ob-Ugric with Khanty and Mansi)

The linguistic proof of Ugric unity has turned out to be extremely difficult and has recently been disputed again by Marcantonio in 2002.

Often - but not by all researchers - Mari and Mordovian were combined to form a unit, Volga and Baltic Finnish with Sami to form Sami-Finnish . The Finno-Ugric languages, which do not belong to the Ugric, were and are considered by most researchers as a genetic unit Finno-Permian . Such classifications are based on the following basic Ural structure:

  • Ural
    • Finno-Ugric
      • Finno-Permish
      • Ugric
    • Samoyed

They differ only in the fine structure of the Finno-Permian group. Pretty much all possible variants have been proposed, and important work on the structure of the Finno-Permian came to the following results:

Collinder, Austerlitz, Voegelin and Harms

Collinder (1965) classifies Baltic Finnish , Sami , Mordovian , Mari, and Permian as equal subunits of Finno-Permian . Austerlitz (1968) combines Mordovian and Mari into Volgaic . Voegelin (1977) and Harms (1998) come to more complex structures:

  • Finno-Permisch  (Voegelin 1977)
    • Finno-Volga
      • Sami-Finnish
      • Volgaic
        • Mordovian
        • Mari
    • Permic
  • Finno-Permisch  (Harms 1998)
    • West Finno-Permish
      • Sami-Finnish
      • Mordovian
    • Mari
    • Permic

Janhunen and Abondolo

Janhunen 2003 takes into account the sequence of splits from Finno-Ugric, which leads to a binary family tree with only two-part branches. He assumes the split sequence 1. Ugric, 2. Permisch, 3. Mari, 4. Mordovian and 5. Sami. The rest is 6. Baltic Finnish.

  • Finno-Ugric (Janhunen 2003)
    • Ugric
    • Finno-Permish
      • Permish (Udmurt and Komi)
      • Mari-Mordovian-Finnish-Sami
        • Mari
        • Mordovian-Finnish-Sami
          • Mordovian
          • Sami-Finnish
            • Sami
            • Baltic Finnish

In contrast, Abondolo 1998 assumes the opposite split-off scenario and thus denies the existence of a genetic unit Finno-Permish compared to Ugric . He sees the following sequence of splits from Finno-Ugric: 1. Sami-Finnish, 2. Mordovian, 3. Mari, 4. Permian. The Ugric remains as the core.

Majority consensus and new theses

The “majority opinion” of the partly diverging current views results in the following classification: Finno-Ugric is divided into Ugric and Finno-Permian , which is formed from the equal groups (Baltic Sea) Finnish , Sami , Mordovian , Mari and Permian . The traditional unit of Volga or Volga Finnish is omitted. This gives the structure of the classification presented earlier in this article.

Future research will show whether the Finno-Permian subunit traditionally included here against Abondolo 1998 is linguistically relevant. Volgaic as a unit of Mordovian and Mari hardly finds supporters in the more recent discussion.

The classification of Ural is again very much under discussion (cf. Angela Marcantonio 2002), in extreme cases up to the abandonment of the genetic units Ugric , Finno-Ugric and Ural as a whole. The question of whether Urals can even be described by a family tree model is discussed . The majority of uralistic researchers have spoken out against these very far-reaching theses.

Original home and spread of the Uralic languages

As just shown, a certain classification variant corresponds closely to a hypothesis about the spread of the respective language group from an assumed original home to its current geographical area. Determining the original home of Proto-Urals is a difficult task because of the old age of the original language . It is generally assumed that it can be located in the central or southern Ural region with a center west of the mountain range. The ancestors of today's Samoyed were the first to separate and move eastwards. This separation took place at least 6000, if not 7000 years ago, which can be concluded from the relatively small number (approx. 150) total-Ural word equations . The splitting of Samoyed into today's languages ​​probably only began about 2000 years ago. Some linguists also accept Siberia as a possible original home.

