Uralo-Siberian languages

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(widely rejected)
Northern Eurasia, the Arctic
Linguistic classificationProposed language family

Uralo-Siberian is a hypothetical language family consisting of Uralic, Yukaghir, and Eskaleut. It was proposed in 1998 by Michael Fortescue,[1] an expert in Eskaleut and Chukotko-Kamchatkan, in his book Language Relations across Bering Strait. Some have attempted to include Nivkh in Uralo-Siberian. Until 2011, it also included Chukotko-Kamchatkan. However, after 2011 Fortescue only included Uralic, Yukaghir and Eskaleut in the theory, although he argued that Uralo-Siberian languages have influenced Chukotko-Kamchatkan.[2] It is considered a fringe theory by linguists.

However, connections with the Uralic and other language families are generally seen as speculative.[3] And it is not yet clear if the comparisons and arguments used to defend the relation of Eskaleut and Uralic are sufficient to suspect a relationship between the languages.[4] The proposed link heavily utilizes mass comparison, a technique rejected by the majority of historical linguists.


Structural similarities between Uralic and Eskaleut languages were observed early. In 1746, the Danish theologian Marcus Wøldike [da] compared Greenlandic to Hungarian. In 1818, Rasmus Rask considered Greenlandic to be related to the Uralic languages, Finnish in particular, and presented a list of lexical correspondences (Rask also considered Uralic and Altaic to be related to each other). In 1959, Knut Bergsland published the paper The Eskimo–Uralic Hypothesis, in which he, like other authors before him, presented a number of grammatical similarities and a small number of lexical correspondences. In 1962, Morris Swadesh proposed a relationship between the Eskaleut and Chukotko-Kamchatkan language families. In 1998, Michael Fortescue presented more detailed arguments in his book, Language Relations across Bering Strait. His title evokes Morris Swadesh's 1962 article, "Linguistic relations across the Bering Strait".


Fortescue (1998, pp. 60–95) surveys 44 typological markers and argues that a typological profile uniquely identifying the language families proposed to comprise the Uralo-Siberian family can be established. The Uralo-Siberian hypothesis is rooted in the assumption that this distinct typological profile was, rather than an areal profile common to four unrelated language families, the profile of a single language ancestral to all four: Proto-Uralo-Siberian.

  • A single, voiceless series of stop consonants.
  • A series of voiced non-sibilant fricatives, including /ð/, which lack voiceless counterparts such as /θ/.
    • Original non-sibilant fricatives are absent from most other languages of Eurasia. Voiceless fricatives prevail over voiced ones in most of northern America. Both voiced and voiceless fricatives occur in Nivkh.
  • Primary palatal or palatalized consonants such as ~ nʲ/, ~ lʲ/.
  • The occurrence of a rhotic consonant /r/.
    • Found in most other language families of northern Eurasia as well; however, widely absent from languages of northern America.
  • Consonant clusters are absent word-initially and word-finally, but present word-medially.
    • A feature shared with most 'Altaic' languages. Contrasts with the presence of abundant consonant clusters in Nivkh, as well as in the Indo-European and Salishan languages.
  • Canonically bisyllabic word roots, with the exception of pronouns.
    • Contrasts with canonically monosyllabic word roots in Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, Yeniseian, Na-Dene, Haida, Tsimshian, Wakashan, Salishan, etc. Some secondarily monosyllabic word roots have developed in Aleut and multiple Uralic languages, and they predominate in Itelmen.
  • Word-initial stress.

None of the four families shows all of these 17 features; ranging from 12 reconstructible in Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan to 16 in Proto-Uralic. Frequently the modern-day descendant languages have diverged further from this profile — particularly Itelmen, for which Fortescue assumes substrate influence from a language typologically more alike to the non-Uralo-Siberian languages of the region.

Several more widely spread typologically significant features may also instead represent contact influence, according to Fortescue (1998):

  • Primary uvular consonants are absent from Uralic, but can be found in Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Eskaleut. They are also present in Yukaghir, though are likely to be of secondary origin there (as also in the Uralic Selkup, as well as a large number of Turkic languages). They are, however, firmly entrenched in the non-Uralo-Siberian languages of northernmost Eurasia, including Yeniseian, Nivkh, Na-Dene, Haida, Salishan, etc. Fortescue suggests that the presence of uvulars in CK and EA may, then, represent an ancient areal innovation acquired from the earlier, "pre-Na-Dene" languages of Beringia.



