Ural-Altaic languages

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The Ural-Altaic languages constitute a formerly proposed language family uniting the Uralic and Altaic language families.

Originally suggested in the 19th century, the hypothesis enjoyed wide acceptance among linguists into the mid 20th century. Since the 1960s, it has been controversial and widely rejected. From the 1990s, interest in a relationship between the Uralic and Altaic families has been revived in the context of the "Eurasiatic" hypothesis. Bomhard (2008) treats Uralic, Altaic and Indo-European as Eurasiatic daughter groups on equal footing.[1]


History of the hypothesis

Philip Johan von Strahlenberg, Swedish explorer and war prisoner in Siberia, described Finno-Ugric, Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Caucasian languages as sharing common features by 1730.

Rask described what he vaguely called "Scythian" languages in 1834, which included Finno-Ugric, Turkic, Samoyedic, Eskimo, Caucasian, Basque and others.

The hypothesis was elaborated at least as early as 1836 by W. Schott[2] and in 1838 by F. J. Wiedemann.[3]

The Altaic hypothesis, as mentioned by Finnish linguist and explorer Matthias Castrén[4][5] by 1844, included Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic, collectively known as "Chudic", and Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic, collectively known as "Tataric".

Subsequently, Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic were grouped together, on account of their especially similar features, while Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic were grouped as Uralic. Two contrasting language families were thereby formed, but the similarities between them led to their retention in a common grouping, named Ural-Altaic.

The Ural-Altaic family was widely accepted by linguists who studied Uralic and Altaic until well into the 20th century. In his article The Uralo-Altaic Theory in the Light of the Soviet Linguistics (1940), Nicholas Poppe attempted to refute Castren's views by concluding that the common agglutinating features may have arisen independently.[6] Beginning in the 1960s, the hypothesis came to be seen as controversial, largely due to the Altaic family itself not being universally accepted. Today, the hypothesis that Uralic and Altaic are related more closely to one another than to any other family has almost no adherents (Starostin et al. 2003:8). There are, however, a number of hypotheses that propose a macrofamily consisting of Uralic, Altaic and yet other families. None of these hypotheses has widespread support.

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