The Finno-Ugric group was by far the larger from the start. The first splits of this group go to at least the 3rd millennium BC. BC back. As already mentioned above, the order of the splits and thus the course of the expansion of the Finno-Ugric languages ​​is now (since about 1970) a matter of dispute. Since Donner in 1879, it was generally assumed that the Ugric was the first group to separate from the Finno-Ugric, leaving the Finno-Permian unit as the remainder. The more recent results (Sammallahti 1984 and 1998, Viitso 1996), on the other hand, see the Sami-Finnish group as a peripheral unit, which first started in the 3rd millennium BC. Moved away from the Finno-Ugric core. This was followed by Mordovian and Mari (around 2000 BC) and finally Permian in the middle of the 2nd millennium. v. The core remained the languages ​​from which Ugric developed. Probably as early as 1000 BC One can set the separation of the Hungarian from the Ob-Ugric languages. The Hungarians (self-designation Magyars) moved westward together with Turkish tribes since 500 AD and reached and conquered the sparsely populated Carpathian Basin in 895 AD (The name Hungarian comes from Chuvash or Bolgar-Turkic from on-ogur = ten Ogur Tribes ).

Linguistic characteristics of the Uralic languages

Typological features

Typologically , the Uralic languages ​​have a wide range. However, some properties are predominant or at least widespread: a rich agglutinative morphology with monosemantic suffixes , in particular a rich case system with up to 20 "cases", word order SOV (often SVO in Western Uralic languages ​​due to external influence), negation with a flexable Auxiliary verb , originally a slight tendency towards number marking, vowel richness , vowel harmony and consonant grading . These features are discussed in more detail below.

Reconstruction of Proto-Ural

The Proto-Urals could be reconstructed to a certain extent using the methods of comparative linguistics . The great difference between Finno-Ugric and Samoyed, i.e. ultimately the old age of Proto-Ural, which is estimated to be at least 7,000 years, and the extensive lack of “common” morphological markers (case suffixes, plural markers, verbal endings) in today's world, creates particular difficulties Uralic languages ​​and the lack of older surviving texts (see above). Even the remaining similarities of the Uralic languages ​​cannot all be viewed as a genetic material from the Proto-Uralic: some reflect language universals , others the influence of neighboring non-Uralic language groups. The Indo-European languages (especially Iranian , Germanic , Baltic and Slavic ), but also the Altaic languages ( Turkish , Mongolian and Tungus ) come into question here.

The reconstruction of the original proto-Uralic morphemes for the formation of cases, possessive suffixes etc. is not without problems because of their relatively low distribution in today's Uralic languages. In addition, it can be seen that these formantia “also outside of the Uralic languages” were and are widely used in the Eurasian region (cf. the above section “External relations of the Uralic languages”).

Selected linguistic features of Uralic languages ​​that deserve special attention compared to Indo-European languages ​​are summarized below. Hajdú 1987 gives a comprehensive account of Proto-Urals.



For the representation of the reconstructed consonant and very rich vowel system of Proto-Urals, reference is made to the further literature. As an example, it was phoneme inventory of Finnish used.

The consonants of Finnish (after Abondolo 1998)
Type labial Dental Alveolar Velar Glottal
nasal m n . ŋ .
Occlusive -v p t . k ʔ
Occlusive + v b d . G .
Fricative + v v . . H .
Fricative -v f s š . .
Lateral . l . . .
Vibrant . r . . .
Half vowel . j . . .

The marking + v or -v (for occlusive and fricative) means the voiced or unvoiced form of the consonant.

In Baltic Finnish and some other Finno-Ugric languages, the consonant length of / m, n, p, t, k, s, l, r, j / is intrinsically distinctive. After nasals and liquids, the length of / p, t, k, s / is also distinctive. For Proto-Urals, distinctive consonant lengths can at most be used intervowels for / p, t, k /, but this approach has been rejected by other researchers.


The Finnish vowels are / i, ü, u; e, ö, o; ä, a /. They come in short and long forms; this difference is phonemically significant, see the examples. The length of the vowel is expressed in Finnish by double placement (e.g. / uu /), in Hungarian by an accent (e.g. ház ).

  • Finnish: tulen 'of fire' vs. do 'of the wind'
  • Hungarian: szel 'cut' vs. szél 'wind'

Whether the quantity opposition of short and long vowels comes from Proto-Urals cannot be clearly determined: in some groups - Mordovian, Mari, Permish - it cannot be proven.

