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Finno-Ugric languages

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alexptrans
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 Message 1 of 15
13 October 2010 at 10:22pm | IP Logged 
Hi,
I'm reading a little about Finno-Ugric languages, and it appears that Finnish is considered the most phonologically conservative of them. Is it also the most conservative in other ways, such as morphology, syntax, etc? What about Hungarian? I guess the Hungarian articles must be a relatively recent development, right?
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feanarosurion
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 Message 2 of 15
14 October 2010 at 6:03am | IP Logged 
I would have to agree with you... carefully. Finnish is indeed the most conservative of the Finno-Ugric languages on many levels, but I would hesitate to agree with this completely because I have truly little experience with any Finno-Ugric language other than Finnish itself. Still, I believe it is accurate to say that at the very least that, up until the last 50 years or so, Finnish has been extremely conservative on many levels. Many words are extremely old, unchanged from the theoretical Proto-Uralic language, such as "kala." Other old loan words, such as Kuningas, have been mostly unchanged from the original language, apart from slight phonological differences. That same Germanic word has become "König" in German, and "King" in English, but in old Germanic, the word was "Kuningaz." The case system of nouns and the verb conjugations are all highly regular as well, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is extremely conservative. There are aspects to the system of grammar that have fallen out of use, and different forms that are slipping into spoken language that show a true and rapid evolution of the language. However, when compared to Estonian or Hungarian, is is certainly more conservative in its grammatical system as well. Hope this helps.
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ellasevia
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 Message 3 of 15
14 October 2010 at 6:12am | IP Logged 
feanarosurion wrote:
The case system of nouns and the verb conjugations are all highly regular as well, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is extremely conservative.

I thought I had read that although generally fairly regular, there are lots of irregularities involved? I forget the exact term for this, which Chung has used when describing it, but I think it was something like "consonant (de)gradation."



alexptrans
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 Message 4 of 15
14 October 2010 at 9:26am | IP Logged 
feanarosurion wrote:
I would have to agree with you... carefully. Finnish is indeed the most conservative of the Finno-Ugric languages on many levels, but I would hesitate to agree with this completely because I have truly little experience with any Finno-Ugric language other than Finnish itself. Still, I believe it is accurate to say that at the very least that, up until the last 50 years or so, Finnish has been extremely conservative on many levels. Many words are extremely old, unchanged from the theoretical Proto-Uralic language, such as "kala." Other old loan words, such as Kuningas, have been mostly unchanged from the original language, apart from slight phonological differences. That same Germanic word has become "König" in German, and "King" in English, but in old Germanic, the word was "Kuningaz." The case system of nouns and the verb conjugations are all highly regular as well, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is extremely conservative. There are aspects to the system of grammar that have fallen out of use, and different forms that are slipping into spoken language that show a true and rapid evolution of the language. However, when compared to Estonian or Hungarian, is is certainly more conservative in its grammatical system as well. Hope this helps.


That's interesting, thanks. I did some more searching and found a book called "Variationstypologie. Ein sprachtypologisches Handbuch der europäischen Sprachen".
Here's a link to the book in googlebooks:
Link
It says the following, among other things:
"Of all the Uralic languages, Finnish, Saamic and Estonian have deviated the most from the originally agglutinative character of Uralic... The Uralic techniques of agglutination have been best preserved in the languages of the Finnic-Permic (Komi, Udmurt) and Finnic-Volgaic (Mari, Mordvin) branches. The inflectional techniques in Finnish, Estonian and Saamic stem from a later, non-Uralic source. They developed in the course of convergence processes in contact with Indo-European languages."

So if that's true, then Finnish may not necessarily be that conservative, at least as far as agglutination goes.

Edited by alexptrans on 14 October 2010 at 9:28am



mick33
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 Message 5 of 15
14 October 2010 at 10:38am | IP Logged 
ellasevia wrote:
feanarosurion wrote:
The case system of nouns and the verb conjugations are all highly regular as well, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is extremely conservative.

I thought I had read that although generally fairly regular, there are lots of irregularities involved? I forget the exact term for this, which Chung has used when describing it, but I think it was something like "consonant (de)gradation."
Yes, it is called consonant gradation. I don't understand it well myself but what little I do know can be found here. The relevant post is at the bottom of the page. There is more to consonant gradation than what I mentioned in that post, but it might give you a vague idea of what consonant gradation is.

