In my study of Udmurt and Komi, I have produced an English translation of the chapter on Permian vowels from Raija Bartens’s Permiläisten kielten rakenne ja kehitys (The Structure and Development of the Permian Languages, Helsinki: Finno-Ugrian Society, 2001). While Bartens’s book no longer represents the state of the art in Uralic linguistics, and in the years since Sándor Csúcs has shaken the field up with such publications as Die Rekonstruktion der permischen Grundsprache (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2005), Permiläisten kielten rakenne ja kehitys does provide a helpful introduction to 20th-century work on Permian vocalism.
The literary standards of both Permian languages have the same inventory of seven vowels:
However, this does not mean that the Proto-Permian system was the same. Linguists studying the Permian languages have always been confounded by the large differences in vocalism in their common lexicon. Evidence from Udmurt and Komi dialects as well as the Old Komi writings show that the vowel system of Proto-Permian was larger.
The vowel inventory of the Permian languages has been the subject of many large investigations: Itkonen’s Permiläisen vokaali‑ ja painotusopin alalta (1951) and Zur Geschichte des Vokalismus der ersten Silbe im Tscheremissischen und in den permischen Sprachen (1953–54); Lytkin’s Istoričeskij vokalizm permskih jazykov (1964); Harms’ Split, Shift and Merger in the Permic Vowels (1967); Itkonen’s Spuren der Quantitätskorrelation der Vokale im Syrjänischen (1971); Janhunen’s Uralilaisen kantakielen sanatosta (1981); Rédei’s Geschichte der permischen Sprachen (1988); Sammallahti’s Historical Phonology of the Uralic Languages (1988). The following description represents essentially the work of Sammallahti.
Sammallahti assigns the following inventory of 8 vowels to Proto-Udmurt:
Sammallahti bases his reconstruction on the same Udmurt forms as Lytkin (1964: 231ff.). Besides the literary language and the dialects that it is derived from (= literary-language type) the Southwest and Besserman dialects also provide information. The vowel system of the Southwest dialects (Kel’makov & Saarinen 1994; these are the Šošma as well as part of the Kukmorin and Bavlyn southern peripheral dialects) have 8 vowels. The number of vowels in the literary-language type is 7 and in the Besserman dialect 6. According to Kel’makov, in part of the southern peripheral dialects there is also a reduced vowel (part of the Kukmorin and Bavlyn dialects) or even two reduced vowels; they also have a vowel ä (Kel’makov & Saarinen 1994: 40; ä is a late Tatar influence). Thus the vowel inventories of some southern peripheral dialects can contain from 9 to 11 vowels (Kel’makov & Saarinen 1994: 40). On the other hand, a vowel inventory as small as the Besserman dialect, with 6 vowels, is found in one southern peripheral dialect, the Kanlyn dialect (Kel’makov & Saarinen 1994: 39).
The Proto-Permian vowels according to Sammallahti’s reconstruction are reflected in the modern languages as the following:
|literary-language type||u||i̮||u||i||o||ȯ, e̮||e||a|
The literary-language type has therefore lost the high rounded front vowel *ü. It has fallen together with the high rounded back vowel u. In part of the literary-language type dialects, from the mid central unrounded vowel (e̮) has arisen the mid-central rounded vowel ȯ.
In the Besserman dialect the Proto-Udmurt high front rounded vowel (*ü) and the high central unrounded vowel (*i̮) have fallen together. Kel’makov views the resulting vowel as reduced (Kel’makov & Saarinen 1994: 39). Lytkin (1964: 16, 187; 1961: 24ff.) defines this ɵ vowel as a mid and back vowel but closer to a central vowel than rounded u and o. In part of the Besserman dialects the mid central unrounded vowel *e̮ has merged with the corresponding front vowel e.
In the SW dialects the central unrounded vowels are rounded. Furthermore the high rounded front vowel *ü has moved back and become a central vowel (*i̮ > ɵ, *e̮ > ȯ, *ü > u̇).
Generally in these changes that came after the Proto-Udmurt period, a vowel has been rounded or it has moved back (the change *e̮ > e in the Besserman dialect is an exception). The Proto-Udmurt vowel inventory has been presented above in a table; it can be seen that the changes have impacted the vowels in the middle of the table. Thus the vowel *ü that Sammallahti reconstructs for Proto-Udmurt has not been preserved in any dialect. He does not reconstruct this vowel for Proto-Komi.
