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The Permic languages are spoken by about 950.000 people. The speakers live in the Russian Federation, more precisely in the Komi Autonomous Republic, in the Udmurtia Autonomous Republic, and in the Komi-Permyat Autonomus Okrug.

The Permic languages constitute a subgroup of the Finno-Ugric languages, which belong to the Uralic language family.

There are three Permic languages: 1) Komi-Permyak with more than 100.000 speakers, chiefly spoken in the Komi-Permyak National Okrug in the Russian Federation, 2) Komi-Zyrian with more than 250.000 speakers, mainly spoken in the Komi Autonomous Republic in the Russian Federation, 3) Udmurt with about 550.000 speakers, predominantly spoken in the Udmurtskaya Autonomous Republic of the Russian Federation.

The oldest written attestations of a Permic language date back to the 14th century: Old Komi, also called Old Zyrian, was written with a script, that had been developed by the first bishop to the Zyrians. This Old Komi writing system was in use until the 17th century. Only 200-odd Old Komi words have been preserved until today. The first written publications of Udmurt appeared in the middle of the 19th century. The present day Permic literary languages have been developed after the Russian Revolution in 1917.

The literary Permic languages have seven vowel phonemes. The vowel system is characterised by the following oppositions: high, mid, low; front, back; rounded, unrounded.

The Permic languages have no vowel harmony.

The inventory of stops/affricates in Permic is characterised by a opposition between palatalised and plain stops/affricates. The Proto-Uralic stops *p, *t, *k have been retained in word-initial position, but have been deleted between vowels.

Grammatical functions are chiefly expressed by suffixes in Permic morphology. Permic morphology is prevalently agglutinative, i.e. grammatical affixes are easily segmentable and convey only a single meaning.However, this is not true for verbal endings, which are syncretic and convey several meanings.

All Permic languages have a rich inventory of morphological cases: Komi-Permyak has 24, Komi-Zyrian has 17 and Udmurt has 15 cases.

The Permic verb has four basic tenses: present, past, perfect and future. Aside from these there is a number of secondary compound tenses.

A special negative verb is used for negation. This verb, which is defective, encodes person and number of the subject and tense as well.

The syntax of the Permic languages is prevalently left-branching, i.e. adjuncts precede heads: adjectives precede nouns, nouns precede postpositions, possessors precede possession, and in unmarked order of constituents direct objects precede the verb.

The Permic languages originally were characterised by a nearly complete lack of subordinating conjunctions and subordinate clauses. Instead they used deverbal nominal and adverbial constructions. However, due to the influence of Russian the use of subordinating and co-ordinating conjunctions increased to a significant extent.

The Komi-Permyak and Komi-Zyrian lexicon has layers of Iranian, Volga-Bolgaric (=the ancestor of Chuvash), Balto-Fennic and Ob-Ugric loan words, whereas the oldest layers of lexical loans in Udmurt are of Chuvash and Tatar origin. All three languages have borrowed extensively from Russian in the recent centuries.

Bernhard Scheucher

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