Final volume of 7,300-page dictionary of Estonian dialects published

Estonian dialect dictionaries.
Estonian dialect dictionaries. Source: ERR

The 35th book of the seventh volume of Dictionary of Estonian Dialects (Eesti murrete sõnaraamat) was recently published. Each volume of the dictionary consists of five books, with each book containing about 1,000 pages, for a total of 7,300 pages. Mari Kendla, chief lexicographer at the Estonian Language Institute (EKI), writes in the "Language Minutes" ("Keeleminuutitit") column that this is the most comprehensive dictionary of Estonian dialects to date, as the survey of Estonian dialects is now complete.

The idea for the creation of a dialect dictionary was conceived within the Estonian Literary Society (Eesti Kirjanduse Selts, or EKS) at the turn of the 20th century.

Systematic collection of dialects began in 1922 under the auspices of the Estonian Language Society (Emakeele Selts). In 1947, all dictionary work was transferred to the Institute of Language and Literature (now the Estonian Language Institute or EKI).

The gathering of additional material, its organization, and the development of the dictionary's structure and compilation principles continued over the succeeding decades. The focus eventually shifted to the publication and the first book of the Dictionary of Estonian Dialects was published in 1994, followed by a succession of following books (now grouped in seven volumes). To date, we have reached the stage of the first complete edition of the dictionary of Estonian dialect words.

The book contains dialect terms with phonetic, grammatical and semantic descriptions, as well as sample sentences from 117 historical parishes (dialects), such as Leyte, Luts and Kraasna. The dialect catalog at the EKI contains more than 2.7 million word elements, allowing for the creation of such a comprehensive dictionary.

While today's Estonian language is in constant flux and the dictionaries of today's Estonian language keep pace with these changes. For example, if a new word is created today, it will be available tomorrow in the EKI's online composite dictionary called Sõnaveeb [WordWeb; see also learner's Sõnaveeb]. The dialect dictionary, however, is no longer updated with new material; it is one and unique. It reflects the language of our ancestors as it was spoken at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

Aside from linguistics, interest in Estonian dialects has not really declined. People seek out dialect words to enhance their everyday speech. Several regional dictionaries, including the coastal dictionaries of Mulgi, Hiiu, Kihnu and Kuusalu, have been published and many more are forthcoming. They tend to be started by local language enthusiasts, supported by researchers from the EKI and other research institutions, including the University of Tartu.

Today, the trend is to publish dictionaries digitally only. In addition to the online version, the Dictionary of Estonian Dialects will continue to be published on paper as well, because it is exactly the kind of book that one wants to pick up and read as a paper book.


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Editor: Kaspar Viilup, Kristina Kersa

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