I don't know enough about Hungarian to say whether the definite articles are a recent change or not. I do know that Hungarian has retained more postpositions while Finnish now has a few prepositions. Another difference is that many of the Hungarian case endings are not similar to the ones in Finnish. Even the case endings with similar names actually look different in the written languages. For example, both languages have an inessive case, which I believe corresponds to the preposition "in".

Finnish inessive: "-ssa/-ssä"
Hungarian inessive: "-ban/-ben"

I can't list any Hungarian words with this case because I don't know very many Hungarian words but here are some examples from Finnish:

auto - car > autossa - in the car (literally car-in)
maa - country > maassa - in the country

Words using the inessive case can undergo consonant gradation, so I will give a few examples from Finnish An Essential Grammar just so you can see it since the other post I linked to above doesn't include many actual examples:

tunti - hour > tunnissa - in the hour
käsi - hand > kädessä - in the hand

Edited by mick33 on 14 October 2010 at 11:12am

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Chung
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 Message 6 of 15
15 October 2010 at 2:36am | IP Logged 
alexptrans wrote:
Hi,
I'm reading a little about Finno-Ugric languages, and it appears that Finnish is considered the most phonologically conservative of them. Is it also the most conservative in other ways, such as morphology, syntax, etc? What about Hungarian? I guess the Hungarian articles must be a relatively recent development, right?


This is a tricky topic. There is an assumption based on some evidence that Finnish is among the more conservative of the Uralic languages. This assumption has led to the ancestral languages of Proto-Finno-Ugric and Proto-Uralic being reconstructed with forms that resemble Finnish ones more than say Hungarian ones. What makes the field open to more speculation in reconstruction is that Proto-Uralic and Proto-Finno-Ugric rely much more on evidence from modern daughter languages than Proto-Indo-European does. Proto-I-E reconstructions not only draw on features observed in modern daughter languages, but also in ones found in related dead or extinct languages. Compare the fact that the oldest attested and coherent document in any Uralic language is an old Hungarian one from the 11th cent. AD while researchers in Indo-European can draw on material in Ancient Greek, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Avestan, Sanskrit and Gothic among others.

According to Prof. Daniel Abondolo:

D. Abondolo: “Finnish” (from Abondolo, Daniel (ed.) “The Uralic Languages”. New York: Routledge, 1998, p. 149) wrote:
As a Fennic language, Finnish is peripheral and it is therefore not surprising that it has preserved many archaic features from Proto-Uralic. On the other hand its high degree of agglutinativity (compared with, say, that of North and South Estonian, or Saamic) may suggest innovation as well as conservatism, and 'the choice of Finnish as the Finno-Ugric prototype may have impeded progress in the field' (Austerlitz 1993: 29)

(N.B. Robert Austerlitz was a linguist who specialized in Uralic languages and was a mentor to Abondolo)

In the same book, Abondolo illustrates a revised theory refined by the Estonian linguist Tiit-Rein Viitso that is based on the development of consonants. The refined and revised theory suggests that Proto-Finno-Ugric started to fragment in the following order:

1) Finno-Lappic
2) Mordvin
3) Mari
4) Permic
5) "CORE" (can be understood as "Proto-Ugric" or the ancestor of Hungarian, Khanty and Mansi)

It has been observed by comparative linguists that living languages belonging to "peripheral" branches (or at least languages hypothesized as being furthest from the putative homeland of the proto-language's speakers) tend to preserve better traits found in related but extinct languages. In contrast, languages that developed longer in an area closer to the putative homeland of the ancestral tongue's speakers tend to be more innovative (all of this assumes that interaction with people speaking languages belonging to different families exerts rather little influence).

(As a side note, this model shouldn't be followed slavishly above all others since if we were to apply its reasoning to Germanic languages, it would fail to explain why both Icelandic (which would be deemed to be "peripheral") and German (which developed closer to the homeland of Proto-Germanic speakers) are deemed to be conservative in certain aspects of their morphology when compared to other Germanic languages).

These observations and the resulting model reinforce the idea that Finnish is among the more conservative of the Uralic languages. In contrast Hungarian would be viewed as one of the most innovative.

