Mari language explained

Mari
Nativename:марий йылме marij jəlme
Familycolor:Uralic
Region:Russian Federation

autonomous republics Mari El, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Udmurtia; oblasti Nizhny Novgorod, Kirov, Sverdlovsk, Orenburg; Perm Krai

Speakers:more than 600,000
Fam2:Finno-Ugric
Fam3:Finno-Permic
Fam4:Finno-Volgaic
Nation:Mari El (Russian Federation)
Iso2:chm
Lc1:chm
Ld1:Mari (Russia)
Ll1:none
Lc2:mhr
Ld2:Eastern Mari
Ll2:none
Lc3:mrj
Ld3:Western Mari
Ll3:none

The Mari language (Mari: Mari: марий йылме, marii jylme, Russian: марийский язык), spoken by more than 600,000 people, belongs to the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic language family. It is spoken primarily in the Mari Republic (Mari: Mari: Марий Эл, Marii El, i.e. Mari Land) of the Russian Federation as well as in the area along the Vyatka river basin and eastwards to the Urals. Mari speakers, known as the Mari are found also in the Tatarstan, Udmurtia, and Perm regions.

Mari today has a unified standard form with two variants (Hill vs. Meadow or Western and Eastern, with the Eastern variant prevailing in everyday usage), using a modified version of the Cyrillic alphabet, and is the titular and official language of its republic, alongside Russian. The use of two "variants," as opposed to two "languages," has been hotly debated: on the one hand, Maris recognize the unity of the ethnic group; on the other hand, the structural differences between Hill and Meadow Mari are at least as substantial, if not more so, than those found in the successor languages to what used to be called Serbo-Croatian.

Ethnonym and glottonym

The Mari language and people were known as "Cheremis" (Russian: черемисы, черемисский язык, in mediæval texts the variant forms Cheremis', Sarmys, Tsarmys (Russian: черемись, сармыс, цармис) are also found; Tatar: Чирмеш|Çirmeş; Chuvash: Çармăс, Çarmâs) before the Russian Revolution. The term Mari comes from the Maris' self-designation Mari: марий (''mari''), which is thought to have been borrowed from the Indo-Aryan term *mar- (< PIE *mer-) 'man, mortal'.

Sociolinguistic situation

Most Maris live in rural areas with slightly more than a quarter living in cities. In the republican capital, Yoshkar-Ola, the percentage of Maris is just over 23%. At the end of the 1980s (per the 1989 census) Maris numbered 670,868, of whom 80% (542,160) claimed Mari as their first language and 18.8% did not speak Mari. In the Mari Republic, 11.6% claimed Mari was not their first language. In a survey by the Mari Research Institute more than 3/4 of Maris survey considered Mari language to be the most crucial marker of ethnic identity, followed by traditional culture (61%) and common historical past (22%), religion (16%), character and mentality (15%) and appearance (11%) (see Glukhov and Glukhov for details). A gradual downward trend towards assimilation to Russian has been noted for the Communist period: the 1926 census indicated more than 99% of Maris considered Mari their first language, declining to less than 81% in 1989. Some qualitative evidence of a reversal in recent years has been noted.

There was no state support for Mari language in Imperial Russia, and with the exception of some enthusiasts and numerous ecclesiastical texts by the Russian Orthodox Church, there was almost no education in Mari language. After the October Revolution, there was a period of support of all lesser national cultures in the Soviet Union, but eventually Russification returned. While the development of Mari literary language continued, still, only elementary-school education was available in Mari in the Soviet period, with this policy ending in village schools in the 1970–1980s. The period of glasnost and perestroika in the 1990s opened opportunities for a revival of efforts expand the use of Mari in education and the public sphere. In the 1990s, the Mari language, alongside Russian, was proclaimed in the republican constitution to be an official language of Mari El. By the beginning of the 21st century, Mari language and literature was taught in 226 schools. At the History and Philology Department of the Mari State University and the Krupskaya Teachers' Training Institute (Yoshkar-Ola), more than half of the subjects are taught in Mari.

