Indo-Uralic languages

Indo-Uralic is a hypothetical language family consisting of Indo-European and Uralic.

A genetic relationship between Indo-European and Uralic was first proposed by the Danish linguist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1869 but was received with little enthusiasm (Pedersen 1931:336). Since then, the predominant opinion in the linguistic community has remained that the evidence for such a relationship is insufficient. However, a minority of eminent linguists has always taken the contrary view (e.g. Henry Sweet, Holger Pedersen, Björn Collinder, and Jochem Schindler), making it hard to dismiss the relationship out of hand.

There are two distinct questions here:

(1) Are Indo-European and Uralic genetically related?

(2) If so, do Indo-European and Uralic constitute a valid genetic node? The Eurasiatic and Nostratic hypotheses both consider Indo-European and Uralic (or Uralic-Yukaghir) to be genetically related. However, the Indo-Uralic hypothesis in the strict sense is something different from this: it holds that Indo-European and Uralic have "an especially close" genetic relationship; it does not necessarily include assertions that Indo-European and Uralic are related to any other language families.

At the same time, most of the prominent supporters of a relationship between Indo-European and Uralic have also supported their relationship to additional language families, leading some to regard Indo-Uralic as a subset of the larger Nostratic hypothesis.

The following article focuses on question (1), genetic relationship, and only treats incidentally of question (2), possible relation to other language families.

Geography of the proposed Indo-Uralic family

The Dutch linguist Frederik Kortlandt supports a model of Indo-Uralic in which the original Indo-Uralic speakers lived north of the Caspian Sea, and the Proto-Indo-European speakers began as a group that branched off westward from there to come into geographic proximity with the Northwest Caucasian languages, absorbing a Northwest Caucasian lexical blending before moving farther westward to a region north of the Black Sea where their language settled into canonical Proto-Indo-European. Allan Bomhard suggests a similar schema in "Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis" (1996). Alternatively, the common protolanguage may have been located north of the Black Sea, with Proto-Uralic moving northwards with the climatic improvement of post-glacial times.

Arguments for relationship between Indo-European and Uralic

The most common arguments in favour of a relationship between Indo-European and Uralic are based on seemingly common elements of morphology, such as the pronominal roots ("*m-" for first person; "*t-" for second person; "*i-" for third person), case markings (accusative "*-m"; ablative/partitive "*-ta"), interrogative/relative pronouns ("*kw-" 'who?, which?'; "*y-" 'who, which' to signal relative clauses) and a common SOV word order. Other, less obvious correspondences are suggested, such as the Indo-European plural marker "*-es" (or "*-s" in the accusative plural "*-unicode|m̥-s") and its Uralic counterpart "*-t". This same word-final assibilation of "*-t" to "*-s" may also be present in Indo-European second-person singular "*-s" in comparison with Uralic second-person singular "*-t". Compare, within Indo-European itself, "*-s" second-person singular injunctive, "*-si" second-person singular present indicative, "*-tHa" second-person singular perfect, "*-te" second-person plural present indicative, "*tu" 'you' (singular) nominative, "*tei" 'to you' (singular) enclitic pronoun. These forms suggest that the underlying second-person marker in Indo-European may be "*t" and that the "*u" found in forms such as "*tu" was originally an affixal particle. Indeed, the Finnish verb conjugation system does appear suspiciously Indo-European-like, and similarities to the verb conjugation systems of Latin, Russian, the Baltic languages, and so forth have been noted for years.

A second type of evidence advanced in favor of an Indo-Uralic family is lexical. Numerous words in Indo-European and Uralic resemble each other. The problem is to weed out words due to borrowing. Uralic languages have been in contact with a succession of Indo-European languages for millennia. As a result, many words have been borrowed between them, most often from Indo-European languages into Uralic ones.

An example of a Uralic word that cannot be original is Finno-Ugric *"śata" 'hundred'. The Proto-Indo-European form of this word was *"km̥tóm" (compare Latin "centum"), which became *"ćatám" in Indo-Iranian (compare Sanskrit "śatám", Avestan "satəm"). This is evidence that the word was borrowed into Finno-Ugric from Indo-Iranian or Indo-Aryan. This borrowing may have occurred in the region north of the Pontic-Caspian steppes around 2100-1800 BC, the approximate floruit of Indo-Iranian (Anthony 2007:371-411). It provides linguistic evidence for the geographical location of these languages around that time, agreeing with archeological evidence that Indo-European speakers were present in the Pontic-Caspian steppes by around 4500 BCE (the Kurgan hypothesis) and that Uralic speakers may have been established in the Pit-Comb Ware culture to their north in the fifth millennium BCE as well (Carpelan - Parpola 2001:79).

