Tid: Torsdag 6 september 2018, kl. 15:00-17:00
Plats: C307, Södra huset, Frescati


The purpose of my presentation is to introduce an on-going project at the University of Helsinki, namely the writing of a descriptive grammar of the Mordvin languages. The project is funded by the Finnish Kone Foundation and it is carried out by Rigina Ajanki and Arja Hamari.

Erzya and Moksha form the Mordvin branch of the Uralic language family. According to the last census of the Russian Federation in 2010, there are approximately 843,350 ethnic Mordvins. Around 600,000 of them were reported to master either Erzya or Moksha, but there is no reliable data about their mother tongues. However, it is estimated that around a third of the speakers speak Moksha, while two thirds speak Erzya.

One of the core issues in Mordvin linguistics is the question of whether we are dealing with one or two languages. In many traditional grammatical descriptions especially by Western scholars, Mordvin was generally regarded as one language, the two major dialects being Erzya and Moksha. The Mordvins themselves, however, have always considered Erzya and Moksha two separate languages and this is also the view of most contemporary scholars of the Mordvin linguistics. The two languages are not completely mutually intelligible, as there are differences at all levels: phonology, morphology, lexicon as well as syntax. Both languages also have their own written standard. Thus, the standpoint of our project is that we are describing two closely related but separate language.

Both Erzya and Moksha can be regarded as well-studied languages and several grammars already exist. The Mordvin languages have been documented for a relatively long time, starting from the modest word lists gathered in the 18th century and extending to large amounts of dialectal material gathered in numerous fieldtrips during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries by both native and foreign scholars and students. The first actual grammars of the Mordvin languages were published already in the 19th century; the Moksha grammar in 1838 (in Russian) and that of Erzya in 1839 (in German). Since then, several grammars written in Russian have appeared, especially during the Soviet era. However, the first grammars written in Erzya and Moksha only came out in 2000. In addition, diachronically oriented grammars have been written in Russian as well as in Hungarian and in Finnish in the 20th and 21st centuries. Then why are we writing the grammar of the Mordvin languages?

In our opinion, even the most elaborate grammars mentioned above are often obscure and/or defective in that they usually describe the linguistic categories in a very language-specific manner and frequently leave out information that might be relevant for example for a typologist interested in Erzya and Moksha. Therefore, as I will show in my talk, the main challenges of our project lie in the presentation of the grammatical structures of the two languages in the framework of the modern typologically oriented (basic) linguistic theory. Another challenge comes from our ambitious goal to describe the two closely related languages simultaneously yet separately. To execute this plan, we are hoping to find an electronic solution for the publication of our grammar. Finally, to make the grammar accessible to a large public, we intend to publish it in both English and Russian.

Om föreläsaren:
Arja Hamari majored in Finno-Ugric linguistics at the University of Turku and defended her PhD thesis The negation of stative relation clauses in the Mordvin languages at the same university in 2008. Since 2009 she has worked at the department of Finno-Ugrian Language Studies of the University of Helsinki. Her main research interests are negation, case systems and morphosyntactic change in Uralic languages viewed from a typological perspective. She has carried out studies of these themes in the Mordvin (Erzya and Moksha) and Permic (Komi and Udmurt) branches of the Uralic language family. She is currently working as a researcher in the project The descriptive grammar of the Mordvin languages at the University of Helsinki.

Hjärtligt välkomna!
Richard Kowalik