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Ugric languages

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Title: Ugric languages  
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Subject: Finno-Ugric languages, Hungarian language, Ugric peoples, History of the Hungarian language, Uralic languages
Collection: Uralic Languages
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Ugric languages

The Ugric or Ugrian languages ( or ) are a hypothetical branch of the Uralic language family. The term derives from Yugra, a region in north-central Asia.

They include three subgroups: Hungarian, Khanty, and Mansi. The last two have traditionally been considered single languages, though their main dialects are sufficiently distinct that they may also be considered small subfamilies of 3–4 languages each. A common Proto-Ugric language is posited to have been spoken from the end of the 3rd millennium BC until the first half of the 1st millennium BC, in Western Siberia, east from the southern Ural mountains. However, recent reconstructions of Uralic have not generally found support for Ugric. Of the three languages, Khanty and Mansi have traditionally been set apart from Hungarian as Ob-Ugric, though features uniting Mansi and Hungarian in particular are known as well.


  • Phonetic development 1
    • Consonants 1.1
    • Vowels 1.2
  • Lexical features 2
  • Structural features 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6

Phonetic development


Two common phonetic features of the Ugric languages are a rearrangement of the Proto-Uralic (PU) system of sibilant consonants and a lenition of velar consonants:[1]

  • PU *s and *š merged and developed into a non-sibilant sound (possibly [θ] or [ɬ]), yielding Mansi /t/, Khanty *ɬ → /t/ or /l/ (depending on dialect), and lost in Hungarian.
  • PU *ś depalatalized to *s.
  • PU medial *x, *k, *w generally lenited to *ɣ.

It has however been pointed out that these changes are applicable to the Samoyedic languages as well.[2]

The consonant cluster *lm is in the Ugric languages generally reduced to plain /m/ (e.g. PU *śilmä "eye" → Hungarian szëm, Mansi сам /sam/, Khanty сем /sem/). A peculiar exception is the numeral "3", in which Hungarian (három) and Mansi (хурэм /xuːrəm/) point to an original cluster *rm, whereas the rest of the Uralic family suggests original *lm (Khanty холәм, Finnish kolme, Estonian kolm, Inari Sami kulma, Erzya колмо, etc.) This has frequently been listed as an argument for considering Hungarian closer related to Mansi than Khanty. The reverse has also been suggested—Hungarian and Mansi retaining the original form of the numeral, whereas Khanty and all the Finno-Permic languages would have innovated /l/ for some reason.[3]

Hungarian and the current literary standard Mansi and Khanty all share a spirantization of Proto-Uralic *k to /h/ or /x/ before back vowels (e.g. "fish": PU *kala → Hungarian hal, Mansi хул /xuːl/, Khanty хул /xul/. This is itself not a common Ugric feature—/k/ remains in other Mansi and Khanty dialects (Eastern Khanty /kul/, Southern Mansi /koːl/ "fish"), but it has been argued to result from a proto-Ugric split of *k to front and back allophones [k], [q], with the latter then independently spirantizing in each three cases.

The three Ugric varieties also share the lateralization of Proto-Uralic *δ to *l (as do the Permic languages), but it is possible this postcedes the emergence of retroflex *ɭ from PU *l in Khanty.[1] Another possible counterargument is the similar lateralization of the palatalized counterpart *δ́ → Mansi /lʲ/, likely to have been a simultaneous change with the lateralization of *ð. In Khanty the reflex is /j/, whereas instances of /lʲ/ also exist, which may suggest a separate development. An original *ĺ is no longer reconstructed for older stages of Uralic, however, which leaves the origin of Khanty /lʲ/ an open question.

An innovation clearly limited to the Ugric languages is the development of *ŋ to *ŋk, though there are numerous exceptions in each language to this.


The development of the vowel system remains subject to interpretation. All three Ugric branches contrast vowel length; in Hungarian this is late, generally derived by compensatory lengthening after loss of unstressed vowels and *ɣ. The Ob-Ugric languages, however, derive their quantity contrasts mainly from PU quality contrasts: thus for example in Northern Mansi, PU *peljä "ear" → *päĺ → /palʲ/, but PU *pälä "half" → *pääl → /paːl/.

Contrasts between PU stem vowels (*a/*ä vs. *i) do not survive as such in modern Ugric languages, but they commonly leave their mark on vowel qualities in the first syllable, suggesting retention of the contrast at least to the Proto-Ugric stage. For example PU *ńïxli "arrow" → Hungarian nyíl, but PU *mïksa "liver" → Hungarian máj. Remnants of original stem vowels are also found in the oldest Hungarian records, such as PU *konta "group, hunting party" → Old Hungarian hodu "army" (→ Modern Hungarian had).

Lexical features

The Ugric languages share considerable amounts of common lexicon not found in the other Uralic languages. This includes both basic vocabulary, e.g. "fire" (Hungarian tűz, Mansi таўт /taːwt/, Khanty тут /tut/) as well as more specialized terminology, particularly the word for "horse" (H ló, lov-, M луў /luw/, Kh лав /law/) and related items such as "saddle" (H nyerëg, M нагэр /naɣər/). This latter fact together with an importance of horse motifs in Ob-Ugric folklore has been used to argue for locating Proto-Ugric in the southernmost parts of Siberia, in close contact with nomadic steppe peoples if not nomadic themselves. Some loanwords from such sources into Ugric are known as well, perhaps most prominently the numeral "7": *θäpt(V) → H hét,[note 1] M сат /sat/, Kh тапәт /tapət/ (from an Indo-Iranian source; cf. Sanskrit /saptán/, Avestan /hapta/).

Names of two of the peoples are cognate as well: Hungarian magyar "Hungarian" can be equated with Mansi (from an original root *mäńć-). A related dialectal word in Khanty denotes a specific phratry.

A common derivational innovation is seen in the word for "louse": Proto-Uralic *täji → *tä(j)-ktVmV → H tetű, M такэм, Kh тевтәм.

Structural features

  • An original ablative case marked by -l
  • A series of original locative cases, formed from postpositions derived from a pronoun root *nä
  • Possessive suffixes are placed before case suffixes, not after them as in the other Uralic languages
  • A class of "instable" verb stems, in which alternation between CV and CVC stem variants occurs, e.g. "to take": Hungarian vë- ~ vëv- ~ vësz-, Mansi *wi- ~ *wæj-, Khanty *wĕ- ~ *wĕj-.
  • Distinct attributive and nominal forms of the numeral "2": Hungarian két vs. kettő, Mansi кит vs. китиг, Khanty (Northern) кат vs. катән, (Eastern) /kæt/ vs. /kætəɣ/
  • Found in Hungarian and Mansi, an extended form of the caritive suffix containing -l.
  • Distinct verb conjugations according to the transitivity of the verb. It is sometimes termed as “definite” versus “indefinite” conjugation, because also the definiteness of the object can play a role when selecting between the two. This feature is within the Uralic family also found in the Mordvinic languages, and it is likely to not represent a common Ugric innovation; the particular details of the construction are different in all three Ugric languages.
  • Verbal Prefixes – modify the meaning of the verb in both concrete and abstract ways
Examples from Mansi
ēl(a) – 'forwards, onwards, away'
jōm- 'to go, to stride' ēl-jōm- 'to go away/on'
tinal- 'to sell' ēl-tinal- 'to sell off'
xot – 'direction away from something and other nuances of action intensity'
min- 'to go' xot-min- 'to go away, to stop'
roxt- 'to be frightened' xot-roxt- 'to take fright suddenly'
Examples from Hungarian
el – 'away, off'
ugrik 'to jump' elugrik 'to jump away'
mosolyog 'to smile' elmosolyodik 'to start to smile' (implying a lack of control)
ki – 'out (of)'
ugrik 'to jump' kiugrik 'to jump out'
néz 'to look' kinéz 'to choose/pick out'

In Hungarian, the citation form of verbs is the present tense of the 3rd person singular form, which is given here, which does not have any suffixes.

See also


  1. ^ The initial /h/ is unetymological, and has been explained as influence of the adjacent numeral hat "6".


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Häkkinen, Jaakko 2009: Kantauralin ajoitus ja paikannus: perustelut puntarissa. – Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Aikakauskirja 92.
  3. ^

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