Apparently shared elements of Uralo-Siberian morphology include the following:

*-t plural
*-k dual
*m- 1st person
*t- 2nd person
*ka interrogative pronoun
*-n genitive case


Fortescue (1998) lists 94 lexical correspondence sets with reflexes in at least three of the four language families, and even more shared by two of the language families. Examples are *ap(p)a 'grandfather', *kað'a 'mountain' and many others.

Below are some lexical items reconstructed to Proto-Uralo-Siberian, along with their reflexes in Proto-Uralic, Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan (sometimes Proto-Chukchi), and Proto-Eskaleut (sometimes Proto-Eskimo or Aleut). (Source: Fortescue 1998:152–158.)

Proto-Uralo-Siberian Proto-Uralic Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan Proto-Eskaleut
*aj(aɣ)- 'push forward' *aja- 'drive, chase' *aj-tat- 'chase, herd' (PC) *ajaɣ- 'push, thrust at with pole'
*ap(p)a 'grandfather' *appe 'father in law' *æpæ 'grandfather' *ap(p)a 'grandfather'
*el(l)ä 'not' *elä 'not' *ællæ 'not' (PC) *-la(ɣ)- 'not' (A)
*pit(uɣ)- 'tie up' *pitV- 'tie' (FU) *pət- 'tie up' *pətuɣ- 'tie up'
*toɣə- 'take' *toɣe- 'bring, take, give' (FU) *teɣiŋrə- 'pull out' *teɣu- 'take' (PE)

Proposed cognates between the languages:[5][6]

Proto-Yukagir Proto-Eskaleut
*al 'below' *atə 'below'
*amlə 'swallow' *ama 'suckle'
*aŋa 'mouth' *aŋ-va- 'open'
*cowinə 'spear' *caviɣ 'knife'
*kin 'who' *kina 'who'
*ləɣ- 'eat' *iɣa- 'swallow'
*um 'close' *uməɣ 'close'
*n’ə 'get' *nəɣ 'get'
*ta 'that' *ta 'that'
Uralic Eskaleut[7]
*ila 'under' *at(ǝ) 'down'
*elä 'live' *ǝt(ǝ) 'be'
*tuli 'come' *tut 'arrive, land'
*kuda 'morning, dawn' *qilaɣ 'sky'
*ke 'who' *kina 'who'
*to 'that' *ta 'that'
*kuda 'weave' *qilaɣ 'weave'

According to Ante Aikio (who does not believe that Yukaghir is related to Uralic), the meanings 'weave' and 'morning' are most likely unrelated, which means that these are instances of coincidental homonymy, which only very rarely happens by chance, meaning that some kind of contact most likely happened, but exact conclusions cannot be drawn with modern information.[7][8]


Fortescue suggested the following grammatical similarities to point to a relationship:

Proto-Uralic and Proto-Eskaleut number and case markers:[9]

Proto-Uralic Proto-Eskaleut
nom./absolutive sing. Ø Ø
dual *-kə *k
plural *-t *-t
locative *-(kə)na *-ni
accusative sing *-m
plural accusative *-j/i *-(ŋ)i
ablative *-(kə)tə *-kənc
dative/lative *-kə/-ŋ *-ŋun

Yukaghir and Proto-Eskaleut verbal and nominal inflections[edit]

Yukaghir and Proto-Eskaleut verbal and nominal inflections:[5]

Pronoun Yukaghir Eskaleut
trans. 1s *ŋa
3pl *ŋi *ŋi
3 poss. *ntə *n
vialis *-(n)kən *-(n)kən
abl. *-(n)kət *(m/n)əɣ
all *(ŋi)n’ *-(m/n)un / *ŋus/*-ŋun
adv. loc./lative *nə *nə


Some or all of the four Uralo-Siberian families have been included in more extensive groupings of languages (see links below). Fortescue's hypothesis does not oppose or exclude these various proposals. In particular, he considers that a remote relationship between Uralo-Siberian and Altaic (or some part of Altaic) is likely (see Ural–Altaic languages). However, Fortescue holds that Uralo-Siberian lies within the bounds of the provable, whereas Nostratic may be too remote a grouping to ever be convincingly demonstrated.

