Re: Voro-Seto natives out there??
|Date:||Saturday, August 11, 2001, 2:57|
--- Roger Mills <romilly@...> wrote:
That's funny because when I click on, the url comes up
right away. Any luck yet? Well, I've pasted it for
your easy reference.
There are people all over the world who have heard at
least something about the Finnish or Estonian language
as well as about the two nations using these
languages. Some people have even heard that those
languages are very similar but very different from
other modern European languages. It is extremely rare,
however, to meet somebody who has heard that there are
still more tiny tongues related to Finnish and
Estonian and that they all belong to the Finno-Ugric
family of the Uralic languages and come from the
The majority of these small languages are native to
tiny groups, which primarily inhabit northwestern
Russia except for one, the Livonians, who are situated
on the Baltic coast of Latvia. But there is still one
more. This language is spoken in southeastern Estonia,
where the borders of Estonia meet those of Latvia and
The speakers of that language are usually looked upon
as Estonians and they themselves think and feel like
Estonians. Nevertheless it is becoming increasingly
clear that their language is actually a special one
and must be considered as an independent Balto-Finnic
language. The language is called Võro-Seto.
The name consists of a double ethnonyme because there
are two ethnic groups that share the language. Despite
a similar language, these two are rather different.
The larger group, the Võro people, is Lutheran
Protestants when they belong to any religion at all.
Generally, Võro culture is very much the same as the
all-Estonian one except for the language. The smaller
ethnic group, the Seto people, is Greek Orthodox.
Their culture has some Russian features in it, but is
nevertheless their own. The Seto runo song culture is
a very ancient one and has parallels in the way the
Mordovian peoples sing in the Middle Volga region of
Not everything is quite clear in the history and
historical development of these ethnic units. There
are many problems and unanswered questions to which
the students of Estonian and Balto-Finnic as well as
the Baltic humanitarians provide different
explanations. Most of them would agree, however, that
there were Balto-Finnic tribes inhabiting the northern
part of the eastern coastal region of Baltic during
the first centuries of our age. These tribes were
generally divided in two groups - the North Estonians
and the South Estonians.
The border between them has remained almost untouched
since the beginning of 20th century. Except for the
coastal belt of the Livonian Bay, which was settled in
the early Middle Ages by North Estonians, and for some
of the islands, the language used across southern
Estonia remained South Estonian. The precise range of
this language to the South and especially to the East
during the earlier times remains disputable. It is
possible, however, that the regions currently called
North Latvia and Pskov (Russia) were at one time
linguistically South Estonian and were subsequently
Latvianized and Russified in the course of centuries.
It is still under debate whether the South
Estonian-speaking pockets or the language islets, such
like Lutsi (Ludza) and Kraasna (Krasino), have ancient
roots or were formed by refugees during the lasting
and devastating wars of the 1500s and 1600s.
One thing is quite clear - there were distinctive
dialects in Estonia that were essentially South
Estonian. Those were the Mulgi dialect South of the
town of Viljandi, the Tartu dialect accordingly South
of the town of Tartu, and the Võro dialect, which
extended over the provincial border from the
German-oriented Livonian province to the "real"
Russia, where lived the ethnic group called the Setos
The history of written Estonian began with the
beginning of the Reformation. There are some records
about a Lutheran book printed in Germany in the early
1500s, but the book has not been preserved. Attempts
to develop written Estonian continued and by the end
of 16th century we have some printed examples of both
Estonian languages. It must be mentioned that the text
in South Estonian that was translated from Latin by
Polish Jesuits may be a far better example of a "good
language" than all the contemporary works produced by
the German and Swedish clergymen in the North.
It should be said that a similar fate befell both
languages until the end of the 1700s. Although the
written South Estonian language was much closer to the
language of people, richer in vocabulary, and the
first one used in the translation of the New Testament
in 1686, the Northern Estonian language obtained step
by step greater significance especially during the
period when the Russian Empire conquered Estonia from
the Swedish kings in the beginning of 18th century. By
the end of the century, there were more books in the
North Estonian and there was a full translation of the
Bible into Northern Estonian while the South had none.
