Western Ingria - Where Languages and Dialects Meet

Ilkka Savijärvi

The history, language and culture of the Ingrian Finns has been the focus of much research in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Joensuu. Central themes within the linguistic research have included the state of Ingrian Finnish today, including its relationship to its related neighbouring languages, i.e. Estonian, Ingrian (Russ. izora) and Votian, and the position of Ingrian Finnish under the pressure of other languages, especially Russian. In 1994 the volume Inkeriläiskertomuksia ('Tales of the Ingrian Finns') was published in the series Studia Carelica Humanistica. It describes the language, the lives and the fates of the Ingrian Finns in Estonia, near the city of Tartu. The present volume takes the reader to the villages of western Ingria, to the area of Kurkolanniemi (Russ. Kurgolovo) and Kattila (Russ. Katli).

The texts in this volume are transcriptions of recordings made in western Ingria in the summer of 1993. The team of researchers who visited the area included Ilkka and Muusa Savijärvi, Ari Hepoaho, Mila Korpisammal and Esa Anttikoski. Our travels took us around the western coast of Kurkolanniemi, to the old Ingrian Finnish villages of Hakaja (Russ. Gakkovo), Konnu (Russ. Konnovo) and Kiiskala (Russ. Tiskolovo). We also visited Kattila, a large old Votian-Russian village, the small Ingrian Finnish village of Kikkeritsa and Luutsa (Russ. Luzitsa) village by the bay of Laukaanlahti (Russ. Ust'-Luga), where a small number of Ingrians and a few Votes still reside.

Dozens of people were interviewed comprising approximately 40 hours of recordings. The aim was to provide as wide a view as possible of the linguistic situation in western Ingria today. A central issue was who still speaks Ingrian Finnish and in what situations? The extent to which a language or a dialect is maintained varies considerably among different individuals. Some of the informants in the present volume have retained their old Ingrian Finnish dialect, some have acquired features from standard Finnish and some reflect the influence of Estonian or Russian, which has been present for decades. Thus the texts in the volume are not linguistically uniform, but rather they represent a multitude of different languages and dialects of western Ingria. The informants are all over 60 years of age, since the younger generation has a command of Ingrian Finnish which at best consists of a few individual phrases. The Finnic languages and dialects of western Ingria survive only in the older generations, but they are still used to convey feelings, thoughts and human destinies.

During the past few centuries both the population and the linguistic map of western Ingria have been diverse. On this relatively small area of land Ingrians, Finns, Votes and Estonians have lived side by side and sometimes even intertwined, alongside an increasing amount of Russians and even a few Swedes and Germans. During this century the ethnic composition of the region has become more uniform and the linguistic diversity has decreased dramatically. There are only a few remnants of the Finnic tribes and the overwhelming majority language of the area is now Russian. In the small villages of western Ingria one can still find those who have retained their mother tongue, Ingrian Finnish, Ingrian or even Votian, and who can relate the destinies of their people, their eventful and often gloomy recent past.

Votes and Ingrians: the native peoples of western Ingria

The southern shore of the Gulf of Finland has long been inhabited by Baltic-Finnic peoples. Towards the end of the first millennium, the Votes and the Ingrians settled in present-day Ingria. In western Ingria these Baltic-Finnic tribes have survived in small fragments.

One of the administrative districts of ancient Novgorod was called the "Votian fifth" (Russ. Votskaja pjatina). It was named after the Votes, but as far as we know they have never been an important group, an independent people or even a tribe with a strong national identity. The information we have on the population of the Votes dates back only as far as the middle of the last century. At that time there were around five thousand Votes. The population grew by two thousand at the turn of the century, but subsequently declined steeply. Today there are only about 50 Votes remaining, some of whom do not speak Votian.

The Ingrian tribe was not very large either. In the middle of the 19th century there were less than 18 000 Ingrians, and in 1970 only 800. Today there are approximately 200 Ingrians left. At first Ingrians were acknowledged as a separate nationality in the Soviet Union. This was seen in their passports, which were marked "Izora". During the past decades their official status has changed and the nationality of Ingrians is marked in their passports as being "Russian".

