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Votic language

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Title: Votic language  
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Subject: Ust-Luga, Ivangorod Fortress, Votes, Finnic languages, Meadow Mari language
Collection: Endangered Uralic Languages, Finnic Languages, Ingria, Languages of Russia, Votes
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Votic language

vađđa ceeli, maaceeli
Native to Russia
Region Ingria
Ethnicity Votes
Native speakers
68  (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 vot
ISO 639-3 votinclusive code
Individual code:
zkv – Krevinian
Glottolog voti1245[2]

Votic or Votian (vađđa ceeli or maaceeli – also written vaďďa tšeeli, maatšeeli[3]) is the language spoken by the Votes of Ingria, belonging to the Finnic branch of the Uralic languages. Votic is spoken only in Krakolye and Luzhitsy, two villages in Kingiseppsky District, and is close to extinction (Language death). In 1989 there were 62 speakers left, the youngest born in 1938. In its 24 December 2005 issue, The Economist wrote that there are only approximately 20 speakers left.[4]


  • History 1
  • Dialects 2
  • Orthography 3
  • Phonetics and phonology 4
    • Vowels 4.1
    • Consonants 4.2
    • Development 4.3
  • Grammar 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Votic is one of numerous Finnic varieties known from Ingria, and generally considered the oldest of these. Votic shares some similarities with and has acquired loanwords from the adjacent Ingrian language, but also has deep-reaching similarities with Estonian to the west, which is considered its closest relative. Some linguists including Tiit-Rein Viitso and Paul Alvre[5] have claimed that Votic evolved specifically from northeastern dialects of ancient Estonian.[6] Votic regardless exhibits several features that indicate its distinction from Estonian (both innovations such as the palatalisation of velar consonants and a more developed system of cases, and retentions such as vowel harmony). According to Estonian linguist Paul Ariste, Votic was distinct from other Finnic languages, such as Finnish and Estonian, as early as the 6th century CE and has evolved independently ever since.

A map of Votic and neighbouring Ingrian-Finnish and Izhorian villages 1848–2007.

In the 19th century Votic was already declining in favour of Russian (there were around 1,000 speakers of the language by the start of the World War I). After the Bolshevik Revolution, under Lenin, Votic had a brief revival period, with the language being taught at local schools and the first-ever grammar of Votic (Jõgõperä/Krakolye dialect) being published. But as Joseph Stalin took power, the language began to decline. WWII had a devastating effect on the Votic language, with the number of speakers considerably decreased as a result of military offensives, deliberate destruction of villages by Nazi troops, forced migration to the Klooga concentration camp in Estonia and to Finland under the Nazi regime, and the Stalinist policy of "dispersion" immediately after the war against the families whose members had been sent to Finland under the Nazi regime. Since then, the Votes have largely concealed their Votic identity, pretending to be Russians in the predominantly Russian environment. But they continued to use the language at home and when talking to family members and relatives. After the death of Stalin, the Votes were no longer mistreated and many of those who had been sent away returned to their villages. But the language had considerably declined and the number of bilingual speakers increased. Because Votic was stigmatised as a language of "uneducated villagers", Votic speakers avoided using it in public and Votic children were discouraged from using it even at home because, in the opinion of some local school teachers, it prevented them from learning to speak and write in Russian properly. Thus, in the second half of the 20th century there emerged a generation of young ethnic Votes whose first language was Russian and who understood Votic but were unable to speak it.


Four dialects of Votic are known, of which the western dialect is still spoken today. The dialects were:

  • Western, the areas around the mouth of the Luga River
  • †Eastern, in villages around Koporye
  • †Kukkuzi, a mix of Izhoran and Votic, spoken in the village of Kukkuzi
  • Kreevin, areas around the city of Bauska, Latvia

In 1848 it was estimated that of a total of 5,298 speakers of Votic, 3,453 (65%) spoke the western dialect, 1,695 (35%) spoke the eastern and 150 (3%) spoke the dialect of Kukkuzi. Kreevin had 12-15 speakers in 1810, the last records of Kreevin speakers are from 1846. The Kreevin dialect was spoken in an enclave in Latvia by descendants of Votic prisoners of war who were brought to the Bauska area of Latvia in the 15th century by the Teutonic order.[7] The last known speaker of the eastern dialect died in 1960, in the village of Icäpäivä (Itsipino), while the Kukkuzi dialect was last recorded in the late 1970s.[8] Some linguists have claimed that the Kukkuzi dialect is actually a dialect of the Izhoran language.[9]


In the 1920s, the Votic linguist Dmitri Tsvetkov wrote a Votic grammar using a modified Cyrillic alphabet. The current Votic alphabet was created by Mehmet Muslimov in 2004:[10]
A а Ä ä B b C c D d D' d' E e F f G g
H h I i J j K k L l L' l' M m N n N' n'
O o Ö ö Õ õ P p R r R' r' S s S' s' Š š
Z z Z' z' Ž ž T t T' t' U u V v Ü ü Ts ts

In linguistic works, one may find different transcriptions of Votic. Some use a modified Cyrillic alphabet, and some Latin. The transcriptions based on Latin have many similarities with closely related Finnic languages, such as the use of č for /t͡ʃ/. At least a couple of ways exist for indicating long vowels in Votic; placing a macron over the vowel (such as ā), or as in written Estonian and Finnish, doubling the vowel (aa). Geminate consonants are generally represented with two characters. The representation of central vowels varies. In some cases the practice is to use according to the standards of Uralic transcription, while in other cases the letter õ is used, as in Estonian.

