The Proto-Uralic language was a real language that had a real group of speakers consisting of perhaps a few thousand people. The area where the Proto-Uralic language was spoken is called the Proto-Uralic homeland.
The precise location of the homeland or the extent of the area where the Proto-Uralic language was spoken is not known. The most popular theory places it close to the Volga Bend. This is the place where the Volga River takes a sharp southward bend. The Volga Bend is located in Central Russia where the Volga meets its tributary Kama River not far from what today is the city of Kazan.
Other hypotheses have placed the Proto-Uralic homeland in the Ural Mountains. It has also been suggested that the area where Proto-Uralic was spoken may have been very extensive and spanned from the Ural Mountains all the way to the shores of the Baltic Sea.
Evidence taken into account when determining the location of the homeland includes:
- the areas where the current Uralic languages are spoken;
- the oldest shared words;
- loanwords and contacts with speakers of other languages.
Vocabulary that can be traced back to the Proto-Uralic language plays a key role in determining the location of the homeland. This reconstructable vocabulary includes words relating to nature and the seasons, such the words for ‘ice’ (*jäŋi), ‘spruce’ (*kusa), ‘thaw’ (*sula(-)) and ‘ski’ (*suksi). Such words can be used as clues for the homeland having been so far north that there were plants such as the spruce tree and that it had cold winters.
Loanwords can also be used for similar clues concerning the world beyond the bounds of language. In addition, knowing where the donor language was spoken gives us some clues of where Proto-Uralic was spoken.
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Kotilainen, Lari 2016: Kielen elämä: suomen kieli eilisestä huomiseen [The Life of a Language: Finnish from Yesterday to Tomorrow]. Siltala Publishing.
Lehtinen, Tapani 2007: Kielen vuosituhannet. Suomen kielen kehitys kantauralista varhaissuomeen [Language through the Millennia. Development of the Finnish Language from Proto-Uralic to Early Finnish]. Finnish Literature Society.