World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Finnic language

Article Id: WHEBN0002424929
Reproduction Date:

Title: Finnic language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Scandinavia, Karelian language, Demonym, Kven people, Finns, Kaali crater, Languages of the Soviet Union
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Finnic language

This article is about the Baltic Finnic languages. For other uses, see Finnic languages (disambiguation).
Baltic Finnic
Ethnicity: Baltic Finns
Northern Fennoscandia, Baltic states, Northwestern Russia
Linguistic classification: Uralic
  • Finnic
Proto-language: Proto-Finnic

The Finnic (Fennic) or Baltic Finnic (Balto-Finnic, Balto-Fennic) languages[nb 1] are a branch of the Uralic language family spoken around the Baltic Sea by about 7 million people.

The major modern representatives of the family are Finnish and Estonian, the official languages of their respective nation states.[6] The other Finnic languages in the Baltic Sea region are Ingrian, Karelian and Veps, spoken around the Gulf of Finland and Lakes Onega and Ladoga. Võro and Seto (modern descendants of historical South Estonian) are spoken in south-eastern Estonia.

The smaller languages are disappearing. The last native speaker of the Livonian language died in 2013.

Meänkieli (in northern Sweden) and Kven (in northern Norway) are Finnish dialects that the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Norway have given the legal status of independent languages. They are mutually intelligible with Finnish.

The geographic centre of the maximum divergence between the languages is located south of the Gulf of Finland.


Main article: Finno-Samic languages

The Finnic languages are located at the western end of the Uralic language family. A close affinity to their northern neighbors, the Samic languages has for long been assumed, though many of the similarities (particularly lexical ones) can be shown to result from common influence from the Germanic and, to a lesser extent, the Baltic languages. Innovations are also found between Finnic and the Mordvinic languages, and in recent times these three groups are frequently considered together.

General characteristics

There is no grammatical gender in Finnic languages, nor are there articles nor definite or indefinite forms.[7]

The morphophonology (the way the grammatical function of a morpheme affects its production) is complex. One of the more important processes is the characteristic consonant gradation. Two kinds of gradation occur: the radical and suffix gradation, which affect the plosives /k/, /t/ and /p/.[7] This is a lenition process, where the consonant is changed into a "weaker" form with some (but not all) oblique cases. For geminates, the process is simple to describe: they become simple stops, e.g. kuppi + -nkupin (Finnish: "cup"). For simple consonants, the process complicates immensely and the results vary by the environment. For example, haka +-nhaan, kyky + -nkyvyn, järki + -njärjen (Finnish: "pasture", "ability", "intellect"). (See the separate article for more details.) Vowel harmony (lost in Livonian, generally also in Estonian and Veps) is also an important process. Historically, the "erosion" of word-final sounds (strongest in Livonian, Võro and Estonian) may leave a phonemic status to the morphophonological variations caused by the agglutination of the lost suffixes, which is the source of the third length level in these languages.

The original Uralic palatalization was lost in proto-Finnic,[8] but most of the diverging dialects reacquired it. Palatalization is a part of the Estonian literary language and is an essential feature in Võro, as well as Veps, Karelian and other eastern Finnic languages. It is also found in East Finnish dialects, and is only missing from West Finnish dialects and Standard Finnish.[7]

A special characteristic of the languages is the large number of diphthongs. There are 16 diphthongs in Finnish and 25 in Estonian; at the same time the frequency is greater in Finnish than in Estonian.[7]

There are 14 noun cases in Estonian and 15 in Finnish, which are denoted by adding a suffix.

List of Finnic innovations

These features distinguish Finnic languages from other Uralic families:

Sound changes[8][9]

  • Development of long vowels and various diphthongs from loss of word-medial consonants such as *x, *j, *w, *ŋ
    • Before a consonant, the Uralic "laryngeal" *x posited on some reconstructions yielded long vowels at an early stage (e.g. *tuxli "wind" → tuuli), but only the Finnic branch clearly preserves these as such. Later, the same process occurred also between vowels (e.g. *mëxi "land" → maa).
    • Semivowels *j, *w were usually lost when a root ended in *i and contained a preceding front (in the case of *j, e.g. *täji "tick" → täi) or rounded vowel (in the case of *w, e.g. *suwi "mouth" → suu).
    • The velar nasal *ŋ was vocalized everywhere except before *k, leading to its elimination as a phoneme. Depending on the position, the results included semivowels (e.g. *joŋsi "bow" → jousi, *suŋi "summer" → suvi) and full vocalization (e.g. *jäŋi "ice" → jää, *müŋä "backside" → Estonian möö-, Finnish myö-).
  • The development of an alternation between word-final *i and word-internal *e, from a Proto-Uralic second syllable vowel variously reconstructed as *i (as used in this article), *e or *ə.
  • Elimination of all Proto-Uralic palatalization contrasts: *ć, *δ́, *ń, *ś → *c, *δ, *n, *s.
  • Elimination of the affricate *č, merging with *š or *t, and the spirant *δ, merging with *t (e.g. *muδ́a "earth" → muta). See below, however, on treatment of *čk.
  • Assibilation of *t (from any source) to *c [t͡s] before *i. This later developed to /s/ widely: hence e.g. *weti "water" → Estonian and Finnish vesi (cf. retained /t/ in the partitive *wet-tä → Estonian vett, Finnish vettä).
  • Consonant gradation, most often for stops, but also found for some other consonants.
  • A development *š → h, which, however, postdated the separation of South Estonian.