Nevertheless, the coexistence of two Estonian
languages continued until 1880. Then, under the
influence of the European-liberal oriented nationalist
movement it was more or less unanimously decided that
there must be "one nation and one language". The
beginning of the 20th century was the period for the
rapid development of the Northern-based Estonian
literary language. By the 1930s, the language iwas
ready for all the tasks and purposes that one could
ask from any modern European civilized language.
At the very same time another process began that has
been as rapid in many ways. This has been a sort of
disappearance of the local peasant dialects of
Estonia. This must be understood as a process during
which the local dialects lose most of their specific
features and as a time when those dialects that are
left are used sporadically or mixed with other words
and grammatical forms. This is what happened in the
case of the Mulgi and Tartu districts of southern
Estonia. Those dialects have even been somewhat closer
to the Northern language than others. This, however,
has not been the case with Võro and Seto dialects.
Although these dialects experienced many changes and
lost some differences, they continued to exist as
One essential difference between the complex
relations that could be described as " a language and
its dialects" that occur in the majority of European
national languages and the Estonian case is the
duration of the course of history we have had to deal
with. It may well be that at the same time when the
first stones were put into the walls of Rome, the
differences between the two languages that were to
become South Estonian and North Estonian already
There are some phonetic features that have been
considered especially old. First of all kt > tt must
be mentioned, while the corresponding change in the
Finnish and in the North Estonian is: kt >-ht *koktu >
kõtt "stomach" n. Estonian kõht; vatt "foam", compare
with N. Estonian vaht or the Finnish kohtu (*okten >
ote(n) (gen) an ancient word for "bear", nowadays in
place names, for example Otepää, a rather well-known
ski resort in Tartu shire near the Võro shire´s
border). As old as the previous development is
considered to be: pts > ts. *laptsi > lat´s "child",
N. Estonian laps, Finnish lapsi.
There are some morphological features as well that
are considered to represent the older developments of
the South Estonian. For example the Indicative Present
Singular Person 3 has usually a suffix -B < pi as with
the ending or alternative suffix *ksen. The last is
rather rare in the North Estonian - one can find it in
only few words . The contemporary South Estonian
suffix is -s; kir´otas´" (he) is writing, (he)
writes". Compare the North Estonian kirjutab. But
there is another type of Ind Pr Sg 3 in the South
Estonian, the one without any ending or suffix. For
example and "(he) gives, (he) is giving", the North
Estonian annab, which has been *antapi; tege, " (he)
does, (he) is doing", the North Estonian teeb, which
has most probably been *tekepi. The development occurs
among the Balto-Finnic languages in only South
Estonian and probably represent a development that
occurred as the whole Balto-Finnic language group
began to split. The majority of the differences, such
as the case vowel harmony, are more recent of course.
With Balto-Finnic languages there is a general rule
that if there is a front vowel at the beginning of a
word only front vowels can follow. Accordingly, if the
word begins with a back vowel then it must be followed
by other back vowels. The North Estonian has lost this
Balto-Finnic feature, possibly due to the influence of
German, Low German and especially Swedish. Küla (est.)
village - külä (s. est.) - kylä (fin.) - tshülä
In everyday life one can notice the difference first
in vocabulary . Here are some pairs of words:
North Estonian South Estonian English
koer pini a dog
lind tsirk a bird
saba hand a tail
kask kõiv a birch
oder kesv a barley
loom elläi an animal
But more often there are phonetic differences that are
so serious one would have difficulty understanding
them if not prepared:
juuksed hiussõq the hair
teivas saivas a pole
There are many words in both Estonian languages,
however, that coincide entirely or in some grammatical
North Estonian South Estonian Finnish Vepsian
vesi vesi vesi vesi water
kivi kivi kivi kivi (kibi) a stone, rock
jalg jalg jalka jaug a leg, a foot
Very often such words are common in all the
The contemporary South Estonian and North Estonian
languages contain a number of differences. They are
different in their vocabulary and phonetics, but the
most remarkable are the grammatical parallels and the
use of their devices in the process of forming speech.
