This project ‘Language diversification and spread in the North: the Samoyedic story’ addresses the fundamental question of development of linguistic diversity through an analysis of linguistic variation and change in the North. It does so by carefully reconstructing the details of evolution of Northern Samoyedic languages located at the reaches of the Lower Yenisei river. The following modern languages fall under the geographic grouping ‘Northern Samoyedic’: Tundra Nenets, Forest Nenets, Tundra Enets, Forest Enets, and Nganasan.
At the core of this project are interactions between social and linguistic processes, studied via a range of multidisciplinary methods. There are no in-depth studies of language spreads in the north, though the nomadic way of living and low population density typical for these latitudes can influence particulars of language diversification, and studying such outlier cases is crucial for linguistics. The project also aims to significantly increase the pool of the few well-described cases of language evolution in pre-agriculturalist societies (cf. Güldemann et al. 2020, McConvell 2001, Robbeets & Savelyev 2017), which are closest approximations of societies of pre-Neolithic times (Derungs et al. 2018, Sikora et al. 2017).
Beside the significant contribution to general linguistics anticipated from this project, it also aims to fill a clear gap in research on Uralic languages, to which Finnish also belongs. The state of knowledge on most Uralic languages has improved considerably in the last decades which allowed, in its turn, for data-rich studies of the origins of the Uralic speaking people (Honkola et al. 2013; Lehtinen et al. 2014; Grünthal et al. 2022). However, publicly available data on Samoyedic, the easternmost branch of Uralic, are scarce, and as a result the internal history of this branch looks like a blind spot in all these studies.
The present project has thus two interrelated aims:
• a descriptive one: to increase the body of primary linguistic data on NS by publishing field data and archival materials,
• an analytic one: to reconstruct the northward spread of Samoyedic speakers and the diversification of their languages.
The project runs in 2021-2025 at the Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian, and Scandinavian languages, University of Helsinki, Finland. It is proudly supported by the Kone foundation. This project is a spin-off of the Lower Yenisei part of the project ‘Dynamics of language contact in the circumpolar region’ realised in 2017-2021 at the Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences.