Identification. The Komi live west of the Ural Mountains in the northeastern half of the European portion of the Komi Republic and the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area (AA). The inhabitants of the former administrative territory are today called "Komi-Ziryenes," those living in the latter territory "Komi-Permyaks." In addition, smaller groups of Komi can still be found on the Kola Peninsula and in western Siberia.
"Komi" is the ethnonym used by the Komi themselves. It is with this name that the autochthonous people of the Komi Republic and the Komi-Permyak AA designate themselves. The original meaning of "Komi" was probably "human being" and can possibly be connected with the following words of Uralic (Finno-Ugric) languages: Hungarian, hîm (male), Vogul, um (man, human being), or Samoyed Selkup, qum (human being). According to another explanation, the word is etymologically derived from kom, the Komi (-Ziryene) designation of the Kama River, or Kom-mu, "the Kama region" ( mu, "land, country"). By outsiders, the Komi are called "Zyrian" or "Ziryene"; in English they are known as "Zyryan" and in German as "Syrjäne." These are derived from the Russian form, "Zirjan(in)," spread into the languages of the world via scholarly literature. The Russian word is itself an Ob-Ugric loanword (Vogul, saran; Ostyak, sarăn ) which in turn is possibly of Iranian origin (from Ancient Iranian, zraya, to Old Iranian, *zraya, "sea" + an, adjectival derivational suffix). The original meaning of the word *zrayan, formed in this way, probably meant "seacoast dweller."
Location and Demography. The territory of the Komi covers 415,900 square kilometers, the number of its inhabitants being 1,067,000 in 1979. Of these, 326,700 are Komi and the rest are Russians, Ukrainians, and others. In the northernmost tundra area live several thousand Yurak-Samoyeds, also speaking Uralic languages. The republic is bordered on the east by the northern Urals, on the north by the Yurak (Nyenyets) National Region, on the west by the Archangel Territory, and on the south by the Kirov and Perm Territories (including the Komi-Permyak AA). The capital of the Komi Republic is Syktyvkar (about 180,000 inhabitants). The second largest city of the territory is Vorkuta, an important industrial center with coal mines, natural gas, and oil wells. Other urban centers are Zeleznodorozny, Uchta, Pecora, and Inta. The northern portion of the Komi Republic lies within the tundra zone. There is an intermediary zone, the forest tundra, south of which lies the forest zone covering the greater part of the territory. The forest is largely coniferous with only a smaller percentage of deciduous trees (birch). The forests are traversed by large rivers usually surrounded by swamps (12 to 15 percent of the republic is covered by swampy areas). The climate is moderately continental. In summer the average temperature is 11.7 to 16.6° C; in January the temperature averages from —15.1° C to —20.4° C. The annual amount of precipitation is 60 to 70 centimeters. To the south of the Komi Republic lies the Komi-Permyak AA, covering 22,000 square kilometers with 250,000 inhabitants in 1979. Of these 150,000 are Komi, most of the rest being Russians. The capital of the region is Kudymkar.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Komi language is classified in the Finno-Permic Group of the Finno-Ugrian Branch of the Uralic Language Family. Together with their closest linguistic relations, the Udmurt, they form the Permian Subgroup of the Finno-Permian Group. Among speakers of related languages, are Finns, Estonians, Mordvinians, and Hungarians. Komi-Russian bilingualism—above all in the male population—is very widespread. In 1979, 83.7 percent of the Komi-Ziryenes and 76.5 percent of the Komi-Permyaks listed Komi as their mother tongue. The process of Russification—as a result of the gradual atrophy of secondary-school instruction in Komi as well as of the influence of the media (press, radio, television)—has accelerated, especially in the cities and larger settlements. In both the Komi Republic and the Komi-Permyak AA Russian is the official language.