Dialects

Traditionally there are two macrodialects of Mari: Hill Mari, spoken on the upper bank of the Volga River, near Kozmodemyansk, and Meadow Mari on the lowland bank in and around the republican capital, Yoshkar-Ola. Today linguists distinguish four dialects: Hill (right-bank of the Volga and part of the left bank), Meadow (at the confluence of the Kokshaga and Volga rivers), Eastern (east of the Vyatka), and North-Western. Some Mari also speak Tatar language.

Orthography

Draft version of the Latin alphabet from 1930

aäвgdzƶi
jkʟʟ̧mnŋ
oprstuüc
şçәӛefhč
t’d’

Meadow Mari Alphabet

А аБ бВ вГ гД дЕ еЁ ёЖ ж
З зИ иЙ йК кЛ лМ мН н
О оÖ öП пР рС сТ тУ у
Ф фХ хЦ цЧ чШ шЩ щЪ ъЫ ы
Ь ьЭ эЮ юЯ я

Hill Mari Alphabet

А аÄ äБ бВ вГ гД дЕ еЁ ё
Ж жЗ зИ иЙ йК кЛ лМ мН н
О оÖ öП пР рС сТ тУ у
Ф фХ хЦ цЧ чШ шЩ щЪ ъЫ ы
Ь ьЭ эЮ юЯ я

Grammar

Like other Uralic languages, Mari is an agglutinating language. It lacks grammatical gender, and does not use articles.

Phonology

Vowels

HeightFrontback
unroundedroundedunroundedrounded
Closeи/i ӹ/ı 1у/u
Midе/e ы/ə о/o
Openä/ä 1-а/a -
  1. Only in Hill Mari
Word prosody and vowel harmony

Stress is not phonemic in Mari, but a dynamic stress system is exhibited phonetically, the stressed syllable being higher in pitch and amplitude and greater in length than an unstressed syllable. Generally, there is one prominent syllable per word and prominence may be found in any syllable of the word. Post- and prefixes behave as clitics, i.e., they do not have their own stress. For example, (house) гыч (out of) → ; му́ро (song) дене (with) → .

As in other Uralic languages, Mari displays vowel harmony, including harmony of both round/unround and front/back. If the stressed vowel in the word is rounded, then the suffix will contain a rounded vowel: (herd) → (in the herd); if the stressed vowel is unrounded, then the suffix will contain an unrounded vowel: ки́д (hand) → ки́дыште (in the hand). If the stressed vowel is back, then the suffix will end in a back vowel: агу́р (whirlpool) → агу́рышто 'in the whirlpool' (Зорина, Крылова, Якимова 1990: 9).

Consonants

Consonants are shown in Cyrillic, Latin, and the IPA:

MannerLabialDentalAlveolarPostalveolarPalatalVelar
PlosiveVoicelessп/p -т/t, т(ь)/t' 1 2--к/k
Voiced(б/b)3-(д/d)3--(г/g)3
FricativeVoicelessф/f 1-с/s ш/š -х/h 1
Voicedб/b 3д/d 3з/z ж/ž -г/g 3
Affricate--ц/c 1ч/č --
Nasalм/m -н/n -н(ь)/n’ 24
Lateral--л/l -л(ь)/l’ 2-
Rhotic--р/r (or)---
Approximant----j -
  1. Only in Hill Mari and in loan words.
  2. Palatalisation is marked in different ways. A у following a palatalised consonant is written as ю, an а following a palatalised consonant is written as я. If the vowel following a palatalised consonant is an е or an и, palatalisation is not marked at all. In other cases, the soft sign ь is used to mark palatalisation.
  3. In Russian loan words, б/д/г are pronounced as b/d/ɡ. Some speakers pronounce them as such in general, due to Russian influence on the language.
  4. The modified Cyrillic letter for the velar nasal combines the Cyrillic letter Н н with and Г г, where the rightmost post of Н is conflated with the vertical post of Г: . While Hill Mari has the sound too, the character is only used in Meadow Mari.

Declension

Case

Meadow Mari has 9 productive cases, of which 3 are locative cases. The usage of these is restricted to inanimate objects.

Many cases, aside from their basic function, are used in other situations, such as in expressions of time.

The nominative case is used for subjects, predicatives and for other grammatical functions.

The genitive case is used for possessive constructions.

The dative is the indirect object's case.

