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The Finnic (Fennic) or Balto-Finnic (Baltic Finnic) languages constitute a branch of the Uralic language family spoken around the Baltic Sea by the Baltic Finnic peoples. There are around 7 million speakers, who live mainly in Finland and Estonia.
|Baltic Finnic, Balto-Finnic
|Fennoscandia, Estonia, Latvia, Northwestern Russia
Traditionally, eight Finnic languages have been recognized. The major modern representatives of the family are Finnish and Estonian, the official languages of their respective nation states. The other Finnic languages in the Baltic Sea region are Ingrian and Votic, spoken in Ingria by the Gulf of Finland, and Livonian, once spoken around the Gulf of Riga. Spoken farther northeast are Karelian, Ludic, and Veps, in the region of Lakes Onega and Ladoga.
In addition, since the 1990s, several Finnic-speaking minority groups have emerged to seek recognition for their languages as distinct from the ones they have been considered dialects of in the past. Some of these groups have established their own orthographies and standardised languages. Võro and Seto, which are spoken in southeastern Estonia and in some parts of Russia, are considered dialects of Estonian by some linguists, while other linguists consider them separate languages. Meänkieli and Kven are spoken in northern Sweden and Norway respectively and have the legal status of independent minority languages. They were earlier considered dialects of Finnish and are somewhat mutually intelligible with it, depending on the dialect. Additionally, the Karelian language was not officially recognised as its own language in Finland until 2009, despite there being no linguistic confusion about its status.
The smaller languages are endangered. The last native speaker of Livonian died in 2013, and only about a dozen native speakers of Votic remain. Regardless, even for these languages, the shaping of a standard language and education in it continues.
The geographic centre of the maximum divergence between the languages is located east of the Gulf of Finland around Saint Petersburg. A glottochronological study estimates the age of the common ancestor of existing languages to a little more than 1000 years. However, Mikko Heikkilä dates the beginning of the diversification (with South Estonian as the first split) rather precisely to about 150 AD, based on loanword evidence (and previous estimates tend to be even older, like Pekka Sammallahti's of 1000–600 BC). There is now wide agreement that Proto-Finnic was probably spoken at the coasts of the Gulf of Finland.
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