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The five less numerous Baltic-Finnic groups-- Karelian, Veps, Ingrian, Votic, and Livonian--lie within Russia and the Baltic nations, largely in the general vicinity of the Gulf of Finland. The Karelians, Veps, and Livonians were among the original Baltic-Finnic tribes; Votic is considered to be an offshoot of Estonian, and Ingrian a remote branch of Karelian. None of these languages currently has a literary form, although unsuccessful initial attempts to establish one have been made for all but Votic (for Livonian as early as the 19th century, for the others during the 1930s). Since the beginning of the 20th century, the numbers of these Baltic-Finnic speakers have been drastically reduced, and, with the exception of Karelian and Veps, their extinction within several generations seems certain. Ingrian, Votic, and Livonian each have fewer than 1,000 speakers.

Karelian, the largest of these groups, with about 86,000 speakers--not counting those Karelians who emigrated into Finland following World War II--lies along a broad zone just east of the Finnish border from just north of St. Petersburg to the White Sea. A separate group of Karelians is found far to the south near Tver (formerly Kalinin) on the upper Volga. Karelian has two major dialects, Karelian proper and Olonets (aunus in Finnish), which is spoken northeast of Lake Ladoga. One of the first historical mentions of the Karelians is found in a report of the Viking Ohthere to King Alfred of England at the end of the 9th century; this indicates that they were already on the southern Kola Peninsula as neighbours of the Sami and gives their name as beorma.

The language of one of the original Baltic-Finnic tribes, Veps, is spoken southeast on a line connecting lower Lake Ladoga with central Lake Onega. Less than one-fifth of the ethnic population of some 14,000 Veps still consider the language their native tongue--a sharp decline from the 26,172 speakers reported in the mid-1800s. A small Baltic-Finnic group, composed of the Ludic dialects, is found between Veps and Karelian and is generally considered a blend of the two major groups rather than a separate language; the dialects are more closely akin to Karelian. The Ingrians and the Votes live on the southern Gulf of Finland in the border area between Estonia and Russia, where they survived because the border area was for many years closed to outsiders, even to visitors from other parts of the Soviet Union. Livonian has persisted in a dozen villages on the northernmost tip of Latvia, on the Courland Peninsula, but the language is not used by the younger generation.

 

 


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08/15/2001

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