The roots of Finns and the Uralic language

Jaakko Häkkinen
(21. January 2006)

During the last decade there has emerged a "Revolutionary" school in the study of the roots of the Finns. In Finland the most arrogant lobbyist of this view is Kalevi Wiik and in Estonia Ago Künnap, but nowadays there are a large number of researchers in different countries who use the methodology and principles of Revolutionaries.

The message of the Revolutionaries is: "The Finns have not come from east (Volga - Ural -area) as the linguists earlier used to think, but from south." These revolutionary ideas are based on a few very grave errors concerning the scientific study of roots.

Firstly, at the last few decades of 20th century linguists have not thought that the Finns came from east - they have thought that the Uralic language came from there. And they still do: all the linguistic evidence proves that the Uralic expansion centre must be located somewhere between Mid-Volga and Western Siberia. (See chapter 4.)

Secondly, there is no such thing as "The Origin" of the Finns, so that the genes, the culture and the language would all have come from the same location. Let me clear this up first.

As we study these components of the origin of the Finns, language, genes and culture, we must understand that there is no simple discipline to handle them all. Material culture can only be studied by the methods of archaeology; language can only be studied by the methods of linguistics; and genes can only be studied by the methods of genetics. It would be absurd and certainly unscientific if we tried to study the language by the means of genetics - as would be trying to study weather and climate by the means of dentistry or ethnomusicology.

And still the Revolutionaries are studying the language by the methods of archaeology and genetics - they even claim that their results are more credible than those acquired by the methods of linguistics. This is the error number 1. In chapter 2 I will demonstrate the weaknesses of this Revolutionary methodology.

This mistake of the Revolutionaries is caused by their concept of the origin: they think that when they have solved one component of the origin, all the other components are thus solved as well. This is the error number 2. In chapter 3 I will disprove the basics of this view. This concept means that they imply, that the Finns were already "ready" package in their original homeland and that they arrived from there without having any linguistic, genetic or cultural contacts with any other populations.

However, it is not possible to live totally without contacts. And we know that the Finns and their ancestors have had most intensive contacts with other populations. Genetically, for example, the most frequent mother-lineage of the Finns can be traced back to south, when the most frequent father-lineage can be traced back to east (XX). If this situation is not caused by contacts, then what is?

There are also a great number of archaeologically perceivable cultural influences from east, south and west, spanning all the millennia from the first inhabitation of Finland about 8500 BC to the beginning of historical era about 1000 AD.

Linguistically there are also a great number of loanwords from different Indo-European languages from different times: Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Aryan, Proto-Iranian, Proto-Baltic, Proto-Germanic, Scandinavian, Swedish and Russian loanwords, for example.

So, I guess that even the Revolutionaries are not trying to claim that the Finns and their ancestors did not have external contacts. Then the remaining option is: they just don't understand what their concept implies and what is fundamentally wrong with it.

Further evidence for that the Revolutionaries do not even understand what they are studying, is that they proclaim "a revolution in Uralic studies". The word "Uralic" happens to be relevant only in the linguistics - there are neither Uralic genes nor Uralic archaeologically perceivable culture: even Pre-Proto-Uralic speakers must have had contacts with some other populations, so they were not a homogenous package. Actually there have never been any genetically homogenic populations anywhere but in the minds of scientists. This is the error number 3.

The Revolutionaries also proclaim that they themselves sport an interdisciplinary research, while the conservative Uralists only play with linguistics. The latter is true: Uralists are linguists, and thus they study only language. What the Revolutionaries do not understand is that the results of linguistics are the base for interdisciplinary studies, when we are concerning language. Similarly, the results of genetics are the base for interdisciplinary studies, when we are concerning genes.

Interdisciplinary study is simply connecting the autonomous results of linguistics, genetics and archaeology. It is not a separate and single method, which could solve the linguistic, genetic and cultural origins all at once, as the Revolutionaries seem to think. This is the error number 4.

Interdisciplinary connection is quite a simple task, after all: we take the results of linguistics, according to which the Proto-Uralic started to expand towards west from Mid-Volga at some time between 4000 - 2000 BC. Then we find some archaeologically perceivable cultures, which also start to expand towards west from Mid-Volga at the same time. If we find such a culture, we may connect it with the Proto-Uralic.

Similarly, if we wish to study the original inhabitants of Finland, we may take the very first Post-Glacial archaeological culture and follow its traces to south. Then we can connect some genetic markers, which also seem to originate south, with this first inhabitation of Finland. But now we cannot take the Uralic language into consideration, because it was not present in Finland at this early stage. Language of the original inhabitants of Finland was some Palaeo-European language. Even though nowadays all of them have disappeared because of Uralic and Indo-European expansions, there are certain traces of such languages in Central Europe (Schrijver 2001) and in Lapland (Aikio 2004).

Aikio, Ante 2004: "An essay on substrate studies and the origin of Saami."
Etymologie, Entlehnungen und Entwicklungen. Festschrift für Jorma Koivulehto zum 70. Geburtstag. Herausgegeben von Irma Hyvärinen, Petri Kallio und Jarmo Korhonen. Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki, LXIII. Helsinki 2004.

Schrijver, Peter 2001: "Lost languages in northern Europe."
Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and Archaeological Considerations. Edited by Christian Carpelan, Asko Parpola and Petteri Koskikallio. SUST (Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran toimituksia) 242, Helsinki 2001.

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