Sammallahti reconstructs an inventory of 10 vowels for Proto-Komi, of which 3 are reduced and 7 full vowels:
The essential data for the Proto-Komi vowel inventory is provided by the Old Komi writings as well as Komi-Yazva and the Upper-Sysola dialect which are of archaic character. Also, in part of the Upper-Vyčegda dialects, to the central unrounded vowels of other dialects (i̮, e̮) correspond the rounded mid vowels u̇ and ȯ, which Lytkin (1964: 187ff.) considered also an archaic feature. In the Komi literary language, which is based on the Mid-Vyčegda dialect, there is an inventory of 7 vowels, likewise in the Upper-Vyčegda dialect described by Sammallahti. In the Upper-Sysola dialect there are 8 vowels, in the Old Komi writings 9 vowels and in Komi-Yazva there is an inventory of 10 vowels. Sammallahti reconstructed 10 vowels also for Proto-Komi, of which 3 are reduced. The quite archaic-looking Komi-Yazva system is naturally explained by this hypothesis. Already in 1952, Lytkin ascribed a reduced vowel background to three unstressed vowels in Komi-Yazva (u, ɵ, i). However, by his 1964 history of the Permian vowel inventory he had changed his mind and did not reconstruct reduced vowels for either Proto-Komi or Proto-Permian. Instead, he hypothesized that vowel quantity continued into the Pre-Permian stage (Lytkin 1964: 17).
In Sammallahti’s reconstruction, the Proto-Komi vowels correspond to the vowel inventories of the Old Komi writings, the literary language and the dialects in the following way:
|Old Komi writings||u||i̮||i||o||e̮||e||å||e̮||ä||a|
(The table above was drawn from Sammallahti 1998: 533–534.)
Itkonen reconstructed an inventory of 11 vowels for Proto-Permian. The distinguishing feature of his reconstruction is an inventory classified according to four degrees of height. Besides high, mid and low vowels, between the high and mid vowels there is a series of tense mid vowels:
(According to Itkonen 1951: 449; 1953–54: 332. Later, in 1971: 25, Itkonen thought it possible that the earlier representative of i̮ had been a central rounded vowel ɯ.)
In his history of Permian vocalism, Lytkin (1964: 228ff.) reconstructed an inventory based on a similar system of four degrees of height. His reconstructed Permian vowel system is presented in the following chart:
Thus in Lytkin’s reconstruction there are 14 vowels and in Itkonen’s 11. Lytkin’s reconstruction furthermore has three front rounded vowels. Incidentally, it should be noted that Itkonen and Lytkin’s reconstructions of four degrees of height are along the same lines; both scholars were researching the same thing at the same time, but unaware of each other’s work.
A vowel system can have at most four degrees of height, though such systems are rare (Crothers 1978: 119). Harms (1967: 167), who appealed to earlier studies, believed this impossible:
In general, no language is known to possess four (or more) phonemic degrees of tongue height (i.e., any such phonetic difference is always better analyzed in terms of other features). According to Harms, there would be no grounds for the large number of rounded vowels that Lytkin reconstructs:
the universal constraints … rule out … more than two rounded vowels at any given tongue height (ibid.). Crothers does not propose this in his catalogue of universals. (According to the universals proposed by Crothers, the degrees of height in a vowel system are equal to or greater than the degrees of frontness, that is, there can be at most four degrees of frontness; in the greater part of the languages of the world, there can be at most three, however, and the same goes for degrees of height.
Harms believed that any vowel series with four degrees of height must be analyzed in a different way. The way that Harms chose is a lax/tense opposition (Harms 1967: 170). He defined tenseness as follows:
It is used here as a marker of quantity and stress attraction (ibid. 175) Thus all Proto-Permian vowels would have been full vowels; besides defining three series based on height, there would also be a series of long vowels that take the main stress.
Sammallahti went in a different direction. He does not reconstruct a quantitative opposition for Proto-Permian but an opposition between reduced vowels and full vowels. Sammallahti’s reconstruction for Proto-Permian is the following:
Among the high full vowels there are thus three round vowels in spite of Harms’s criteria. For the first three Pre-Permian stages, Sammallahti also reconstructs – like Lytkin – a mid front rounded vowel ö (Sammallahti 1988: 527).
