Monday, August 13, 2012

Southern Estonian language

More than simply being a dialect of Estonian, Southern Estonian is a language in its own right separate of the state language. There are historically four recognized varieties: Mulgi, Tartu, Võro and Seto of which Võro is the strongest. The Tartu and Mulgi varieties are largely extinct. The historical territory of Southern Estonian covered the modern counties of Põlva, Võru and Valga and the southern half of Viljandi and Tartu. Enclaves also existed at one time in a number of locations in modern day Latvia and Russia but the only modern community of speakers outside Estonia are the Setos who inhabit the historical Setomaa (known today as Pechorsky District on the Russian side of the border).

Under its Tartu variety, Southern Estonian emerged as a distinct literary language in the C17 and was used in publishing and in education. The first Estonian translation of the New Testament (Meie Issanda Jesuse Kristuse Wastne Testament) appeared in Southern Estonian as did the first Estonian newspaper (Tarto-ma rahwa Näddali leht) and the language was also employed in education but its use declined during the nationalism movement in the second half of the C19 and early C20 and under communism where it was felt Estonia should have but one language (standard northern Estonian).

Since 1991 the state has supported a revival in the Võro variety of southern Estonia. Limited education in and about Võro and Seto take place at Tartu university and in Põlva and Võru counties.

Below I have two short examples of the Võro variety of southern Estonian (in bold) with a gloss in standard northern Estonian (normal) and English (italics). The first is a short song burned into wood and displayed outside a gift shop at Suur Munamägi (Big Egg Mountain), the Baltic States' highest point which is in Võrumaa, Estonia.

Last verse:

Laul um otsah, laul läts mõtsah.
Ei lää inamb edäsi.

Laul on otsas, laul läks metsa.
Ei lähe enam edasi.

The song is over, the song has failed (lit. went into the forest).
It continues no longer.

TM points out in the comments below that läks metsa and läks aia taha (lit. went behind the fence), when used with inanimate objects, are ways of saying 'failed, screwed up'. Thanks for pointing this out!

Wikipedia states that "some of the most ancient isoglosses within the Finnic languages separate South Estonian from the entire rest of the family". This includes the change from kc to ts as seen in southern Estonian üts and läts (cf. Estonian üks and Finnish yksi and Estonian läks).

The second is the start of a short children's story from Põhjatuul ja lõunatuul by Jaan Kaplinksi and written in Southern Estonian. This book is mostly written in northern Estonian but some of the stories are also provided in southern Estonian.

Ütskõrd pässi üts tsiga õdagu ilda tsiapahast vällä ja läts roitma ja ilma kaema. Edimält johtu ta uibuaida. Olli sügüsene aig ja uibu olliva ubinit täüs. Tsiga nühke sälgä vasta uibutüvve ja uibust satte mitu ubinat alla.

Kord pääses üks siga õhtul sulust välja ja läks hulkuma. Kõigepealt sattus ta õunaaeda. Oli sügisene aeg ja õunapuud õunu täis. Siga nühkis selga vastu õunapuud ja puu otsast kukkus mitu õuna.

Once upon a time a pig escaped in the evening from his pen to go awandering (and see the world). He first occured upon an apple orchard. It was autumn time and the trees were heavy with apples. The pig rubbed his back against the trunk of an apple tree and from the tree fell many apples.

Some more opaque vocabulary:

õdak - õhtu - evening, as in (tereq) õdagust! ((tere) õhtust!) and hüvvä/hääd õdagust! (head õhtust).

It can also mean 'west' (lääne) as in Õdagu-Eesti (Lääne-Eesti) and Õdagu-Õuruupa (Lääne-Euroopa)

ilda - hilja - late
(tsia)paha - sealaut - pig pen
roitma - hulkuma - wander
ilma kaema - ilmsi vaatama - see the world
edimält - kõigepealt - firstly
johtu < johtuma - juhtuma, sattuma - happen upon
uibu - õunapuu - apple tree [upin/upo - õun - apple]
satte < sadama - sadama - come, fall down