vendredi 10 décembre 2010
Goodbye my Estonian
Some people have been irritated by the fact that I don't use Estonian in my blog. I am sorry, but I have some reasons not to do it. First of all, I have written and published poems, essays and articles in Estonian for more or less fifty years, that is, for half of a century. Isn't it enough? And for about thirty years, I have written about the problems of contemporary Estonian language. Often polemicizing with people who have the authority to say how one should write and speak Estonian, what words and forms we are allowed to use in press and in books. I have different, sometimes radically different ideas about this. I want to use my own breed of Estonian. I have had a lot of controversies with people who think they know better -- editors and specialists in language policy and language maintenance (keelekorraldus). I haven't found much understanding, and even now, editors change the words and forms I use calling their changes amendments and generously giving me the right not to agree with such "amendments". I certainly accept real corrections of my typos and other mistakes -- errare humanum est; I think every writer needs an intelligent and attentive "first reader". But to a writer with fifty years of experience and a background of linguistics being able to read texts in about dozen languages, to see his text, his style changed, his words replaced with different ones, is an insult. But my attitude towards the official Estonian is not just a purely personal matter. I feel deeply sorry about the fact that the language that, according to my deep conviction, should be our common property, should belong to the people who have created and are using it, has become a property of a group of specialists (and, in fact non-specialists too) who have usurped the right to tell us what is right and what is wrong, and to many amateurs who enthusiastically try to invent new words to replace the old ones. I cannot agree with such a situation: I don't think anybody has the right to tell Estonian people what words they should use or not. And nobody has the right to change the language according to his or her ideas, but the people, the speakers and owners of the language. This simple fact is ignored both by our authorities and institutions whose task is to maintain and develop our language. Our linguistic policies are authoritarian, and it seems to me that this authoritarianism has increased in recent years. Now, even our president has intervened in our language policies telling to us what words we should use and what words not. Even if his command of Estonian and knowledge of linguistics were perfect (what is not the case) no president has the authority to teach people how to speak or write. Now, our State Broadcasting authority has, in a hurry, replaced the loanword "infrastruktuur" with a newly formed word "taristu", and all the reporters are obediently using the new word. In my opinion, this neologism is a failure for several reasons. I could explain my opinion in detail, but here I mention only the fact that it makes little sense to replace one compound with the word "struktuur" instead of finding a purely Estonian word for "structure". And for most Estonians, the root "tari" has only the meaning of cluster of berries. But the authority of our president has most probably helped to replace a well-established international word with a strange neologism. In my opinion, such instances are a proof or the absence of democracy in our language policies. It is the result of some ideological stereotypes our language authorities and amateur neologists have inherited from the futuristic ideas of the early XXth century, and the passive attitude of our common language users who have given away their rights, their proprietorship of their language. I has led and is leading to creeping alienation of our people from their language, of the standard Estonian becoming more and more an artificially standardized and maintained language. While most people seem to silently agree with this, I cannot. I feel I have been too intimate with my language, I have tried to do my best in using it intelligently and creatively. I have tried to defend it from excessive normativeness and excessive fondness for neologisms. Now I feel that my efforts have had no results. I have lost my battle. I have nothing left than to resign. I don't want to read Estonian press, to listen to our radio or TV. The modernized language hurts me. I have to abandon writing in Estonian, and try to write in Võru keel, English and Russian. Certainly my command of these languages is not perfect, but I can without resentment accept editors correcting my texts written in English or Russian. And I cannot accept editors "correcting" my Estonian texts. Thus I feel I have been an Estonian writer for half of a century, but I am no more an Estonian writer.