The status of Ingrians and their language has also been problematic from the point of view of research. There is still doubt as to whether we should speak of a distinct Ingrian language or merely an Ingrian dialect. Finnish linguists have usually classified Ingrian as a dialect, which is closely related to Karelian languages. Researchers have discussed "Ingrian dialects" without specifying precisely which language they are dialects of. Estonian researchers, on the other hand, have for a long time spoken of an independent Ingrian language (Est. isuri keel). Recently, however, some Finnish researchers have also begun to refer to an independent Ingrian language.

The Votes have never had a Votian literature nor have they had education in their mother tongue. The Ingrian tribe has been somewhat stronger, which can also be seen in the fact that the last Votian generations have generally considered themselves Izoras, i.e. Ingrians, and have usually also spoken Ingrian. Izora became the general name for the native Finnic peoples in Ingria. In the 1930s Ingrian schoolbooks were published and it began to be used as the medium of education. This experiment was cut short and the Ingrians themselves didn't seem to be very excited by it. Many parents were opposed to the idea of teaching in Ingrian because they were afraid that their children would thus be in a worse position than the Russian children.

The Votes and the Ingrians were converted to the Greek Orthodox religion, which enhanced the status of Russian, since it was the language of the religion. Being tied to the church brought these tribes closer to the Russian culture and lifestyle. There were no obstacles to marriage with Russians, but intermarriage between the Lutherans and the Orthodox was not accepted. Both these native peoples, the Votes and the Ingrians, are very small, even among the Baltic-Finnic peoples. Nevertheless, in the fairly limited region of western Ingria, where their villages mostly lie, their station and their share of the total population has been considerable up to the beginning of the 20th century.

Ingria is Fennicised

At the beginning of the 17th century Ingria was still mainly inhabited by Orthodox Votes and Ingrians, and some Russians. The wars between Sweden and Russia affected the population of Ingria in the 16th and 17th centuries. With the peace treaty of Stolbova in 1617, Ingria was attached to the Swedish kingdom. Due to the new political situation a large part of the original inhabitants moved or were moved during the next decades and new people arrived into the area from Finland. Within a short space of time a strong Lutheran population had settled in Ingria, consisting of many different tribes.

Two main groups of people and two main dialects developed. Some of the original peoples, the Votes and the Ingrians, turned to Lutheranism and were thus incorporated into the Finnish population. The Lutheran population of Ingria grew and during the 17th century it comprised 70% of the total population. In western Ingria, however, the change was much slower than in Eastern and Northern Ingria. In this area at the end of the 17th century the population was still mainly Orthodox, i.e. Votian or Ingrian.

The villages and inhabitants of Kurkolanniemi

On the western border of Ingria lies the peninsula of Kurkolanniemi. The Ingrian Finnish villages of Kurkolanniemi have belonged to the Lutheran parish of Narvusi (Russ. Kosemkina), which was founded around 1640. There were a total of 33 villages in the area of Narvusi, 15 of which were inhabited by Finns, 8 by Finns and Ingrians, 3 by Finns and Votes and 7 by Ingrians. In 1928 there were approximately 3000 Lutherans in the area. On the peninsula of Kurkolanniemi there were a dozen or so Finnish villages, e.g. Kirjamo, Hakaja, Konnu, Kaipaala, Kurkola, Lutonkylä (Russ. Luttova) Vipiä, and a few villages inhabited by Finns and Ingrians, e.g. Laukaansuu (Russ. Ust'-Luga), Hinnola and Hamala.

The surnames of the Finnish villagers have been recorded since the end of the last century. In those days there were names such as Yllö, Kiiranen, Styf, Jalonen, Karhu, Koivunen, Seppänen, Sippo, Merinen, Mäkinen, Pilli, Luukka, Tupina, Vontti, Seppänen and Sykkä. These names can still be found in the villages of Kurkolanniemi either among the villagers or among the summer residents of the area. Most of the original families still reside in the villages of Konnu and Kiiskala, but many families in other villages have either had to move or have disappeared entirely and Russian families have replaced these exiled inhabitants. An increasing amount of summer residents from St. Petersburg have also moved to the area. Thus the population of the villages has changed dramatically.