The University of Leiden linguist Frederik Kortlandt (2006:1) asserts that Indo-Uralic (a proposed language family consisting of Uralic and Indo-European) is itself a branch of Uralo-Siberian and that, furthermore, the Nivkh language also belongs to Uralo-Siberian. This would make Uralo-Siberian the proto-language of a much vaster language family. Kortlandt (2006:3) considers that Uralo-Siberian and Altaic (defined by him as consisting of Turkic, Mongolian, Tungusic, Korean, and Japanese) may be coordinate branches of the Eurasiatic language family proposed by Joseph Greenberg but rejected by most linguists.


Works cited[edit]

  • Bergsland, Knut (1959). "The Eskimo–Uralic hypothesis". Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne. 61: 1–29.
  • Fortescue, Michael. 1998. Language Relations across Bering Strait: Reappraising the Archaeological and Linguistic Evidence. London and New York: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-70330-3.
  • Kortlandt, Frederik. 2006. "Indo-Uralic and Altaic".
  • Swadesh, Morris (1962). "Linguistic relations across the Bering Strait". American Anthropologist. 64 (6): 1262–1291. doi:10.1525/aa.1962.64.6.02a00090.


  1. ^ Vajda, Edward; Fortescue, Michael (2022-01-31). Mid-Holocene Language Connections between Asia and North America. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-43682-4.
  2. ^ Fortescue, Michael (2011). "The relationship of Nivkh to Chukotko-Kamchatkan revisited". Lingua. 121 (8): 1359–1376. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2011.03.001. I would no longer wish to relate CK directly to [Uralo-Siberian], although I believe that some of the lexical evidence [...] will hold up in terms of borrowing/diffusion.
  3. ^ "Uralic languages | Finno-Ugric, Samoyedic, & Permic Groups". Britannica. Retrieved 2023-06-14.
  4. ^ Abondolo, Daniel; Valijärvi, Riitta-Liisa (2023-03-31). The Uralic Languages. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-317-23097-7.
  5. ^ a b Fortescue, Michael (2017). "Correlating Palaeo-Siberian languages and populations: recent advances in the Uralo-Siberian hypothesis". Man in India.
  6. ^ Häkkinen, Jaakko. "Uralic-Yukaghir wordlist" (PDF). elisanet.fi. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-08-31. Retrieved 2020-05-04.
  7. ^ a b Kloekhorst, Alwin; Pronk, Tijmen (2019-09-25), "Introduction: Reconstructing Proto-Indo-Anatolian and Proto-Indo-Uralic", The Precursors of Proto-Indo-European, Brill | Rodopi, pp. 1–14, doi:10.1163/9789004409354_002, ISBN 978-90-04-40935-4
  8. ^ Aikio, Ante (2019). "Proto-Uralic". In Bakró-Nagy, Marianne; Laakso, Johanna; Skribnik, Elena (eds.). Oxford Guide to the Uralic Languages. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ Fortescue, Michael (2016). "How the accusative became the relative". Journal of Historical Linguistics. 6: 72–92. doi:10.1075/jhl.6.1.03for.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blažek, Václav. 2006. "Chukcho-Kamchatkan and Uralic: lexical evidence of their genetic relationship". In: Orientalia et Classica XI. Aspects of Comparativistics 2, pp. 197–212. Moscow.
  • Georg, Stefan; Seefloth, Uwe 2000. "Uralo-Eskimo?".
  • Greenberg, Joseph H (2000). "Review of Michael Fortescue, Language Relations across Bering Strait: Reappraising the Archaeological and Linguistic Evidence.". Review of Archaeology. 21 (2): 23–24.
  • Künnap, A. 1999. Indo-European-Uralic-Siberian Linguistic and Cultural Contacts. Tartu, Estonia: University of Tartu, Division of Uralic Languages.
  • Seefloth, Uwe (2000). "Die Entstehung polypersonaler Paradigmen im Uralo-Sibirischen". Zentralasiatische Studien. 30: 163–191.

See also[edit]

Related language family proposals[edit]

External links[edit]