The accusative is the direct object's case.

The comitative is used as when a subject or an object can be split up into parts, or in adverbials expressing the involvement of an object in an action.

The comparative is used to express the likeness to something.

The inessive used to state where something is.

The illative is used to state where something is going.

The lative is used to express, into what something is going.

Case NameSuffixQuestion WordsExample (animate)Example (inanimate)
Nominative-кö, мо (who, what)йоча (a child - subject)ял (a village - subject)
Genitive-(ы)нкöн, мон (whose, what's)йочан (of a child)ялын (of a village)
Dative-ланкöлан, молан (to whom, to what/why)йочалан (to a child)яллан (to a village)
Accusative-(ы)мкöм, мом (whom, what)йочам (a child - object)ялым (a village - object)
Comitative-гекöге, моге (with whom, with what)йочаге (with a child)ялге (with a village)
Comparative-лакöла, мола (like who, like what)йочала (like a child)ялла (like a village)
Inessive-(ы)ште/(ы)што/(ы)штӧкушто (where)-ялыште (in a village)
Illative-(ы)шке/(ы)шко/(ы)шкӧ, -(ы)ш1кушко/куш (where to)-ялышке/ялыш (to a village)
Lative-ш/еш/эшкушан (where to)-ялеш (into a village)
  1. The illative has a short form, equivalent to the long form in meaning.

If a locative statement was to be made about an animate object, postpositions would be used.

Additionally, terms denoting family members have Vocative forms. These are, however, not created with a specific paradigm, and only exist in a few pre-defined cases.

Hill Mari has these cases, plus the Caritative case, which is used to form adverbials stating without the involvement or influence of what an action happens.

Number

Mari, though an agglutinative language, does not have a separate morpheme to signify plurality. There are three particles, which are attached to the end of words with a hyphen, used to signify plural.

Possessive Suffixes

Every grammatical person in Mari has its own possessive suffix.

PersonSuffixExample
--шӱргӧ (face)
First Person Singular-ем/эмшӱргем (my face)
Second Person Singular-ет/этшӱргет (your face)
Third Person Singular-же/жо/жӧ/ше/шо/шӧшӱргыжӧ (his/her/its face)
First Person Plural-нашӱргына (our face)
Second Person Plural-дашӱргыда (your face)
Third Person Singular-шт/ыштшӱргышт (their face)

Additional Suffixes

Additional particles, falling into none of the categories above, can be added to the very end of a word, giving it some additional meaning. For example, the suffix -ат (-at), means 'also' or 'too'.

Arrangement of Suffixes

The arrangement of suffixes varies from case to case. While the case suffixes are after the possessive suffixes in the genitive and the accusative, the opposite is the case for the locative cases. In the dative, both arrangements are possible.

CaseSingularExamplePlural
NominativePпӧртем - 'my house (subject)'пӧртем-влак - 'my houses (subject)'
GenitiveP --> Cпӧртемын - 'of my house'пӧртем-влакын - 'of my houses'
AccusativeP --> Cпӧртемым - 'my house (object)'пӧртем-влакым - 'my houses (object)'
ComitativeP --> Cпӧртемге - 'with my house'пӧртем-влакге - 'with my houses'
DativeP --> C, C --> Pпӧртемлан, пӧртланем 'to my houses'пӧртем-влаклан 'to my houses'
ComparativeP --> C, C --> Pпӧртемла, пӧртлам - 'like my house'пӧртем-влакла - 'like my house'
InessiveC --> Pпӧртыштем - 'in my house'пӧрт-влакыштем - 'in my houses'
IllativeC --> Pпӧртышкем - 'into my house'пӧрт-влакышкем - 'into my houses'
LativeC --> Pпӧртешем - 'into my houses'пӧрт-влакешем - 'into my houses'

There are many other arrangements in the plural - the position of the plural particle is flexible. The arrangement here is one commonly used possibility.

Comparison

Comparison happens with adjectives and adverbs. The comparative is formed with the suffix -рак (-rak). The superlative is formed by adding the word эн (en) in front.

Conjugation

Morphologically, conjugation follows three tenses and three moods in Meadow Mari.

