Finno-Uralic people and languages


The Permians are a branch of the Finno-Ugric peoples and include Komis and Udmurts, speakers of Permic languages. Formerly the name Bjarmians was also used to describe these peoples. The recent research on the Finno-Ugric substrate in northern Russian dialects however suggests that in Bjarmaland there also lived several other Finno-Ugric groups besides the Permians.

The ancestors of the Permians inhabited originally the land called Permia (1323–1505), a medieval Komi state in what is now the Perm Krai of the Russian Federation, covering the middle and upper Kama River. Permians split into two groups probably during the 9th century.

The Komis came under the rule of the Novgorod Republic in the 13th century and were converted to Orthodox Christianity in the 1360-70s. In 1471-1478 their lands were conquered by the Grand Duchy of Moscow that later became the Tsardom of Russia. In the 18th century the Russian authorities opened the southern parts of the land to colonization and the northern parts became a place to which criminal and political prisoners were exiled.

The Udmurts came under the rule of the Tatars, the Golden Horde and the Khanate of Kazan until their land was ceded to Russia, and the people where Christianized at the beginning of 18th century.

Bjarmaland (also spelled Bjarmland and Bjarmia) was a territory mentioned in Norse sagas up to the Viking Age and – beyond – in geographical accounts until the 16th century. The term is usually seen to have referred to the southern shores of the White Sea and the basin of the Northern Dvina River (Vienanjoki in Finnish) and – presumably – some of the surrounding areas. Today, these territories comprise a part of the Arkhangelsk Oblast of Russia.

In the account of the Viking adventurer Ottar who visited Bjarmaland in the end of the 9th century AD, the term “Beorm” is used for the people of Bjarmaland. According to the account, “Beormas” spoke a language related to that of the Sami people, and lived in an area of the White Sea region.

Accordingly, many historians assume the terms beorm and bjarm to derive from the Uralic word perm, which refers to “travelling merchants” and represents the Old Permic culture. However, some linguists consider this theory to be speculative.

The recent research on the Uralic substrate in northern Russian dialects suggests that several other Uralic groups besides the Permians lived in Bjarmaland, assumed to have included the Viena Karelians, Sami and Kvens.

According to Helimski, the language spoken in the northern Archangel region ca. 1000 AD, which he terms Lop’, was closely related to, but distinct from the Sami languages proper. This would fit Ottar’s account perfectly.

Based on medieval sources, Bjarmaland’s closest neighbor in the west was Kvenland. According to some medieval accounts and maps, Kvenland included also the Kola Peninsula north from Bjarmaland, as stated e.g. in the late 1150s’ AD Leiðarvísir og borgarskipan in which the Icelandic Abbot Níkulás Bergsson writes that north from Värmland there are “two Kvenlands (Kvenlönd), which extend to north of Bjarmia (Bjarmalandi)”.

Bjarmian trade reached south-east to Bolghar by the Volga River where the Bjarmians also interacted with Scandinavians and Fennoscandians, who adventured southbound from the Baltic Sea area.

Chud or Chude (Slavic: чудь, in Finnic languages: tshuudi, tšuudi, čuđit) is a term historically applied in the early Russian annals to several Finnic peoples in the area of what is now Estonia, Karelia and Northwestern Russia.

Perhaps the earliest written use of the term ‘Chudes’ to describe proto-Estonians was ca. 1100, by the monk Nestor, in the earliest Russian chronicles. According to Nestor, Yaroslav I the Wise invaded the country of the Chuds in 1030 and laid the foundations of Yuryev, (the historical Russian name of Tartu, Estonia). Then Chud was used to describe other Baltic Finns called volok which is thought to refer to the Karelians.

According to Old East Slavic chronicles the Chudes were one of the founders of the Rus’ state.

The Northern Chudes were also a mythical people in folklore among Northern Russians and their neighbours. In Komi mythology, the Northern Chudes represent the mythic ancestors of the Komi people.

The Udmurts are a people who speak the Udmurt language. Through history they have been known in Russian as Chud Otyatskaya, Otyaks, or Votyaks, and in Tatar as Ar.

The name Udmurt probably comes from *odo-mort ‘meadow people,’ where the first part represents the Permic root *od(o) ‘meadow, glade, turf, greenery’ (related to Finnish itää ‘to germinate, sprout’) and the second part (Udmurt murt ‘person’; cf. Komi mort, Mari mari) is an early borrowing from Indo-Iranian *mertā or *martiya ‘person, man’ (cf. Urdu/Persian mard). This is supported by a document dated Feb. 25, 1557, in which alongside the traditional Russian name otyaki the Udmurts are referred to as lugovye lyudi ‘meadow people’.

On the other hand, in the Russian tradition, the name ‘meadow people’ refers to the inhabitants of the left bank of river general. Recently, the most relevant is the version of V. V. Napolskikh and S. K. Belykh. They suppose that ethnonym was borrowed from the Iranian entirely: *anta-marta ‘resident of outskirts, border zone’ (cf. Antes) → Proto-Permic *odə-mort → Udmurt udmurt.

Most Udmurt people live in Udmurtia. Small groups live in the neighboring areas: Kirov Oblast and Perm Krai of Russia, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, and Mari El.

Anthropologists relate Udmurts to the Urals branch of Europeans. Most of them are of the middle size, often have blue or gray eyes, high cheek-bones and wide face. The Udmurt people are not of an athletic build but they are very hardy. and there have been claims that they are the “most red-headed” people in the world. Additionally, the ancient Budini tribe, which is speculated to be an ancestor of the modern Udmurts, were described by Herodotus as being predominantly red-headed.