From the Pre-Proto-Permian, or Finno-Permian, vowel system (Itkonen ibid. 332, Sammallahti ibid. 523, only Sammallahti reconstructs a mid central vowel)
the Proto-Permian vowel system differs, according to Itkonen’s as well as Lytkin and Sammallahti’s treatment, essentially in annulling the old Proto-Finno-Ugrian and Proto-Finno-Permian quantitative opposition that existed in the mid and high vowels. According to Sammallahti, the new opposition of full and reduced vowels that he reconstructs would have arisen already in the Pre-Proto-Permian stage, though only at the end of this period. (Sammallahti divides the development of vowels into four Pre-Proto-Permian stages and then a following Proto-Permian stage. It bears remembering that, assuming the commonly held chronology is correct, the “Proto-Permian” stage would have lasted over two thousand years, thus there is a reason to speak of different Pre-Proto-Permian eras and then a true Proto-Permian stage that followed them.) This Proto-Permian opposition would have survived in Proto-Komi, but Proto-Udmurt has lost it according to Sammallahti.
Sammallahti thus reconstructs an opposition between reduced and full vowels impacting high vowels in Proto-Permian and later Proto-Komi. A similar opposition in the same portion of the vowel system is found in a language that has had a significant influence on Proto-Permian: Volga Bulgarian, or Old Chuvash (Itkonen 1970: 272; Rédei & Róna-Tas 1972: 272). Words were borrowed from this language into Proto-Permian; a discussion of its influence on Permian syntax as early as the Proto-Permian era will come later in this book. Another Finno-Ugrian language which Old Chuvash (and eventually Modern Chuvash) has greatly influenced has also developed an opposition between reduced vowels and full vowels in precisely the high portion of the vowel inventory. It is tempting to assume that this opposition was brought into Proto-Permian and later Proto-Mari due to the higher prestige of the Old Chuvash speakers. Contradicting this assumption, however, is the fact that according to Sammallahti, the Permian languages formed this opposition already in the Pre-Permian era, but the Volga Bulgarian impact on Proto-Permian began only around the time of its dissolution. And it would be difficult to explain on this basis of this assumption, why the reconstructed Proto-Komi system is closer to the reconstructed Proto-Permian vowel system with its opposition of full and reduced vowels than the Proto-Udmurt system; it was after all Proto-Udmurt which remained under Volga Bulgarian influence while Proto-Komi moved away from it.
The following examples drawn from Sammallahti (1988: 530–531), which illustrate his reconstruction from Proto-Finno-Permian into first Proto-Permian and then Proto-Komi and Proto-Udmurt, show the phonological development of the lexicon:
Finno-Permian *ńini ‘bast’ > Proto-Permian *ńĭn > Proto-Komi *ńĭn (> Komi ńin, Komi-Yazva ńin), Proto-Udmurt *ńin (> Udmurt ńin) (= Finnish niini)
Finno-Permian *nimi ‘name’ > Proto-Permian *ńĭm > Proto-Komi *ńĭm (> Komi ńim, Komi-Yazva ńim), Proto-Udmurt *ńim (> Udmurt ńim) (= Finnish nimi)
Finno-Permian *küsä ‘thick, fat’ > Proto-Permian *kĭ̮z > Proto-Komi *kĭ̮z (> Komi ki̮z, Komi-Yazva kɵz), Proto-Udmurt *ki̮z (> Udmurt ki̮z) (= Saami gâssâ)
Finno-Permian *kūśi ‘20’ > Proto-Permian *kĭ̮ź > Proto-Komi *kĭ̮ź (> Komi ki̮ź), Proto-Udmurt *ki̮ź (> Udmurt ki̮ź, SW dialectal ku̇ź) (cognates in the Ugric languages)
Finno-Permian *tuli ‘fire’ > Proto-Permian *tĭ̮l > Proto-Komi *tĭ̮l (> Komi ti̮l), Proto-Udmurt *ti̮l (> Udmurt ti̮l) (= Finnish tuli)
Finno-Permian *mēli ‘mind’ > Proto-Permian *mĭ̮l > Proto-Komi *mĭ̮l (> Komi mi̮l, Komi-Yazva mɵl), Proto-Udmurt *mi̮l (> Udmurt mi̮l) (= Finnish mieli)
Finno-Permian *pesä ‘nest’ > Proto-Permian *poz > Proto-Komi *poz (> Komi poz, Komi-Yazva poz), Proto-Udmurt *puz (> Udmurt puz ‘egg’) (= Finnish pesä); Finno-Permian *keski ‘nest’ > Proto-Permian *küsk > Proto-Komi *kusk (> Komi kos(k‑), Komi-Yazva kusk), Proto-Udmurt *küs (> Udmurt kus(k‑), SW dialectal ku̇s(k‑)) (= Finnish keski)
