Finnic languages (Fennic), or Baltic Finnic languages
(Balto-Finnic, Balto-Fennic),[nb 1] are a branch of the Uralic
language family spoken around the
Baltic Sea by Finnic peoples, mainly
Finland and Estonia, by about 7 million people.
Finnic languages have been recognized. The
major modern representatives of the family are Finnish and Estonian,
the official languages of their respective nation states. The other
Finnic languages in the
Baltic Sea region are Ingrian and Votic,
Ingria by the Gulf of Finland; and Livonian, once spoken
around the Gulf of Riga. Spoken farther northeast are Karelian, Ludic
and Veps, in the region of Lakes Onega and Ladoga.
In addition, since the 1990s, several Finnic-speaking minority groups
have emerged to seek of recognition as distinct languages, and have
established separate literary standard languages. Northern
Karelian, Tver Karelian and Livvi represent the three main dialect
groups of Karelian, which earlier had been an unwritten language.
Võro and Seto (modern descendants of South Estonian) are spoken in
Estonia and earlier were considered dialects of Estonian.
Meänkieli dialects and Kven are spoken in northern
Norway and have the legal status of independent minority languages.
They were earlier considered dialects of Finnish and are mutually
intelligible with it.
The smaller languages are endangered. The last native speaker of
Livonian died in 2013, and only about a dozen native speakers of Votic
remain. Regardless, even for these languages, the shaping of a
standard language and education in it continues.
The geographic centre of the maximum divergence between the languages
is located south of the Gulf of Finland.
2 General characteristics
3.1 Southern Finnic
3.2 Northern Finnic
4 List of Finnic innovations
4.1 Sound changes
4.2 Grammatical changes
5 See also
9 External links
Main article: Finno-Samic languages
Finnic languages are located at the western end of the Uralic
language family. A close affinity to their northern neighbors, the
Sami languages, has long been assumed, though many of the similarities
(particularly lexical ones) can be shown to result from common
Germanic languages and, to a lesser extent, Baltic
languages. Innovations are also shared between Finnic and the
Mordvinic languages, and in recent times Finnic, Samic and Mordvinic
are frequently considered together.
Estonian grammar and Finnish grammar
There is no grammatical gender in any of the Finnic languages, nor are
there articles or definite or indefinite forms.
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: radical gradation and suffix gradation. They both
affect the plosives /k/, /t/ and /p/, and involve the process
known as lenition, in which the consonant is changed into a "weaker"
form. This occurs in some (but not all) of the oblique case forms. For
geminates, the process is simple to describe: they become simple
stops, e.g. kuppi + -n → kupin (Finnish: "cup"). For simple
consonants, the process complicates immensely and the results vary by
the environment. For example, haka + -n → haan, kyky + -n → kyvyn,
järki + -n → järjen (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 results in three phonemic lengths in these languages.
The original Uralic palatalization was lost in proto-Finnic, 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.
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
There are 14 grammatical cases in Estonian and 15 in Finnish, which
are denoted by adding a suffix.
Finnic languages form a complex dialect continuum with few
clear-cut boundaries. Innovations have often spread through a
variety of areas, even after variety-specific changes.[citation
[W]hat can be classified are not the Fennic languages, but the Fennic
— Tiit-Rein Viitso
A broad twofold conventional division of the Finnic varieties
recognizes the Southern Finnic and Northern Finnic groups (though the
position of some varieties within this division is uncertain):
North Estonian (including Standard Estonian)
Courland Livonian (†)
Salaca Livonian †
Eastern Votic †
? Northeastern coastal Estonian
Western Finnish (including Standard Finnish)
Southeastern dialects (Karelian Finnish)
Hevaha dialect †
Lower Luga dialect
? Kukkozi dialect (†)
Orodezhi (Upper Luga) dialect †
Livvi (Olonets Karelian)
Northern Karelian (Viena)
Northern (Onega) Veps
† = extinct variety; (†) = moribund variety.