The Budini (Greek: Boudinoi) were an ancient people who lived in Scythia, in what is today Ukraine.

Herodotus wrote in his Histories (iv.21, 108, 109): The Budini for their part, being a large and numerous nation, is all mightily blue-eyed and ruddy. And a city among them has been built, a wooden city, and the name of the city is Gelonus.

Of its wall then in size each side is of thirty stades and high and all wooden. And their homes are wooden and their shrines. For indeed there is in the very place Greek gods’ shrines adorned in the Greek way with statues, altars and wooden shrines and for triennial Dionysus festivals in honour of Dionysus

Above the Sauromatae (Sarmatians), possessing the second region, dwell the Budini, whose territory is thickly wooded with trees of every kind. The Budini are a large and powerful nation: they have all deep blue eyes, and bright red hair.

The Budini, however, do not speak the same language as the Geloni, nor is their mode of life the same. They are the aboriginal people of the country, and are nomads; unlike any of the neighbouring races, they eat lice.

Their country is thickly planted with trees of all manner of kinds. In the very woodiest part is a broad deep lake, surrounded by marshy ground with reeds growing on it. Here otters are caught, and beavers, with another sort of animal which has a square face.

With the skins of this last the natives border their capotes: and they also get from them a remedy, which is of virtue in diseases of the womb… Beyond the Budini, as one goes northward, first there is a desert, seven days’ journey across…

Later located eastward probably on the middle course of the Volga about Samara, the Budini are described as fair-eyed and red-haired, and lived by hunting in the dense forests.

The 1911 Britannica surmises that they were Fenno-Ugric, of the branch now represented by the Udmurts and Komis (this branch is now called “Permic”), forced northwards by later immigrants.

In their country was a wooden city called Gelonos, inhabited with a “distinct race”, the Geloni, who according to Herodotus were Greeks that became assimilated to the Scythians.

Later writers add nothing to our knowledge of the Budini, and are more interested in the tarandus, an animal that dwelt in the woods of the Budini, possibly the reindeer (Aristotle ap. Aelian, Hist. Anim. xv. 33).

Edgar V. Saks identifies Budini as Votic people.

The Komi or Zyrian people is an ethnic group whose homeland is in the north-east of European Russia around the basins of the Vychegda, Pechora and Kama rivers. They mostly live in the Komi Republic, Perm Krai, Murmansk Oblast, Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug, and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the Russian Federation. They belong to the Permian branch of the Uralic peoples. The Komis are divided into eight sub-groups.

Their northernmost sub-group is also known as the Komi-Izhemtsy (from the name of the river Izhma) or Iz’vataz. This group numbers 15,607. This group is distinct for its more traditional, strongly subsistence based economy which includes reindeer husbandry. Komi-Permyaks (125,235 people) live in Perm Krai (Komi-Yazvas group) and Kirov Oblast (Upper-Kama Komi group) of Russia.

The name “Komi” may come from the Udmurt word “kam” (meaning “large river”, particularly the River Kama) or the Udmurt “kum” (meaning “kinfolk”). The scholar Paula Kokkonen favours the derivation “people of the Kama”. The name “Zyrian” is disputed, but may be from a personal name Zyran.

The Komi language belongs to the Permian branch of the Uralic family. There is limited mutual intelligibility with Udmurt. There are three main dialects: Pechora, Udor and Verkhne-Vyshegod.

The Komi language is a Uralic language spoken by the Komi peoples in the northeastern European part of Russia. Komi may be considered a single language with several dialects, or a group of closely related languages, making up one of the two branches of the Permic branch of the family. The other Permic language is Udmurt, to which Komi is closely related.

Of the several Komi dialects or languages, two major varieties are recognized, closely related to one another: Komi-Zyrian, the largest group, serves as the literary basis within the Komi Republic; and Komi-Yodzyak, spoken by a small, isolated group of Komi to the north-west of Perm Krai and south of the Komi Republic. Permyak (also called Komi-Permyak) is spoken in Komi-Permyak Okrug, where it has literary status.

The Permic languages have traditionally been classified as Finno-Permic languages, along with the Finnic, Saami, Mordvin, and Mari languages. The Finno-Permic and Ugric languages together made up the Finno-Ugric family. However, this taxonomy has more recently been called into question, and the relationship of the Permic languages to other Uralic languages remains uncertain.

Ugric or Ugrian languages are a hypothetical branch of the Uralic language family. The term derives from Yugra, a region in north-central Asia. Ugric is a linguistic concept, not an ethnic or cultural one. The term Ugric people is used to describe peoples speaking a Ugric language, which includes the three subgroups: Hungarian (Magyar), Khanty (Ostyak) and Mansi (Vogul).

The last two have traditionally been considered single languages, though their main dialects are sufficiently distinct that they may also be considered small subfamilies of 3–4 languages each. A common Proto-Ugric language is posited to have been spoken from the end of the 3rd millennium BC until the first half of the 1st millennium BC, in Western Siberia, east from the southern Ural mountains. However, recent reconstructions of Uralic have not generally found support for Ugric. Of the three languages, Khanty and Mansi have traditionally been set apart from Hungarian as Ob-Ugric, though features uniting Mansi and Hungarian in particular are known as well.

Khanty (in older literature: Ostyaks) are an indigenous people calling themselves Khanti, Khande, Kantek (Khanty), living in Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug, a region historically known as “Yugra” in Russia, together with the Mansi. In the autonomous okrug, the Khanty and Mansi languages are given co-official status with Russian.

