Florian Siegl florian.siegl at gmx.net
Tue Oct 30 11:13:03 UTC 2012

Thank you all who have contributed so far to this discussion. It is of 
course too early to send a summary, but we are very pleased to see that 
some kind of online discussion is possible on Ura-List.

I quickly want to comment, strictly personally, on several concerns 
raised by Annika Pasanen. These were raised also in our seminars in 

First, I can live with the label old-fashioned, but I raise my voice and 
object that what we intend to do is false. As I already mentioned in the 
original query, this list is NOT to become a sanctioned list nor do we 
intend to normalize discourse. In a pluralistic scientific community, we 
have given some of our criteria how we arrived at "our" numbers and 
invite comments. And of course, nobody is obliged to use them! But as a 
good scientific principle, beside criticism one should be fair and 
present an alternative classification! And en passant, you yourself have 
used the "old-fashioned" 350.

Of course I understand your point of view concerning revitalization and 
I think that the number is compatible with revitalized speakers who have 
e.g. Inari Saami as another mother tongue. They would count as 
"old-fashioned" native language speakers such as a bilingual Mordvin, 
Mari or Enets (perhaps not for the census as there one has only one 
mother tongue but for "old-fashioned" Uralic linguists who admit daily 
bilingualism for the majority of Uralic languages). Yes, we can be 
criticized for discriminating speech communities but I think that we are 
here in good company. To the best of my knowledge, the Saami Parliament 
does not take L2 speakers with non-Saami background as speaker of Saami.

An argument against L2 speakers we discussed in the seminars in Helsinki 
was based on some recent Livonian examples in Estonian newspapers. Some 
time ago, the number of potential Livonian speakers was given in one of 
the dailies with almost 300, because a reporter just added all students 
who over the years took classes in Livonian at the University of Tartu 
as new speakers. Here, I as an "old-fashioned" linguist raise objections 
because this viewpoint is clearly too naïve. Comparing it to my own 
courses on Forest Enets, I have taught the structure of this language to 
about 60 students over the years, but I won't classify any of those as a 
new speaker of the language! I think, here we just have to confess that 
there are multiple ways of classification and as long as we make our 
criteria clear, there is room for more than just one number. Still, make 
your criteria clear!

And concerning the second comment by Annika Pasanen: /If numbers of 
speakers in this list are remarkably declined compared to earlier 
estimations, there should be strong evidence about diminishing speakers. 
There's no sense to replace conjectured estimation with another, 
although there would be some kind of "common feeling", that there are 
not so many speakers as it has been estimated./

This is precisely one of the reasons of this query. Too many people 
doubt official numbers and offer their own speculative ones. Whereas the 
decline of speakers of e.g. Forest Enets, Tundra Enets, Nganasan, Ume 
Saami, Pite Saami, Akkala Saami is indisputable and possible to proof, 
larger communities even as small as Inari and Skolt Saami already resist 
such interpretations, not to speak of larger languages like Tundra 
Nenets, Komi, Udmurt or Mordvin. As there are no acceptable means and 
tools how to count every speaker of Mordvin, all we can do is interpret 
census data with general demographic trends. At least some assumptions 
from a social scientist outside linguistics have been incorporated. Of 
course, we can be accused of replacing one estimation with another, but 
one should make ones principles clear!

In the meanwhile another comment by Cornelius Hasselblatt arrived. In 
the list under discussion Livonian is represented as (Latvia) meaning 
used to be spoken in Latvia. As the last speaker is very likely not 
speaking the language on a daily basis in Canada, we have not intended 
to replace Latvia as the historical territory with Canada. This is going 
into the same direction as the comments by Michael Riessler on how to 
classify the new Skolt speakers in Norway. There is only one slight 
difference: Skolt Saami was once spoken in Norway. I doubt that even in 
the heydays of the Uralic Revolution, nobody would have assumed that 
Canada was the Urheimat of Livonian. Nevertheless, this point is of 
importance e.g. what to do with Diasporas in capitals e.g. Saamis in 
Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki; Maris in Saint Petersburg, Moscow or in Estonia?

Again, thank you very much for participation and we hope to gather more 
comments, both online and offline!

Best wishes from Helsinki,

Florian Siegl
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