Another ancient borrowing is Finno-Mordvinic "*porćas" ‘piglet’. This word corresponds closely in form to the Proto-Indo-European word reconstructed as "*porḱos", attested by such forms as Latin "porcus" 'hog', Anglo-Saxon "fearh" (> English "farrow" 'young pig'), Lithuanian "par̃šas" ’piglet, castrated boar’, Kurdish "purs" 'pig', and Saka "pāsa" (< "*pārsa") 'pig'. In the Indo-European word, *"-os" (> Finno-Mordvinic *"-as") is a masculine nominative singular ending, but it is quite meaningless in Uralic languages. This shows that the whole word was borrowed as a unit and is not part of the original Uralic vocabulary.

: "Further remarks on" *porćas

: The "ć" of the reconstructed Finno-Mordvinic form could in the light of parallels be an outcome either of an Indo-European "ḱ" (palatalized "k"), a later Pre-Indo-Iranian "ć", or an Early Balto-Slavic "ś". Later originals than this, i.e. ones with Iranian "s" < "ʦ" or Proto-Baltic "š", are excluded on account of the palatalized (notably palato-alveolar) articulation of Finno-Mordvinic "ć".

: The original vowels could just as well have been PIE or Pre-Indo-Iranian *"o-o" or Balto-Slavic *"a-a" because Finno-Mordvinic could not allow any labial vowels in the peripheral syllables and would inevitably have substituted *"o" by *"a" in the second syllable. On the other hand Balto-Slavic or Indo-Iranian *"a" in the stem nucleus was frequently substituted by *"o".

: Finno-Mordvinic "*porćas" also provides external confirmation for the forms of Proto-Indo-European dialects, whether Pre-Indo-Iranian or Pre-Balto-Slavic, reconstructed through the comparative method.

A later borrowing, from well after the Proto-Indo-European period, is Finnish "kuningas" 'king'. This word corresponds almost exactly in form to the reconstructed Proto-Germanic word *"kuningaz" (> Old English "kyning" > English "king"). Again, we have fascinating confirmation for a reconstructed proto-form. Here, both the stem suffix "-ing" and the masculine nominative singular ending *"-az" (< PIE *"-os") are meaningless in Finnish, making it clear that the whole word was borrowed as a unit, like *"porćas".

Thus, *"śata" cannot be Indo-Uralic on account of its phonology, while *"porćas" and "kuningas" cannot be Indo-Uralic on account of their morphology.

Such words as those for 'hundred', 'king', and 'pig' have something in common: they represent "cultural vocabulary" as opposed to "basic vocabulary". They are likely to have been acquired along with a more complex number system, the domestic pig, and the institution of kingship from the more advanced Indo-Europeans to the south. Similarly, the Indo-Europeans themselves had acquired such words and cultural items from peoples to their south or west, including possibly their words for 'ox', "*gwou-" (compare English "cow") and 'grain', "*bhar-" (compare English "barley"). In contrast, basic vocabulary – words such as 'me', 'hand', 'water', and 'be' – is much less readily borrowed between languages. If Indo-European and Uralic are genetically related, they should show agreements in basic vocabulary, with more agreements if they are closely related, fewer if they are less closely related.

Advocates of a genetic relation between Indo-European and Uralic maintain that the borrowings can be filtered out by application of phonological and morphological analysis and that a core of vocabulary common to Indo-European and Uralic remains. As examples they advance such comparisons as Proto-Uralic *"weti-" (or *"wete-") : Proto-Indo-European *"woIPA|t’er-" (or *"wodunicode|r̥"), oblique stem *"weIPA|t’en-", both meaning 'water', and Proto-Uralic *"nimi-" (or *"nime-") : Proto-Indo-European *"nomen-" (or *"unicode|H₁nōmunicode|n̥"), both meaning 'name'. In contrast to *"śata" and *"kuningas", the phonology of these words shows no sound changes from Indo-European daughter languages such as Indo-Iranian. In contrast to "kuningas" and *"porćas", they show no morphological affixes from Indo-European that are absent in Uralic. According to advocates of the Indo-Uralic hypothesis, the resulting core of common vocabulary can only be explained by the hypothesis of common origin.

Objections to this interpretation

It has been countered that nothing prevents this common vocabulary from having been borrowed from Proto-Indo-European into Proto-Uralic.