Vowel harmony and vowel assimilation

Vowel harmony is the qualitative dependence of a suffix vowel on the root vowel , in the broader sense the qualitative alignment between the vowels of a word. Both are widespread in the Uralic languages. Whether it is a proto-Urural feature is disputed: this could be a Turkish influence. The suffix vowel depends on the quality of the root vowel; here / a, o, u / on the one hand and / ä, ö, ü / on the other hand form disjoint classes:

Examples from Finnish:

  • talo 'house', talo-ssa 'in the house'
  • kynä 'pen', kynä-ssä 'in the pen'

From the Hungarian:

  • asztal 'table', asztal-ok 'table'
  • föld 'country', föld-ek 'countries'

Similar rules apply not only in Finnish and Hungarian, but also in some dialects of Mordovian, Mari, the Ob-Ugric languages ​​and the Samoyed Kamas. In other Urural languages, however, the vowel harmony is completely absent.

Strictly speaking, vowel assimilation is to be separated from vowel harmony, e.g. B. assimilates unstressed suffix -e in Finnish to the preceding vowel:

  • talo + hen > taloon 'in the house' (the h is also omitted)
  • talo + i + hen > taloihin 'into the houses'

In Hungarian, the suffix vowel of the ending -hez assimilates qualitatively (in its rounding) to the preceding vowel:

  • ház-hoz 'to the house'
  • kéz-hez 'at hand'
  • betű-wood 'to the letter'

Consonant grading (change of level)

In Sami-Finnish, "hard" consonants are replaced by voiced , fricative or liquid variants, double consonants are defused to single consonants if the following syllable is closed by a suffix (e.g. in the genitive suffix -n ). This process is called consonant grading or level change.

Examples from Finnish:

  • mato 'worm'> madon 'of the worm'
  • matto 'carpet'> maton 'the carpet'
  • poika 'boy'> pojan 'the boy'
  • lintu 'bird'> linnun 'of the bird'

The following transitional rules generally apply in Finnish:

  • pp> p, tt> t, kk> k; mp> mm; t> d, p> v, k> ʔ

It is controversial whether traces of the consonant gradation can also be found in the Samoyed languages. Most researchers assume a Sami-Finnish innovation.

Agglutinative morphology

The Uralic languages used in the formation of the forms of nouns and verbs , the agglutination (lat. "Gluing"). Each morpheme (word formation element) clearly corresponds to a semantic characteristic (e.g. case , number , tense or person ), the individual morphemes are directly strung together - taking into account the vowel harmony (see above). The morphemes are thus monosemantic (carriers of only one meaning) and juxtaposing ( strung together). In inflected languages, the endings usually have several meanings, e.g. B. German lieb-t : here the ending -t refers to the 3rd person, the singular and the present tense. (Examples of agglutination with nominal formation and verb formation.)

There is no doubt that already Proto-Urals was of the agglutinating language type . However, there are few common morphological markers in today's Uralic languages . Most case suffixes, plural markers and verb endings are innovations that have developed independently of one another in the individual Uralic languages. Part of this process can still be traced historically, for example when the Hungarian case suffixes were formed from their old Hungarian predecessors. In contrast to Indo-European, no comprehensive common morphology can be reconstructed for the Urals that could be called proto-Urals. This has led to the question of whether the “comparative-historical method” can even be applied to the Uralic languages ​​(Marcantonio 2002).

Nominal formation


In the Uralic languages, the case of the noun is formed exclusively by suffixes , never by prefixes . Adjective attributes , demonstratives and numerals originally did not show any congruence in case and number with the assigned noun, so they were not “declined”.

  • Hungarian: a négy nagy ház-ban 'in the four great houses'
( a definite article, négy 'four', nagy 'large', only the noun ház is declined, here by the locative ending -ban .)