Matti Kuusi (1982) has compared the surnames of Narvusi with the comparable Finnish ones, establishing the probable origin of many families. Luukka and Sippo seem to have come from the western shore of the Karelian Isthmus and Sykkä from north of the city of Viipuri (Russ. Vyborg). The names Suur-Soho and Merinen may originate on the island of Lavansaari (Russ. Moshchnyy) and Pilli is probably from the eastern part of the province of Uusimaa in Finland. The surname Styf has been considered a Swedish name, but may also be of western Finnish origin. Tupina and Vontti, while found in the Narvusi area, are surnames that seem to be unknown in Finland.

The Lutheran inhabitants of western Ingria do not belong to either of the two large dialectal groups of Ingrian Finns, the savakko and the äyrämöinen dialects. Volmari Porkka, a well-known expert on the linguistic situation of Ingria, published a book in 1885 in which he related the story of Swedish robbers who, according to tradition, settled in the Narvusi region. This story has become popular and has been repeated in many other research publications. It is still remembered even in the villages of Kurkolanniemi. The bulk of the Finnish population in the Narvusi region, however, seems to have come from the coastal parishes west of the Karelian Isthmus and some even from further away in south-eastern Finland.

The villages on the western coast of Kurkolanniemi, i.e. Kiiskala, Konnu, Hakaja and Kirjamo, have at one time been completely Finnish speaking. Each village consisted of dozens of houses and farming was the main livelihood. There were wide open fields and each house had its own parcel to cultivate. Later all land was annexed to the collective farm (Russ. kolkhoz), but the fields of Kurkolanniemi have long been uncultivated. These fields are covered by grass and willow shrubs, which seem to take over wider and wider areas each year. Large cattle herds have shrunk into small goat herds that run freely through the village.

Fishing has also been a main source of livelihood for the inhabitants of Kurkolanniemi. The fish was taken by boat to St. Petersburg and other cities until it was also made impossible: "When the persecution and imprisonment began, it was all destroyed." In this closely monitored border region even fishing for household needs could not be freely carried out. The locals call the district a "military nature conservation area" because during the Soviet period the use of the lands and waters of the Kurkolanniemi region has primarily been controlled by military needs.

Today the villages of Kurkolanniemi are inhabited by Russians and Ingrian Finns, very few of whom live there year round. Only a few Ingrian Finnish families have settled permanently in their old home district. Most of the old Ingrian Finnish families of the area spend their winters in Estonia near Narva and Kohtla-Järve, only some thirty kilometres from Kurkolanniemi.

Many old villages such as Kaipaala and Kurkola have completely disappeared in the turmoils of this century. The Finnish population was forcibly transferred, deported, sent to prison camps and executed, particularly during the 1930s and 40s. Villages were thus left deserted. When Stalin died in 1953, conditions began to stabilise and some of the old inhabitants of the area were able to return, but hardly ever to their old homes since they had either been destroyed or taken over by immigrants from the East, who were not obliged to give them up.

The Finnish dialect of Kurkolanniemi

The language spoken in the Ingrian Finnish villages of Kurkolanniemi and its surroundings constitutes the Narvusi dialect, which together with the Rosona dialects belongs to the Lower Laukaa (Ala-Laukaa) dialect group. In 1885 Volmari Porkka began calling it the "Narvusi Lutheran dialect" to distinguish it from the speech of the Votes and Ingrians in the area.

The Narvusi dialect differs in many ways from the two main Finnish dialects of Ingria. It resembles mostly the dialect spoken on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland, opposite Kurkolanniemi. The Finns who moved to the Narvusi region came from somewhat further west than the other Ingrian Finns but, more importantly, they have been quite cut off from the others also.

The dialects of south-eastern Finland and the two main Finnish dialects of Ingria have the so-called substitutive vowel lengthening, which replaces the loss of a final syllable. This is not found in the Narvusi dialect, e.g. antant, not antaant, vitsal, not vitsaal. Speakers of the Narvusi dialect will also say käel and vaost instead of lengthening the vowel to kääes and vaaost as is done in the other Ingrian Finnish dialects. In the abessive case the Narvusi dialect uses the form hatutta, while other dialects have hatuta. In Ingrian Finnish the essive case ending is -na, as expected, e.g. lapsena. In Kurkolanniemi, however, gemination can occur in the ending, e.g. lapsenna. The third person plural past tense ending is -vat in the Narvusi dialect, e.g. antovat, ottivat. Other Finnish dialects of Ingria use the forms antoit and ottiit, which are common in the dialects of south-eastern Finland. Another form quite common in the dialects of south-eastern Finland as well as in Ingrian Finnish is the -loi plural, e.g. taloloissa, tyttölöitä. Surprisingly, this is not found in the western Ingrian Finnish dialects, although it does occur in Ingrian and to some extent in Votian.