In the 2002 Census, 28,678 persons identified themselves as Khanty. Of those, 26,694 were resident in Tyumen Oblast, of which 17,128 were living in Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug and 8,760—in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. 873 were residents of neighbouring Tomsk Oblast, and 88 lived in the Komi Republic.

Some consider the Khanty’s ancestors to be the prehistoric metalworking Andronovo Culture. They are originated from the south Ural steppe and moved into their current location about 500 AD.

Most researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian languages, though it may have overlapped the early Uralic-speaking area at its northern fringe.

Eugene Helimski has suggested that the Andronovo people spoke a separate branch of the Indo-Iranian group. He claims that borrowings in the Finno-Ugric languages support this view.

Vladimir Napolskikh has proposed that borrowings in Finno-Ugric indicate that the language was specifically of the Indo-Aryan type.

Since older forms of Indo-Iranian words have been taken over in Uralic and Proto-Yeniseian, occupation by some other languages (also lost ones) cannot be ruled out altogether, at least for part of the Andronovo area: i. e., Uralic and Yeniseian.

Out of 10 human male remains assigned to the Andronovo horizon from the Krasnoyarsk region, 9 possessed the R1a Y-chromosome haplogroup and one haplogroup C-M130 (xC3). mtDNA haplogroups of nine individuals assigned to the same Andronovo horizon and region were as follows: U4 (2 individuals), U2e, U5a1, Z, T1, T4, H, and K2b.

90% of the Bronze Age period mtDNA haplogroups were of west Eurasian origin and the study determined that at least 60% of the individuals overall (out of the 26 bronze and Iron Age human remains’ samples of the study that could be tested) had light hair and blue or green eyes.

A 2004 study also established that, during the Bronze/Iron Age period, the majority of the population of Kazakhstan (part of the Andronovo culture during Bronze Age), was of west Eurasian origin (with mtDNA haplogroups such as U, H, HV, T, I and W), and that prior to the thirteenth to seventh century BC, all Kazakh samples belonged to European lineages.

Khanty probably appear in Russian records under the name Yugra (ca. 11th century), when they had contact with Russian hunters and merchants. The name comes from Komi-Zyrian language jögra (‘Khanty’). It is also possible that they were first recorded by the English King Alfred the Great (ca. 9th century), who located Fenland (wetland) to the east of the White Sea in Western Siberia. The older Russian name Ostyak is from Khanty as-kho ‘person from the Ob (as) River,’ with -yak after other ethnic terms like Permyak..

The Khanty duchies were partially included in the Siberia Khanate from the 1440s–1570s.

Mansi (obsolete: Voguls) are an endangered indigenous people living in Khanty–Mansia, an autonomous okrug within Tyumen Oblast in Russia. In Khanty–Mansia, the Khanty and Mansi languages have co-official status with Russian. The Mansi language is one of the postulated Ugrian languages of the Uralic family.

Together with the Khanty people, the Mansi are politically represented by the Association to Save Yugra, an organisation founded during the Perestroika of the late 1980s. This organisation was among the first regional indigenous associations in Russia.

The ancestors of Mansi people populated the areas west of the Urals. Mansi findings have been unearthed in the vicinity of Perm. In the first millennium BC, they migrated to Western Siberia where they assimilated the native inhabitants. According to others they are originated from the south Ural steppe and moved into their current location about 500 AD.

The largest of the Ugric people are Hungarians numbering 14,500,000. Hungarians live in the Carpathian Basin, where they have independent state – Hungary. Khanty (21 000) and Mansi (12 000) peoples live in the Ob river area of Russia, mostly in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. There is also a significant Khanty population in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Khanty and Mansi together are called Ob-Ugrians.

The Baltic Finns are a Finno-Ugric group of peoples of Northeastern Europe whose modern descendants include the Finns proper, Karelians (including Ludes and Olonets), Veps, Izhorians, Votes, Livonians and Estonians (including Võros and Setos) who speak Baltic-Finnic languages and have inhabited the Baltic Sea region for 3,000 years according to one theory, or up to ten thousand years according to another theory.

Finno-Ugric, Finno-Ugrian or Fenno-Ugric is a traditional grouping of all languages in the Uralic language family except the Samoyedic languages. Its commonly accepted status as a subfamily of Uralic is based on criteria formulated in the 19th-century and is often criticized by contemporary linguists. The three most-spoken Uralic languages, Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian, are all included in Finno-Ugric.

Linguistic roots common to both branches of the traditional Finno-Ugric language tree (Finno-Permic and Ugric) are distant. About two hundred words with common roots in all main Finno-Ugric languages have been identified by philologists including fifty-five about fishing, fifteen about reindeer, and three about commerce.

The term Finno-Ugric, which originally referred to the entire family, is sometimes used as a synonym for the term Uralic, which includes the Samoyedic languages, as commonly happens when a language family is expanded with further discoveries.

The validity of Finno-Ugric as a genetic grouping is under challenge, with some feeling that the Finno-Permic languages are as distinct from the Ugric languages as they are from the Samoyedic languages spoken in Siberia, or even that none of the Finno-Ugric, Finno-Permic, or Ugric branches has been established.

Received opinion has been that the easternmost (and last-discovered) Samoyed had separated first and the branching into Ugric and Finno-Permic took place later, but this reconstruction does not have strong support in the linguistic data. In the past, and occasionally today as well, the term Finno-Ugric was used for the entire Uralic language family.