However, under the influence of their Indo-European environment , the Finnish-Sami group has moved to congruence, as the following examples from Finnish show:

  • pieni poika 'little boy'
  • piene-t poja-t 'little boys' (plural, pojat with consonant grading )
  • neljä-ssä iso-ssa talo-ssa 'in the four big houses' (with vowel harmony in the locative ending -ssa )

Proto-Ural had at least one nominative (unmarked), accusative , ablative , locative and lative (directional case). These proto-Uralic cases are referred to as "primary cases", all new formations in the individual modern languages ​​as "secondary cases". The number of cases in the modern Uralic languages ​​ranges from three in the Chanty to six in the Sami languages, 15 in Finnish to 16 (or even 21) in Hungarian. The following table shows some typical case formations in four Uralic languages:

Finnish Komi Hungarian Nenets case German
talo-ssa kerka-yn ház-ban xarda-xa-na locative in the house
talo-i-ssa kerka-yas-yn ház-ak-ban xarda-xa-ʔ-na locative in houses
talo-sta kerka-ýs ház-ból xarda-ʔ-d ablative away from home

As these few examples show, most case suffixes - here in the example for locative and ablative - are obviously not an uralic common good, but rather they developed individually in later language phases.

Proto-Urural primary case

The following table shows the Ural case endings that are considered proto-Uralic commonalities in Ural studies. Today they have - with the exception of the endless nominative, genitive and accusative - only a peripheral meaning in the modern Uralic languages. However, many “modern” case suffixes have been formed from them.

Proto-Uralic primary case according to Hajdú 1987 and Marcantonio 2002
No. case suffix meaning today's distribution and traces
1 Nominative -O who or what? common urinal
2 Genitive -n whose? Finn., Sami, Mari, Mordw., Selkup
3 accusative -m who or what? Sami, Mari, Mansi, Samojed.
4th Locative I -na / -nä Where? widely used as formans of new cases
5 Locative II -t Where? (FU) Mansi, traces in Ugric
6th ablative -ta / -tä where from? only traces
7th Lative I / dative -ŋ / -n where? whom? Mansi, Mordw.
8th Lative II -k where? Traces in the Sami, Ingrisch

Abondolo 1998 shows essentially the same scheme as Hajdú, but summarizes some of the similarly sounding Formantia. Marcantonio 2002 extends this list by two latives / -a, -ä / and / -s / and one ablative / -l /, which are only represented in individual subgroups of Ural. It should be noted that almost all consonantic formantia for Uralic primary cases also occur in extrauralic Eurasian languages ​​in the same or a similar function (see the table of consonantic formantia in the section "External relationships" above).

Secondary Uralic cases

Most of the case endings of the modern Uralic languages ​​are not inherited from a common original language, but on the contrary, relatively young single-language new formations. There are essentially two processes involved. Firstly, the use of primary formantia to create more complex new endings, secondly, the use and transformation of nouns into post positions and finally into case endings. Both processes will be shown using a few examples.

In Finnish, for example, primary formantia with locative functions * / -s /, / -na /, / -ta /, / -l / and / -n / have formed the following cases:

case example meaning suffix arose from
Inessive kala-ssa inside the fish - ssa <* - s-na
Elative kala-sta from inside the fish - sta <* - s-ta
Adessive kala-lla on the fish - lla <* - l-na
ablative kala-lta away from the fish - lta <* - l-ta

The article “ Finnish Language ” gives a comprehensive overview of the Finnish case schema. The following examples of the use and redesign of nouns to post positions and case markers come from Hungarian:

Post position meaning comes from meaning
ala-tt, al-á, al-ól below, below, from below <ural. * ala Space under something
mögö-tt, mög-é, mögü-l behind, to the back, from behind <finn-ugr. * miŋä Space behind something
közö-tt, köz-é, közü-l between, between-in, between-out < hungarian köz Space

Number and gender

The number ( singular , plural and dual ) is not a proto-uralic category, which can be seen from the fact that in the modern uralic languages ​​the plural markers ( morphemes to identify the plural) are extremely diverse. Today there is a dual in the Sami, Ob-Ugric and Samoyed languages. The genus category (grammatical gender) does not exist in the Urals languages.

