Languages of Pre-Finno-Ugric substrate
RegionNorthern Europe
Extinct1st millennium AD
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)
Languages of northern Europe in the early Iron Age

Pre-Finno-Ugric substrate refers to substratum loanwords from unidentified non-Indo-European and non-Uralic languages that are found in various Finno-Ugric languages, most notably Sami. The presence of Pre-Finno-Ugric substrate in Sami languages was demonstrated by Ante Aikio.[1] Janne Saarikivi [fi] points out that similar substrate words are present in Finnic languages as well, but in much smaller numbers.[2]

The number of substrate words in Sámi likely exceeds one thousand words.[3]

Borrowing to Saami from Paleo-Laplandic probably still took place after the completion of the Great Saami Vowel Shift. Paleo-Laplandic likely became extinct about 1500 years ago.[3]

The Nganasan language also has many substrate words from unknown extinct languages in the Taimyr peninsula.[4]


See also: Paleo-Laplandic languages

According to Aikio, the speakers of the Proto-Samic language arrived in Lapland around 650 BC and fully assimilated the local Paleo-European populations by the middle of 1st millennium AD. In his opinion, the detailed reconstruction of these languages is impossible.[1]

The languages of more eastern post-Swiderian cultures might have influenced Finno-Ugric languages as well. According to Peter Schrijver, some of these substrate languages probably had many geminated consonants.[5][6] A lexical comparison with the hypothetical Pre-Germanic substratum yields no results.[7]

Some examples of Kildin Sami words and corresponding Northern Sami cognates without convincing Uralic/Finno-Ugric (or any other) etymologies:[8]

Kildin Sami Northern Sami English
kut’t’k heart
vuntas sand
poav’n hummock
k’ed’d’k geađgi stone
piŋŋk biegga wind
ket’t’k’ geatki wolverine
nigkeš pike (fish)
murr muorra tree
cigk mist
mun frost
pin’ne to herd, to look after
čujke čuoigat to ski
luhpel’ 1 y.o. reindeer
kipp’tε to cook
kuras guoros empty
modžes beautiful
n’učke njuiket to jump
čacke čiekčat to throw
tuллtε duoldit to boil
kuarktε to boast
лujx’ke to cry
nissε to kiss
madt trouble
Substrate words from Ante Aikio (2004)[1]
North Saami English
beahcet fish tail
cuohppa fish meat
šákša capelin
ája spring
skuoggir ethmoid bone
šuorja giant shark
buovjag beluga
ruomas wolf
bákti cliff, rock
gieva boghole
váiši wild animal
itku shady place
roggi hole
sátku landing place
skuolfi owl
čuovga light
soavli slush
gákšu she wolf

Most of these words have cognates in all Sami languages. A more extensive list of such words can be found in G. M. Kert's 2009 work on Sami toponymics.[9] Semantically, pre-Sami substrate consists mostly of basic vocabulary terms (i.e. human body parts) and nature/animal names, and lacks terms of kinship and societal organization, which suggests a rather low level of socioeconomic development in pre-Sami cultures.[10]

Some possible substrate words can also be found in Finnish.[11]

Finnish English
saari island
niemi cape
oja ditch
nummi moor
ilves lynx
koipi leg (of a bird)
nenä nose
jänis hare
salakka bleak (fish)
liha meat

Pre-Finno-Volgaic substrate

There are also some examples of possible substrate words in Finno-Volgaic languages that differ from the Pre-Sami substrate, i.e. Proto-Finno-Volgaic *täštä "star", or *kümmin "ten".[12][13]

Some words in Finno-Volgaic languages contain rare consonant clusters, which suggests loanwords from unknown languages.

Finnish words such as jauho (Eng. flour), lehmä (cow), tähti (star), tammi (oak) and ihminen (human) could be substrate words.[12]

Aikio (2021) lists some other substrate vocabulary as:[14]

Proto-form Gloss
*wakštVrV maple
*wešnä wheat / spelt
*päkšnä lime tree
?*riŋiši drying kiln
?*räppä(-nä) smoke hole
*tammi oak
*särńä ash
*ša/u(w)p(k)a aspen
*le/i(j)p(p)ä alder
*pVškV(nä) hazel

Irregular correspondences among Uralic languages are frequent among some words, such as 'to milk' and 'hazelnut'. These are presumed to be non-native loanwords by Aikio (2021):[14]

Language Form Gloss Etymology
Finnish lypsää to milk < *lüpsä- or *lüpćä-
Mordvin lovso, lofca milk < *lupsV or *lipsa
Mari lüštem, dial. lüśtem, lǝštem to milk < *lüstä- ? < *lüps-tä-
Komi li̮śt̮i- to milk < PNo *lüćtV- or *lućtV- (? < *lü/upć-tA-)
Language Form Gloss Etymology
Finnish pähkinä, pähkenä (hazel)nut < *päškinä (?)
Mordvin päšťä, päščä (etc.) (hazel)nut < *päš?
Mari pükš hazelnut < ?*pekši
Udmurt paš-, puš- hazel(nut) < *pVškV or *pVkšV


Some toponyms in Finland appear to be of non-Uralic origin; for example, a word "koita" regularly appears in hydronyms for long and narrow bodies of water and is thus probably the continuation of the native word for "long, narrow".[15]

Many other toponyms in Finland seem to come from a substrate language or from many substrate languages: among these are Saimaa, Imatra, Päijänne and Inari.[16]

There are also toponyms from a substrate language in Sápmi; for example, an ending -ir (< *-ērē) is commonly found in names of mountains and is probably the continuation of the substrate word for mountain.