Attempts at reconstructing a Proto-Finno-Ugric protolanguage—that is, a common ancestor of all Uralic languages except for the Samoyedic languages—are largely indistinguishable from Proto-Uralic, suggesting that Finno-Ugric might not be a historical grouping but a geographical one, with Samoyedic being distinct due to lexical borrowing rather than actually being historically divergent. It has been proposed that the area where Proto-Finno-Ugric was spoken reached between the Baltic Sea and the Ural mountains.

The Finno-Uralic group is not typologically distinct from Uralic as a whole: the most widespread structural features among the group all extend to the Samoyedic languages as well.

The relation of the Finno-Permic and the Ugric groups is adjudged remote by some scholars. On the other hand, with a projected time depth of only 3 or 4 thousand years, the traditionally accepted Finno-Ugric grouping would be far younger than many major families such as Indo-European or Semitic, and would be about the same age as, for instance, the Eastern subfamily of Nilotic. But the grouping is far from transparent or securely established. The absence of early records is a major obstacle. As for the Finno-Ugric Urheimat, most of what has been said about it is speculation.

Some linguists criticizing the Finno-Ugric genetic proposal also question the validity of the entire Uralic family, instead proposing a Ural–Altaic hypothesis, within which they believe Finno-Permic may be as distant from Ugric as from Turkic. However, this approach has been rejected by nearly all other specialists in Uralic linguistics. For refutations, see e.g. Aikio 2003; Bakró-Nagy 2003, 2005; De Smit 2003; Georg 2003; Kallio 2004; Laakso 2004; Saarikivi 2004.

The Finno-Permic languages (also Finno-Permian and Fenno-Permic/Permian) are a traditional but disputed group of the Uralic languages that comprises the Baltic-Finnic languages, Sami languages, Mordvinic languages, Mari language, Permic languages, and likely a number of extinct languages. In the traditional taxonomy of the Uralic languages, Finno-Permic is estimated to have split from Finno-Ugric around 3000–2500 BC, and branched into Permic languages and Finno-Volgaic languages around 2000 BC. Nowadays the validity of the group as a taxonomical entity is questioned.

The term Finnic languages has often been used to designate all the Finno-Permic languages, based on an earlier belief that Permic languages would be much more closely related to the Baltic Finnic languages than to the Ugric languages.

Proto-Finnic or Proto-Baltic-Finnic is the common ancestor of the Finnic languages, which include the national languages Finnish and Estonian. Proto-Finnic is not attested in any texts, but has been reconstructed by linguists. Proto-Finnic is itself descended ultimately from Proto-Uralic.

Proto-Uralic is the reconstructed language ancestral to the Uralic language family. The language was originally spoken in a small area in about 7000-2000 BC (estimates vary), and expanded to give differentiated protolanguages. The exact location of the area or Urheimat is not known, and various strongly differing proposals have been advocated, but the vicinity of the Ural Mountains is usually assumed.

The Proto-Uralic homeland has always been located near the Ural Mountains, either on the European or the Siberian side. The main reason to suppose a Siberian homeland has been the traditional taxonomic model that sees the Samoyed branch splitting off first; because the present border between the Samoyed and the Ugric branch is located in Western Siberia, the original split was seen to have occurred there, too.

However, the Ugric languages are known to have earlier been spoken on the European side of the Urals, so a European homeland would be equally possible. In recent years it has also been argued that on the phonological basis the oldest split was not between the Samoyed and the Finno-Ugric, but between the Finno-Permic and the Ugro-Samoyedic language groups.

The lexical level is argued to be less reliable, and lexical innovativeness (a small number of shared cognates) can be confused with a great age of the division. For a long time, no new arguments for a Siberian homeland have been presented.

Both European and Siberian homeland proposals have been supported by palaeolinguistic evidence, although only such cases are valid in which the semantic reconstructions are certain. A Siberian homeland has been claimed on the basis of two coniferous tree names in Proto-Uralic, although these trees (Abies sibirica and Pinus cembra) have for a long time been present also in easternmost Europe. A European homeland is supported by words for ‘bee’, ‘honey’, ‘elm’ etc. These can be reconstructed already in Proto-Uralic, when Samoyed is no more the first entity to split off.

More recently also the loanword evidence has been used to support a European homeland: Proto-Uralic has been seen borrowing words from Proto-Indo-European, and the Proto-Indo-European homeland has rarely been located east of the Urals. Proto-Uralic even seems to have developed in close contact with Proto-Aryan, which is seen to have been born in the Poltavka culture of the Caspian steppes before its spread to Asia.

Although Proto-Uralic is now located on the European side of the Urals, Pre-Proto-Uralic seems to have been spoken in Asia, as argued on the basis of early contacts with the Yukaghir languages and typological similarity with the Altaic (in the typological meaning) language families.

Archaeological continuity has for a long time been applied as an argument for linguistic continuity, in the Uralic studies since the Estonians Paul Ariste and Harri Moora in 1956. Just as long this kind of argumentation has also been heavily criticized.

The oldest version of the continuity theories can be called the moderate or shallow continuity theory, and according to it the linguistic continuity in Estonia and Finland can be traced back to the arrival of Typical Combed Ware about 6,000 years ago. This view became mainstream in the multidisciplinary Tvärminne symposium in 1980, when there seemed to be nothing in the linguistic results to seriously contradict this archaeological view.

The continuity argumentation in the Uralic studies gained greater visibility during the 1990s, when the next step was popularized (even though already earlier this line of reasoning had been occasionally sported): in the radical or deep continuity theory it was claimed that the linguistic continuity in Finland could be traced back to the Mesolithic initial colonization, beyond 10,000 years.