Possessive endings

The Uralic languages ​​express the reference to a person through possessive suffixes (in German “mein”, “dein” etc.). The same endings are often used for conjugating verbs (see below). The following table shows the proto-Uralic reconstructed forms, the possessive suffixes in Finnish and the personal pronouns in Hungarian.

Personal and possessive suffixes in Uralic languages
Num. Pers. Proto-
Sing. 1 * -m - ni én
. 2 * -t - si te
. 3 * -s (V) - nsa / - nsä O
Plural 1 * -m + PL - emme mi
. 2 * -t + PL - no ti
. 3 * -s + PL - nsa / - nsä OK

Nominal chains

More complex noun phrases ( noun chains) are formed in the Uralic languages ​​according to very different principles, but the rules for this are fixed in every language. Finnish is used again as an example. In Finnish, a noun chain has the structure: stem + [plural marker] + case marker + [possessive marker].

  • Finnish: talo-i-ssa-ni
House-several-in-mine (lit.)
'In my houses'
  • Finnish: talo-i-sta-si 'from your houses'

Overall, the order "owner before possession" applies to possessive constructions:

  • Finnish: isä-n talo 'father's house, the father's house'
  • Hungarian: János ház-a 'Janos Haus-sein' (lit.): 'Janos' house'

Verbal formation

The Uralic categories of the verb are

The diathesis (active, passive, medium) is not an all-Urural category. Constructions with auxiliary verbs are - z. B. in Finnish - only emerged under the influence of Germanic languages. Some examples of verb formation from Finnish:

The Finnish verb laulaa ' to sing' in the present indicative:
person Singular Plural
1 laula-n I sing laula-mme we sing
2 laula-t you sing laula-tte you sing
3 laula-a he, she, it sings laula-vat they sing

The past tense is formed by the present stem + i + personal ending. This leads to contractions and assimilations , for example

  • laula-in > laulo-in 'I sang'
  • laula-ia > laulo-i 'he, she sang it'

Perfect and past perfect are constructed with the conjugated auxiliary verb ole + past participle laula-nut :

  • ole-n laula-nut 'I was singing'
  • ol-in laula-nut 'I was singing'

The conditionalis is marked by inserting -isi- between the verb stem and the ending:

  • puhu-isi-n 'I would speak'

Negative verb

The negation is expressed by a conjugable negative verb, comparable to the paraphrase in English I do not go . E.g. in Finnish:

  • mene-n 'I'm going'
  • en mene 'I-do-not go' (lit.) → 'I do not go'
  • mene-t 'you go'
  • et mene 'you don't go'

Paraphrase for "have"

“Have” is expressed by the auxiliary verb “sein” with a local case.

  • Finnish: isä-llä on talo 'father is at home' (lit.) → 'father has a house'
  • Hungarian: János-nak van egy ház-a 'Janos (Dat.) Is to be a house' (lit.) → 'Janos has a house'
(here an additional reference to the owner through the possessive ending -a )

Word order

The original Ural word order in the sentence is SOV ( subject  - object  - predicate or verb). It is still the rule in the Samoyed and Ob-Ugric languages, and common, if not compulsory, in the central Finno-Ugric languages ​​in Russia and in Hungarian. In the Baltic Finnish languages, it has changed to SVO under the influence of Indo-European .


Ural language family

  • David Abondolo (Ed.): The Uralic Languages. Routledge, London / New York 1998.
  • Björn Collinder : An Introduction to the Uralic Languages. Berkeley, Calif. 1965.
  • Péter Hajdú, Péter Domokos: The Uralic languages ​​and literatures. Buske, Hamburg 1987.
  • Robert T. Harms: Uralic Languages. In: Encyclopedia Britannica. 15th edition. 1998.
  • Juha Janhunen : Uralic Languages. In: William F. Frawley (Ed.): International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Juha Janhunen: Proto-Uralic — what, where, and when? Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 258, Helsinki 2009, pp. 57-78. [1]
  • Ernst Kausen: The language families of the world. Part I: Europe and Asia . Buske, Hamburg 2013, ISBN 3-87548-655-2 .
  • Angela Marcantonio: The Uralic Language Family. Facts, Myths and Statistics. The Philological Society, Oxford / Boston 2002.