Phonetics and phonology


Votic has 10 vowels, which are loosely represented by the following chart. The Votic , however, is known to be a bit higher than the Estonian õ, but the rest of the vowels generally correspond to Estonian.

Front Central Back
High i y
i ü
High-mid e ø
e ö
Low æ

All of the vowels may occur short or long, however in some central dialects the long mid vowels /eː oː øː/ have been diphthongized to /ie uo yø/. Thus, tee 'road' is pronounced as tie. Votic also has a large inventory of diphthongs.

Votic vowel harmony is rather similar to Finnish, in that most words may only have front or back vowels (while /i e/ are neutral), however there are some exceptions with the behavior of /o ø/. Some suffixes including the vowel /o/ do not harmonize (as the occurrence of /ø/ in non-initial syllables is generally a result of Finnish or Ingrian loan words), and similarly onomatopoetic words and loanwords are not necessarily subject to conforming to rules of vowel harmony.


Labial Dental Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p, b t, d k, ɡ
Affricate ts
Fricative f, v s, z ʃ, ʒ ʝ x h
trill r
lateral l ʎ

Nearly all Votic consonants may occur as geminates. Also, Votic also has a system of consonant gradation, which is discussed in further detail in the consonant gradation article, although a large amount of alternations involve voicing alternations. Two important differences in Votic phonetics as compared to Estonian and Finnish is that the sounds /ʝ/ and /v/ are actually fully fricatives, unlike Estonian and Finnish, in which they are approximants. Also, one possible allophone of /h/ is [ɸ], ühsi is thus pronounced as IPA: [yɸsi].

The lateral /l/ has a velarized allophone [ɫ] when occurring adjacent to back vowels.

Voicing is not contrastive word-finally. Instead a type of sandhi occurs: voiceless [p t k s] are realized before words beginning with a voiceless consonant, voiced [b d ɡ z] before voiced consonants (or vowels). Before a pause, the realization is voiceless lenis, [b̥ d̥ ɡ̊ z̥]; the stops are here similar to the Estonian b d g. Thus:

  • pre-pausal: [vɑrɡɑz̥] "thief"
  • before a voiceless consonant: [vɑrɡɑs‿t̪uɤb̥] "a thief comes"
  • before a voiced consonant: [vɑrɡɑz‿vɤt̪ɑb̥] "a thief takes"


Historically, features setting Votic apart from the other Baltic-Finnic languages include:

  • Loss of initial *h
  • Palatalization of *k to /tʃ/ before front vowels. This was a relatively late innovation, not found in Kreevin Votic.
  • Lenition of the clusters *ps, *ks to /hs/
  • Lenition of the cluster *st to geminate /sː/

Features shared with Estonian and the other southern Baltic-Finnic languages include:

  • Loss of word-final *n
  • Shortening of vowels before *h
  • Introduction of /ɤ/ from backing of *e before a back vowel
  • Development of *o to /ɤ/ in certain words (particularly frequent in Votic)
  • In some dialects, loss of /h/ after a sonorant (clusters *lh *nh *rh)


Votic is an agglutinating language much like the closely related Finnic languages. In terms of inflection on nouns, Votic has two numbers (singular, plural), and 16 cases: nominative, genitive, accusative (distinct for pronouns), partitive, illative, inessive, elative, allative, adessive, ablative, translative, essive, exessive, abessive, comitative, terminative.

Unlike Livonian language, which has been influenced to a great extent by Latvian, Votic retained its Finnic characteristics. There are many loan words from Russian, but not a phonological and grammatical influence comparable with the Latvian influence to Livonian.

In terms of verbs, Votic has six tenses and aspects, two of which are basic: present, imperfect; and the rest of which are compound tenses: present perfect, past perfect, future and future perfect. Votic has three moods (conditional, imperative, potential), and two 'voices' (active and passive). Caution however should be used with the term 'passive', with Finnic languages though as a result of the fact that it is more active and 'impersonal' (it has an oblique 3rd person marker, and so is not really 'passive').


  1. ^ Votic at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Krevinian at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Votic". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ V. Černiavskij. "Vaďďa tšeeli (Izeõpõttaja) / Водский язык (Самоучитель) ("Votic Self-Taught Book")" (PDF) (in Russian). Retrieved 2009-04-17. 
  4. ^ Staff writer (December 24, 2005 – January 6, 2006). "The dying fish swims in water". The Economist. pp. 73–74. 
  5. ^ Viitso, Tiit-Rein: Finnic Affinity. Congressus Nonus Internationalis Fenno-Ugristarum I: Orationes plenariae & Orationes publicae. (Tartu 2000)
  6. ^ Paul Ariste: Eesti rahva etnilisest ajaloost. Läänemere keelte kujunemine ja vanem arenemisjärk. Artikkeli kokoelma. Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1956
  7. ^ The Uralic languages By Daniel Mario Abondolo
  8. ^ Heinsoo, Heinike; Kuusk, Margit (2011). "Neo-renaissance and revitalization of Votic — who cares?" (pdf). Eesti ja soome-ugri keeleteaduse ajakiri.  
  9. ^ Jokipii, Mauno: "Itämerensuomalaiset, Heimokansojen historiaa ja kohtaloita". Jyväskylä: Atena kustannus Oy, 1995. ISBN 951-9362-80-0 (Finnish)
  10. ^

Further reading


External links

  • Votian at Indigenous Minority Languages of Russia
  • Virtual Votia
  • The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire
  • Classification_of_Votian_dialects at wikiversity
  • Чернявский В. М. Vaďďa ceeli. Izeõpõttaja / Водский язык. Самоучитель.
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