However, in the Indo-European studies J. P. Mallory had already thoroughly scrutinized the methodological weakness of the continuity argumentation in 1989. In the Uralic studies it was also soon noted that the one and the same argument (archaeological continuity) was used to support contradicting views, thus revealing the unreliability of the method.

At the same time new linguistic results appeared contradicting the continuity theories: both the datings of Proto-Saami and Proto-Finnic as well as Proto-Uralic (Kallio 2006; Häkkinen 2009) were argued to be clearly younger than were thought in the framework of the continuity theories.

Nowadays linguists rarely believe in the continuity theories due to both their shown methodological flaws and incompatibility with the new linguistic results, although some archaeologists and laymen may still sport on such argumentation.

After the rejection of the continuity theories, the recent linguistic arguments have placed the Proto-Uralic homeland around the Kama River, or more generally close to the Great Volga Bend and the Ural Mountains.

The expansion of Proto-Uralic has been dated to about 2000 BC (4 000 years ago), while its earlier stages go back at least one or two millennia further. Either way, this is considerably later than the earlier views of the continuity theories, which would place the Proto-Uralic deep into Europe.

According to the traditional binary tree model, Proto-Uralic diverged into Proto-Samoyedic and Proto-Finno-Ugric. However, reconstructed Proto-Finno-Ugric differs little from Proto-Uralic, and many apparent differences follow from the methods used. Thus Proto-Finno-Ugric may not be separate from Proto-Uralic. Another reconstruction of the split of Proto-Uralic has three branches (Finno-Permic, Ugric and Samoyedic) from the start.

Recently these tree-like models have been challenged by the hypothesis of larger number of protolanguages giving a “comb” rather than a tree. The protolanguages would be Sami, (Baltic-)Finnic, Mordva, Mari, Permic, Magyar, Khanti, Mansi, and Samoyedic. This order is both the order of geographical positions as well as linguistic similarity, with neighboring languages being more similar than distant ones.

Until the 18th century, Komi was written in the Old Permic alphabett, sometimes called Abur or Anbur, introduced by Saint Stephen of Perm in the 14th century. It is a “highly idiosyncratic adaptation” of the Cyrillic script once used to write medieval Komi (Permic). Cyrillic was used from the 19th century and briefly replaced by the Latin alphabet between 1929 and 1933.

The Abur inscriptions are among the oldest relics of the Uralic languages. Only one of these languages has earlier documents: Hungarian, which had been written using the Old Hungarian script first, then with the Latin script after 1000. For comparison, Finnish as a written language only appeared after the Reformation in 1543. However, an isolated birch bark letter, found in 1957 in Novgorod and written in a Finnic language has been dated to the beginning of the 13th century.

The Hungarian Runes are derived from the Old Turkic script,[6] itself recorded in inscriptions dating from c. AD 720. The Old Turkic script was presumably derived from Asian scripts such as the Pahlavi and Sogdian alphabets, or possibly from Karosthi, all of which are in turn remotely derived from the Aramaic script.

Speakers of Proto-Hungarian would have come into contact with Turkic peoples during the 7th or 8th century, in the context of the Turkic expansion, as is also evidenced by numerous Turkic loanwords in Proto-Hungarian.

The Komi language is currently written in Cyrillic, adding two extra letters – Іі and Ӧӧ – to represent vowel sounds which do not exist in Russian. The first book to be printed in Komi (a vaccination manual) appeared in 1815.

Most Komis belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, but their religion often contains traces of pre-Christian beliefs. Komi mythology is the traditional mythology of the Komi people. A large number of Komis are Old Believers, which is Christians that separated after 1666 from the official Russian Orthodox Church as a protest against church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon between 1652 and 1666.

Based on linguistic reconstruction, the prehistoric Permians are assumed to have split into two peoples during the first millennium BC: the Komis and the Udmurts. Around 500 AD, the Komis further divided into the Komi-Permyaks (who remained in the Kama River basin) and the Komi-Zyrians (who migrated north).

The linguistic reconstruction of the Finno-Ugric language family has led to the postulation that the ancient Proto–Finno-Ugric people were ethnically related, and that even the modern Finno-Ugric-speaking peoples are ethnically related.

Such hypotheses are based on the assumption that heredity can be traced through linguistic relatedness, although it must be kept in mind that language shift and ethnic admixture, a relatively frequent and common occurrence both in recorded history and most likely also in prehistory, confuses the picture and there is no straightforward relationship, if at all, between linguistic and genetic affiliation. Still, the premise that the limited community of speakers of a proto-language must have been ethnically homogeneous remains accepted.

Modern genetic studies have shown that the Y-chromosome haplogroup N3, and sometimes N2, is almost specific though certainly not restricted to Uralic or Finno-Ugric speaking populations, especially as high frequency or primary paternal haplogroup.

These haplogroups branched from haplogroup N, which probably spread north, then west and east from Northern China about 12,000–14,000 years before present from father haplogroup NO (haplogroup O being the most common Y-chromosome haplogroup in Southeast Asia).

A study on north-eastern populations, published in March 2013, found that Komi peoples form a distinct pole of genetic diversity.

The Baltic Finns are a Finno-Ugric group of peoples of Northeastern Europe whose modern descendants include the Finns proper, Karelians (including Ludes and Olonets), Veps, Izhorians, Votes, Livonians and Estonians (including Võros and Setos) who speak Baltic-Finnic languages and have inhabited the Baltic Sea region for 3,000 years according to one theory, or up to ten thousand years according to another theory.