However this is not to say that Hungarian is "less" Uralic than other Uralic languages because of the tendency of Ugric languages to be innovative. For learners, it may be more helpful to see a comparison between some living Uralic languages and what is postulated for Proto-Uralic. Let the linguists argue about the details since you have to admit that a lot of studies in the historical development of Uralic languages is educated guesswork. Researchers of Indo-European languages in contrast are spoiled by comparison and they can not only draw on documents in dead I-E languages but also historical chronicles which describe the culture or location of people who likely used these dead I-E languages.

Just for fun, here're some characteristics reconstructed for Proto-Uralic along with comparisons to what we see in living Uralic languages.

1) Proto-Uralic likely had vowel harmony.
- Vowel harmony exists in one form or another in only some of the daughter languages. It does not exist in Estonian, Komi, Lappic, Udmurt, Selkup and several dialects of Khanty and Mansi (Note how the peripheral (i.e. conservative) languages of Estonian and Lappic have dropped a trait which should have been retained if one were to rigidly apply the observations inherent in the model demonstrated by Abondolo).

2) Proto-Uralic likely fixed stress on the first syllable.
- Stress is fixed on the first syllable in most of the daughter languages. Erzya Mordvin, Komi, Mari, Udmurt and Samoyedic languages do not have this trait and treatment varies (e.g. Selkup has mobile stress; Udmurt often places stress on the last syllable)

3) Proto-Uralic likely did not use tones
- Livonian (peripheral Finnic language) uses two contrastive lexical tones, while Estonian (another peripheral Finnic language) uses differences in pitch-accent (i.e. a special kind of tonal distinction) together with distinctions in its short, long and over-long syllables.

4) Proto-Uralic likely had at least 5 cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, locative, and separative/ablative (many researchers postulate that there were 6 cases with lative being the sixth case here)
- The range in the number of cases varies from 6 to 24 depending on the language/dialect considered. The quantity of cases also seems to be unrelated to whether the language is peripheral (i.e. more conservative) or core (i.e. more innovative). For example:

Estonian has 14 or 15 cases (depending on whom you talk to) ("peripheral language")

Finnish has 15 cases ("peripheral language")

Hungarian has 18 cases ("core language")

Komi (Permyak variant) has 24 cases ("closer to a core language")

Lappic (Saamic) languages have between 6 and 9 cases depending on the particular language ("dialect") involved. ("peripheral language")

Northern Mansi has 6 cases. ("core language")

Nganasan has at least 8 cases (there may be more depending on how you treat certain postpositional constructions) ("peripheral language")

Selkup has 13 cases ("peripheral language")

Veps has 23 cases ("peripheral language")

5) Proto-Uralic likely used a negative verb (the negating particle is conjugated rather than the main verb itself)
- Hungarian and Selkup do not use negative verbs.

6) Proto-Uralic likely used singular, dual and plural.
- This trilateral distinction is maintained in Lappic (Saamic), Khanty, Mansi, Enets, Nenets, Nganasan and Selkup.

7) Proto-Uralic may have used a form of consonant gradation*
- Almost all of the Finno-Lappic (Finno-Saamic) languages (Livonian, Southern Lappish (Southern Saami) and Veps are exceptions) and Nganasan use consonant gradation. The remaining Uralic daughter languages do not apply consonant gradation.

* This is uncertain because the presence of consonant gradation in certain Uralic languages may be explained by influence from a common but unknown substratum. It is uncertain also whether the consonant gradation used in Saamic languages originates from the same process that gave rise to consonant gradation in Finnic languages.

There are case endings, words and other traits reconstructed for Proto-Uralic whose existence has been deduced by attestations and comparative research in the daughter languages. If someone would like it, I could also put up examples that show the connection between various suffixes and their reconstructed ancestral forms) although I think that this should be enough to answer the original post.
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alexptrans
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 Message 7 of 15
15 October 2010 at 12:11pm | IP Logged 
That's incredibly helpful and interesting, Chung! I for one would love to see some examples of suffix correspondence.



Chung
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 Message 8 of 15
16 October 2010 at 8:17pm | IP Logged 
alexptrans wrote:
That's incredibly helpful and interesting, Chung! I for one would love to see some examples of suffix correspondence.


Thank you.