Finno-Permian *kōsi ‘spruce, fir’ > Proto-Permian *ki̮z > Proto-Komi *ki̮z (> Komi koz, Komi-Permyak ke̮z), Proto-Udmurt *ki̮z (> Udmurt ki̮z, SW dialectal ku̇z) (= Finnish kuusi)
Finno-Permian *okse‑ (Sammallahti *oksi‑) ‘vomit’ > Proto-Permian *u̇sk‑ > Proto-Komi *i̮s‑ (> Komi vos‑, Udora ve̮s‑), Proto-Udmurt *e̮sk‑ (>Udmurt e̮ski̮‑, SW dialectal ösi̮‑) (= Finnish okse‑nta‑)
Finno-Permian *äjä [?] ‘old man’ > Proto-Permian *aji̮ > Proto-Komi *aj (> Komi aj, Komi-Yazva aj), Proto-Udmurt *aji̮ (> Udmurt aj(i̮)) (= Finnish äijä, Saami agˈgja) (Sammllahti does not propose this etymology); Finno-Permian *tälvä ‘winter’ > Proto-Permian *tȯl > Proto-Komi *te̮l (> Komi te̮l), Proto-Udmurt *tol (> Udmurt tol) (= Finnish tälvi, Saami dalˈve)
Finno-Permian *kaẟ́a‑ ‘remain’ > Proto-Permian *kuĺi̮‑ > Proto-Komi *kuĺ‑ (> Komi koĺ‑, Komi-Yazva kuĺ‑), Proto-Udmurt *kuĺi̮‑ (>Udmurt ki̮ĺi̮‑, kiĺi̮‑) (= Finnish kad‑ota ‘disappear’, Saami guođˈđe‑)
Sammllahti also presents examples of how Finno-Permian mid vowels could become raised in Proto-Permian and then reduced:
Finno-Permian *śola ‘salt’ > Proto-Permian *śŭl > Proto-Komi *śŭl (> Komi śŭl), Proto-Udmurt *śul (>Udmurt śul) (= Finnish suoli)
Finno-Permian *me̮ksa ‘liver’ > Proto-Permian *mŭsk > Proto-Komi *mŭsk (> Komi mŭs(k‑), Komi-Permyak mŭs‑), Proto-Udmurt *mus (> Udmurt mus) (= Finnish maksa)
The same applies even to long mid vowels, as illustrated by an example given above: Finno-Permian *mēli ‘mind’ > Proto-Permian *mĭ̮l > Proto-Komi *mĭ̮l, Proto-Udmurt *mi̮l.
The Permian languages have lost endings, but opinions differ on whether Proto-Permian had already lost the second syllable of roots. In Udmurt there is an archaic layer of the lexicon where nominal roots consist of two syllables and are vowel-final, but in Komi the same word is consonant-final. (Verb roots show a corresponding tendency: in Udmurt verbs are generally vowel stems, while Komi verbs have both vowel and consonant stems, see pp. 180–181.) If in Udmurt a vowel in a noun stem cannot be explained as a derivational element, i.e. the root is truly vowel-final, the vowel is always a high vowel. In Komi there is a word interpreted in the same way. According to Rédei, śoŕńí ‘speech’ may have preserved the original second-syllable vowel but raised it. The antiquity of the second-syllable vowel in Udmurt is attested by the fact that no reason can be found for why e.g. li̮mi̮ ‘snow’ is in all the dialects in Wichmann’s materials vowel-final. There is no phonotactic reason for the late appearance of this vowel, for word-final ‑m is completely possible, cf. kam ‘river, stream, the Kama River’. On the other hand, it is not easy to understand the preservation of the second-syllable vowel in li̮mi̮. It was originally, in Proto-Uralic and Proto-Finno-Ugrian, a high vowel (PFU *lumi < PU *lomi). Itkonen, in connection with other matters (e.g. Mari and Morvin), claimed that second-syllable originally high vowels (or mid vowels according to Itkonen’s theory) had generally been reduced and lost before the low vowels. He believed that Udmurt nominative forms ending in a second-syllable vowel are secondary; the linking vowel in all of the oblique forms was added to the nominative. Kel’makov (1990: 113–116) noted that there are quite a lot of near-homonyms which can be distinguished only because one word is consonant-final and the other has a second-syllable vowel. Thus the final vowel helps to avoid homonymy. He gives 29 such word pairs. According to Molnár (1974: 61ff.), in these cases Udmurt has retained the second-syllable vowel and always raised it to a high vowel (Rédei 1968a: 41ff. had come to the same conclusion). The second-syllable vowel would have thus lost its distinguishing feature of height (low/high) and this would hardly have any relevance (there are no word pairs of the type *kerä/*keri). The leveling of stem vowels would have even been motivated in Proto-Permian. In some cases the second-syllable vowel took on a morphological role, the function of a vocalic suffix (cf. in the declension of Proto-Permian personal pronouns 1 sg. gen. *mVnam ‘of me’ versus 1 sg. dat. *mVnim ‘to me’).
