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Baltic-Finnic languages

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Northern Fennoscandia, Baltic states, Southwestern and Southeastern Russia
ISO 639-2 and 639-5:fiu

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

The major modern representatives of Baltic-Finnic languages are Finnish and Estonian, the official languages of their respective nation states.[2] The other Finnic languages in the Baltic Sea region are Ingrian, Karelian, Ludic, Veps, Votic, 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 and Livonian in parts of Latvia.

The smaller languages are disappearing. In the 20th century both Livonian and Votic had fewer than 100 speakers left. Other groups of which there are records have long since disappeared.[2]

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


General Characteristics

There is no grammatical gender in Baltic-Finnic languages, nor are there articles nor definite or indefinite forms.[3]

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/.[3] 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. kuppia + -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.) Other important processes are vowel harmony (lost in Estonian), and the "erosion" of word-final sounds (strongest in Livonian, Võro and Estonian). This 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-Baltic-Finnic[4], but most of the diverging dialects reacquired it. Palatalization is a part of the Estonian literary language and is an essential feature in Võro, Veps, Karelian and other eastern Baltic-Finnic languages. It is also found in East Finnish dialects, and is only missing from West Finnish dialects and Standard Finnish.[3]

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.[3]

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

List of Baltic-Finnic innovations

These features distinguish Baltic-Finnic languages from other Uralic languages:

  • Development of long vowels and various diphthongs from loss of word-medial consonants such as *x, *j, *w, *ŋ[4]
    • Before a consonant, the Uralic "laryngeal" *x yilded long vowels at an early stage (*tuxli "wind" → tuuli), but only the Baltic-Finnic branch clearly preserves these as such. Later, the same process occurred also between vowels (*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) or rounded vowel (in the case of *w).
    • The velar nasal *ŋ was vocalized to a semivowel in various positions (*joŋsi "bow" → jousi, *suŋi "summer" → suvi). In some cases further loss occurred (*müŋä "backside" → Estonian möö-, Finnish myö-).
  • A development *š → *h.
  • Consonant gradation, most often for stops, but also found for some other consonants
  • 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 telic contrast of the object, which must be in the accusative case or partitive case.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Baltic-Finnic languages have been referred to as Finnic most often by Finnish scholars. See The Finnic languages by Johanna Laakso in The Circum-Baltic languages: typology and contact, p. 180. Internationally scholars most often refer by Finnic languages to the Finno-Permic languages, comprising of the Baltic-Finnic, Volga-Finnic, Permic and Sami languages. See A Guide to the World's Languages: Classification By Merritt Ruhlen, p 69, or Finno-Ugric languages at concise.britannica
  2. ^ a b Finnic Peoples at Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ a b c d The Uralic Languages: Description, History and Foreign Influences By Denis Sinor ISBN 9004077413
  4. ^ a b Kallio, Petri (2007). "Kantasuomen konsonanttihistoriaa" (in Finnish) (PDF). Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 253: 229–250. ISSN 0355-0230. http://www.sgr.fi/sust/sust253/sust253_kallio.pdf. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 

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