According to the Migration Theory that was based primarily on comparative linguistics, the proto-Finnic peoples migrated from an ancient homeland somewhere in northwestern Siberia or western Russia to the shores of the Baltic Sea around 1000 BC, at which time Finns and Estonians separated. The Migration Theory has been called into question since 1980, based on genealogy, craniometry and archaeology. Recently, a modified form of the Migration Theory has gained new support among the younger generation of linguists, who consider that archaeology, genes or craniometric data cannot supply evidence of prehistoric languages.

During the last 30 years, scientific research in physical anthropology, craniometric analyses, and the mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal DNA frequencies have reduced the likelihood for a major westward migration as recently as 3,000 years ago. The Settlement Continuity Theory asserts that at least the genetic ancestors of the Finno-Ugric peoples were among the earliest indigenous peoples of Europe.

The origin of the people who lived in the Baltic Sea area during the Mesolithic Era continues to be debated by scientists. From the middle of the Neolithic Era onwards, there is agreement to a certain extent among scholars: it has been suggested that Finno-Ugric tribes arrived in the Baltic region from the east or southeast approximately 4000–3000 BC by merging with the original inhabitants, who then adopted the proto-Finno-Ugric language and the Comb Ceramic culture of the newcomers. The members of this new Finno-Ugric-speaking ethnic group are regarded as the ancestors of modern Estonians.

The Y-chromosomal data has also revealed a common Finno-Ugric ancestry for the males of the neighboring Baltic peoples, speakers of the Indo-European Baltic languages. According to the studies, Baltic males are most closely related to the Finno-Ugric-speaking Volga Finns such as the Mari, rather than to Baltic Finns.

The Volga Finns (sometimes referred to as Eastern Finns) are a historical group of indigenous peoples of Russia whose descendants include the Mari people, the Erzya and the Moksha Mordvins, as well as extinct Merya, Muromian and Meshchera people. The Permians are sometimes also grouped as Volga Finns.

The modern representatives of Volga Finns live in the basins of the Sura and Moksha Rivers, as well as (in smaller numbers) in the interfluve between the Volga and the Belaya Rivers. The Mari language has two dialects, the Meadow Mari and the Hill Mari.

Traditionally the Mari and the Mordvinic languages (Erzya and Moksha) were considered to form a Volga-Finnic or Volgaic group within the Finno-Permic branch of the Uralic language family, accepted by linguists like Robert Austerlitz (1968), Aurélien Sauvageot & Karl Heinrich Menges (1973), Harald Haarmann (1974) and Charles Frederick Voegelin & Florence Marie Voegelin (1977), but rejected by others like Björn Collinder (1965) and Robert Thomas Harms (1974).

This grouping has also been criticized by Salminen (2002), who suggests it may be simply a geographic, not a phylogenetic, group. Since 2009 the 16th edition of Ethnologue: Languages of the World has adopted a classification grouping Mari and Mordvin languages as separate branches of the Uralic language family.

The Volga Finns are not to be confused with the Finns. The term is a back-derivation from the linguistic term “Volga-Finnic”, which in turn reflects an older usage of the term “Finnic”, applying to most or whole of the Finno-Permic group, while the group nowadays known as Finnic were referred to as “Baltic-Finnic”.

The speakers of Permic languages, the Permians, are sometimes considered belonging to the Volga Finnic group of peoples because according to some theories their ancient homeland lies in the Northern part of the Volga River basin.

The indicator of Finno-Ugric origin has been found to be more frequent in Latvians (42%) and Lithuanians (43%) than in Estonians (34%). The results suggest that the territories of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been settled by Finno-Ugric-speaking tribes since the early Mesolithic period.

On the other hand, some linguists do not consider it likely that a Baltic-Finnic language form could have existed at such an early date. According to these views, the Finno-Ugric languages appeared in Finland and Baltic only during the Early Bronze Age (ca. 1,800 BC), if not later.

The region has been populated since the end of the last glacial era, about 10,000 BC. The earliest traces of human settlement are connected with Suomusjärvi culture and Kunda culture. The Early Mesolithic Pulli settlement is located by the Pärnu River. It has been dated to the beginning of the 9th millennium BC.

The Kunda Culture received its name from the Lammasmäe settlement site in northern Estonia, which dates from earlier than 8500. Bone and stone artefacts similar to those found at Kunda have been discovered elsewhere in Estonia, as well as in Latvia, northern Lithuania and southern Finland.

Around 5300 BCE pottery entered Finland. The earliest representatives belong to the Comb Ceramic Cultures, known for their distinctive decorating patterns. This marks the beginning of the Neolithic Period

Until the early 1980s, the arrival of Finnic peoples, the ancestors of the Estonians, Finns, and Livonians on the shores of the Baltic sea around 3000 BC, was associated with the Comb Ceramic Culture. However, such a linking of archaeologically defined cultural entities with linguistic ones cannot be proven and it has been suggested that the increase of settlement finds in the period is more likely to have been associated with an economic boom related to the warming of climate. Some researchers have even argued that a form of Uralic languages may have been spoken in Estonia and Finland since the end of the last glaciation.

The linguistic ancestors of modern Livonians may have lived on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea around the Gulf of Riga as early as 1800 B.C. The first speakers of Indo-European Baltic languages, i.e. the linguistic ancestors of today’s Latvians and Lithuanians, are thought to have arrived in the area around 2000 B.C. The exact date of the Uralic migration to the region has been disputed, but according to DNA studies, there were Uralic peoples in the Baltic region some 10,000 years ago. These peoples later merged with the Balts and Finnic tribes.