Not all cases of second-syllable non-high vowels can be explained as vowel suffixes. Loanwords can show such vowels in roots, e.g. Udmurt kuĺto, Komi koĺta ‘sheaf’ < Chuvash, Komi paĺto ‘overcoat’.
The main tendency of Proto-Permian second-syllable vowels, however, is that final vowels are lost from bisyllabic word forms. If modern Permian languages have bisyllabic vowel-final forms, a historical linguist’s first question would be, what consonant has been lost from the end of this form? The loss of the vowel has also affected the boundary between the first and second syllable; phonotactically final consonant clusters were under pressure to be simplified. This has given rise to some allomorphic variations (which will be treated later under morphology).
If there was an opposition between full and reduced vowels in first syllables in Sammallahti’s reconstruction, it is natural to assume that the weakening and loss of second-syllable vowels happened along the lines of the reduced vowels. The opinion of the Hungarian scholars has also been shown: the weakening of second syllables would have started with the raising of second-syllable vowels. The weakening would have continued with the reduction of high vowels and finally their loss. Supporters of Sammallahti’s theory of a full/reduced opposition can note that the area in which first-syllable reduced vowels existed was in Proto-Permian precisely the high vowels.
The vowel paradigm of suffixes is more restricted than initial syllables. In Udmurt suffixes mostly contain the central vowel i̮ or the front vowel e. (In the Southern dialects of Udmurt, instead of a high central vowel i̮ one finds the high front vowel i.) Suffixes can also have the rounded vowel o, in some suffixes the low vowel a is possible and in a few suffixes across the entire Udmurt territory one finds the high front vowel i (e.g. the prolative case ending ‑ti). In Komi the vowels that make up suffixes are particularly the central vowels i̮ and e̮ – some of the dialects use instead front i and e – but also a is common and i is possible in suffixes.
Lytkin (1964: 239) reconstructed only three vowels for Proto-Permian non-initial syllables: *i, *a and *ɛ.
There’s an article at Souciant, an online magazine of politics and culture, discussing the state of Russia’s minority languages. Most attention is given to the Volga region. I must credit the authors for addressing something I’ve often felt, namely that active speakers of these languages are often unwilling to admit that prospects for the future are utterly dire:
Some, however, are dismissive of such concern. Leysan Khasanova, owner of a Tatar music shop in Tatarstan’s capital of Kazan, is confident thatTatar will always be spoken on the streets of Kazan,before pointing out that many young Tatars prefer to speak in Russian amongst each other, and that her own children are not proficient in the language.
I could have done without the pointlesss exoticizing, however (
Kabardian – a language that is truly a testament to the dynamism of the human oesophagus). Also, the author makes the dubious claim:
The Komi Permian language, for example, has some eighteen noun cases – a kind of grammatical suicide given that no amount of emotional feeling for the language as that of one’s ancestors can provide the linguistic aptitude necessary to learn such a language without any prior knowledge. Since some of these cases are marginal, and people growing up with Russian are already accustomed to noun inflection, I do not believe that Komi’s declension would present that much of an obstacle.
