THE "URALIC LANGUAGE FAMILY"
INTERPRETED IN A WISER FASHION THAN A CENTURY AGO.
In the last half century, analysis of
the surviving indigenous languages of northwest Eurasia has read to a
determination of how these languages are related to one another and the
results arranged in a tree diagram (a dendrogram). It is all too easy
to turn a tree diagram into a family tree, but languages do not always
develop like a family tree. Still, the linguists of a century ago,
decided they had discovered a family tree and interpreted their results
in terms of a common ancestral people near the Ural Mountains that - in
stages - subdivided and moved away and diverged. However archeology has
never been able to support this interpretation, because the model does
not apply to the behaviour of highly nomadic peoples in the north, who
both never migrate and always migrate, who are both in one place and
everywhere at once. Since linguistics is only able to analyze
relationships between languages, and interpreting the actual
event-history, is actually speculation outside of linguistics, it has
always been possible to advance new ways of interpreting the actual
event-history that are in greater agreement with archeological and
genetic knowledge available today, and not a century ago.
Chapter 2. ORIGIN AND EXPANSION of the boat peoples,
presented the picture of reindeer peoples being compromised by a
rapidly warming climate, and being forced to quickly adapt to hunting a
variety animals in the lands being flooded by glacial meltwater. They
had to develop permanent boats, dugout canoes, to not just hunt and
fish aquatic animals but also to simply move from place to place in
their seasonal rounds similar to the behaviour of the Algonquian boat
peoples (birch-bark canoes) of Canada before European contact.
What we described was completely unknown a century
ago, when linguists interpreted their analysis of the indigenous
languages of northwest Eurasia in terms of a sequence of migrations and
linguistic divergences. The model they used had been invented in Europe
for linguistic evolution events among settled peoples - peoples who
were tied to farmlands and who often never travelled more than 50km
from their farms even once in their lifetime. The boat peoples moved
through the water systems perhaps travelling 1000km a year, moving
through family territory perhaps stopping at 5 family campsites,
arriving back at the same place only a year later, which may be
marked by the gathering of all the families at a common time and place,
to live together and affirm the tribe.
The traditional interpretation, assumed as is the
case for settled people, an original parent language, located in a
specific location of the size of a settlement area, and then when
daughter groups break away, that these daughter groups migrate away and
also form tight settlements. The steps are repeated.
But obviously this model; does not apply to highly
mobile people who belong to tribes that occupy an entire water
system, even if they actually meet as a tribe only a few weeks a year
at a common location.
The following presents the correct interpretation of
the event-history that agrees with not just the linguistic findings,
and archeological story, but also the new field of historical
population genetics. We assume the reader has already followed Chapter
2, and earlier, and has a good sense of the story told by archeology.
We assume the same region covered by the linguists a
century ago, as it is still the best one, but instead of assuming a
tight "Uralic" origin, and movements from a tight location to a tight
location, we basically assume a broad original distribution of the boat
peoples, and over the millenia, in situ (no migrations) dialectic
fragmentation. Note that a 'dialect' means the original language has
not diverged far. But when the dialectic divergence becomes very large,
the dialect is hard to understand, and is therefore a 'related
language'. So the subdivisions given below, and in the diagram
represent significant dialectic divergence according to natural
boundaries like the Ural Mountains or the borders of water systems that
tend to confine its boat peoples.
The diagram below shows the original situation,
which assumed boat peoples arrived into the waters to the west of the
Urals, before crossing the Urals into the Ob River. We assume that the
Ob River basin was uninhabited, but contained reindeer peoples
identifiable with today's Samoyeds, everywhere that reindeer were
located. (Which means the Ob River was still empty of boat peoples.
Now we have boat peoples crossing the Urals, and entering
the Ob River system and settling there.
We keep the REINDEER PEOPLE LANGUAGE there as in
stage 2, because the Samoyedic languages, from the Nenets north of the
Urals to the Ngasani of the Tamir Peninsula have survived to today, and
show evidence of a history of interractions with the boat peoples.
But it is at this point that over time, the boat
peoples on the west side of the Urals subdivides naturally as the
millenia pass, from boat peoples being contained by the waters
flowing into the Baltic (FINNIC), the waters flowing down the Volga
(VOLGIC) and the waters flowing down the Kama River. (PERMIC); Although
the Pechora flows northward linguists have connect Pechora basin
language with the Kama. The linguists of a century ago called the
languages on the west side plus the Ugric, "Finno-Ugric"
languages. In other words, the Finno-Ugric languages are identifiable
with t he expansions of the boat peoples from the lands released from
glaciers and flooded, except for one detail: there appears to have been
an influence from the reindeer peoples westward. This influence is what
created the peculiarities in the languages closer to the Urals and the
Samoyeds that caused linguists to see a component from the reindeer
STAGE 4: EAST-TO-WEST
DIFFUSION OF INFLUENCES FROM ASIAN ORIGIN REINDEER PEOPLES.
Because the linguists saw elements in the Samoyedic
languages in the nearby Finno-Ugric languages, and vice versa, they had
to determine some way to explain how it came about.