A more-or-less genetic subdivision can be also determined, based on
the relative chronology of sound changes within varieties, which
provides a rather different view. The following grouping follows among
others Sammallahti (1977), Viitso (1998), and Kallio (2014):
South Estonian (Inland Finnic)
Gulf of Riga
Gulf of Riga Finnic)
The division between
South Estonian and the remaining Finnic varieties
has isoglosses that must be very old. For the most part, these
features have been known for long. Their position as very early in the
relative chronology of Finnic, in part representing archaisms in South
Estonian, has been shown by Kallio (2007, 2014).
Clusters *kt, *pt
Clusters *kc, *pc
(IPA: *[kts], *[pts])
3rd person singular marker
*kt, *pt > tt
*kc, *pc > ts
*čk > tsk
*kt, *pt > *ht
*kc, *pc > *ks, *ps
*čk > *tk
However, due to the strong areal nature of many later innovations,
this tree structure has been distorted and sprachbunds have formed. In
South Estonian and Livonian show many similarities with
the Central Finnic group that must be attributed to later contact, due
to the influence of literary North Estonian. Thus, contemporary
"Southern Finnic" is a sprachbund that includes these languages, while
diachronically they are not closely related.
Viitso (2000) 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
'Finnish' north of it. Despite this, standard Finnish and Estonian are
not mutually intelligible.
Finnic languages consist of North and South Estonian
(excluding the Coastal Estonian dialect group), Livonian and Votic
(except the highly Ingrian-influenced Kukkuzi Votic). These languages
are not closely related genetically, as noted above; it is a
paraphyletic grouping, consisting of all
Finnic languages except the
Northern Finnic languages. The languages regardless share a number
of features, such as 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
(North) Estonian-Votic has been suggested to possibly constitute an
actual genetic subgroup (called varyingly Maa by Viitso (1998, 2000)
or Central Finnic by Kallio (2014)), though the evidence is weak:
almost all innovations shared by Estonian and Votic have also spread
South Estonian and/or Livonian. A possible defining innovation is
the loss of *h after sonorants (*n, *l, *r).
The Northern Finnic group has more evidence for being an actual
historical/genetic subgroup. Phonetical innovations would include two
changes in unstressed syllables: *ej > *ij, and *o > ö after
front-harmonic vowels. The lack of õ in these languages as an
innovation rather than a retention has been proposed, and recently
resurrected. Germanic loanwords found throughout Northern Finnic
but absent in Southern are also abundant, and even several Baltic
examples of this are known.
Northern Finnic in turn divides into two main groups. The most Eastern
Finnic group consists of the
East Finnish dialects as well as Ingrian,
Karelian and Veps; the proto-language of these was likely spoken in
the vicinity of Lake Ladoga. The Western Finnic group consists of
the West Finnish dialects, originally spoken on the western coast of
Finland, and within which the oldest division is that into
Southwestern, Tavastian and Southern Ostrobothnian dialects. Among
these, at least the Southwestern dialects have later come under
Numerous new dialects have also 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 Livvi and Ludic varieties
(probably originally Veps dialects but heavily influenced by
Salminen (2003) present the following list of Finnic
languages and their respective number of speakers.
Number of speakers
Extinct as first language
List of Finnic innovations
See also: Proto-Finnic language
These features distinguish
Finnic languages from other Uralic
Sound changes shared by the various
Finnic languages include the
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'
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
above, 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
A development *š > h, which, however, postdated the separation of
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.
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.
This resulted in the rise of the telicity contrast of the object,
which must be in the accusative case or 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
The elative *-stA and the ablative *-ltA 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").
Birch bark letter no. 292
^ Outside Finland, the term
Finnic languages has traditionally been
used as a synonym of the extensive group of Finno-Permic languages,
including the Baltic Finnic, Permic, Sami languages, and the languages
of the Volga Finns. At the same time, Finnish scholars have
restricted it to the Baltic Finnic languages; the survey volume The
Uralic Languages uses the Latinate spelling Fennic to distinguish this
Baltic Finnic (Balto-Fennic) use from the broader Western sense of the
word. In 2009, the 16th edition of Ethnologue: Languages of the
World abandoned the Finno-Permic clade altogether and adopted the
nomenclature of Finnish scholars.
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Swadesh list for
Finnic languages (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list