The Mari language is divided into two literary languages. Most Maris speak Eastern or Meadow Mari. The other literary Mari language is Western or Hill Mari. There are around 360,000 speakers of Meadow Mari and around 20,000 speakers of Hill Mari. The languages differ from each other to some extent, but their speakers usually understand each other quite well. The Hill Maris and the Meadow Maris (or Western and Eastern Maris) differ to some degree from each other also in terms of their culture.

The first grammar of Mari is from 1775. A translation of the New Testament based on Hill Mari was published in 1821. In the 1800s, the church also maintained schools where teaching was provided in Mari, with Mari-language publications mainly being religious and educational literature those days.

From the very beginning, Mari literature has been published in both Hill and Meadow Mari, but the literary languages remained without an established form for a long time. By the outset of the 1900s, literary Mari began to assume its current form and the orthography (writing system) was established. The 1920s saw the adoption of two literary languages, Western and Eastern.

Meadow Mari is classified as a Definitely Endangered and Hill Mari as a Severely Endangered language.


Laulajainen, Leena 1995: Marilaiset: Laulun ja uhritulien kansa [Maris: People of Songs and Sacrificial Fires]. Otava.

Saarinen, Sirkka 2008: Turvaako kielilaki kielen aseman – suomalais-ugrilaisten kielten uhanalaisuus [Will the Language Act safeguard the status of languages – Endangeredness of Finno-Ugric languages]. In Murros – Suomalais-ugrilaiset kielet ja kulttuurit globalisaation paineissa [Transformation – Finno-Ugric Cultures and Languages Facing Pressures of Globalisation]. Eds. Sirkka Saarinen & Eeva Herrala. Uralica Helsingensia 3. Helsinki University Department of Finno-Ugrian Studies – Finnish Academy of Science and Letters – Société Finno-Ougrienne – Finno-Ugrian Society.

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From the Volga to Siberia. The Finno-Ugric Peoples in Today’s Russia. Ed. Ildikó Lehtinen. Finnish Literature Society 2012.