The Pit–Comb Ware culture AKA Comb Ceramic culture was a northeast European culture of pottery-making hunter-gatherers. It existed from around 4200 BC to around 2000 BC. The name is derived from the most common type of decoration on its ceramics, which looks like the imprints of a comb.

The distribution of the artifacts found includes Finnmark (Norway) in the north, the Kalix River (Sweden) and the Gulf of Bothnia (Finland) in the west and the Vistula River (Poland) in the south. In the east the Comb Ceramic pottery of northern Eurasia extends beyond the Ural mountains to the Baraba steppe adjacent to the Altai-Sayan mountain range, merging with a continuum of similar ceramic styles.

It would include the Narva culture of Estonia and the Sperrings culture in Finland, among others. They are thought to have been essentially hunter-gatherers, though e.g. the Narva culture in Estonia shows some evidence of agriculture. Some of this region was absorbed by the later Corded Ware horizon.

The Pit–Comb Ware culture is one of the few exceptions to the rule that pottery and farming coexist in Europe. In the Near East farming appeared before pottery, then when farming spread into Europe from the Near East, pottery-making came with it. However in Asia, where the oldest pottery has been found, pottery was made long before farming. It appears that the Comb Ceramic Culture reflects influences from Siberia and distant China.

By dating according to the elevation of land, the ceramics have traditionally (Äyräpää 1930) been divided into the following periods: early (Ka I, c. 4200 BC – 3300 BC), typical (Ka II, c. 3300 BC – 2700 BC) and late Comb Ceramic (Ka III, c. 2800 BC – 2000 BC).

Previously, the dominant view was that the spread of the Comb Ware people was correlated with the diffusion of the Uralic languages, and thus an early Uralic language must have been spoken throughout this culture. However, another more recent view is that the Comb Ware people may have spoken a Paleo-European (pre-Uralic) language, as some toponyms and hydronyms also indicate a non-Uralic, non-Indo-European language at work in some areas. Even then, linguists and archaeologists both have also been skeptical of assigning languages based on the borders of cultural complexes, and it’s possible that the Pit-Comb Ware Culture was made up of several languages, one of them being Proto-Uralic.

The Pitted Ware culture (ca 3200 BC– ca 2300 BC) was a hunter-gatherer culture in southern Scandinavia, mainly along the coasts of Svealand, Götaland, Åland, north-eastern Denmark and southern Norway. Despite its Mesolithic economy, it is by convention classed as Neolithic, since it falls within the period in which farming reached Scandinavia. It was first contemporary and overlapping with the agricultural Funnelbeaker culture, and later with the agricultural Corded Ware culture.

The economy was based on fishing, hunting and gathering of plants. Pitted Ware sites contain bones from elk, deer, beaver, seal, porpoise, and pig. Pig bones found in large quantities on some Pitted Ware sites emanate from wild boar rather than domestic pigs.

Seasonal migration was a feature of life, as with many other hunter-gatherer communities. Pitted Ware communities in Eastern Sweden probably spent most of the year at their main village on the coast, making seasonal forays inland to hunt for pigs and fur-bearing animals and to engage in exchange with farming communities in the interior.

This type of seasonal interaction may explain the unique Alvastra Pile Dwelling in south-western Östergötland, which belongs to the Pitted Ware culture as far as the pottery is concerned, but to the Funnelbeaker culture in tools and weapons.

The repertoire of Pitted Ware tools varied from region to region. In part this variety reflected regional sources of raw materials. However the use of fish-hooks, harpoons, and nets and sinkers was fairly widespread. Tanged arrow heads made from blades of flintstone are abundant on Scandinavia’s west coast, and were probably used in the hunting of marine mammals.

One notable feature of the Pitted Ware Culture is the sheer quantity of shards of pottery on its sites. The culture has been named after the typical ornamentation of its pottery: horizontal rows of pits pressed into the body of the pot before firing.

Though some vessels are flat-bottomed, others are round-based or pointed-based, which would facilitate stable positioning in the soil or on the hearth. In shape and decoration, this ceramic reflects influences from the Comb Ceramic culture (also known as Pit-Comb Ware) of Finland and other parts of north-eastern Europe, established in the sixth and fifth millennia BC.

Small animal figurines were modelled out of clay, as well as bone. These are also similar to the art of the Comb Ware culture. A large number of clay figurines have been found at Jettböle on the island of Åland, including some which combine seal and human features.

Its grave customs are not well known, but Västerbjers on the island of Gotland has produced a large number of grave fields, where the limestone has preserved the graves well. In these graves, archaeologists found skeletons laid on their backs with well-preserved tools in bone and horn. Numerous imported objects testify to good connections with the Scandinavian mainland, Denmark and Germany.

A theory among archaeologists was that the Pitted Ware culture evolved from the Funnelbeaker culture by a process of abandonment of farming for hunting and fishing. However the two populations are genetically distinct. Samples of skeletal remains from Pitted Ware and Funnelbeaker sites in Sweden yielded mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

The nineteen Pitted Ware samples from Gotland were dominated by mtDNA haplogroups U4, U5 and U5a, though it should be noted that, because of the low resolution of the tests performed, some haplotypes reported as U4 may actually belong to haplogroup H.

By contrast the three Funnelbeaker samples from Gökhem contained no haplogroup U. This is consistent with findings elsewhere in northern Europe of a distinct difference in mtDNA between hunter-gatherers and farmers.

A very low level (5%) of an allele (-13910*T) strongly associated with the ability to consume unprocessed milk at adulthood was found among Pitted Ware Culture individuals in Gotland, Sweden. This frequency is dramatically different from the extant Swedish population (74%).