Conjugation Classes

In Meadow Mari, words can conjugate according to two conjugation classes. These differ from each other in all forms but the infinitive. Unfortunately, the infinitive is the form denoted in dictionaries and word lists. It is, thus, necessary to either mark verb infinitives by their conjugation class in word lists, or to include a form in which the conjugation class is visible - usually, the first person singular present, which ends in -ам (or -ям) for verbs in the first declination, and in -ем (or -эм) for second declination verbs.

Tense

The three tenses of Mari verbs are:

The present tense is used for present and future actions, for states of being and for habitual actions, among others.

The first preterite is used to express observed, recent actions.

The second preterite is used for actions which lie more distantly in the past.

Additional tenses can be formed through periphrasis.

Mood

The moods are:

The indicative is used to express facts and positive beliefs. All intentions that a particular language does not categorize as another mood are classified as indicative. It can be formed in all persons, in all times.

The imperative expresses direct commands, requests, and prohibitions. It only exists in the present tense, and exists in all persons but the first person singular.

The desiderative is used to express desires. It can be formed for all persons, in the present tense and in the two periphrastic imperfect tenses.

Negation

Negation in Mari uses a 'negative verb', much like Finnish does. The negative verb is more versatile than the negative verb in Finnish (see Finnish grammar), existing in more grammatical tenses and moods. It has its own form in the present indicative, imperative and desiderative, and in the first preterite indicative. Other negations are periphrastic.

The negation verb in its corresponding form is put in front of a the stem of the negated verb, which is equal to the second person singular of a verb, much as it is in Finnish and Estonian.

PersonIndicative PresentImperative PresentDesiderative PresentIndicative First Preterite
First Person Singularом (om)-ынем (ənem)шым (šəm)
Second Person Singularот (ot)ит (it)ынет (ənet)шыч (səč)
Third Person Singularогеш (ogeš) / ок (ok)ынже (ənže)ынеж(е) (ənež(e))ыш (əš)
First Person Pluralогына (ogəna) / она (ona)-ынена (ənena)ышна (əšna)
Second Person Pluralогыда (ogəda) / ода (oda)ида (ida)ынеда (əneda)ышда (əšda)
Third Person Pluralогыт (ogət)ынышт (ənəšt)ынешт (ənešt)ышт (əšt)

The verb улаш (ulaš) - to be - has its own negated forms.

Person
First Person Singular - 'I am not'омыл (oməl)
Second Person Singular - 'You are not'отыл (otəl)
Third Person Singular - 'He/she/it is not'огыл (ogəl)
First Person Plural - 'We are not'огынал (ogənal) / онал (onal)
Second Person Plural - 'You are not'огыдал (ogədal) / одал (odal)
Third Person Plural - 'They are not'огытыл (ogətəl)

Word Forms

In order to illustrate the conjugation in the respective moods and times, one verb of the first declination (лекташ - to go) and one verb of the second declination (мондаш - to forget) will be used.

