Changes to this blog

So far I have been managing my linguistics blog, my travel blog and a grabbag of other subjects as separate WordPress platforms. In the coming days, I intend on merging these into a single blog for ease of maintenance. Those interested in only the linguistics posts will be able to subscribe to them separately from the rest of the content, but you will have to update your RSS subscription. Stay tuned at for more.

EDIT: The merge is complete. Please update your addresses. I have set up a redirection so that subscriptions to content from my linguistics blog will continue to work, but eventually it is better to subscribe to the new feed address for language posts (RSS, Atom) or for all content at (RSS, Atom).


You may have noticed that the site has a new name and URL. I am feeling more confident in my research, having nearly completed my M.A. and thinking ahead to my application for doctoral studies, so I think the site deserves a new look. I also want to write in a more serious manner than before, including references to publications cited, so that I can generate both weblog entries and occasionally formal publications out of the same source. However, much of the content here will remain the same: whatever I come across in my day to day reading.

My master’s thesis proposal

Now that I have one year remaining in my master’s studies, the time has come to choose a subject for thesis. Here is the proposal as approved by the department today.

For my master’s thesis, I would like to systematically describe the inventory of verbs of motion in Mari. Learners of Mari are confronted with a bewildering amount of verbs generally translated as ‘go’ or ‘leave’ in English, but which native Mari speakers perceive as appropriate for different contexts.

Little scholarly writing has been done on Mari verbs of motion, and the definitions of these verbs given in Mari learning materials are incomplete and directed mainly towards a native Russian-speaking audience. Therefore, a careful study of these verbs will be of value to more than a single audience. On one hand, it will contribute to the theoretical understanding of the Finno-
Ugrian languages. On the other hand, it will also benefit those working towards proficiency in practical spoken Mari, especially those who are not native Russian speakers.

A theoretical framework for the study of verbs of motion in Finno-Ugrian languages has already been developed by Torbjörn Söder in his doctoral thesis “Walk This Way”: Verbs of Motion in Three Finno-Ugric Languages, Studia Uralica Upsaliensa 33 (Uppsala, 2001). Söder’s work examines North Khanty, North Saami and Hungarian, but it offers a general method for categorizing verbs of motion and an example to follow in deriving useful information from written sources and informants. Extending this to Mari would be a feasible goal for the master’s thesis.

However, as my main interest is language contact between Mari and its neighbors, I would like to examine one further aspect of Mari verbs of motion, namely their origins. Besides its inventory of verbs of motion inherited from Proto-Uralic, Mari has borrowed some core verbs of motion from its southern neighbor Chuvash. It would be interesting to see what role these shared lexemes play in the Chuvash system of verbs of motion, and how they may have changed in being integrated into the Mari system.

In order to achieve as complete a view as possible of these verb systems, I intend on visiting Mari and Chuvash villages for the month of July 2008 to carry out interviews with local informants along Söder’s lines. The remainder of the Spring 2008 term and the whole of the Fall 2008 term will be dedicated to intensive theoretical reading in order to productively process and elaborate the material gained from fieldwork and written sources.

Mari’s relations with Tatar are nearly as significant as those with Chuvash. I would like to do fieldwork on the Tatar system of verbs of motion sometime in the 2008–2009 academic year. However, I am unsure if time and funding will permit.

Breaking the hiatus

I am busier than ever, but unfortunately my current activities don’t make for very interesting blogging. After reaching proficiency in Mari, I’ve had to go and start from scratch with Chuvash, and I can’t seem to write any entertaining posts from the very elementary level I am currently at. My theoretical reading has dropped because of the sheer burden of having to quickly learn to speak certain languages in a practical context. Nonetheless, I have a few things to report.

I am currently at work on an English translation of Ya. G. Grigoryev’s Mari textbook Марийский язык: пособие для начинающих изучать марийский язык (Yoshkar-Ola: Marijskoe Knizhnoe Izdatelstvo, 1953). It’s old and somewhat Stalinist, but it’s a remarkably well-organized book. I should be finished with the translation by the summer, and I’m happy that an English-language Mari textbook will soon be available for those many students whose Russian isn’t yet adequate. One Finno-Ugrianist recently reported that he is in negotiations to translate the Марийский язык для всех textbook into English, so 2007 and 2008 promise to make learning Mari much easier.

My travel plans this summer are Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan) in June, Russia (Mari El and Chuvasia) in July, and Moldova and Romania in August–September. My big goal for the summer is feeling as comfortable with the Turkic languages as I am with the Finno-Ugrian languages, preparing myself to professionally specialize on language contact between Mari and its Turkic neighbours, as well as to get by better in Kazakhstan where I foresee returning frequently.