  • Károly Rédei (ed.): Ural etymological dictionary. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest; Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden
    • Volume I: Ural and Finnish-Ugric strata. 1986; 1988.
    • Volume II: Finnish-Permian and Finnish-Volga strata. 1988.
    • Volume III: Register. 1991.

Classification, external relationships

  • Robert Austerlitz: L'ouralien. In: André Martinet (Ed.): Le langage. Paris 1968.
  • Matthias Alexander Castrén: Grammar of the Samoyed languages. St. Petersburg 1854.
  • Joseph Greenberg : Indoeuropean and Its Closest Relatives. The Eurasiatic Language Family. Volume 1: Grammar. Stanford University Press, 2000.
  • Sámuel Gyarmathi: Affinitas linguae Hungaricae cum linguis Fennicae originis grammatice demonstrata. Goettingen 1799.
  • Robert Harms: The Uralo-Yukaghir Focus System: A Problem in Remote Genetic Relationship. In: Paul J. Hopper (Ed.): Studies in Descriptive and Historical Linguistics. Amsterdam 1977.
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Ed.): Collecteana etymologica. Hanover 1717.
  • Merritt Ruhlen: A Guide to the World's Languages. Volume 1: Classification. Edward Arnold, London 1987. (Postscript 1991)
  • J. Sajnovics: Demonstratio idioma Ungarorum et Lapponum idem esse. Copenhagen 1770.
  • Philip Johan von Strahlberg : The north and east part of Europe and Asia. Stockholm 1730.
  • CF Voegelin, FM Voegelin: Classification and Index of the World's Languages. New York 1977.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Janhunen, Juha (2009): "Proto-Uralic — what, where and when?" (PDF). In Jussi Ylikoski (ed.): The Quasquicentennial of the Finno-Ugrian Society . Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Toimituksia 258. Helsinki: Société Finno-Ougrienne, ISBN 978-952-5667-11-0 , ISSN  0355-0230 .
  2. Kristiina Tambets, Mait Metspalu, Valter Lang, Richard Villems, Toomas Kivisild: The Arrival of Siberian Ancestry Connecting the Eastern Baltic to Uralic Speakers further east . In: Current Biology . tape 29 , no. 10 , May 20, 2019, ISSN  0960-9822 , p. 1701–1711.e16 , doi : 10.1016 / j.cub.2019.04.026 , PMID 31080083 ( cell.com [accessed July 4, 2019]).
  3. 日本語 の 意外 な 歴 史. Retrieved August 21, 2018 (ja-JP).
  4. 日本語 の 意外 な 歴 史 第 1 話 金 平 譲 司 Joji Kanehira
  5. Elmar Seebold: Attempt on the origin of the Indo-European personal ending systems. In: magazine f. see. Language research. Volume 85, 1970, Issue 2.
  6. Péter Hajdú; Péter Domokos: The Uralic Languages ​​and Literatures. H. Buske, 1987, ISBN 3-87118-745-3 . (2014 reprint)
  7. Harald Haarmann: The Indo-Europeans. Origin, languages, cultures. CH Beck, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-60682-3 , p. 22.
  8. ^ Rédei, Károly (editor). 1986a. Ural Etymological Dictionary , 3 volumes, translated from Hungarian by Mária Káldor. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  9. ^ Rédei, Károly. 1986b. "To the Indo-European-Uralic language contacts." Meeting reports of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Philosophical-Historical Class 468.
  10. Koivulehto, Jorma. 1999. "Verba mutuata. Quae vestigia antiquissimi cum Germanis aliisque Indo-Europaeis contactus in linguis Fennicis reliquerint" (in German). Mémoires de la Société finno-ougrienne 237. Helsinki.
  11. Imperative suffix in Jukagiric. Source: Irina Nikolaeva: Chrestomathia jucagirica. (= Urálistikai tanulmányok. 10). Elte, Budapest 2000, ISBN 963-463-356-0 .
  12. The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia , p. 231.
  13. Abondolo 1998, Hajdú 1987.
  14. Abondolo 1998, p. 153
  15. ^ Hajdú 1987, p. 186

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on March 5, 2007 .