Category Archives: Udmurt

Bartens’s history of Permian vowels

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 While Bartens’s book no longer represents the state of the art in Uralic linguistics, and in the years since Sándor Csúcs has shaken the field up with such publications as Die Rekonstruktion der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. Continue reading

Names for ‘ladybug’ in Udmurt

The Диалектологический атлас удмуртского языка edited by R. I. Nasibullin et al. (Iževsk: R&C Dynamics, 2009) has a series of maps showing the distributions of the Udmurt names for various things across the area where the language is spoken. For the most items, there are only a few variants, and in the case of borrowing, Russian loans are prevalent in the north of the Udmurt Republic while Tatar loans are prevalent in the south.

The word for ‘ladybug’ (Russian божья коровка) is a different story. The atlas lists 124 variants.

Some of these are very colourful: ӵужанай ‘maternal grandmother’, вӧйын нянь сиись ‘bread-and-butter eater’. A large number are formed with зор ‘rain’ (< Volga Bulgarian, cf. Chuvash ҫур ‘snow’). Nasibullin examines these names more closely in his article“Божья коровка” в удмуртских говорах’ in the journal Иднакар (issue 2007-2).

Amusingly, after the myriad names for ‘ladybug’, the atlas documents only one name (with varying vocalism) for that most common pest on Earth, the cockroach: торокан/ таракан/тӓрӓкӓн (cf. Russian таракан).

(If this kind of variation fascinates you, in North America, the various names for the family Armadillidiidae, which I grew up calling a roly poly, have also been mapped.)

Mari and Udmurt children’s poetry

Textbooks of Finno-Ugrian languages written for foreign learners really like to give children’s poetry as translation exercises. Thus Марийский язык для всех presents the following from one Pet Pershut:

Kутко сӱан

Тыгыде кутко —
Шем кутко,
Йошкар кутко —
Ер кутко,
Сар кутко —
Сад кутко
Кеҥеж кечын сад мучко
Каеныт корно мучко,
Пурак веле тӱргалтын,
Изи йыҥгыр мӱгыралтын.
Орава да тарантас ден,
Шым гитар ден,
Шым шӱвыр ден,
Вич тӱмыр ден,
Волен, кӱзен,
Шудым пӱген,
Каеныт сӱаныш,
Рӱж миеныт йыраҥыш.

The ant wedding

Small ants,
black ants,
red ants,
lakeshore ant,
grey ants
garden ants
They made their way
though the garden on a summer day,
carrying only crumbs,
singing a little song.
With carts and wagons,
with seven guitars,
with seven bagpipes,
with five drums,
they sang and danced,
and made merry,
They went on, they went up,
They bent down grain stalks,
They went to the wedding,
with a buzz they headed into the flower-bed.

The third chapter of the Udmurt textbook Марым, леся… gives a series of several poems by Alla Kuznetsova exemplifying the numerals just introduced. Here’s the one for ‘7’:

Сизьым туж тодмо мыным,
Сизьым нунал арняын:
Вордӥськон бере пуксён,
Вирнунал, покчиарня,
Крезьгуро удмуртарня,
Кӧснунал, арнянунал.

Seven things are very familiar to me,
The seven days of the week:
Monday then Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday,
Melodious Friday
Saturday, Sunday.

I don’t much care for this. Adult learners should not be treated like children. Sure, it may be a few chapters before a student is ready for it, but it would be more dignified to bring in selections from folk songs or simple selections from novels.

Tatar and Finno-Ugrian separatism real or supposed

The Mari news site MariUver has reposted an interesting article originally published at PolitRUS about a recent political conference in Russia, which I’ve translated from Russian below. There’s an element of conspiracy ravings here; the “expert in Islamic studies” Suleymanov has drawn criticism for his claims of Tatar extremism. The last paragraph reveals something of opinions held within Russia on the Mari, Mordvin and Udmurt emigrants who have been of such help to Finno-Ugrists at European universities.