For the old loans, as well as uncontroversial ones from Proto-Baltic and Proto-Germanic, it is more the rule than the exception that only the stem is borrowed, without any case-endings. Proto-Uralic "*nimi-" has been explained according to sound laws governing substitutions in borrowings (Koivulehto 1999), on the assumption that the original was a zero-grade oblique stem PIE "*(H)nmen-" as attested in later Balto-Slavic "*inmen-" and Proto-Celtic "*anmen-". Proto-Uralic "*weti-" could be a loan from the PIE oblique "e"-grade form for 'water'. Proto-Uralic "*toHį-" 'give' and PFU "*wetä-" 'lead' also make perfect phonologic sense as borrowings.

It is also objected that some or all of the common vocabulary items claimed are false cognates—words whose resemblance is merely coincidental, like English "bad" and Persian "bad".

Responses to objections

The items concerned represent basic vocabulary – unlikely to have been borrowed – or items appropriate to a Mesolithic level of culture and therefore plausible as shared terms.

With regard to the postulated equivalence of Uralic "-i" and Indo-European "-en", we need a little more explanation on how "sound laws", which are regular by definition, can be equivalent to "substitutions in borrowings", which are by definition analogical and therefore not regular, phonologically speaking. Koivulehto’s position may well be possible; the issue is whether it is the most compelling explanation of the data.

The points raised concerning the words for 'name’, 'water', and 'give' require a glance at the possible relations of Indo-European and Uralic with other language families, in particular the languages hypothetically grouped as Uralo-Siberian by Fortescue, Eurasiatic by Greenberg, and Nostratic by Holger Pedersen and various successors of his. While it is perfectly true that the Uralic words for these things could be derived from the Indo-European ones (or vice versa), the Uralic words have apparent equivalents among other languages variously identified as "Uralo-Siberian" or "Eurasiatic". For example, according to Fortescue (1998), Proto-Finno-Ugric "*toɣe-" 'bring, take, give' is cognate with Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan "*teɣiŋrə-" 'pull out' and Proto-Eskimo "*teɣu-" 'take'. He reconstructs these forms to a Proto-Uralo-Siberian "*toɣə-" 'take'.

If the Uralic word is borrowed from Indo-European, why is it found in nearly identical form right across Siberia? Possible cognates are also found for the words for 'name' in Chukchi "nənnə" 'name' and Old Japanese "na" 'name' and for 'water' in Evenki "udun" 'rain', Even "udən" 'rain', and Ainu "owata" 'water' (Greenberg 2002). Thus, alongside the hypothesis of borrowing from Indo-European, another possibility is that Indo-European and Uralic themselves belong to a larger grouping.

Finally, the claim that all such forms are "false cognates" is not widely accepted. The disagreements between e.g. Koivulehto and Kortlandt do not turn on whether the forms under discussion are true cognates, which is generally accepted, but on whether they result from borrowing or genetic inheritance. This is thus the key point at issue.

Some possible cognates


1 Finnish "minä" /minæ/, Estonian "mina", Nenets /mønjə/. [] Uralic reconstruction *"mun".

2 Latin "ne-", Greek "ne-", Sanskrit "ná", Old High German and Old English "ne" ~ "ni", etc.

3 Hungarian "në", Cheremis / Mari "nõ-", "ni-", Votyak / Udmurt "ni-", etc.

4 Latin "dō", Greek "dídōmi", Sanskrit "dā-", etc.

5 Hittite "wātar", instrumental "wēdanda"; English "water".

6 Latin "nōmen", Greek "ónoma", Sanskrit "nāman-", Old English "nama" > English "name", etc.

An asterisk (*) indicates reconstructed forms.

ee also

*Proto-Uralic language
*Laryngeal theory
*Uralo-Siberian languages
*Ural-Altaic languages
*Eurasiatic languages
*Nostratic languages


* cite book
first = David W. | last = Anthony
year = 2007
title = The Horse, the Wheel, and Language
location = Princeton and Oxford
publisher = Princeton University Press

* Carpelan, Christian and Parpola, Asko (2001), cite book
chapter = Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic and Proto-Aryan
editor = C.Carpelan, A.Parpola P.Koskikallio (ed.)
title = [ The earliest contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and Archeological Considerations]
pages = pp. 55–150
location= Helsinki | publisher=Mémoires de la societé Finno-Ougrienne 242
id = ISBN 952-5150-59-3

* cite book
first = Michael | last = Fortescue
authorlink = Michael Fortescue
year = 1998
title = Language Relations across Bering Strait
location = London and New York
publisher = Cassell

* cite book
first = Joseph H. | last = Greenberg
authorlink = Joseph Greenberg
year = 2002
title = Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family, Volume 2: Lexicon
location = Stanford, California
publisher = Stanford University Press