There is some evidence of dialectal features spreading from other Ingrian Finnish dialects to western Ingria. In the Narvusi area forms such as maa and pää have long been common. However, diphthongization is beginning to affect these and forms such as moata, voa, loajittu, soant, luaittiin, peällä, jiät and piäl can now be heard. Another feature which is spreading, partly due to the influence of Russian, is consonant palatalization, e.g. paikal'l'iset, tul'imme, kuol'i, ol'i. The Narvusi dialect has long shown consonant gradation in nk:ng, e.g. henki - hengen. Today, however, one can also hear forms in which gradation has not occurred, e.g. vankille, kuninkasta, kaupunkis. This is a feature of other Ingrian Finnish dialects, but the Kurkolanniemi dialect may also have been influenced by Estonian, in which gradation does not occur with nk.

The western Ingrian Finns have been in contact with both Ingrians and Votes for hundreds of years. At the same time many Estonians have also lived in the area and contacts with Estonia have been lively. Thus it has been unexceptionally easy for languages and dialects to mix and blend. Many phonological, morphological and syntactic features which are foreign to standard Finnish or Finnish dialects, may have entered western Ingrian Finnish dialects from Ingrian, Votian or Estonian, or even from Russian, mainly via Ingrian.

A good example of such a mixing of dialects can be seen in the pronunciation of long vowels in non-initial syllables in Kurkolanniemi. Sometimes they are pronounced as in Finnish, e.g. puheltii, korjaat, Suomeen. At other times they have been shortened, as in Estonian, e.g. osannet, lehmäkä. Very often, however, their length is neither short nor long, but somewhere in between, e.g. pantì, lähettì, ommà tallò. Variation in the length of vowels is quite common among the informants in this volume. It does not seem as if this feature has changed much over the last decades, at least not among those speakers who have not been influenced by standard Finnish. The length of these vowels is also affected by Estonian, which many of the Ingrian Finns in the Narva region speak rather well. In Estonian long vowels in non-initial syllables are always shortened, e.g. tuppa, kätte and not tupaan, käteen.

Another phonological feature which has been affected by Ingrian, Votian and Estonian is vowel quality in final syllables. Many of the vowels sound voiceless and their quality is in general indefinite. For example, the opposition between e/ä and e/a is blurred and the result is some kind of medial vowel in both cases. This means that the endings of the adessive and the allative case can hardly be distinguished, e.g. keväälle could have the meanings 'keväällä' or 'keväälle'. The merging of case endings and inflections will obviously lead to the gradual simplification of the whole inflectional system.

The Kurkolanniemi dialect has a terminative case, as do Votian and Ingrian, e.g. metsää(s)saa ('up to the forest') and kyllää(s)saa ('up to the village'). The terminative ending has arisen out of the postposition saakka, which has been assimilated into the headword. In some cases the adessive case is replaced by the -ka ending of the comitative case, e.g. venneenkä, haaminkaa instead of veneellä, haamilla ('haavilla'). This case ending has arisen out of the postposition kanssa. A similar case ending can be found in Estonian, Ingrian and Votian, but it also exists in the dialects of the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland. The demonstrative pronoun se is inflected se - senen, as in Ingrian.

The Kurkola dialect does not make use of possessive suffixes, e.g. talo-ni, talo-si, talo-nsa. Thus forms such as minun talo and hänen talo are used, which is consistent with Estonian and Ingrian. As in Ingrian also, the adessive case is used instead of the essive case in dates, e.g. kuuvenneltoist elokuuta, kuuvelkymmenel toisel vuotta. Following Russian, on the other hand, the genitive is often replaced by the adessive case in sentences of the type Minun isäni oli Matti, which becomes Isä oli miulla Matti. This construction is also found in Votian and Ingrian. The postpositional construction so typical in Finnish (e.g. sodan jälkeen) is often replaced by a preposition, e.g. jälkee soan, perrää soan. The dialects of the Narvusi region have a considerable amount of lexical items from Ingrian, Votian and Estonian, which are not found in the other Finnish dialects of Ingria. The texts in this volume contain many references to these lexical items.

