32: A short description of the Mordvinic languages

Written by Linden Alexander Pentecost. Published on the 27th of June 2024, with an update on the 28th of June 2024. Published on this website www.bookofdunbarra.co.uk . This article is relatively short and not so linguistically detailed, and the information flows from one topic to another, but essentially begins with talking about Mordvinic music and its relationship to language, things concerning the background of these languages, some of their differences and etymologies and then finally references and "A note" at the end. This page/article contains 1403 words. This article is dedicated to my cat.


I have not discussed much on the mythology here of the Mordvinic peoples and how that relates to their languages, but I hope I will in the future. For recent work on Uralic mythology please see my notes about this in the Mari article I recently published on this same website, which is also more linguistically detailed, titled 31: Exploring the Mari languages and spirituality, here: https://www.bookofdunbarra.co.uk/website-articles-30-45/31-exploring-the-mari-languages-and-spirituality

I write this whilst listening to beautiful music in the Mordvinic or Mordvin languages. Like many Uralic cultures, the Mordvinic-speaking peoples make great use of combining multiple voices at different pitches in a single piece of music. This is also common in Finnish magical and traditional singing styles. In other senses, the music of the Mordvinic peoples does, to me, differ from that of other Uralic-speaking peoples. It is unlike the upbeat, gentle, twinkling music of the Mari, which, like the sound of the language, seems to flow and dance over the trees and meadows of Mari El (see my recent article on the Mari languages given further up and agai near end of this article on Mordvinic languages, for other information about the Mari language, and language in relation to their music). Mordvinic music is quite different too. In some ways the singing style and use of instruments also reminds me of certain kinds of Goidelic music, and to a degree that of Northumbrian music in England.

The Mordvinic languages are two primary languages, Erzya and Moksha. I say primary, because there is also the Shoksha dialect or language, which is a dialect of Erzya with more closeness to Moksha. There are also the Meshcherian language, an extinct language thought to be perhaps a Mordvinic language, but personally I think it more likely that Meshcherian was a pre-Uralic language.

The Moksha and Erzya languages are very closely related, and their common vocabulary is very close, often near-identical. But the two languages are not mutually intelligible, and the cultural-linguistic and mythological-linguistic elements of both languages are actually quite different. The two languages are arguably associated with two, closely-connected but different cultures. One way in which I think the two cultures and languages might differ, is in that the Erzya mythology and spirituality, seems, at its basis, to be very much consistent with more general Uralic mythological, spiritual and creative themes. The mythology and spiritual-linguistic aspects to the Moksha language and culture, differ in that they, to me, appear to have been more orientated towards and connected to certain steppe cultures, perhaps to the Scythians in the sense of Scythians as a generic cultural-linguistic-mythological complex, rather than as a specific culture, language or mythology. It must also be noted that the Mordvinic languages are spoken quite far south, as far as Uralic languages go, and so it is not surprising that the Moksha people and language in particular might have more contact and association with some of the ancient steppe peoples.

Despite that the Moksha people and language may have been more orientated towards/connected with certain Scythian/steppe cultures, it seems to be in some cases the Erzya language that shows more connections to steppe languages such as the Turkic languages. Moksha панчф, pančf - "flower", but Erzya цеця, ćeća - flower. The Erzya form is similar to words for "flower" in some Turkic and Finnic languages, e.g. Finnish kukka, whilst the Moksha word is of unknown etymology. One of the Erzya words for “wing”, сёлмо, śolmo, may be connected to Chuvash Turkic ҫунат, śunat – “wing”. The Moksha word for “wing” is паця, paća, which seems to be of unknown etymology. These would seem to demonstrate that both the Erzya and Moksha languages must be connected in some way to much more ancient steppe languages; and that whilst the Erzya language maintains a more typically Uralic spiritual-linguistic worldview, it also connects to Turkic. Whilst the Moksha language seems connects to steppe cultures, but contains words not connected to those in other steppe cultures, that I know of, implying that its relationship to those cultures is all the more mysterious.

From my own research, I feel that with regard to certain levels of vocabulary, the Mordvinic languages show more closeness to the Finnic languages, than say the Mari or Permian Uralic branches do. For example, Moksha оцю, oću “big”, Finnish: iso – “big”, Erzya ков, kov – moon, Moksha ков, kov – moon, Finnish kuu – moon. But in other ways, Mordvinic languages share similarities to the Permic branch of Uralic, for example Erzya вирь, viŕ - forest, Moksha вирь, viŕ - forest, Komi-Zyrian (A Permic language) вӧр, vör - forest, but for example Finnish metsä - forest, Meadow Mari чодыра/čodyra – forest. (see my recent article “31: Exploring the Mari languages and spirituality ”on this website, also given at the top of this page). Sometimes words in the Mordvinic languages are connected to other words in Uralic languages in a more sporadic way, for example “sky” is менель, meńeľ in both Moksha and Erzya, likely connected to Hungarian menny – heaven, paradise. I think it possible that both roots could be connected to the *nem- element visible in Celtic languages, meaning essentially “sacred space”, reconstructed Gaulish *nemeton, Welsh nef – heaven, etc.

There are also plenty of words within the Mordvinic languages as a whole, which have no etymology explainable through other Uralic languages. For example, Erzya пандо, pando - mountain, Moksha панда, panda – mountain, a word of unknown origin. Another example of a word of unknown origin within these languages is the word for “river”, which in Moksha is ляй, ľaj and is in Erzya лей, ľej, compare Finnish joki, Northern Sámi johka to demonstrate how different the Mordvinic root is from some other Uralic forms, in this instance.


I hope that my readers enjoyed this short article.




The information in this article comes from my own research and what I know of these languages. The Erzya and Moksha words, as well as the Komi-Zyrian word and Chuvash word, I learned from different pages on Wiktionary, where they are given as coming from several original sources, but are given a consistent form, page and Latin transcription on Wiktionary. However, I will acknowledge that the source: Мордовский словарь Х. Паасонена / H. Paasonens Mordwinisches Wörterbuch" ('The Dialect Dictionary of the Mordvin Languages based on the materials of Heikki Paasonen') is a source which can back up many of the common Moksha and Erzya words I have learned from wiktionary. Likewise the source B. A. Serebrennikov, R. N. Buzakova, M. V. Mosin (1993) “мон”, in Эрзянь-рузонь валкс [Erzya-Russian dictionary], Moscow is quoted on Wiktionary as a source of where these common Erzya words can be found in a dictionary.


A note

Something I have written on on the Komi-Zyrian language and language in the Ural mountains will also be published in Silly Linguistics. This will be titled: The Komi-Zyrian language, The Talking Golden Idol (with art), and other languages in the Ural Mountains. I have also already mentioned in this article (the one you are looking at currently) my other article published a few days about the Mari languages, titled:
31: Exploring the Mari languages and spirituality and on this website. I will also soon have published I hope an article for Silly Linguistics with information about Värmland Finnish, titled: Language in Southern Sweden continued: Värmländska, Värmland Finnish, Blå Jungfrun and Öländska. The aforementioned article will be published in Silly Linguistics before the article on Komi-Zyrian and language in the Urals, titled This article will be titled: The Komi-Zyrian language, The Talking Golden Idol (with art), and other languages in the Ural Mountains. This will likely be the first of two articles for Silly Linguistics about language and the Ural mountains, although I may not get down to writing the second article for quite a while and have not started on it yet.