Today we see how common it is for one language to
adopt a word from another language. For example, European languages
adopt English words from the world of popular culture in the media. It
depends on what is significant. If both languages are of equal
importance, the borrowing will go both ways.
However, historical linguistic methodology as
developed a century ago, cannot deal with intensive borrowing that can
be called convergence. Convergence means speakers of both languages do
not like the differences that are impediments to communication, and
seek to reduce these impediments. If the two languages are already
similar, such as for example Finnic dialect versus Volgic dialect, then
the two sides will simply choose, in practice to use mostly the words
already in common. (I gave elsewhere the example in Canada of the
Ojibwa language and Cree language meeting at Sioux Lookout and the
natural developing of a language known today as "Oji-Cree" We can
imagine a similar development today if Finns and Estonians form a
single community - the result being "Finnstonian".
But if the two languages are significantly
different, as would be the case between the European-originating boat
peoples and the Asian-originating reindeer people?
We can imagine what we would do easily. Each side
learns the most commonly used words of the other language, and then
both their languages are peppered with words of the other language, but
of course twisted to the characteristics of their own language.
Over a long period such developments would become
internalized and today's linguists would not be able to determine which
word came from which. More significantly, in constructing a sequence of
events, linguistics would not be able to tell, whether the similar
words in both languages developed from DIVERGENCE FROM A COMMON PARENT,
or CONVERGENCE FROM DIFFERENT PARENTS.
Thus the new wiser approach that agrees with the
story from archeology, is TWO origins - one in Europe, one in Asia. The
two meet at the Ural Mountains originally around 11,000-10,000 years
ago and for several centuries there is this contact in which both sides
adopt the most commonly used words from the other language, and in
effect create a hybrid language.
However, since the contacts would occur only
between the boat peoples closest to the reindeer people, and that these
boat peoples also have contacts westwards (such as Kama River boat
peoples having regular contacts with Volga River boat peoples, and
Volga River boat peoples having contact with the Finnic in waters
draining to the Baltic) any hybrid language developed from contact, is
then passed on in decreasing degrees westward.
So what the linguist sees is elements of the
reindeer people language in decreasing amounts from the Ob to Kama,
Kama to Volga, Volga to Baltic. But because at the same time there is
in situ dialectic divergence going on, it SEEMS like there are jumps in
language that look like migrations might.
In the above two origins approach,
1) There never existed any common parent for the boat people language
and the reindeer people language - (unless it was found in central
Europe in a common Ice Age reindeer hunter language)
2) There never was any 'migrations' except for the initial
rapid expansion from south of the glaciers to the Urals which
established the original language in all the water geography. Dialectic
divergence occurred more or less concurrently. There was no sequence of
events. Thus the Finns were at the Baltic 12,000 years ago, but of
course the language changed over time as a result of the reindeer
people influences, to the degree the influence travelled so far west.
3) There was no divergence by migration. It was all in situ
divergence from original dialects becoming extreme, and subdialects
also becoming extreme, resulting in the modern groupings of languages
(Finnic, Volgic, Permic, Ob-Ugric) which include languages as well as
further sub-sub-dialects in each group.
4) What there was was simply a hybrid language developing at points of
contact between the boat peoples and reindeer peoples probably
beginning in the central Urals location where four rivers meet and high
mountains are found suitable for reindeer herds.. This hybrid language
has secondary diffusion into the Volgic and Finnic languages, in
If this is true, linguistics has gone about their
analysis the wrong way. They should first recognise that Finnic
languages will be the purest boat people languages, and that
Finno-Ugric languages closer to the Urals, will have more of the
influences from the reindeer people languages, bearing in mind the
reindeer people languages too will have been influenced by the boat
COMPLICATIONS FROM THE FIELD OF POPULATION GENETICS.
In recent years, the new field of population
genetics, has identified in todays Samoyedic reindeer people, high
frequencies of the N-haplogroup carried by men. It is as high as
98% in the Tamyr Peninsula. Geneticists have determined its origin
in China in the late Ice Age - some 20,000 years ago or more.
They trace it shift northward, mostly up through the Central Siberian
Plateau by which it can arrive both at the Tamyr Peninsula and the
lands of the Yakuts to the east.
But another route had a variant of the N-haplogroup moving north
through the Urals, beginning at the lower end, about 12,000 years ago
and arriving at the north end about 10,000 years ago. Then at some
point, it migrated west along the arctic coast to northern Finland,
were we can presume it was originally mostly in the Saami
Since the advancing of this interpretation (by Rootsi et
al), population geneticist have learned how to identify the smallest
mutations of the N-haplogroup. and go so far as to try to match these
mutations with the century old linguistic theory - in spite of it not
agreeing with archeology - depicting a series of migrations. The issue
is that the N-haplogroups spilled out of the reindeer peoples, into the
boat peoples, and is found in Finno-Ugric men generally, although in
If we went by populations genetics and the
century-old linguistic model, then that would mean Finno-Ugric men were
Asiatic peoples in origins, who intermarried with Europeans in more
recent times. But who were the Europeans. Did they migrate into
Finno-Ugric peoples in relatively recent history? Or are we looking at
Asiatic peoples who simply switched from being reindeer people to boat
people during the period of climate warming that put reindeer and their
hunters in peril.