I will divide my answer into two parts: one for suffixes, the other with comments on vocabulary. To keep the discussion more or less on track yet to make it accessible to people learning Finno-Ugric languages, I'll keep the answer to the Uralic languages in general terms but with examples taken from the Uralic languages that people here are most likely to learn (i.e. Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, and Lappic/Saamic). If you want more comments or examples of correspondences I'll be happy to provide some. In that case I'd probably then keep the answers focused on those better-known Uralic languages since more discussion on this topic is likely to be more interesting or relevant if we would avoid overfocusing on Uralic languages that most people have never heard of (let alone want to learn).

***

Let's start with Proto-Uralic. As mentioned earlier, linguists have reconstructed 5 or 6 cases for the proto-language. To keep the post from becoming too long, I’ll restrict examples to Uralic languages that people on this forum are most likely to know about or learn (i.e. Estonian, Finnish, Northern Saami and Hungarian).

Unless indicated otherwise, the examples use the word meaning “fish” and are understood to be in the singular.

To repeat: Proto-Uralic is reconstructed with the following cases:

nominative, accusative, genitive (subordinative/adverb-formant), locative and separative (sometimes called ablative). For many researchers lative is included as the sixth case.

---

1) The accusative suffix in Proto-Uralic is reconstructed as *-M. Komi, Udmurt, Hungarian and Khanty do not show evidence of marking accusative in this way while the remaining languages do. Using the word meaning “fish” we have the following examples:

Estonian:
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- ACCUSATIVE: kala (< kala + -N < *kala + *-M)

N.B. Estonian went through apocope or the process by which the sounds at the end of a word disappeared. In this case, *-m merged with the genitive ending –n. After some time, this merged ending disappeared (apocope) and so what’s left today is that the accusative/genitive form here resembles the nominative one.

Finnish:
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- ACCUSATIVE: kalaN (< kala + -N < *kala + *-M)

N.B. The difference is that Finnish did not go through apocope like Estonian but did go through the change where the final *–m became –n and so coinciding with the genitive ending –n.

Northern Saami:
- NOMINATIVE: guolli
- ACCUSATIVE: guoli (< *guoliM < guolli + *-M < *kala + *-M)

Northern Saami went through a process where nasal consonants at the end (i.e. –m and –n) often stopped being used. In addition, the presence of that accusative (and genitive) ending caused consonant gradation (i.e. –ll– of the nominative becomes –l– in accusative). As with the Estonian and Finnish examples. the accusative form looks the same as the genitive form.

Hungarian:
- NOMINATIVE: hal
- ACCUSATIVE: halat (< hal + (linking vowel) + -t < *kala + *-tV)

The Hungarian accusative suffix –t likely originates from a demonstrative pronoun used in one of the ancestral languages. Attaching the pronoun to the noun in this way seems to have allowed the ancient Hungarians to indicate a noun being in the accusative.

---

2) The adverbial-formant/subordinative (~ “genitive”) suffix in Proto-Uralic is reconstructed as *-N. Komi, Udmurt, Khanty, Mansi, and Hungarian do not show reflexes of this suffix whereas all of the other languages do (in fact Hungarian does not have a genitive case per se!).

Estonian:
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- GENITIVE: kala (< *kala + *-N)

The final –N has disappeared as described by apocope in Estonian

Finnish:
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- GENITIVE: kalaN (< *kala + *-N)

Northern Saami:
- NOMINATIVE: guolli
- GENITIVE: guoli (*guoliN < guolli + -N < *kala + *-N)

Northern Saami went through a process where nasal consonants at the end (i.e. –m and –n) often stopped being used. In addition, the presence of that accusative (and genitive) ending caused consonant gradation (i.e. –ll– of the nominative becomes –l– in accusative). As with the Estonian and Finnish examples. the genitive form looks the same as the accusative form.

Hungarian: N/A

---

3) The locative suffix is reconstructed as *-na / *-nä in Proto-Uralic. It has reflexes in all sub-groupings of Uralic.

