Tartu-based Latvian translator bags Estonian-Latvian Languages Award

Ilze Tālberga
Ilze Tālberga Source: Kairit Leibold

Latvian language teacher and translator Ilze Tālberga was presented with this year's Estonian-Latvian Languages Award at a ceremony featuring the foreign ministers of both countries in Jūrmala, Latvia, Wednesday.

Tālberga was recognized for her work in bridging the gap between the two languages, which are far from mutually intelligible, and in fact belong to different linguistic groups, though both have their share of grammatical and other idiosyncracies to negotiate.

Estonia's foreign minsiter, Urmas Reinsalu, said of the prize that it recognises the work of notable people who help bring the languages and cultures of the two neighbors even closer together.

"Ilze Tālberga is committed to teaching Latvian language and culture in Estonia," Reinsalu said, according to a ministry press release.

"Through her work, she has delved into the deepest layers of grammar, while also finding her way into readers' souls with her translations of Latvian literature," he went on.

"Ilze has said that 'Estonian is the love of my life and I will never tire of it'. This is an extremely beautiful motif for the closeness of our two cultures."

Tālberga has been a lecturer at the University of Tartu since 2006, the English-language page of Latvian public broadcaster LSM reports, where she has introduced students to Latvian language and culture and focussed on research in both tongues, and the preparation of teaching materials.

"I am happy that this beautiful tradition has enabled our countries to become even closer and raised our mutual awareness about what is happening in each," Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said, according to LSM.

"The languages award has great significance in promoting the literature and academic research in both countries. At the same time, it is an opportunity to appreciate the role of our academic staff and translators in promoting bilateral relations. Therefore, we thank the teachers and linguists in Riga, Tallinn, Tartu and other Latvian and Estonian cities, who enhance our knowledge of one another and attract new talented minds to the Latvian and Estonian languages," he continued.

Ilze Tālberga herself appeared on Wednesday's edition of ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera", talking about her experiences in translating from her native language, into that of her adopted home, which says she finds easier than the reverse.

"It's easier for me because I live in Estonia and communicate in Estonian. I teach Latvian from an Estonian basis, so I have to explain a lot about the Latvian language, but in Estonian. And it also seems a good challenge for me to be able to translate. "From Latvian to Estonian. And it has succeeded," Tālberga explained. 

"It also seemed a good challenge for me, just to see if I could translate from Latvian into Estonian. And this has succeeded."

Her other notable work includes the 2018 translation, together with Estonian poet and translator Contra, of Latvian writer Nora Ikstena's novel "Mātes piens" (published in English as "Soviet Milk") into Estonian.

The Latvian and Estonian foreign ministries have been jointly presenting the award, which carries a €3,000 prize with it, since 2009.

Last year's winner was another Latvian, Guntars Godiņš, for his work translating Estonia's national epic, the Kalevipoeg, into Latvian ("Kalevdēls").

LSM reported that a new award will also be set up to recognize economic cooperation between the two countries, again under the two foreign ministries' aegis, as things stand.

Latvian belongs to the Baltic group of languages, along with Lithuanian. Estonian is assigned to the Finno-Ugric group, and one of its closest major linguistic relatives is Finnish. This means the languages are mutually unintelligible, with residents on either side of the border generally communicating in English or Russian when they need to.

Latvia and Estonia have shared historical ties, however, dating back at least to the middle ages, when southern Estonia and much of present-day Latvia made up the territory of Livonia. Both countries were occupied by the Soviet Union, and restored their independence within months of each other.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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