As the language left no records, its linguistic affiliations are uncertain. It has been suggested that its people spoke a language related to the Uralic languages and provided the unique linguistic features discussed in the Germanic substrate hypothesis.

The beginning of the Bronze Age in Estonia is dated to approximately 1800 BC, in present-day Finland some time after 1500 BCE.

The coastal regions of Finland were a part of the Nordic Bronze Culture, whereas in the inland regions the influences came from the bronze-using cultures of Northern Russia. The development of shipbuilding facilitated the spread of bronze.

The development of the borders between the Finnic peoples and the Balts was under way. The first fortified settlements, Asva and Ridala on the island of Saaremaa and Iru in the Northern Estonia, began to be built.

Changes took place in burial customs, a new type of burial ground spread from Germanic to Estonian areas, stone cist graves and cremation burials became increasingly common aside small number of boat-shaped stone graves.

Many relationships between Uralic and other language families have been suggested, but none of these are generally accepted by linguists at the present time.

Uralic languages

Proto-Uralic language

Proto-Uralic homeland hypotheses


Main article: Ural–Altaic languages

Theories proposing a close relationship with the Altaic languages were formerly popular, based on similarities in vocabulary as well as in grammatical and phonological features, in particular the similarities in the Uralic and Altaic pronouns and the presence of agglutination in both sets of languages, as well as vowel harmony in some. For example, the word for “language” is similar in Estonian (keel) and Mongolian (хэл (hel)).

These theories are now generally rejected and most such similarities are attributed to coincidence or language contact, and a few to possible relationship at a deeper genetic level.


Main article: Indo-Uralic languages

The Indo-Uralic (or Uralo-Indo-European) hypothesis suggests that Uralic and Indo-European are related at a fairly close level or, in its stronger form, that they are more closely related than either is to any other language family. It is viewed as certain by a few linguists (see main article) and as possible by a larger number.


Main article: Uralic–Yukaghir languages

The Uralic–Yukaghir hypothesis identifies Uralic and Yukaghir as independent members of a single language family. It is currently widely accepted that the similarities between Uralic and Yukaghir languages are due to ancient contacts. Regardless, the hypothesis is accepted by a few linguists and viewed as attractive by a somewhat larger number.


Main article: Eskimo–Uralic languages

The Eskimo–Uralic hypothesis associates Uralic with the Eskimo–Aleut languages. This is an old thesis whose antecedents go back to the 18th century. An important restatement of it is Bergsland 1959.


Main article: Uralo-Siberian languages

Uralo-Siberian is an expanded form of the Eskimo–Uralic hypothesis. It associates Uralic with Yukaghir, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, and Eskimo–Aleut. It was propounded by Michael Fortescue in 1998.


Main article: Nostratic languages

Nostratic associates Uralic, Indo-European, Altaic, and various other language families of Asia. The Nostratic hypothesis was first propounded by Holger Pedersen in 1903 and subsequently revived by Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Aharon Dolgopolsky in the 1960s.


Main article: Eurasiatic languages

Eurasiatic resembles Nostratic in including Uralic, Indo-European, and Altaic, but differs from it in excluding the South Caucasian languages, Dravidian, and Afroasiatic and including Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Nivkh, Ainu, and Eskimo–Aleut. It was propounded by Joseph Greenberg in 2000–2002. Similar ideas had earlier been expressed by Heinrich Koppelmann (1933) and by Björn Collinder (1965:30–34).

Borean languages

Main article: Borean languages

Borean (also Boreal or Boralean) is a hypothetical linguistic macrofamily that encompasses almost all language families except those native to sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea, and Australia.

The hypothesis proposes that the various languages of Eurasia and adjacent regions have a genealogical relationship, and ultimately descend from languages spoken in the Upper Paleolithic in the millennia following the Last Glacial Maximum.

The name “Borean”, based on Greek means “northern”. This reflects the fact that the group is held by its proponents to include most language families native to the northern hemisphere. Two distinct models of Borean exist: that of Harold C. Fleming and that of Sergei Starostin.


The hypothesis that the Dravidian languages display similarities with the Uralic language group, suggesting a prolonged period of contact in the past, is popular amongst Dravidian linguists and has been supported by a number of scholars, including Robert Caldwell, Thomas Burrow, Kamil Zvelebil, and Mikhail Andronov.

This hypothesis has, however, been rejected by some specialists in Uralic languages, and has in recent times also been criticised by other Dravidian linguists such as Bhadriraju Krishnamurti.

All of these hypotheses are minority views at the present time in Uralic studies.

Other comparisons

Various unorthodox comparisons have been advanced such as Finno-Basque and Hungaro-Sumerian. These are considered spurious by specialists.

(Baltic Finnic) Finnic peoples

  1. Chud

  2. Estonians

  3. Finns

  4. Izhorians

  5. Karelians

  6. Livonians

  7. Setos

  8. Veps

  9. Votes

(“Volgaic”) Volga Finns

  1. Burtas

  2. Mari

  3. Merya people

  4. Meshchera people

  5. Mokshas

  6. Mordvins

  7. Muromian people

  8. Sami (Lapps)


Permic languages

  1. Besermyan

  2. Komi

  3. Komi-Permyaks

  4. Udmurts

(Ugric) Ugric peoples

Ugric languages

  1. Hungarians

  2. Székely

  3. Csángó

  4. Magyarab

  5. Jász

  6. Kun

  7. Palóc

  8. Khanty

  9. Mansi

Pitted-Ware culture

Pit-Comb Ceramic culture

Finno-Ugric peoples


Proto-Finnic language

Finno-Ugric languages

Finno-Permic languages