Karelian is one of those languages where it is difficult to draw the line between a language and a dialect. It was previously thought that Karelian is divided into three main dialects, namely the Karelian Proper, Livvi (Olonets) and Ludic dialects. This dialectal division was partly based on the different dialects having their own literary language. Linguistically, however, Karelian Proper and Livvi are so close to each other that there is no need to separate them. Instead, we can just speak of Karelian. Ludic (Ludian), however, differs so much from Karelian that it can even be regarded as its own language variety.

The earliest written documents of Karelian are birch-bark letters from the mid-1200s featuring early Karelian written in Cyrillic script. The first printed publications date back to the 1800s and include religious texts and alphabet books. Today, Karelian is written using the Latin alphabet, and some fiction, textbooks as well as TV and radio programmes are produced in Karelian.

Some Karelian is also spoken in Finland, and Karelian was granted official status as a minority language in Finland in 2009. In the Republic of Karelia in Russia, no official status has been awarded for the Karelian language(s).

The Finnish Public Media Service Company Yle also broadcasts news in Karelian.

Professor Pertti Virtaranta’s report from Tver Karelia can be viewed (in Finnish) online at Yle Archives.