The West is Evaluating the Possibility of Supporting Islamic Separatists in the Volga Region

The issue of drawing NATO countries’ attention to outbreaks of national separatism and Islamic terrorism in the Volga Region was one of the main themes of the Sixth All-Russian Conference of Applied Studies “Наука молодых” (Study of Youth) which was held on December 18 in Arzamas (Nizhny Novgorod oblast). The conference was organized by the A. P. Gajdar Arzamas State Pedagogical Institute and drew participation from scholars and experts from neighbouring oblasts and republics. Attendees were especially interested in talks by researchers from Tatarstan, where over the last year the situation of religious extremism and national separatism has been sharpened.

As Rais Suleymanov, the director of the Volga Centre for Regional and Ethnoreligious Research РИСИ explained, starting with the “Nurlat episode” (a special forces operation to liquidate a group of armed militants in the Nurlat region of Tatarstan on November 25, 2010), as of December 2012 Tatarstan has been visited by journalists and political analysts from France, the United States, Great Britain, Holland, Poland and other countries. There have even been visitors from Australia and Brazil.

In the opinion of Suleymanov, such visits are not coincidental: Arriving under the pretext of being reporters, scholars and analysts, our Western guests often come not because of an interest in journalism or research, but in order to gather information about how serious the problem of the Volga Region becoming a hotspot is.

At the same time, in the words of this specialist in Islamic studies, the Western experts that he has met with personally use a special “methodology of communication”. Besides, the very existence of greater interest in this subject and the overwhelming desire to meet with separatists and fundamentalists speaks to the fact that the West is evaluating the possibility of financing and providing informational support to the Islamist underground and nationalists in Tatarstan, Suleymanov stated. He added that in this context one should look to the activities of journalists from the Qatar television network Al Jazeera, which has a branch in Kazan.

In addition to Suleymanov’s talk, his colleague Vasily Ivanov noted that the international terrorist organization Muslim Brotherhood through its agents in Russia has also shown an interest in Finno-Ugrian nationalist movements.

Ivanov gave his own talk titled “Finno-Ugrian separatism in the Volga Region: its ideology, the extent of its spread and foreign influences”. Analysing outbreaks of Finno-Ugrian separatism in Russia at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, the researcher pointed to the support that Mari, Mordvin and Udmurt nationalists receive today from Finland, Hungary and Estonia.

The situation is becoming more serious because anti-Russian propaganda is published on the internet by people studying in institutes of higher education in those countries — undergraduates, graduate students and PhD candidates from the Volga republics at universities in the European Union, Ivanov underlined.

Competing Udmurt Bibles

In the library of the University of Helsinki I have found two different translations of the New Testament into Udmurt.

The first translation is limited to the four Gospels, and dates from 1912. The title page bears the text Господа нашего Ісуса Христа Сватое Евангеліе отъ Матѳея, Марка, Луки и Іоанна на удмуртском языке. On the following page is written Отъ Перевоческой Коммиссіи Православнаго Миссіонерскаго Общества печатать пазрѣшается. Казань, 7 сентября 1911 года. Предсѣдатель Переводческой Коммиссій Православнаго Миссіонерскаго Общества, Профессоръ Казанской Академіи, М. Машановъ. Though the translation was first published in 1912, this is a reprinting apparently from 1973, to judge from the sole line added to the facsimile: E.B.I.1973.10000. I assume this is one of the contraband Bibles that were smuggled into Russia from Finland during the Communist era.

This translation is interesting in that it documents a transitional stage in Udmurt orthography. Although for the most part it already resembles the 1920s-era modified Cyrillic alphabet still in use today, there is one major difference that is found in words beginning with /j/. Instead of the Russian letters ю, я for /ju/ and /ja/ etc., we instead find something much like ‹ју› ‹ја›. However, unlike the usual representation of Unicode U+0458 cyrillic small letter je, this now antiquated letter is not dotted and sits entirely above the line. Scan of page from 1912 Udmurt Bible translation showing the old orthography

The other translation is of the whole New Testament, under the title Выль Сӥзён (Stockholm/Helsinki: Institute for Bible Translation, 1997) ISBN 9188974822. The Institute for Bible Translation has translated the Bible as well as e.g. retellings for children into many languages of the former Soviet Union (I’ve previously blogged about their series). According to the copyright page, this translation was undertaken by Mikhail Atamanov, a deacon with a doctorate in philology.