* cite book
first = Jorma | last = Koivulehto
authorlink = Jorma Koivulehto
year = 1991
title = Uralische Evidenz für die Laryngaltheorie, Veröffentlichungen der Komission für Linguistik und Kommunikationsforschung nr. 24
location = Wien
publisher = Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften
id = ISBN 3-7001-1794-9

* cite book
first = Jorma | last = Koivulehto
authorlink = Jorma Koivulehto
year = 1999
title = [ Verba mutuata. Quae vestigia antiquissimi cum Germanis aliisque Indo-Europaeis contactus in linguis Fennicis reliquerint.]
language = German
location = Helsinki | publisher=Mémoires de la societé Finno-Ougrienne 237
id = ISBN 952-5150-36-4

* cite book
first = Jorma | last = Koivulehto
authorlink = Jorma Koivulehto
year = 2001
chapter = The earliest contacts between Indo-European and Uralic speakers in the light of lexical loans
editor = C.Carpelan, A.Parpola P.Koskikallio (ed.)
title = [ The earliest contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and Archeological Considerations]
pages = pp. 235–263
location= Helsinki | publisher=Mémoires de la societé Finno-Ougrienne 242
id = ISBN 952-5150-59-3

* cite book
first = Steven | last = Mithen
authorlink = Steven Mithen
year = 2003
title = After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000 - 5000 BC
publisher=Orion Publishing Co

* cite book
first = Holger | last = Pedersen
authorlink = Holger Pedersen
year = 1931
title = Linguistic Science in the Nineteenth Century: Methods and Results
translator =
location = Translated from the Danish by John Webster Spargo. Cambridge, Massachusetts | publisher=Harvard University Press

External links

* [ "Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic: The Nostratic version and its alternatives"] by Eugene Helimski (1999)

* [ "Early Indo-Uralic linguistic relationships: Real kinship and imagined contacts"] by Eugene Helimski (1999)

* [ "Uralisches Substrat im Deutsch – oder gibt es eigentlich die indo-uralische Sprachfamilie?"] by Marcelo Jolkesky (2004)

* [ "The Indo-Uralic Verb"] by Frederik Kortlandt (2001) ( [ html version] )

* [ "Lexicon of early Indo-European loanwords preserved in Finnish"]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Indo-European languages — Indo European redirects here. For other uses, see Indo European (disambiguation). See also: List of Indo European languages Indo European Geographic distribution: Before the 16th century, Europe, and South, Central and Southwest Asia; today… …   Wikipedia

  • Indo-European languages — Family of languages with the greatest number of speakers, spoken in most of Europe and areas of European settlement and in much of southwestern and southern Asia. They are descended from a single unrecorded language believed to have been spoken… …   Universalium

  • Indo-Uralic — 1. adjective Of or relating to both the Indo European and the Uralic languages; especially, of or pertaining to a proposed language family containing both the Indo European and the Uralic languages. Perhaps the most widely accepted proposal is of …   Wiktionary

  • Uralic languages — Family of more than 30 languages spoken by some 25 million people in central and northern Eurasia. A primary division is between the Finno Ugric languages, which account for most of the languages and speakers, and the Samoyedic languages. The… …   Universalium

  • Uralic languages — Infobox Language family name=Uralic region=Eastern and Northern Europe, North Asia familycolor=Uralic family=A number of proposals linking Uralic to other language families have been made, such as Indo Uralic and Nostratic, all currently… …   Wikipedia

  • Uralic-Yukaghir languages — Uralic Yukaghir (or Uralo Yukaghir) is a proposed language family composed of Uralic and Yukaghir.Uralic is a large and diverse language family. Some of the languages it includes are Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian. Uralic is subdivided into two …   Wikipedia

  • Indo-européen commun — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Indo européen. L’indo européen commun, proto indo européen ou seulement indo européen (souvent abrégé en IE), est une langue préhistorique, sans témoignage écrit, supposée être à l origine de toutes les langues… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Languages of the European Union — Official language(s) Bulgarian Czech Danish Dutch English Estonian Finnish French German …   Wikipedia

  • Uralic Continuity Theory — the Uralic Continuity Theory is a theory about the Uralic languages developed by a group of archaeologists and linguists starting in the 1970s. The theory claims an uninterrupted continuity of the Uralic population from the Paleolithic. Their… …   Wikipedia

  • Languages written in a Cyrillic alphabet — This is a list of languages that have been written in the Cyrillic script at one time or another. See also early Cyrillic alphabet. Distribution of the Cyrillic script worldwide. The dark green shows the countries that use Cyrillic as the one… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.