Finno-Lappic languages

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Northern Fennoscandia, Baltic states
Linguistic classification: Uralic
  • Finno-Lappic
Glottolog: None
Approximate distribution of Finno-Lappic languages, across Finland, Estonia, Ingria, Karelia, and Sápmi

The Finno-Lappic languages (also Finno-Saamic, Finno-Samic, Saamic–Fennic) are a hypothetical subgroup of the Uralic family, and are made up of 22 languages classified into either the Sami languages (or Lappic), which are spoken by the Sami people who inhabit the Sápmi region of northern Fennoscandia, or Finnic languages, which include the major languages Finnish and Estonian.[1] The grouping is not universally recognized as valid.[2]

A related hypothesis proposes a "Northwest" group of Finno-Ugric languages, encompassing not only Finnic and Sami, but also extinct languages once spoken in the north of European Russia, traceable only as substrata, especially in toponymy.[3]

Arguments for and against genetical unity[edit]

When the hypothetical Finnic-Sami protolanguage (also known as Early Proto-Finnic) is reconstructed, it turns out phonologically nearly identical to assumed preceding stages such as Proto-Finno-Volgaic, Proto-Finno-Ugric, and even Proto-Uralic itself.[4]

There are a number of noticeable traits common to most Finno-Lappic languages, however none of them unquestionably in favor of a family unity. The first of these is the presence of consonant gradation, found in all of the languages except the marginal languages of the group, Livonian, Veps and Southern Sami. Gradation is also found in the distantly related Samoyedic Nganasan, and it has been debated if gradation is an original Uralic feature suppressed in all other branches, an independent innovation in Finno-Lappic and Nganasan, or independent in all three of Finnic, Samic and Nganasan. Also, even if gradation in Finnic and Samic is connected, it is disputed whether this represents common inheritance or later contact influence.[4]

The contrastive presence of rounded vowels beyond the first syllable, atypical of Uralic languages in general, is also found in both Finnic and Samic (and again also Samoyedic). This too has been argued to represent later contact influence, on the basis of comparisons such as F. *enoj : S. *eanoj "maternal uncle", where the exclusively Finnic development *aj > *oj appears to have been loaned into Samic. There is also considerable disagreement between the languages (both between the two families, and within them) in whether certain words contain a rounded vowel.[4]

The loss of initial *w before a short rounded vowel has also been proposed as a common innovation, but with counterexamples such as Estonian võtta- "to take" (with *w preserved as its regular reflex /ʋ/ due to the development *o > /ɤ/) suggesting a date postdating not only the split between Finnic and Samic, but also of northern and southern Finnic (cf. Finnish otta-).[4] (A complementary epenthesis of *w before initial long rounded vowels is accepted to not represent common inheritance, as it occurs also before long vowels resulting from the exclusively Samic development *a > .[citation needed])

For morphological features common to Samic and Finnic formerly thought to represent Finno-Lappic innovations, explanations have likewise been offered either of common Uralic inheritance or of independent innovation.[4]


  1. ^ Grenoble, Lenore (2003). Language Policy in the Soviet Union. New York: Springer. p. 15. ISBN 1-4020-1298-5. 
  2. ^ Salminen, Tapani 2002: Problems in the taxonomy of the Uralic languages in the light of modern comparative studies.
  3. ^ Helimski, Eugene (2006). "The «Northwestern» group of Finno-Ugric languages and its heritage in the place names and substratum vocabulary of the Russian North". In Nuorluoto, Juhani. The Slavicization of the Russian North (Slavica Helsingiensia 27). Helsinki: Department of Slavonic and Baltic Languages and Literatures. pp. 109–127. ISBN 978-952-10-2852-6. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Itkonen, Terho (1997). "Reflections on pre-Uralic and the "Saami-Finnic protolanguage"" (pdf). Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen 54. ISSN 0355-1253. Retrieved 2009-12-16.