Fortunately, the differences in vocabulary are not due
to different ways of obtaining loan words, that is
true with a couple of exceptions. Let us deal here
with one of them. The Võro people drink "tsäi" while
the North Estonians have "tee". Both are the
equivalent of English "tea". Both are also originally
Chinese words, but the first one has travelled along
the Silk Route on camelback and comes from Mandarin
while the other has taken a different route, possibly
with Portuguese caravans, and comes from Cantonese. Of
course, the first arrived with the help of the Tartars
and the Russian merchants and the nother has something
to do more with the Dutchmen and the Low
German-speaking merchants of the Hanseatic League.
These are more or less exceptions, but the main
differences in vocabulary occur in the oldest strata
of the word stock.
The easiest difference to notice in South Estonian is
negation. When the North forms the Grammatical
Negative with a Particle "ei", both in the Present and
in the Past. "(I ) do not write", ei kirjuta, (I) did
not write," ei kirjutan(u)d - the South says the same
thing as: ei kir´ota, es kir´ota; or even kir´ota aiq,
Now let us demonstrate both the differences and the
similarities between the two languages: the Estonian
and the Võro (the South Estonian) saying the same
thing in the both tongues:
Me ei saanud onu talus teed juua. (est.)
Saaq õs miq lellä eloh tsäid juvvaq. (s. -est.)
We could not have a tea at the uncle's farm. (English)
The modern, recently developed literary Võro language
uses a grapheme "q" to mark a glottal stop. This sound
is one of the most difficult things for non-native
speakers to learn in the Võro speech. The sound itself
makes the Võro way speaking somewhat sharp. Thus, the
Võro people "chop" when speaking while other Estonia
more or less "sing". The version of North Estonian
spoken on the Estonian Western Archipelago especially
sounds like a sort of singing.
Thus, the Võro-Seto language, more often called simply
Võro, is a remnant from a considerably larger
South-Estonian language. In a way it has a task to
continue a very ancient line of linguistic tradition
that is doomed to disappear.
After the rather rapid liquidation of the
South-Estonian literary tradition at the end of the
19th century, the written use of South-Estonian
dialects remained predominantly a domain of poetry.
The local Mulgi dialects especially found their poets.
One example, a song, "Kodukotus" '(my)home(site)' by
A. Rennit, which became very popular all over Estonia
and even a number of North Estonians could recite the
song by heart in its original dialect.
Another field in which the southern dialects have
found some use has been in humorous and pejorative
texts. It has been a rather widespread practice to
translate some foreign fiction that has some dialect
dialogue in its text by means of translating these
passages into some variety of South Estonian.
Unfortunately the translators do not bother to do it
in a proper way. Very often these passages have been
in a mixture of dialects, often only something like
South Estonian. This use of language is connected with
such categories as social values and status.
From the end of the 19th and during the first decades
of the 20th century, the status of the southern local
dialects has been lower then that of the northern
dialects. The attitude of the average Estonian to the
speakers of the southern dialects has been somewhat
similar. This has been the case especially with the
Seto ethnic group. At the same time, the number of
admirers of the Seto runo song traditions continues to
increase and not only in Estonia. There is also a
growing interest in the colorful Seto folk costumes,
which are unique since the women's full dresses
decorated with heavy silver.
By the end of the 1970s the attitude began to change.
Among the educated Võro-born people there rose an idea
of the Võro language. If became clear that while the
other South-Estonian dialects were merging rapidly
into common, colloquial Estonian the Võro (and Seto)
language had different ways. By the time it had become
obvious that the Võro-speaking people had continued to
speak their language even though there existed a heavy
Estonian influence, especially in vocabulary.