Since for several minority languages of Russia there exists both a translation from the late Tsarist era and a recent IBT translation, comparing the two might illustrate the evolution of the standard language. Here is John 1:1–14 in the two translations:

1912: Іоаннъ гоштэм Евангеліе


Вальлянӥсенӥк Кыл вылэм, Кыл Инмарын вылэм. Со Кыл Инмар вылэм.


Со вальлянӥсенӥк Инмарын луэм.


Коть ма но Со вамен луэм, ма гынэ луиз-ке но, Со сяна номре но кылдымтэ.


Со бордын улэп-улон вылэм, со улэп-улон адяміослы люгыт луэм.


Люгыт пеймытын люгдыса улэ, пеймыт сое шобыртыса уг бытты.


Инмарлэн лэзем одӥг муртыз вылэм, солэн нимыз Іоаннъ.


Со дышетыны лыктэм; со вамен ваньзы но мед оскозы шуса, со Люгытэз тодытыны лыктэм.


Со ачыз люгыт луымтэ, только Люгытэз тодытыны лэзьыскькемын вылэм.


Дуньнее лыктысь коть-кыӵе адяміез люгдытысь зэм Люгыт луэм.


Со дуньнейын вылэм, дуньне Со вамен кылдыськем, только дуньне Сое тодмамтэ.


Аслазъёсыз доре лыктэм, Аслазъёсыз но Сое кабыл басьтымтэзы.


Ассэ кабыл басьтысьёслы, Солэн нимызлы оскысьёслы, Инмар піос луыны кужым сётэм.


Соёс вирлэсь ӧвӧл, мугорлэсь но ӧвӧл, піосмуртлэсь но ӧвӧл, Инмарлэсь вордыськыльям.


Кыл мугоро луиз; дӧулетлы, землы тыр луыса, милемын валче улӥз: ми Солэсь быдзым вылэмзэ адӟимы, Атайлэсь огназ Вордыськемлэн быдзымез кадик быдзымзэ (адӟим).

1997: Иоаннлэсь ӟеч ивор


Кустконаз ик Кыл вылэм. Кыл Инмар дорын вылэм. Кыл Инмар вылэм.


Со кутсконаз ик Инмар дорын вылэм.


Мар кылдыны кутскем, ваньмыз Со пыр кылдыны кутскем, Сотэк номыр но кылдыны кутскымтэ.


Со бордын улон, улон адямиослэн югытсы луэ.


Югыт пеймытын пиштыса улэ, пеймыт сое ӝокатыны уг быгаты.


Инмарлэн лэзем адямиез вылэм: солэн нимыз Иоанн.


Со пыр ваньмыз мед оскозы шуыса, со шара ивортыны лыктэм, Югыт сярысь ивортыны.


Со таиз югыт вылымтэ, но ыстэмын вылэм Югыт сярысь шара ивортыны.


Вылэм зэмос Югыт, Кудӥз дуннее лыктэ но котькудзэ адямиез югдытэ.


Дуннеын вылэм, дунне Со пыр кылдыны кутскем, дунне Сое тодмамтэ.


Аслазъёс доры лыктэм, но аслазъёсыз Сое кулэ кариллямтэ.


Нош ваньмыз, кинъёс Сое кабыл басьтӥллям, Солэн нимызлы оскисьёслы, Инмар нылпиос луыны кужым сётэм.


Соос вирлэсь ӧвӧл, мугорлэн кулэ каремезлэсь ӧвӧл, пиосмуртлэн кулэ каремезлэсь ӧвӧл, – соос Инмарлэсь вордӥськиллям.


Кыл мугоро луэм, дэлетэн но зэмлыкен тыр луыса, милемын валче улӥз. Ми Солэсь пиштӥсь данлыксэ адӟимы, Атайлэсь огназ вордӥськем Пиезлэсь пиштӥсь данлыксэ.

