Vitality of languages

Many Uralic languages are very small in terms of their number of speakers. If a language has very few speakers and is only used in limited contexts, the language is at risk of extinction (endangered). The extinction of a language means that there is no longer anyone speaking the language or learning it as their mother tongue.

It is estimated that more than half of the world’s languages will disappear over the next 100 years. Languages best placed to survive are those:

  1. that have a lot of speakers of different ages;
  2. that are used on a broad scale (in education, media, official domains);
  3. whose speakers want to maintain and develop the language.

Endangered languages are those:

  1. that have few speakers, most of whom are older persons;
  2. that are used on a small and limited scale (such as only at home with the family);
  3. that do not have an official status and, instead, the official language is some other language;
  4. whose speakers are not interested in maintaining their own mother tongue.

Languages can be classified on the basis of their degree of endangerment. The scale from vital to the most endangered is: Safe/Not Endangered, Vulnerable, Definitely Endangered, Severely Endangered, Critically Endangered, and Extinct.

Uralic languages with more than a million speakers only comprise Hungarian (14,000,000), Finnish (5,300,000) and Estonian (1,000,000). Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian are also official languages of independent states and at the same time official languages of the European Union. These languages are used in literature, the media, education and official domains. These languages are not at risk of extinction or endangered. Instead, they are vital and safe.

All of the other Uralic languages are endangered. Those identified as Definitely Endangered are North Saami, Mordvin, Meadow Mari, Udmurt, Komi, Karelian, Livonian, some Khanty dialects and Tundra Nenets.

Severely Endangered languages include South Saami, Lule Saami, Aanaar (Inari) Saami, Skolt Saami, Kildin Saami, Ingrian, Veps, Hill Mari, North Mansi, Nganasan, Forest Nenets and North Selkup.

Critically Endangered languages include Ume Saami, Pite Saami, Ter Saami, Votic, East Mansi, Enets and some of the Selkup dialects.

Languages that have already disappeared and are therefore classified as Extinct include Kamas, Mator, Meryan, Kemi Saami, Akkala Saami, some Khanty and Mansi dialects and Livonian. There must have also been other Uralic languages spoken that are now extinct, but there is no knowledge of them.


Lehtinen, Tapani 2007: Kielen vuosituhannet. Suomen kielen kehitys kantauralista varhaissuomeen [The Millennia of a Language. Development of the Finnish Language from Proto-Uralic to Early Finnish]. Finnish Literature Society.

Pasanen, Annika 2008: Suomalais-ugrilaiset vähemmistökielet assimilaation ja revitalisaation ristipaineessa [Finno-Ugric minority languages caught between assimilation and revitalisation]. In Transformation. Suomalais-ugrilaiset kulttuurit ja kielet globalisaation paineissa [Finno-Ugric Cultures and Languages Facing Pressures of Globalisation]. Société Finno-Ougrienne – Finno-Ugrian Society, University of Helsinki.