Estonian, Finnish
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- ESSIVE: kalaNA (< *kala + *-na)

Northern Saami:
- NOMINATIVE: guolli
- ESSIVE: guolliN (*guolli + -na < *kala + *-na)

In Estonian, Finnish and Northern Saami, the locative ending has evolved to become the marker for the essive case (i.e. the case of being). “Kalana” or “guollin” translates as “as a fish”. However there are clearer instances where the ending retains its locative sense (e.g. Finnish: “kotoNA” = “at home” (koto = “home” (archaic)); Northern Saami: “gūliiN” = “on fishes” (guolli = “fish”))

Hungarian:
- NOMINATIVE: hal
- SUPERESSIVE: haloN (< hal + (linking vowel) + -n < *kala + *-NA)

Superessive is the case describing to be on sb/sg.

This reconstructed locative ending *-NA likely turns up as the second part of the ending for inessive in Estonian, Finnish, some Saami languages and Hungarian. The inessive case describes being inside sb/sg. For example:

Estonian:
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- INESSIVE: kalaS (< *kala + *-s- + *-na)

Finnish:
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- INESSIVE: kalaSSA (< *kala + *-s- + *-na)

Southern Saami:
- NOMINATIVE: guelie
- INESSIVE: gueleSNE (< *kala + *-s- + *-na)

For these languages, it is suggested that the reconstructed locative ending *-NA combined with a reconstructed lative coaffix *-S- to create a new ending for the inessive (i.e. case of being inside sg/sb). Over time, the older *–NA ending assimilated to the adjacent *-S- lative coaffix in Estonian and Finnish with the result that today all we see is –S or –SSA (in Estonian this went a step further with a probable –SSA ending wearing down by apocope to –S). Notice how Southern Saami makes the inessive ending’s compounded nature more apparent by better preserving the combination of *-S- with *-NA)

Hungarian:
NOMINATIVE: hal
INESSIVE: halBAN (< hal + -baN)

In this instance, Hungarian likely uses a fossilized compound of bél “gut” and the superessive ending –N. This compound then took on the figurative meaning of “on the interior” and over time it became the suffix for the inessive as –ban/–ben.

---

4) The separative case is reconstructed as coming in the ending *-TI ~ *-TA. Most of the modern Uralic languages use the similar-looking suffix in one form or another. in grammatical cases which conform to the idea of leaving or separating (either physically or figuratively). Hungarian is an exception however and does not seem to use a reflex of this particular suffix.

Estonian
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- PARTITIVE: kala (< *kala + *ta)

Finnish
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- PARTITIVE: kalaa (< *kala + *ta)

N.B. The link between the partitive in Estonian or Finnish and the reconstructed separative case of Proto-Uralic may be clearer when looking at monosyllablic words ending in two vowels. E.g.

Estonian
- NOMINATIVE: maa “country”
- PARTITIVE: maaD

Finnish
- NOMINATIVE: maa “country”
- PARTITIVE: maaTA

As in the examples in 3) with –S, -SSA, -SNE and –BAN, the separative suffix likely combined with other affixes to represent endings for cases that describe separation but in different nuances. For example:

Estonian:
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- ELATIVE: kalasT “from the (inside of the) fish” (< *kala + *-s- (lative coaffix) + *-ta with *-ta descending from *-TA/*-TI)
- ABLATIVE: kalalT “from the (outside of the) fish” (< *kala + *-l- (coaffix associated with exterior location) + *-ta with *-ta descending from *-TA/*-TI)

Finnish:
- NOMINATIVE: kala
- ELATIVE: kalasTA “from (the inside of the) fish” (< *kala + *-s- (lative coaffix) + *-ta with *-ta descending from *-TA/*-TI)
- ABLATIVE: kalalTA “from the (outside of the) fish” (< *kala + *-l- (coaffix associated with exterior location) + *-ta with *-ta descending from *-TA/*-TI)

Southern Saami
- NOMINATIVE: guelie
- ELATIVE / ABLATIVE: guelesTE “from the fish”(< *kala + *-s- (lative coaffix) + *-ta with *-ta descending from *-TA/*-TI)

---

5) The reconstruction for the lative case in Proto-Uralic has yielded several suffixes. They have been postulated as: *-ć, *-k, *-ń and *-ŋ.

The lative coaffix of *-s- in the examples of 3) and 4) with Estonian, Finnish and Southern Saami forms part of the justification to postulate *-ć as a Proto-Uralic lative suffix. Research into other sub-groups (e.g. Permic, Samoyedic) has led to the postulation of those other lative suffixes for Proto-Uralic.

N.B. *-ć and *-ń represent palatalized c and n respectively.


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