The Finno-Ugrian student conference IFUSCO was held in Russia’s Perm Krai in 2010. Madis Tuuder, a student at the Estonian Art Academy, reported her impressions and subsequently a Finnish translation by Sonja Laitinen appeared in the University of Helsinki’s Alkukoti magazine (2010 no. 12, online version here). Here follows my English translation of a report that explains well why I no longer go to academic conferences in Russia.
IFUSCO (the International Finno-Ugrian Student Conference) is turning into a state propaganda event. This claim is based on multiple indicators from the conferences of recent years. This year’s academic event for Finno-Ugrian linguists and others interested in Finno-Ugrian affairs – which IFUSCO ought to be – was held from May 14 to 16 in the Perm Krai of Russia, in the cities of Perm and Kudymkar.
The Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug district was combined several years ago with Perm Oblast to form Perm Krai. Now there’s a Finno-Ugrian façade over the whole region, but what lies behind it is something different. The Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug was the only area in Russia where a Finno-Ugrian people made up over half of the population. Now the Komi Permjaks’ share in the population of the region is only 3.7%.
In their opening speeches, local officials took every opportunity to boast that Perm Krai belongs to the family of Finno-Ugrian regions; it would certainly be strange to hear claims to the contrary in this sort of conference.
The choice of Perm, a city with a million inhabitants, as the second conference venue might be due to aspirations to put the city on the Finno-Ugrian world map. We were told, however, that Kudymkar, which is little more than a large village, couldn’t organize such an event on its own. That claim is hard to understand, since the entire conference – except for the public opening ceremonies – took place precisely in Kudymkar.
It has become a sad trend that in recent years the opening ceremonies have sung the praises of local officials. The same happened this year, as can be seen from who was on the organizing committee: of the organizers, three were local ministers. The Finno-Ugrian youth organization MAFUN came last in the list of organizers. The opening speeches dealt with Perm Krai’s economical and social progress, with an emphasis on transport.
One theme emerged at the end of the opening ceremony. Alevtina Lobanova, a lecturer at Perm Pedagogical University, spoke passionately and sensibly on the shrinking role of Finno-Ugrian languages in the social life of their titular regions. Her views and arguments were virtually the opposite of what the officials had said before her. The audience applauded Lobanova’s courage and outspokenness several times.
One local historian’s presentation on ‘societal-social modernization’ attracted some interest, as it ought to have dealt with the development of Komi Permyak identity. The historian however criticized the national policies of the Baltic countries (the only example he gave outside Russia) and recommended that they take Russia’s Finno-Ugrians as a model, for whom the policy cultivated in the Baltic countries would not be suitable and wouldn’t even be considered due to its oppressive and discriminative nature. He compared the state of the Baltic countries to the situation prevailing in Chechnya and called on those two areas to solve their national problems in radical ways.
In their presentations officials praised, besides economic progress, the synergy and neighbourliness of the nationalities in the area. According to them, everything is being done to maintain a diversity of languages and identities. Of course, nobody talked about what hasn’t been done, like a sufficient guarantee of teaching in pupils’ native languages. At the same time that IFUSCO was held, there was a seminar for teachers of minority languages. Of Perm Krai’s many nationalities, the most successful in native-language education are the Tatars. The situation of the area’s titular nationality (we use that term with certain reservations), the Komi Permyaks, becomes worse year after year.
Around 180 students registered for this year’s IFUSCO. Estonia sent 12 people, but there were fewer rows of Finnish and Hungarian students this time. It’s unfortunate that more and more talks and abstracts are in Russian. In former years it was required that participants either speak or write abstracts in a Finno-Ugrian language (such as their native language), but now this requirement has become only a suggestion. Some students were even forbidden from using a Finno-Ugrian language in their talk or abstract.
The pathos of this conference was seasoned by plays about invented pseudo-mythological heroes, which have become an integral part of Finno-Ugrian conferences. The plays deal with historical events (which may not have ever happened) and profess the eternal brotherhood and friendship of local (and sometimes made-up) tribes.
The political tone of the conference was also visible in the fact that during Estonian-led sessions, a picture of the Bronze Soldier was projected on the big screen. However, they did allow people to make their own Powerpoint presentations.
Luckily, politics and propaganda didn’t diminish the students’ enthusiasm and happiness at meeting each other. The next IFUSCO will be held in Hungary. The choice of this venue is intended to bring the conference back on track and offer some relief from these kind of IFUSCOs which are dominated by bureaucrats and state figures.