Back to blogging

As readers must surely have noticed, this weblog went on a long hiatus back in January. In the spring semester, I was focused so much on learning Mari that most of my other activities came to a standstill. That concentration paid off, as after just six months I was able to fairly comfortably converse in Mari, but my studies didn’t have that breadth that could have made for interesting posts. Well, that has now changed. My advanced Mari studies produce plenty of translations that I can post here, my addition of Chuvash (and soon Tatar) to the mix means that I can examine the fascinating relationship between Mari and its neighbours, and in the fall semester I intend on taking an enormous load of general Finno-Ugrian linguistics courses.

My summer travels were fairly productive in terms of linguistics activities. I spent most of May in Russia, first practising Mari in Yoshkar-Ola and one samogon-clouded day in a village, and then taking part in IFUSCO (International Finno-Ugrian Student Conference), held this year in Saransk. While I was happy to finally speak Mari with people other than my tutor in Helsinki, finding speakers is an enormous frustration. In Yoshkar-Ola, asking a shopkeeper ‘Do you speak Mari?’ is universally met with ‘No’ and a frown. I met a number of Mari students, but they seemed little interested in this foreigner and his love for their native language. I also spent a day in Cheboksary, where I bought a few Chuvash items, and later two days in Kazan, where I got a Tatar textbook.

Towards the end of May I traveled by means of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Ulan-Bator. Mongolian sounded nothing like I thought it would, very vague and slurred instead of the sharpness I’ve always identified with agglutinative languages. Still, I’m sure I’ll eventually learn at least the written language, with all its comforting ‘Altaic-ness’.

I was in China for nearly two months. My Mandarin skills got a good workout, and I think I’ve gained back all that I’ve forgotten since studying the language at Defense Language Institute over seven years ago. But since one use of the language was fruitlessly pleading with and shouting at station clerks for train tickets, difficult to come by lately, I have unfortunately come to associate the language with stress and hassle. I spent four days in Vietnam, but except for Mandarin, which I didn’t exactly choose to learn, it seems that tonal isolating languages just aren’t my thing.

Towards the end of July I worked my way up to Xinjiang, that area of China better described as East Turkestan. Uighur people were very amiable and their food delicious, but since I’m a visual language learner and I haven’t yet mastered the Arabic script, I got nothing. Once I took an overnight bus from Urumqi to Almaty in Kazakhstan, however, things got better. As Kazakh uses the Cyrillic alphabet, I could walk around the city absorbing words, many of which I already know from Turkic loans into Mari (e.g. акша ‘money’ cf. Mari окса). I didn’t hear much Kazakh, however, as Almaty is a Russian-speaking town in spite of the official status given to Kazakh.

Back in Russia I’ve spent a week in Yoshkar-Ola, this time somewhat less productive in terms of Mari-language conversation since most Mari people resident there are back in their native villages for the summer. I spent the following week in Chuvashia, with a couple of days in a village. At this point, however, I’m really burnt out with anything outside (my conception of) Western Europe, and am looking forward to moving on. I’ve got enough books and newspapers to keep me busy until my next visit to the Volga republics, which will probably be in the spring.

So far I’ve been keeping up a good pace of posts. Unfortunately, I’m still on the road, and will be away from the Internet for various lengths of time. Today I intend on hitchhiking from Moscow to the south of Romania, where I will relax on the Black Sea beach for a week.

Looking towards Spring 2006

It was a rather disappointing winter vacation (though it was nice to be back in Cluj, which really feels like home now), but now I’m back to blogging and preparing to return to my studies. Looking ahead to the spring semester, I hope to finally get started on actual degree-related coursework and understand and actively participate in lectures instead of just wandering in the purgatory that is Finnish for Foreigners. Along with two general Finno-Ugrian courses I will be taking intensive intermediate Hungarian and tutoring in Mari. Hopefully I’ll be able to add the occasional distraction of Swedish for foreigners. Presumably substantial studies will lead to substantial blogging, so stay tuned.

New semester

Now that I finally have a library card, and now that lectures have finally begun, I can begin posting again. I’ve got lots of great material on the way, real stuff people actually would like to read, so I hope my meagre audience remains and maybe even new readers will come.

My courses this semesters are:

  • Introduction to Finno-Ugrian linguistics
  • The diachrony of the Khanty language
  • Finnish for foreigners
  • Swedish for international students

I am also hoping to arrange conversation in Hungarian and tutoring in Mari.

I suspect my Swedish lecturer has some kind of training as a historical linguist, since the first thing he put up on the projector was an IPA vowel chart, and he spent more time talking about how Swedish was spoken in ages past than teaching modern conversational bits. I’m quite happy in this course, but I suspect after the tumultuous first day when the students around memurmured such discontented phrases as What’s a phoneme?, much fewer people will come for the second lecture and after.