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The language and the people move in different ways

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The original homeland of the Finns is no longer primarily a linguistic problem, even though conclusions about Finnish prehistory have traditionally been drawn from linguistic theories. However, the confirmation by gene researchers that the genotype of Finns is surprisingly European is also one of the hottest topics for discussion among linguists.

Research which confirms the western genotype is in conflict with the old concept of the original area of the Finns, as they were also believed to originate from Russia. Linguistic evidence was the basis of the earlier fairly reasonable presumption that the people come from the same place as the language – the east.

Ulla-Maija Kulonen, a professor from the department of Finno-Ugric languages, points out that it is now understood more clearly that language and people migrate in different ways. People do not actually have to walk from one spot to another in order to spread their language and forms of culture.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki, for instance gene researcher Antti Sajantila, have confirmed that Finns are, genetically speaking, closer to Europeans than Saamis, who proved to be absolutely unique on the genetic map of Europe. The genetic resemblance between Finns and Europeans had also been discovered in earlier research, but the interpretation had been that the European genes had been inherited from immigrants by a people which nevertheless originated in the east.

Other Finnish researchers are also perplexed these days by the conflict between the western body and the eastern language. On the other hand, the Asian origin of Finns was a topic of speculation in the 19th century, as it was noticed that the Finno-Ugrian inheritance contained some eastern substance.

The stronly western genetic origin of the Finns has been evident for 20 years. Now a multi-disciplinary approach to the search – with cooperation between archaeologists, linguists and genetic researchers – has proven to be even more important than before.

“The results of the genetic Europeannss of the Finns do not seem strange, as it has been known for a long time how similar people outside Africa are genetically,” says Ulla-Maija Kulonen.

The clear eastern origins of the language

Even though many scientists think that pondering the origins of a people is in scientific terms hopeless tinkering, it is undoubtedly interesting. The eastern origin of the Finnish language is for linguists, however, quite clear.

The Finnish language was brought over by some perhaps small population from the east, from Russia. According to Kulonen, the Uralic protolanguage is clear in the sense that it is easy to find the old common denominators between the languages.

The eastern origins of the language are confirmed by archaeological evidence which shows that there was a “comb-ceramic” stone-age culture in Finland from around 3000 BC. Comb-ceramics and the Finno-Ugric language area have generally been considered to belong together.

“Flint was a central stone-age material. The Finnish word for flint, pii, is clearly a Uralic word. In Finland, flint is found as an object or material as well as a word, from 3000 BC. Natural flint can be found in the Proto-Uralic language area but not in Finland,” continues Kulonen.

It was confirmed in the 17th and 18th centuries that the Finno-Ugric languages were related. Common structural characteristics and specific elements prove that the Uralic language family has an ancient common core, the Uralic protolanguage.

The roots of Finnish and the languages it is related to can be traced to a common protolanguage which existed at least 6,000 years ago. Together with the Samoyed languages, the Finno-Ugric languages form the Uralic language family.

Languages belonging to the Uralic family are spoken from Central Europe all the way to the Arctic Ocean: the Finns are found at the western edge, the Khantys and Mansis at the eastern. Language is the only clear common denominator among the Uralic peoples.

Central aspects of the vocabulary and grammar of the Finnish language are derived from Proto-Uralic. Even though Finnish shares its roots with many eastern languages, it has vocabulary which has been borrowed from the neighboring western and southern languages. With the aid of comparative linguistics the ancient Uralic traits can be pinpointed.

In her book on the linguistic aspect of the prehistory of the Finns (“Suomalaisten esihistoria kielitieteen valossa”, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1996), professor Kaisa Häkkinen also deals with the idea that the Finno-Ugric and Indo-European languages might be related. This has been hypothesized because the Finno-Ugric languages contain words which have cognates in Indo-European languages. To date, these words have rather been interpreted as loans than as a sign of a prehistoric relation. However, the common words are seen as evidence of primeval contacts between the languages and also geographical links. The origins of the Indo-Europeans are, however, even more vague and disputable than those of the Uralic peoples, Häkkinen concludes.

According to Ulla-Maija Kulonen, the Indo-European and Uralic language families were geographically close six to seven thousand years ago, when the protolanguages were spoken. She is fascinated by the question of whether these two protolanguages originate from a common form of language. Original home between the Urals and the Baltic

The most recent archaeological and linguistic research shows that Finland has been inhabited uninterruptedly since the end of the Ice Age, i.e. about 9,000 years. These days the original home of the Uralic language family is most commonly believed to have been situated in the coniferous forest area between the Urals and the Baltic. Some researchers have suggested that the original homeland of the Uralic people stretched even further west, to northern central Europe.

The original home has previously been south in Russia in the Altai mountains, western Siberia, the Urals and around the Volga bend. The original homeland is often believed to have existed in the north because our oldest vocabulary refers to northern coniferous forests. Such words include kuusi (spruce), suksi (ski), and lumi (snow). Before the discovery of our eastern linguistic relatives and the beginning of diachronic comparative linguistics, Finns were even considered to have been the first inhabitants in the north after the languages were mixed.

It was thought for a ong time that speakers of Proto-Finnish had probably come from the Volga region around the big Volga bend a couple of thousand years ago.

“The idea of the original home around the Volga bend is a hundred years old. The concept of a large original homeland reaching from the Urals to the Baltic was also presented at the beginning of this century, even though it was only reintroduced in the 1970s,” says Kulonen.

By Pia Koivisto

Source and date not noted.

June Pelo


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