Standard written Estonian language dictionary to be released in 2025

"ÕS" dictionary. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

On Friday, the Institute of the Estonian Language (EKI) unveiled a new action plan for the development of a spelling dictionary and a reference guide. Arvi Tavast, the institute's leader, said that the new official dictionary (Õigekeelsussõnaraamat or ÕS) will be published online and in print by 2025.

Last year, many linguists and teachers were confused about the EKI's plans and the future of the dictionary. There was criticism that the institute of the Institute of the Estonian Language no longer devotes sufficient attention on spelling guidelines, as it is unclear whether words and expressions in the dictionary adhere to the written language standard.

Minister of Education and Research Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) asked the institute to develop an action plan, which has now been approved. The plan has also been approved by the ministry's language council (Keelenõukogu).

"This is what we have done to clear up these misunderstandings. We have worked very hard to provide answers to all questions," Tavast said. Tavast said that the new spelling dictionary will be published online and in print in 2025.

"The ÕS has been composed essentially the same way for decades, and this continues to be our daily work. Historically, drafter teams have varied in size; the ÕS 18 team consisted of five people; presently, there are 12 drafters and many more participating in the discussions," Tavast said.

Language is evolving

Tavast said that the fact that the way of speaking and the rules of language change, as well as the fact that this ongoing change agitates some people, is not unique to the Estonian language; each generation criticizes the language of the next in every language.

"What we now regard as the cleanest and most beautiful written language was actually a colloquialism of a previous generation's youth. Languages are constantly evolving; language would cease to exist if it stopped evolving. In the same way as organisms. If the cells stop renewing themselves the organism dies. Likewise, if language does not adapt to its users' ever-increasing expressive needs, it will fade. In fact, neither Latin nor Sanskrit are undergoing any change at this time."

Tavast said that the purpose of the written language standard is to harmonize the core of the written language so that communicating on the most important issues is as simple as possible. "Linguistics is now so widely understood that a perfectly accurate comprehension is known to be impossible. The wording of the law demonstrates this. For example, the existence of the judiciary demonstrates that laws are not unambiguous. If laws were completely understandable, we would be merely reading them. Judges are in the business of interpreting the law, and many core documents can be construed in multiple ways. We strive to make interpretation as straightforward as possible," he said.

The written language standard is not that well known

Tavast said that the written language standard is only required for official documents for state and municipal government activities and not in schools, for example.

"The school has decided that it will adhere to this standard. Nonetheless, it is widely acknowledged that even the most educated linguists are incapable of acquiring a detailed and thorough understanding of the norm. Even eminent specialists would doubt if such a uniform standard exists in Estonian. The same is true for native language instructors and literary critics. Frequently, a grammatical rule in the ÕS is not that well known," he explained

Tavast said that the task of the EKI is to improve the recognition and accessibility of the standard.

The EKI has been heavily criticized for its online portal Sõnaveeb, which combines word forms from many dictionaries.

According to Tavast, the confusion stems primarily from the abundance of options. It is usually best to use the most recent official spelling when writing a final report, for example.

The previously used spelling of terms, however, cannot be considered incorrect.
"For the past 40 years, Estonian linguists have held that no previous spelling is incorrect," Tavast added.

If you want to know more about contemporary Estonian, you can review the dictionary published on the online portal Sõnaveeb," Tavast said.


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Editor: Barbara Oja, Kristina Kersa

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