Conjugation of the present indicative positive
Person1st Dec. pos.2nd Dec. pos.
1st Singularлектам (I go)мондем (I forget)
2nd Singularлектат (You go)мондет (You forget)
3rd Singularлектеш (He/she/it goes)монда (He/she/it forgets)
1st Pluralлектына (We go)мондена (We forget)
2nd Pluralлектыда (You go)мондеда (You forget)
3rd Pluralлектыт (They go)мондат (They forget)
Conjugation of the present indicative negative
Person1st Dec. neg.2nd Dec. neg.
1st Singularом лек2 (I don't go)ом мондо1 (I don't forget)
2nd Singularот лек2 (You don't go)от мондо1 (You don't forget)
3rd Singularогеш лек2 (He/she/it doesn't go)огеш мондо1 (He/she/it doesn't forget)
1st Pluralогына лек2 (We don't go)огына мондо1 (We don't forget)
2nd Pluralогыда лек2 (You don't go)огыда мондо1 (You don't forget)
3rd Pluralогыт лек2 (They don't go)огыт мондо1 (They don't forget)
  1. Bold letters are subject to Vowel harmony - they can be е/о/ӧ, depending on the preceding full vowel's properties.
  2. First conjugation verb forms using the imperative second person singular as their stem are subject to the same stem changes the imperative is subject to - see imperative second person singular.
Conjugation of the 1st preterite indicative positive
Person1st Dec. pos.2nd Dec. pos.
1st Singularлектым3 (I went)мондышым (I forgot)
2nd Singularлектыч3 (You went)мондышыч (You forgot)
3rd Singularлекте1, 3 (He/she/it went)мондыш (He/she/it forgot)
1st Pluralлекна2 (We went)мондышна (We forget)
2nd Pluralлекда2 (You went)мондышда (You forgot)
3rd Pluralлектыч3 (They went)мондышт (They forgot)
  1. Bold letters are subject to Vowel harmony -- they can be е/о/ӧ, depending on the preceding full vowel's properties.
  2. First conjugation verb forms using the imperative second person singular as their stem are subject to the same stem changes the imperative is subject to - see imperative second person singular.
  3. If the consonant prior to the ending can be palatalized – if it is a л(l) or an н(n) – it is palatalized in this position. Note that palatalization is not marked if the vowel following a consonant is an е.
    колаш --> кольым, кольыч, кольо, колна, колда,кольыч (to hear)
Conjugation of the 1st preterite indicative negative
Person1st Dec. neg.2nd Dec. neg.
1st Singularшым лек2 (I didn't go)шым мондо1 (I didn't forget)
2nd Singularшыч лек2 (You didn't go)шыч мондо1 (You didn't forget)
3rd Singularыш лек2 (He/she/it didn't go)ыш мондо1 (He/she/it didn't forget)
1st Pluralышна лек2 (We didn't go)ышна мондо1 (We don't forget)
2nd Pluralышда лек2 (You didn't go)ышда мондо1 (You didn't forget)
3rd Pluralышт лек2 (They didn't go)ышт мондо1 (They didn't forget)
  1. Bold letters are subject to Vowel harmony - they can be е/о/ӧ, depending on the preceding full vowel's properties.
  2. First conjugation verb forms using the imperative second person singular as their stem are subject to the same stem changes the imperative is subject to - see imperative second person singular.
Conjugation of the 2st preterite indicative positive
Person1st Dec. pos.2nd Dec. pos.
1st Singularлектынам (I went)монденам (I forgot)
2nd Singularлектынат (You went)монденат (You forgot)
3rd Singularлектын (He/she/it went)монден (He/she/it forgot)
1st Pluralлектынна (We went)монденна (We forget)
2nd Pluralлектында (You went)монденда (You forgot)
3rd Pluralлектыныт (They went)монденыт (They forgot)
Conjugation of the 2st preterite indicative negative
Person1st Dec. neg.2nd Dec. neg.
1st Singularлектын омыл (I didn't go)монден омыл (I didn't forget)
2nd Singularлектын отыл (You didn't go)монден отыл (You didn't forget)
3rd Singularлектын огыл(He/she/it didn't go)монден огыл(He/she/it didn't forget)
1st Pluralлектын огынал (We didn't go)монден огынал (We don't forget)
2nd Pluralлектын огыдал (You didn't go)монден огыдал (You didn't forget)
3rd Pluralлектын огытыл (They didn't go)монден огытыл (They didn't forget)
Conjugation of the imperative positive
Person1st Dec. pos.2nd Dec. pos.
1st Singular--
2nd Singularлек3 (Go!)мондо1 (Forget!)
3rd Singularлекше2 (He/She/It should go)мондыжо1 (He/She/It should forget)
1st Pluralлектына (Let's go)мондена (Let's forget)
2nd Pluralлекса2 (Go!)мондыза (Forget!)
3rd Pluralлекытшт (They should go)мондышт (They should forget)
  1. Bold letters are subject to Vowel harmony - they can be е/о/ӧ, depending on the preceding full vowel's properties.