The idea of restoring the Võro literary language did
not die out. In the beginning of the 1980s, language
activists received some information about children's
difficulties when taught in a comparatively alien
language. For instance there are problems
understanding the Võro Present Tense since in many
cases it sounds just like the Estonian Past Tense. So
the schoolchildren mixed up all the grammatical time
categories and this confusion also damaged their
understanding of the English or the Russian verb.
There were only a few opportunities to do something
under the heavy regulatory system of the Soviet Union.
But the ideas were moving and becoming more ripe, and
when Gorbatchov's "perestroika" broke out the
Võro-Seto activists were ready to act. Thus, a
volunteer foundation was born in 1988 and energetic
work could begin. Many texts have been published
during the following years. At the same time, the task
of unifying the orthography was undertaken and a
variant of it accomplished.
In 1995 the Võro Institute was founded. The tasks of
the Võro Institute are to deal with all aspects of
cultural life in southeastern Estonia and to seek
solutions to the specific regional problems as well.
The institute is financed by governmental resources
and has thus become part of a national policy. After
the first steps were taken to build up the Institute
as a working body, the main effort were focused on
writing an Estonian-Võro/Võro-Estonian dictionary and
publishing a handbook of Võro-Seto semi-normative
Nevertheless, some quite remarkable steps have been
taken in the organization of school programs in the
students' mother tongue. There is no previous
experience with such programs in Estonia and the
information about similar programs and activities in
other countries is still very scarce.
Some progress has been made in the organization of
theatre plays in the Võro-Seto language. Not
surprisingly, it turned out that the theatre itself
had to change when it had to find expression through
another language. The soul and the genius of the
Võro-Seto language is different if compared with that
of the Estonian or Finnish language.
The Võro culture is happy enough to currently have
its own real playwright. Madis Kõiv is probably the
best contemporary playwright of Estonia and we are
ready to believe that he is talented enough to be
known even outside of Estonia. Happily enough, there
are several people among the young generation of
Estonian actors who can and want to speak the language
of the South.
The problems of identity between the Võro and the Seto
people are somewhat tricky. In addition to different
identity problems, the regional and political
developments of these two groups have been different
for a long time.
It is absolutely clear that the language of the two
groups is much the same. But nobody can say if the two
branches were spoken by the same tribe before both the
foreign conquest came and the settlement of the
political border between the two peoples. The fixation
of the border happened during the 13th century when a
border was drawn between the so-called Livonian
Confederation, which was more or less under the
hegemony of the Teutonic Crusaders, and the Russian
Merchant Republic of Novgorod. The Russian lands were
united later by the Muscovite Czars and the western
side experienced a succession of Poles, Swedes and
thereafter a sort of German autonomy under the Russian
imperial government. The border remained the same all
this time .
So it was to become true that the Setos were very
sure that they were a part of Estonian. First of all
they were a special people, the Setos, and after that
something else - Orthodox Christians, and therefore
the subjects of the Czar, and then maybe something
close to Estonians. The latter happened to be so
important that during the Estonian War for
Independence 1918-1920 the Setos and their country
became a part of Estonia. The Tartu Peace Treaty
between Estonia and Russia in 1920 finally fixed the
During the following decades the Seto identity grew
closer and closer to that of the Estonians.
Nevertheless, a unique Seto identity remained. After
the Second Soviet Occupation in 1945, the Seto country
was cut into two or, to be more exact, into six
pieces. Three parts of it remained in the so-called
autonomous Estonian SSR. The three remaining parts of
Seto shire were under direct Russian administration,
which meant the devastation of Seto villages, the
immigration of additional Russian inhabitants - in
short, it meant tragedy. The Seto situation of 1945,
when approximately one third of the Seto habitat and
one half of their total population was under direct
Russian rule, changed dramatically in 1990. The
territorial division of the Seto's land remained the
same but most of the inhabitants have moved out - the
majority to Estonia. In fact. they have become
refugees in Estonia although the word is not used.
Estonia fought for its independence once again, but
the three parts of the Seto shire were excluded from
the independent Estonian state. During this process,
the border was drawn along the same line it had been
in 1945 between "Estonian SSR" and "Russian SFSR" .