The idea of Asiatic genetics entering the boat
peoples, and mixing with European genetics already established by the
expansion of boat peoples, is probably the answer, because the y-DNA
N-haplogroup can easily descend from the Urals, join the way of life of
the boat peoples, and diffuse not just their N-haplogroup but also
their language into the boat peoples. By this scenario, the
diffusion of both their language and N-haplogroup through the world of
the boat people, is more direct.
Thus during the entire period when the N-haplogroup
reindeer people were moving north through the Urals, trying to keep
their reindeer herds alive in the heat, this reindeer-based way of life
was in peril. Reaching the middle Urals by 11,000 years ago, a miracle
happens. They meet some boat peoples who have arrived, and they have
the perfect way of life all figured out! So those reindeer people most
stressed, learn how to make boats and hunt in the marshes, and join the
world of the boat peoples. There will be some issues, though,
regarding territory, but I think that was solved by the fact that the
Pechora basin was not inhabited by any boat peoples, so the former
reindeer people assumed a boat oriented way of life in the Pechora. On
the positive side, because it was in the north, draining into the
arctic ocean, it was also possible to continue their reindeer-oriented
way of life too. Population genetics has found a moderately high
frequency of the N1c1 haplogroup - the same one that migrated to
northern Finland - in the Pechora water basin area. Thus,
reindeer people became part of the boat people in the Pechora, and then
became involved in the fur trade, and travelled south to the junction
of the Kama and Volga where there must have been fur trade markets.
That leaves the reindeer people who reached northern
Finland. If the reindeer people were successful, there was still
those on the southern frontier, who were attracted to the way of life
of the boat peoples towards the south. Once again, these reindeer
people joined the boat peoples, particularly as traders, and spread
their N-hapologroup towards the south, in diminishing amounts except
that there would be a higher concentration at the southeast Baltic,
because there was a fur trade market there where Elblag is found today.
Thus, the diffusion of language and male genetics
was not a simple domino-effect, but also more directly as a result of
INDIVIDUAL MIGRATIONS of N-haplogroup men with ancestors who were Asian
reindeer people, into the various water systems. Settle down with a
local wife, have a male child, and the haplogroup gets passed on into
the world of the boat peoples.
The whole story is actually very simple, if we
realize just how attractive it was for reindeer people to adopt the
boat-oriented way of life already
and become one of them. The finding of a common language, then, did not
have to occur in one place, but could occur at every location,
especially in the fur trade. So it was not a matter of an hybrid
language being transmitted, but of hybrid languages producing new
variations of hybrid languages. Let us say the Perchora boat people of
reindeer people origins originally used their reindeer people language.
They travel south to meet with Kama boat people often, and so a
Pechora-Kama hybrid language develops . Then the Pechora man travels
down the Kama and meets with Volgic boat people. The Pechora-Kama
hybrid language picks up some Volgic elements and vice versa.
Repeat for fur trade going up the Volga to the Finnic world. It
can certainly end up looking like what linguists found, all being an
accumulation of steps of influences and not of any divergence, other
than the continuing hidden in situ divergence going on in general.
This approach, finally agrees with the findings of
archeology, genetics, and linguistics in its pure sense (without trying
to interpret it.)
It is worth noting that even though the century old
theory of there being a "Uralic" parent, that "Uralic" parent has
remained ambiguous. The is nothing pointing to its ever existing other
than that the linguistics needed it to utilize the tree dialgram
approach. There is a very good explanation, then, why linguistics has
failed to identify an ultimate "Uralic" parent at any tight location -
it never existed.
The whole story is about the meeting of boat peoples
expanding east out of Europe. with Asian reindeer people at the Urals,
with the former causing much of the latter to capitulate and join the
boat peoples, during a time when tundra reindeer were threatened by
rapidly warming climate, that was as warm as today by 12,000 years ago,
and even warmer, millenia later. Reindeer can survive in warmer
temperatures, but in the wild, they need to eat lichens, plants only
found in the tundra or high elevations of mountains.
Today, reindeer are only found in the polar section
of the Urals. North of it are the Samoyedic peoples known as the
Nenets. I have always wondered if the Nenets are descendants of these
reindeer people - those who managed to reach the north with reindeer
and did not abandon their original way of life.
Since this webpage has been
constantly updated - edited and changed - sources and references are
acknowledged where possible in the text or beside the picture. If a
statement is made or picture shown, without a source, that means the
image is either fully original by the author (A.Paabo)or significantly
modified artistically. One book that has special signifiance to
this project is: Eesti Esiajalugu, Jaanits et al, 1982, Tallinn.
author: A.Paabo, Box 478,
Apsley, Ont., Canada
2013 (c) A. Pääbo.