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date: 22 October 2018

The Morphology of Uralic Languages

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.

Uralic languages are synthetic, agglutinative languages, overwhelmingly suffixing, and they have a rich inflectional morphology in both the nominal and the verbal domain. The Uralic family includes about 30 languages spoken in Europe and in North Eurasia and can be divided in two branches: Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages. The differentiation of the branches and subgroups is very significant; thus, these general morphological features show a notable variation.

Agglutinating is a general feature, but there are some synchretisms, fusions, and suppletions, and all languages have postpositions beside suffixes.

Nouns and pronouns are inflected for number (singular, plural, and in some languages dual), person, and case but not for gender. All Uralic languages have a case system. However, the number and the nature of cases show a great variety: from three to 18 cases including grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, and genitive) and other, spatial and non-spatial cases. A characteristic feature of these languages is the tripartite location system. The system of personal possessive markers is particularly interesting: The person and the number of the possessor and the number of the thing possessed can be marked by suffixes. Combining the expression of possession and case, the morphotactic rules are different among the languages. Comparative and superlative adjectives are also formed by inflection.

Verbs are inflected for person/number, tense, and mood. Uralic languages generally do not have the passive voice. A characteristic feature of Ugric languages is the double conjugation of transitive verbs depending on the definiteness of the direct object. As verbal aspect is not an inflectional category, several languages use derivational affixes, namely, a rich system of preverbs in expressing aspect and Aktionsart.