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Estonian language editors express concern over future official dictionaries

The official Õigekeelsussõnaraamat (OS) Estonian-language dictionary.
The official Õigekeelsussõnaraamat (OS) Estonian-language dictionary. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Future editions of the official language institute's dictionary and its online portal have raised concerns with some language editors, one of whom has said that these resources do not provide sufficient information when selecting the correct terminology, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Friday.

Language editors have a difference of opinion with the Institute of the Estonian Language (EKI) on the composition of dictionaries, including the online Sõnaveeb dictionary, which Helika Mäekivi, board chair of the Estonian language editors' union (Eesti Keeletoimetajate Liit), said is useful in many ways, but also has some shortcomings and idiosyncrasies.

Mäekivi also expressed concerns over what changes a forthcoming paper book version of the Estonian dictionary, the Õigekeelsussõnaraamat (OS) might bring and whether these might represent an attempt to unilaterally alter the Estonian language.

Mäekivi told AK that. "Sõnaveeb online joint dictionary is based on a corpus of online texts, which means that there is much less in the way of written text, fiction, legal acts etc. so as to create a practical and organized, systematically and consciously developed language layer.

"If a language editor often has to deal with consumer texts, where the written language layer is key, then the Sõnaveeb joint dictionary won't help them in this," Mäekivi said.

The language institute's director, Arvi Tavast, rejected claims that the organization was planning any major reform of the Estonian language, adding that Sõnaveeb is a constant development, in conjunction with professional language editors.

The materials also do not provide editors with good examples of language use, Mäekigi said, particularly in relation to preference given to pure Estonian words over foreign loan words – which, she said, often lacks guidance.

Attention is paid to orthography, syntax, morphology etc. but not so much to synonyms, for example, she added.

Tavasti said such an in-depth approach was only feasible in the case of the paper OS publication, "Simply for the reason that it is not viable to fit as much information on the paper page as can be on the web page. This means that if the base or 'real' ÕS is on the web, but something needs to be printed on paper as well, then it is necessary to somehow make a choice at that point," he told AK.

The EKI is a national Research and Development institution whose goal is to contribute to the long-term survival of the Estonian language. The Institute researches modern Estonian, the history of the Estonian language, Estonian dialects and Finno-Ugric cognate languages , the organization says on its website.

It is separated from the state Language Board (Keeleinspektsioon), which mainly pursues the fulfillment of language policy nationally under the terms of the Language Act.

The language editor's union, founded a decade ago, is not a state body and, among other things represents the professional interests of language editors, has instituted a code of ethics, organizes professional exams and contributes to the preservation and development of the written language, including by sharing language recommendations.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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