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Uralic languages

Uralic languages, family of more than 20 related languages, all descended from a Proto-Uralic language that existed 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. At its earliest stages, Uralic most probably included the ancestors of the Yukaghir language. The Uralic languages are spoken by more than 25 million people scattered throughout northeastern Europe, northern Asia, and (through immigration) North America. The most demographically important Uralic language is Hungarian, the official language of Hungary. Two other Uralic languages, Estonian (the official language of Estonia) and Finnish (one of two national languages of Finlandâ??the other is Swedish, a Germanic language), are also spoken by millions.

Attempts to trace the genealogy of the Uralic languages to periods earlier than Proto-Uralic have been hampered by the great changes in the attested languages, which preserve relatively few features and therefore provide little evidence upon which scholars may base meaningful claims for a more distant relationship. Most commonly mentioned in this respect is a putative connection with the Altaic language family (including Turkic and Mongolian). This hypothetical language group, called Ural-Altaic, is not considered by most scholars to be soundly based. Although the Uralic and Indo-European languages are not generally thought to be related, more speculative studies have suggested a connection between them. Relationship with the Eskimo languages, Dravidian (e.g., Telugu), Japanese, Korean, and various American Indian groups has also been proposed. The most radical of these claims is the massive Dené-Finnish grouping of Morris Swadesh, which encompasses, among others, Sino-Tibetan (e.g., Chinese) and Athabaskan (e.g., Navajo).

The Uralic language family in its current status consists of two related groups of languages, the Finno-Ugric and the Samoyedic, both of which developed from a common ancestor, called Proto-Uralic, that was spoken 7,000 to 10,000 years ago in the general area of the north-central Ural Mountains. At its very earliest stages Uralic most probably included the ancestors of the Yukaghir languages (formerly listed as a Paleo-Siberian stock with no known relatives).

Over the millennia, both Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic branches of Uralic have given rise to more or less divergent subgroups of languages, which nonetheless have retained certain traits from their common source. For example, the degree of similarity between two of the least closely related members of the Finno-Ugric group, Hungarian and Finnish, is comparable to that between English and Russian (which belong to the Indo-European family of languages). The difference between any Finno-Ugric language and any Samoyedic tongue would be even greater. On the other hand, more closely related members of Finno-Ugric, such as Finnish and Estonian, differ in much the same manner as greatly diverse dialects of the same language.


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