I was frustrated by the IFUSCO conference in Saransk in 2007, but there state control was visible less in propaganda and more in strict control of participants’ movement. All the participants were split up into different groups depending on their nationality – as a holder of a US passport, I was not even allowed to join my fellow students from University of Helsinki – and had to remain with the group at all times, a minder ensuring that no one wandered off alone. The arrival times of each group at events were staggered, and everyone was marched straight into the lecture halls, so that they could not mingle outside. Unfortunately, it seems that some Western students have contact with Russia’s Finno-Ugrians only at these conferences, and I’d recommend that everyone spend their time and money in travelling independently to Russia instead.
Mikko Korhonen’s history Finno-Ugrian Language Studies in Finland 1828–1918 (Helsinki: Societas Scientarum Fenica, 1986) has a number of interesting anecdotes, but this one proved a bit disconcerting considering that tomorrow I leave for a month of fieldwork in Mari El and Chuvashia. Korhonen tells of the early Neogrammarian scholar of Finno-Ugrian linguistics, Arvid Oscar Gustav Genetz (1848–1915), who set off on a few great research journeys.
On 7 May 1889 he set out with Severi Nyman yet again towards the east, this time with the objective to study the easternmost dialect of Zyryan — eastern Permyak or Komi-Yaz’va — a previously unstudied, unique language with at that time possibly 3,000 speakers who lived on the western edge of the central Urals on the Yaz’va river, part of the Kama basin.
Genetz worked for about a month in the village of Parshakova in the Volost of Upper Yaz’va, in the district of Cherdyn which came under the Government of Perm. Because of the prejudiced and hostile reaction in the village, Genetz thought it best to leave before he had time to complete his research program.
I wondered what exactly his difficulties were, and I tracked down the source, Genetz’s paper ‘Ost-permische Sprachstudien’, published in Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 15 (1897).
Das Material zur vorliegenden Arbeit wurde im Dorfe Parschakowa von der Wolost Werch-Jaswa im Tscherdynschen Kreise des Gouvernements Perm während einiger Wochen im Mai 1889 von mir gesammelt. Mein hauptsächliches Augenmerk war nur das Verhältniss dieses bisher unbekannten Dialekts der permischen Sprache zu der von Rogow beschriebenen westlichen Mundart im Kreise Solikamsk das nämlichen Gouvernements festzustellen, was wohl auch im Grossen und Ganzen gelungen ist. Eine genauere Beschreibung des betreffenden Dialekts häte vor Allem erfordert das syrjänische Wörterbuch von Wiedemann vollständig durchzunehmen, wozu ich aber nicht die Gelegenheit hatte, theils weil die misstrauische, ja sogar feindliche Haltung der altgläubischen Bevölkerung die Arbeit seht erschwerte und ein längeres Verweilen in der Gegend beinahe unmöglich machte, theils weil mein Reiseplan auch andere Zweige des finnisch-ugrischen Sprachstammes umfasste.
So Genetz isn’t any more specific. This leaves a lot of room for imagination. I picture a poor student clutching his notebooks and dictionaries to his chest as he flees a violent mob of indigenous minority villagers uninterested in preserving their language. For me, things are much less violent, if similarily unproductive, for when young Mari speakers see that I would rather talk about verbs than 50 Cent or how to find a job in America, they just sigh and move to the other side of the room.
I’m currently reading through André Hesselbäck’s Tatar and Chuvash Code-copies in Mari (Uppsala, 2005), the sort of doctoral dissertation I wish I could have written. It contains an account of the differing opinions on the origin of the Mari noun plural markers. These suffixes are -βlä (Hill Mari), -βlak (eastern Meadow Mari dialects, and -šaməč̂ (central Meadow Mari dialects).
The traditional etymology of –βlä and -βlak is that they are from Chuvash. This dates back to G.J. Ramstedt’s 1952 proposal that Chuvash had once had a suffix -wlak originating from earlier *bölük. Now, Ottoman Turkish had a word bölük meaning ‘company’, and Mongolian features the possible Turkic loan böleg, bölüg ‘group, horde’, so Ramstedt is simply projecting this back to Proto-Turkic and assuming that Chuvash then retained it. However, neither a descendant of this Proto-Turkic word nor its supposed grammaticalization into a plural suffix are actually attested in Chuvash.