Most of the Ingrian Finns in Kurkolanniemi have learned Russian in their childhood or youth and all can read and write Russian. If they did not speak Russian, the Ingrian Finns had to learn it when they were banished from their homes. After World War II, most of the informants in this volume moved to north-eastern Estonia, i.e. as close as possible to their native district. During the last few decades north-eastern Estonia has been Russianized and thus the influence of Russian on the language of the Ingrian Finns has continued. Sentences are often modelled on Russian structures and many Russian particles have been borrowed into Ingrian Finnish, e.g. vot 'well', tak 'so', vot tak 'well so', što 'that', i 'and', a 'but', ili 'or', vet (an emphasizer).

Until the 1930s Ingrian Finns learned standard Finnish in school, in church and through their own publications. The effects of this standard are easily visible. For example, the so-called general gemination, so common in dialects, has often been supplanted by standard Finnish forms and in consonant gradation the dialectal loss of the consonant is often replaced by a weak d-type sound, e.g. sottaan and soan become sotaan and soDan. In addition, the old -sse ending of the illative case is often replaced by the -seen ending of standard Finnish. In these texts one can also note that the plural partitive case is often without an ending, as is common in these dialects, but there are some forms with the -ta/-tä ending of standard Finnish.

The Finnish dialect of Kurkolanniemi shows irregularity in the phonology and morphology and rich variation in idiolects, which is often the result of the speaker not remembering the correct form. Therefore, the texts in the present volume sometimes contain mixed forms which are not consistent with the old dialect or standard Finnish, nor do they find their counterparts in the closely related languages of the area, e.g. ompelukonne, olesivat, pellotöissä, vanhemmat ja lapsemmat instead of ompelukone, olisivat, peltotöissä, vanhemmat ja lapset.

Until the last few decades the old dialect has nevertheless survived in the villages of Kurkolanniemi better than in the other parts of the Narvusi region, which may be due to the geographical location of these villages. The only road leading to them has been a "tank road" built in the 1930s for army purposes. The closest neighbours have been Ingrians and Votes and it is only on the other side of these neighbours that one finds the next Finnish villages. In the 1960s the old dialect was still used as a means of daily communication among the middle-aged and the elderly. Differences between villages, however, had already levelled out since most Ingrian Finns were not able to return to their old homesteads, or even villages, after World War II.

Today, as we are approaching the new millennium, the linguistic situation in Kurkolanniemi is somewhat different. The dialect is still spoken, but the youngest speakers are almost invariably over 50. However, the speakers with the best command of the dialect are not necessarily the oldest ones. This is due to the fact that the oldest generation has attended Finnish-speaking schools and learned standard Finnish. The schools of Ingria became Russian in 1937 and at the same time Lutheran churches were abolished and publications in Finnish banned.

Connections with Finland were completely severed after World War II. Nevertheless, the Ingrian Finns of Kurkolanniemi could still listen to Finnish radio broadcasts although it was prohibited. News, weather forecasts and church services were very popular. Thus a contact with standard Finnish remained and affected the speech of the Ingrian Finns. In general, the use of Finnish was restricted. Only Russian was permitted in schools and the authorities demanded that it also be used in the home as a means of communication with children. Russian was used on public occasions and on public premises and whenever there was a Russian present. The Finnish language and culture did not seem to have any kind of a future in the Soviet Union. Parents realised this and began to use Russian at home for the good of their children. Thus children learned Russian and forgot Finnish and the switch from Finnish to Russian was quick and effective. A change in mother tongue has usually been followed by a change in identity. In the last decades there have been few young Ingrian Finns who have recognised their Finnish heritage from anything but their parents origin and the stamp in their passports.

The freer conditions during glasnost and perestroika, the slackening of the so-called command economy and the dissolution of the Soviet Union have in many ways changed the lives of the Ingrian Finns of Kurkolanniemi. Today, most of these people live in two countries, spending their winters in Estonia and their summers in Russia. They get their pensions from Estonia and grow their potatoes, vegetables and fruit in Russia. Being citizens of two countries causes many problems, such as crossing the border, but Finnish can now be used freely and without fear.