  2. First conjugation verb forms using the imperative second person singular as their stem are subject to the same stem changes the imperative is subject to.
  3. In the first conjugation, the imperative second person singular is formed by removing the "-аш" ending from the infinitive. Four consonant combinations are not allowed at the end of an imperative, and are thus simplified -- one consonant is lost.
    "кт" --> "к", "нч" --> "ч", "чк" --> "ч", "шк" --> "ш"
Conjugation of the imperative negative
Person1st Dec. neg.2nd Dec. neg.
1st Singular--
2nd Singularит лек2 (Don't go!)ит мондо1 (Don't forget!)
3rd Singularынже лек2 (He/She/It shouldn't go)ынже мондо1 (He/She/It shouldn't forget)
1st Pluralогына лек2 (Let's not go)огына мондо1 (Let's not forget)
2nd Pluralида лек2 (Don't go!)ида мондо1 (Don't forget!)
3rd Pluralынышт лек2 (They shouldn't go)ынышт мондо1 (They shouldn't forget)
  1. Bold letters are subject to Vowel harmony - they can be е/о/ӧ, depending on the preceding full vowel's properties.
  2. First conjugation verb forms using the imperative second person singular as their stem are subject to the same stem changes the imperative is subject to - see imperative second person singular.
Conjugation of the present desiderative positive
Person1st Dec. pos.2nd Dec. pos.
1st Singularлекнем2 (I want to go)мондынем (I want to forget)
2nd Singularлекнет2 (You want to go)мондынет (You want to forget)
3rd Singularлекнеже2 (He/she/it wants to go)мондынеже (He/she/it wants to forget)
1st Pluralлекнена2 (We want to go)мондынена (We want to forget)
2nd Pluralлекнеда2 (You want to go)мондынеда (You want to forget)
3rd Pluralлекнешт2 (They want to go)мондынешт (They want to forget)
  1. First conjugation verb forms using the imperative second person singular as their stem are subject to the same stem changes the imperative is subject to - see imperative second person singular.
Conjugation of the present desiderative negative
Person1st Dec. neg.2nd Dec. neg.
1st Singularынем лек2 (I don't want to go)ынем мондо1 (I don't want to forget)
2nd Singularынет лек2 (You don't want to go)ынет мондо1 (You don't want to forget)
3rd Singularынеже лек2 (He/she/it doesn't want to go)ынеже мондо1 (He/she/it doesn't want to forget)
1st Pluralынена лек2 (We don't want to go)ынена мондо1 (We don't want to forget)
2nd Pluralынеда лек2 (You don't want to go)ынеда мондо1 (You don't want to forget)
3rd Pluralынешт лек2 (They don't want to go)ынешт мондо1 (They don't want to forget)
  1. Bold letters are subject to Vowel harmony - they can be е/о/ӧ, depending on the preceding full vowel's properties.
  2. First conjugation verb forms using the imperative second person singular as their stem are subject to the same stem changes the imperative is subject to - see imperative second person singular.
Conjugation of улаш - to be - in the indicative mood
PersonPresent (positive)Present (negative)1st preterite (positive)1st preterite (negative)2nd preterite (positive)2nd preterite (negative)
1st Sing.улам (I am)омыл (I am not)ыльым (I was)шым лий (I was not)улынам (I was)лийын омыл (I was not)
2nd Sing.улат (You are)отыл (You are not)ыльыч (You were)шыч лий (You were not)улынат (You were)лийын отыл (You were not)
3rd Sing.уло (улеш) (He/she/it is)огыл (He/she/it is not)ыле (He/she/it was)ыш лий (He/she/it was not)улмаш(ын) (He/she/it was)лийын огыл (He/she/it was not)
1st Pl.улына (We are)огынал (We are not)ыльна (We were)ышна лий (We were not)улынна (We were)лийын огынал (We were not)
2nd Pl.улыда (You are)огыдал (You are not)ыльда (You were)ышда лий (You were not)улында (You were)лийын огыдал (You were not)
3rd Pl.улыт (They are)огытыл (They are not)ыльыч (They were)ышт лий (They were not)улыныт (They were)лийын огытыл (Theywere not)

Infinitive Forms

Verbs have two infinitive forms - the standard infinitive, and the necessive infinitive, used when a person must do something. The person needing to do something is put in the dative in such a situation.

Participles

There are four participles in Meadow Mari:

Gerunds

There are five gerunds in Meadow Mari:

Syntax

Word order in Mari is Subject Object Verb.

Some common words and phrases

Note that the accent mark, which denotes the place of stress, is not used in actual Mari orthography.

Bibliography

External links

Mari language and useful dictionaries:

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