Karelian is a language closely related to Finnish, with which it is not necessarily mutually intelligible. Karelian is spoken mainly in Republic of Karelia, Russia. Dialects spoken in Finnish Karelia (North Karelia and South Karelia) are not considered Karelian but dialects of Finnish.
Karelian belongs to the Finno-Ugric languages, and is distinguished from Finnish by some important extensions to the phonology and the lack of influence from modern 19th and 20th century Finnish. It cannot merely be classified as a Finnish dialect with Russian influences, because it has original innovations and it may differ considerably from Finnish. There is no standard Karelian language, although the Republic of Karelia's authorities have recently begun to attempt standardization. Each writer writes in Karelian according to his own dialectal form. The script is the Latin alphabet as used for Finnish with letters added.
In this article, Karelian denotes dialects from Russian Karelia. In Finnish usage, however, Karelian mostly denotes the dialects of the 420,000 refugees from the Karelian isthmus and other parts of Finnish Karelia that were re-settled in what remains of Finland after World War II. These dialects were influenced by massive immigration, chiefly from Savonia, following the 17th century expansion of the Lutheran Swedish realm extending as far as to Ingria. Thus the linguistic border between (Orthodox) Russian Karelia and (Lutheran) Finnish Karelia was probably more pronounced than that between Finnish Karelia and Savonia. Today, these dialects are concentrated to the towns of the South Karelian region of Finland, where many refugees ended up.
The Karelian variety has three main branches:
Finnish and Karelian were suppressed and outlawed during Stalin's Great Purges. Karelian was considered a dialect of Finnish and thus wasn't written as is before the Soviet times. The Soviets created several Cyrillic standardizations, which all failed, in the end due to Stalin's persecution of Karelians as "undesirables".
Finnish, and not Karelian, was the second official language of Karelia from the Winter War 1940 up until the 1980s, when perestroika began. Since the late 1990s there have been moves to pass special language legislation, which would give Karelian an official status. Finnish has also again been proposed as a second official language for the republic, but the proposal has never been implemented.
The dialects spoken by the mainly Lutheran Finnish Karelian population in the South Karelian Region of Finland, where many World War II refugees were re-settled, are considered to be part of the South Eastern dialects of the Finnish language. The dialect spoken in the Karelian Isthmus before World War II and the Ingrian language are also seen as part of this dialect group, in Finland sometimes denoted as Karelian dialect.
As it could also be argued Karelian should be considered separate from Finnish because of its geopolitical location within the boundaries of another state, a conclusion might be that Karelian has a similar relation to Finnish as has English to the Scots language.
These differences are not merely a Russian influence, since they are found in native words.
Notice that 'c' and 'č' have length levels, which is not found in standard Finnish. For example, in Kalevala, Lönnrot's orthography metsä : metsän hides the fact that the pronunciation of the original material is actually /mettšä : metšän/, with palatalization of the affricate. The exact details depend on the dialect, though. See Yleiskielen ts:n murrevastineet.
|č||ch||/ʧ/||šoma, seiččemän||soma, seitsemän|
|ž||zh||/ʒ/||kiža, liedžu||kisa, lietsu|
Karelian actually uses /z/ as a voiced alveolar fricative. (In Finnish, z is a foreign spelling for /ts/.) The plosives /b/, /d/ and /g/ may be voiced. (Most Finnish speakers don't differentiate these from /p/, /t/, and /k/.)
The letters č, š and ž are postalveolars. They are replaceable with the digraphs ch, sh and zh — even so that ruočči becomes ruochchi. The sounds represented by č, š and ž are native to Karelian, but not Finland Finnish. Finnish speakers do not distinguish /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ from /s/, nor /tʃ/ from /ts/ (medial) or /s/ (initial). For example, the native Karelian words kiža, kuču, šoma, liedžu and seiččemän are kisa, kutsu, soma, lietsu and seitsemän in standard Finnish.
Modern Karelian alphabet (2007)
|A a [aa]||B b [bee]||Č č [čee]||D d [dee]||E e [ee]||F f [ef]||G g [gee]|
|H h [haa]||I i [ii]||J j [jii]||K k [kaa]||L l [el]||M m [em]||N n [en]|
|O o [oo]||P p [pee]||R r [er]||S s [es]||Š š [šee]||Z z [zee]||Ž ž [žee]|
|T t [tee]||U u [uu]||V v [vee]||Y y [yy]||Ä ä [ää]||Ö ö [öö]||'|