Hesselbäck finds this attribution to Chuvash far too speculative. He seizes upon a detail found in Gordeev’s Etimologicheskij slovar’ marijskogo jazyka of 1983, where the first attestation of the suffix is jeŋ-bel’ak ‘person-pl’. One notes here that there is a palatalized l’. This suggests that the suffix may be linked to an element in such place names as Paražbel’ak, Aržbel’ak, and also (in a variant form) in Esmekplak and Jadə̂kplak.
This element of placenames may in turn go back to a work originally referring to the division of land in peasant communities, for as Hesselbäck writes:
Mari villages were divided into smaller units, consisting of 10–30 houses, and these units constituted smaller village communities … In these village communities, the cultivable soil belonged to the village community and the production mode in use was the three-field technique. Each peasant, or household, was given one or a couple of shares in the three fields the soil was divided into … According to Paasonen, the village of Churaeva, situation to the north of Birsk in Bashkortostan, was divided into territorial units, each consisting of 10–15 houses, and the name of such a unit was koɣə̂l’o-pökla.
This term for land division even has parallels in other Finno-Ugrian languages, namely Udmurt (böl’ak, bel’ak ‘neighbour’) and Komi (e.g. pe̮l’a ‘field’). Hesselbäck sums it all up in the following concluding words:
I argue that the Mari plural suffix -βlak originates in an administrative term, based on kinship and the distribution of cultivable lands, a term that has parallels in other Finno-Ugrian languages in the Middle Volga region. It was probably initially used as collective suffix, gradually acquiring the function of a general plural ending. The Turkic influence can in this respect be restricted to an indirect influence in the form of a system for the distribution of land, but given the fact that the Volga Bulgars originally were cattle-keeping nomads, this does not seem very probable.
YLE, the Finnish broadcasting company, has run a Russian-language programme called Uzy Druzhby, but it is now supplemented with news snippets in Erzya and Komi. These can be listened to online.
I’ve always been rather disappointed that the library of my department doesn’t have audio material for students to reach real proficiency in listening, but the amount of Internet resources for audio in the Uralic languages is becoming so large that one can get meaningful exposure to them without a trip to Russia.
On the URA-List, Johanna Laakso brought attention to an announcement at an Adobe employee’s weblog suggesting that Adobe will not be supporting the Cyrillic characters used in Mari, Udmurt, and Komi-Zyrian, as well as the neighbouring Turkic languages Bashkir and Chuvash. Apparently even common Old Church Slavonic characters will not be provided. Feedback can be posted there.
The problem isn’t in the realm of character sets, sticking with an outdated system of code pages instead of embracing Unicode. Instead, it’s just a matter of Adobe not wanting to undertake the painstaking task of designing fonts that cover the entire Cyrillic range of Unicode. Well, at least LaTeX’s Computer Modern font family has long been extended to cover almost all Cyrillic-based alphabets, it’s all free.
A relatively new Udmurt news and information portal was set up at www.udmportal.com, but this is sadly defunct now. There’s already a similar portal for Komi, and such a site serves as important signs-of-life for students in the West. I encourage all to regularly patronize such sites so their proprietors know that there are interested people out there.
Currently sitting in Chicago’s dreadful O’Hare airport waiting for my flight to Finland, I present you with some Finno-Ugric news Johanna Laakso sent out on the Ura-list:
In general FU news:
WEB-FU, the electronic journal of the Vienna Finno-Ugrists cordially welcomes old and new readers and awaits your contributions from all areas of Finno-Ugric studies in the broadest sense of the word, including Hungarology, Fennistics, linguistics, literature and cultural studies.
As of now, it is possible to order automatic information about new contributions. The subscribers of the new WEBFU e-mail list will be automatically notified as soon as a new article appears in WEB-FU. To subscribe or unsubscribe, simply visit the list homepage or, in case of technical problems, contact Johanna Laakso (firstname.lastname@example.org) .
And Komi news:
The Komi newspaper “Komi mu” (http://www.komipress.ru/smi/issues.php?id=7 ) is available online. Most articles are only accessible to registered users, but those marked with “FREE” can be accessed without registration.
More about more news sources are available in the endangered Uralic languages—I’ve previously covered Mordvin and Mari—making it easier and easier for people in the West to study them. Well, once they have gotten over the initial and considerable hurdle of finding a basic textbook and grammar. That isn’t getting any easier.