Other such toponymic words are *skiečč 'watershed', *čār- 'uppermost (lake)', *jeak(k)- 'isolated mountain', *nus- 'mountain top on the edge of a mountain area', *sāl- 'large island in the sea', *čiest- 'seashore cliff', and *inč- 'outermost island'.[3][1]


There are irregularities in Sami substrate words which suggest they might have been borrowed from distinct, but related languages. In the west, the substrate languages probably had an s-type sibilant which corresponds to an š-type sibilant in the east.[3]

As we only have fragments of Lakelandic Sami which were preserved in Finnish placenames and dialectal vocabulary, the features of the Paleo-Lakelandic substrate in Lakelandic Sami cannot be studied. Many placenames in Finland come from Sami words of unknown origin which are likely substrate words, such as jokuu from Proto-Sami *čuokōs ‘track, way’.

The Sami substrate in Finnish dialects also reveals that Lakelandic Sami languages had a high number of words with an obscure origin, likely deriving from old languages of the region.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Aikio, Ante (2004). "An Essay on Substrate Studies and the Origin of Saami". In Hyvärinen, Irma; Kallio, Petri; Korhonenk, Jarmo (eds.). Etymologie, Entlehnungen und Entwicklungen: Festschrift für Jorma Koivulehto zum 70. Geburtstag [Etymology, borrowings and developments: Festschrift for Jorma Koivulehto's 70th birthday]. Vol. 63. Mémoires de la Société Neophilologique de Helsinki. pp. 5–34 – via
  2. ^ Saarikivi, Janne (2006). Substrata Uralica: Studies on Finno-Ugrian substrate in northern Russian dialects (PDF) (Ph.D. thesis). University of Helsinki. pp. 257–279. ISBN 9949-11-474-8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 August 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Luobbal, Sámmol Sámmol Ánte (2012). "An Essay on Saami Ethnolinguistic Prehistory" (PDF). Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne. 266. Helsinki, Finland: 63–117.
  4. ^ Janhunen, Juha; Gruzdeva, Ekaterina (2020). "Nganasan: A fresh focus on a little known Arctic language". Linguistic Typology. 24 (1): 181–186. doi:10.1515/lingty-2020-2036. hdl:10138/318080. ISSN 1613-415X. S2CID 216417093.
  5. ^ Напольских, Владимир Владимирович; [Napolskikh, Vladimir Vladimirovich] (2007). "К реконструкции лингвистической карты Центра Европейской России в раннем железном веке" [On the reconstruction of the linguistic map of the Center of European Russia in the early Iron Age]. Литературно-художественный журнал Республики Коми [Literary and Art Magazine of the Republic of Komi] (in Russian) (4): 88–127. Archived from the original on 27 September 2017.
  6. ^ Schrijver, Peter (2001). "Lost Languages in Northern Europe". Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougriene. 242: 417–424 – via
  7. ^ Кузьменко, Ю. К.; [Kusmenko, Jurij] (2011). Ранние германцы и их соседи: Лингвистика, археология, генетика [The Early Germans and Their Neighbors: Linguistics, Archaeology, Genetics] (PDF) (in Russian). Saint Petersburg, Russia: Нестор-История. p. 181. ISBN 978-5-98187-870-1. OCLC 918344002.
  8. ^ Керт, Г. М.; [Kert, G. M.] (2003). "Этногенез саамов" [Ethnogenesis of the Sámi]. In Клементьев, Е. И.; Шлыгина, Н. В. (eds.). Прибалтийскофинские народы России [Balto–Finnish peoples of Russia] (in Russian). Moscow, Russia: Наука. pp. 43–48.
  9. ^ Керт, Г. М.; [Kert, G. M.] (2009). Саамская топонимная лексика [Sámi Toponymic Vocabulary] (PDF) (in Russian). Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, Russia: Карельский научный центр РАН [Karelian Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences]. pp. 140–154. ISBN 978-5-9274-0362-2. OCLC 706000036.
  10. ^ Керт, Г. М.; [Kert, G. M.] (1971). Саамский язык (кильдинский диалект). Фонетика, морфология, синтаксис [Sámi Language (Kildin Dialect): Phonetics, Morphology, Syntax] (in Russian). Lenningrad, Soviet Union: Наука. p. 9.
  11. ^ Saarikivi, Janne (2006). Substrata Uralica: Studies on Finno-Ugrian Substrate in Northern Russian Dialects (Ph.D. thesis). Helsinki, Finland: Helsingin Yliopisto. ISBN 978-952-10-4519-6.
  12. ^ a b Живлов, М. А.; [Zhivlov, M. A.] (27 March 2015). Неиндоевропейский субстрат в финно-волжских языках [Non-Indo-European Substratum in the Finno-Volgaic Languages]. X традиционные чтения памяти С. А.Старостина [X Traditional Readings in Memory of S. A. Starostin] (in Russian). Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow, Russia – via
  13. ^ Häkkinen, Jaakko (2009). "Kantauralin ajoitus ja paikannus: perustelut puntarissa" [Protolanguage Timing and Positioning: Weighing the Arguments] (PDF). Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Aikakauskirja (in Finnish). 2009 (92): 9–56. doi:10.33340/susa.82020.
  14. ^ a b Luobbal, Sámmol Sámmol Ánte (2021). The layers of substrate vocabulary in Western Uralic. Sub-Indo-European Europe: Problems, Methods and Evidence. Leiden, Netherlands – via
  15. ^ Rahkonen, Pauli (2013). South-Eastern Contact Area of Finnic Languages in the Light of Onomastics (PDF) (Ph.D. thesis). University of Helsinki. ISBN 978-952-5866-15-5.
  16. ^ "Mistä tulee nimi Saimaa?" [Where Does the Name Saimaa Come From?]. Nimien Alkuperästä [On the Origin of Names] (in Finnish). Kotimaisten Kielten Keskus [Institute for the Languages of Finland]. Retrieved 10 October 2022.