Superstrate influence of the neighboring Indo-European language groups (Baltic and Germanic) has been proposed as an explanation for a majority of these changes, though for most of the phonetical details the case is not particularly strong.[10]

Grammatical changes

  • Agreement of the attributes with the noun, e.g. in Finnish vanho·i·lle mieh·i·lle "to old men" the plural -i- and the case -lle is added also to the adjective.
  • Use of a copula verb like on, e.g. mies on vanha "the man is old".
  • Grammatical tenses analogous to Germanic tenses, i.e. the system with present, past, perfect and pluperfect tenses.
  • The shift of the proto-Uralic locative *-nA and the ablative *-tA into new, cross-linguistically uncommon functions: the former becoming the essive case, the latter the partitive case.
  • The rise of two new series of locative cases, the "inner locative" series marked by an element *-s-, and the "outer locative" marked by an element *-l-.
    • The inessive *-ssA and the adessive *-llA were based on the original Uralic locative *-nA, with the *n assimilated to the preceding consonant.
    • The elative *-stA and the ablative *-stA similarly continue the original Uralic ablative *-tA.
    • The origin of the illative *-sen and the allative *-len is less clear. These have also
    • The element *-s- in the first series has parallels across the other more western Uralic languages, sometimes resulting in formally identical case endings (e.g. an elative ending *-stē ← *-s-tA is found in the Samic languages, and *-stə ← *s-tA in the Mordvinic languages), though its original function is unclear.
    • The *-l- in the 2nd series likely originates by way of affixation and grammaticalization of the root *ülä- "above, upper" (cf. the prepositions *üllä ← *ül-nä "above", *ültä "from above").


The Finnic languages form a complex dialect continuum with few clear-cut boundaries. A division into two areal groups of four languages is usually used:

In the Proto-Finnic period, three original dialects can be reconstructed: an inland dialect (South Estonian); a southwestern dialect (Livonian); and a northern dialect (the rest of the family). The last two can be grouped as a common Coastal group.[8]

Clusters *kt, *pt Clusters *kc, *pc
(IPA: *[kts], *[pts])
Cluster *čk
(IPA: *[tʃk])
3rd person singular marker
South Estonian *kt, *pttt *kc, *pcts *čktsk endingless
Coastal Finnic *kt, *pt*ht *kc, *pc*ks, *ps *čk*tk *-pi

Viitso (2000)[11] surveys 59 isoglosses separating the family into 58 dialect areas (finer division is possible), finding that an unambiguous perimeter can be set up only for South Estonian, Livonian, Votic, and Veps. In particular, no isogloss exactly coincides with the geographical division into 'Estonian' south of the Bay of Finland and 'Finnish' north of it. Despite this, standard Finnish and Estonian are not mutually intelligible.

The Southern group, excluding the Coastal Estonian dialect group and the highly Ingrian-influenced Kukkuzi Votic, is united by the presence of a ninth vowel phoneme õ, usually a close-mid back unrounded /ɤ/ (but a close central unrounded /ɨ/ in Livonian), as well as loss of *n before *s with compensatory lengthening. Estonian-Votic may be suggested to constitute an actual genetic subgroup (called varyingly Maa by Viitso (1998, 2000) or Central Finnic by Kallio (2013)[12]), though the evidence is weak: almost all innovations shared by Estonian and Votic also extend to South Estonian and/or Livonian.

The Southern areal can be contrasted with a Northern group. Evidence for this being an actual historical subgroup is slightly stronger. Phonetical innovations would include two changes in unstressed syllables: a shift *ej → *ij and the rise of the vowel /ö/. Reinterpreting the lack of õ in these languages as an innovation rather than a retention has also been recently suggested.[12] Germanic loanwords found thruout Northern Finnic but absent in Southern are also abundant, and even several Baltic examples of this are known.

Northern Finnic in turn divides in the Eastern group, comprising East Finnish dialects as well as Ingrian, Karelian and Veps; and the West Finnish dialects, within which the oldest division is that into Southwestern and Tavastian dialects.

Numerous new dialects have arisen through contacts of the old dialects: these include e.g. the more northern Finnish dialects (a mixture of West and East Finnish), and the Ludic varieties (probably originally Veps dialects but heavily influenced by Karelian).


See also


External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.