Language death and revitalization in Russia

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 that Tatar 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.

Tuqay in Volga-Kama languages

One Tatar book being prominently displayed in Kazan bookshops is a slim volume of poems by the Tatar national poet Ğabdulla Tuqay: Габдулла Тукай, Стихотворение (Казань: Татарское книжное издательство, 2011), ISBN 9785298020398.

Remarkably, the 20 poems in this volume appear not only in Tatar and Russian translation, but also in Bashkir, Mari, Chuvash and Udmurt. This is a nice show of solidarity with other minority peoples of Russia. I’ve often bought a Russian translation of Ivanov’s Chuvash work Narspi as a gift for Mari friends as my contribution to дружба народов, but this little book allows one to present Tatar poetry to others in their own language. I’m not sure if the poems were translated into the Finno-Ugrian languages through Russian or not, though I imagine plenty of minority-language activists in this region know something of Tatar.

I’d like to give an example of one of these poems in several languages, but I don’t want to type too much, so I’ve chosen his two-line ‘Kazan’ from 1913:


Ут, төтен, фабрик-завод берлә һаман кайный Казан;
Имгәтеп ташлап савын, сау эшчеләр сайлый Казан.


Огнем заводов дни и ночи людей ты жжешь, Казань.
Здоровых погубив рабочих, ты новых ждешь, Казань.


Ут, төтөн, фабрик-завод менән һаман ҡайнай Ҡазан;
Имгәтеп ташлап һауын, һау эшселәр һайлай Ҡазан.


Заводсен вучӗпе ир те каҫ ҫынсене ҫунтаран эс, Хусан.
Чире ярсан сыввисене, ҫӗннисене кӗтетӗн эс, Хусан.


Тыл но ӵын заводъёсад адямиез сутэ, Казань…
Кужмоез бырем бере, егит борды кутскод, Казань?

Meadow Mari

Еҥлам йӱд-кече йӱлалтет завод тул ден, Озаҥ.
Таза пашазе-влакым пытарен, бучет эше, Озаҥ.

Udmurt and Tatar days of the week

A couple of years ago I wrote a post comparing the Mari and Chuvash names for the days of the week. They are very similar, dating from the time Volga Bulgar was the prestige language of the region. Udmurt also fell within the orbit of the Volga Bulgars, and its system is along the same lines.

Udmurt days of the week
Monday vordiśkon ‘birth’
Tuesday pukśon ‘sitting day’
Wednesday virnunal ‘blood day’
Thursday pokčiarńa ‘small holiday’
Friday udmurtarńa ‘Udmurt holiday’
Saturday kösnunal ‘dry day’
Sunday arńa nunal ‘holiday/week day’

Tatar’s system contrasts strongly with these neighbours, as it established stronger ties with the Muslim world. Its days of the week are taken wholesale from Persian, not even bothering to translate the traditional system that counts the number of days from Saturday.

Tatar days of the week
Monday düšämbe cf. Tajik dušanbe
Tuesday sišäbe Taj. sešanbe
Wednesday čäršämbe Taj. čoršanbe
Thursday pändžešämbe Taj. panjšanbe
Friday džomga Taj. jum’a
Saturday šimbä Taj. šanbe
Sunday yakšämbe Taj. yakšanbe

Udmurt summer courses

While I myself will be busy this summer with Mari and Chuvash, this course seems good value for anyone interested in this Finno-Ugrian language:

The Udmurt State University, the Faculty of Udmurt Philology are organizing summer courses of Udmurt under the program The Udmurt language and the culture of the Udmurts, which will be held 10.07.–30.07.2008. The courses will provide teaching at the beginners’ and advanced levels. The program of both levels will contain lectures (44h) and practical lessons (58h).

Besides classes an entertainment program is being planned.

The cost of the courses will make 250 €, including expenses for board (3 meals a day) and lodging as well as an entertainment program.

More information can be had by e-mailing though you’d do well to write in Russian or Hungarian.

The uncertain etymology of Mari plural markers I

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.