Vielä kerran itämerensuomen vanhimmista muistomerkeistä

  • Johanna Laakso
Avainsanat: itämerensuomi, kielihistoria, sanastontutkimus (ks. myös lainasanat, leksikografia, sanahistoria), tuohikirjeet, tutkimushistoria


The first Finnic text revisited (englanti)

4/1999 (103)

Johanna Laakso (


Many of the mediaeval Russian birch bark documents that have been found in archaeological excavations contain some Finnic material (e. g. names of places and people, possible loanwords from Finnic). Two of these documents, however, are of particular interest: Novgorod 403, the lower half of which Helimski (1988) has shown to be a Finnic-Russian glossary, and Novgorod 292, dating from the middle of the 13th century, which is indisputably the oldest existing complete text in a Finnic language. The latter text consists of ca. 50 Cyrillic characters, drawn clumsily (or possibly in haste) but ordered neatly in three straight lines (see illustration on page 532).

The conventional interpretation of Novgorod 292 given by Eliseev (Jelisejev 1959, 1966) and Haavio (1964), is that the text is a Karelian charm against lightning. Some small but significant corrections to Eliseev's interpretation have since been proposed by Helimski (1986), and a detailed analysis of birch bark documents containing Finnic material has been undertaken by Vermeer (1991) from a Slavistic-palaeographic viewpoint. Vermeer points out that God's arrow (jumolanuoli) at the beginning of the text does not necessarily refer to lightning and that the spelling in the word nuoli 'arrow', so far unanimously accepted as a (typically Finno-Karelian) diphthong, is simply a mirror reversal of the Old Russian digraph = [u] (which can correspond to almost any descendant of Proto-Finnic *oo) and thus does not help in determining the Finnic dialect in question. Most recently, Winkler (1998) has made some remarks on Vermeer's interpretations.

Although it is not possible to arrive at a complete, detailed and coherent reading for the text of Novgorod 292, some details of previous interpretations can at least be firmly discarded.

1) Vermeer has presented some strong arguments against Eliseev's reading of (the end of the first line) as '10 (of) your names' (you have ten names or ten names of yours). Haavio's interpretation (*in(h)imize(n) or *ine(h)mize(n) 'human being + Gsg') appears more acceptable, although Vermeer's suggestion also deserves consideration: i nimezi '[O God, (your) arrow] and your name'. (An alternative reading for the first line could be 'O God, your name (is) also (like) an arrow'.) The z sound, however, makes Haavio's interpretation more probable; the beginning of the text would thus be 'God's arrow, man's / arrow'.

2) Helimski's interpretation of the second part of line 2 () as 'arrow, shoot!' is insightful and convincing, but the reading of the first part () as 'arrow, shine!' can no longer be accepted; Vermeer's criticism can here be supported with Finnic etymological data. Haavio's and Eliseev's interpretations of line 2 as a whole are even less credible. However, *sehn ('it' + emphatic clitic) as proposed by Eliseev is still a viable interpretation; other possibilities are *si(j)ahan 'to the place, instead' or *si(i)hen (the illative form of se 'it'). Alternatively, following Vermeer's suggestion, the x-like character could be interpreted as a , giving , which could be analysed as the adessive form of se.

3) The third line remains an enigma. Some characters, as Vermeer points out, are obscure and could represent several sounds. For the beginning of line 3, there are at least two possible interpretations. That *xumala should represent Finnic kummalla (relative pronoun + adessive) is syntactically very appealing. Analysing the (possible) pronoun on line 2 as its head, the whole text could be given a coherent reading, revealing it to be a healing charm: '[Be it] God's arrow [or] man's / arrow [i.e. the Krankheitsprojektil cf. Honko 1959 which has caused this illness], to that (person), O arrow, shoot (back), / who has...'. However, the substitution of Finnic k with Russian x would be unusual (although not the only occurrence); the traditional reading as jumala 'God' is perhaps still a viable alternative. The characters that follow () have so far been identified with the Russian stem sud- 'judgment; to judge' or its derivatives (thus giving e.g. *Jumala sudnyj 'God of Judgment'). Vermeer's arguments against these interpretations are, again, convincing, but his alternative suggestions are very tentative; the most attractive is perhaps sydn 'heart'. The writer considers some other possible interpretations, too, but the final answer must await further studies in Finnic folklore and mythology. For the last part of line 3, Vermeer's reading as *pahovi (a verb derivative of the root paha 'bad') is well-founded and appealing.

Considering the tentative character of these interpretations, the lack of background information and the distorting effect of Old Russian pronunciation and orthographic conventions (also illustrated by Novgorod 403), it is still impossible to determine the Finnic dialect represented in Novgorod 292, although some characteristics point towards the OlonetsianLudianVepsian area, or, perhaps, a hypothetical East Finnic koine used in or near Old Novgorod. Further searches for parallels in Finnic folklore are still needed.

tammi 4, 1999
Laakso, J. (1999). Vielä kerran itämerensuomen vanhimmista muistomerkeistä. Virittäjä, 103(4), 531. Noudettu osoitteesta