Thus, for the first time during written history, tan
actual border has divided the Seto territory. Before
that, the territory had been a whole, but only on one
or the other side of the border. During the Soviet
period, the border between the "SSR-s" had to do with
the administrative affairs and did not impede the free
cross-border movements of the inhabitants. But after
the restoration of Estonia, Seto relatives remained
behind the border, so did the homes, their ancestors
graves's, the school, the stores, the mail
Nowadays the border crossing is a tiresome and
nervous business. In the Russian-ruled villages today
one has to go to St. Petersburg or Pskov when looking
for permission. The same thing is true in Estonia,
where one must go to Tallinn or Tartu.
The identity of the Võro people is that of all
Estonia and it has been like this for a long time.
Sometimes it seems to be more Estonian than the
identity of Estonians in the other parts of the
country. After the Soviets occupied the country, the
guerilla warfare in Võroshire was more fierce than in
other parts of Estonia. Every second family has lost
somebody in this war. When the Gorbatchov's new times
broke out, Võroshire was the third centre of the
national awakening, on many occasions actually the
There is yet another bad development to report. After
the restoration of the independent republic, the
administrative division duringthe pre-war period was
not restored. In the middle of Estonia it is perhaps
not a tragedy, but here in the South-East the problems
persist, especially taking into account the survival
of the language and the culture. Thus, the historical
Võroshire is divided into three parts. The Seto
habitat is also divided and united together with two
of them. Thus, nowadays the Võro people and what
remains of the Seto people are combined into three
counties of Estonia. County is the English translation
for the term of the administrative unit used
officially by the government. In this booklet we use
the word as to mark the administrative unit of
contemporary Estonia and still use another English
word "shire" for the historical and ethnical unit.
Both are translations of an Estonian word "maakond" or
"maakund" in the local language.
Fortunately, some things are changing. The Võro
Institute's activities extend through the whole
historical Võroshire not only in just one or another
county. It is well known that there are no easy
answers to the questions that should be asked in the
post-communist countries of Eastern Europe.
All these problems are also quite apparent also in
Võroshire. In addition, it is obvious that Tallinn is
developing quicker than the other, more perpheral
places in Estonia. After the liquidation of the Soviet
system of large-scale agribusiness and the split of
the Russian market, the agriculturally oriented parts
of Estonia are encountering real problems. There are
no jobs, the brains and skilled labor are moving away.
There are also increasingly serious social problems.
The national aid programs have on the whole not been
Still there are some possible ways out. The tourist
industry is a promising idea especially if there is an
additional word "eco" in front of tourism. As a matter
of fact, southeastern Estonia has quite a clean
environment and to think of the region as a
recreational area for middle class families with
children is not a bad idea at all. But the problem of
investments arises here and there is little money for
realizing the idea. There is some money in Tallinn but
a very small portion of it reaches South past the
university town of Tartu.
Nevertheless one could see a good omen in all of this.
The generally positive attitude towards southern
speech and the use of the dialect has been increasing.
This process is spreading all over Estonia. Two years
ago a music hit sung in South Estonian remained in the
top seven list of Estonia for a couple of months. The
song was called "Just Leave Me Your Telephone Number"
and was performed by a band of newcomers called
"Ummamuudu" (In One´s Own Manner).
It is becoming quite clear that the solution of
problems of the people who live in South Estonia lies
in the complex development program involving the local
language, which is closely connected with teaching
problems, and, thus with the whole educational system.
The solution lies in the profound analysis of the
regional economic problems and in the discovery of
solutions reasonable for the area. It means gathering
the energy of all people who have roots are in
Võroshire and the Seto homeland. These problems can
and must be solved by the local people - the Võro and
the Seto people.
A government-designed and financed development
strategy of hi-tech industry could be a real solution
too, to be sure. There is a lot of experience in this
field in other countries.
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> Matt33 wrote:
> >Just wondering if anyone on this list would happen
> >be a native speaker of Voro-Seto? Would anyone
> >happen to know this natlang or any grammar of it?
> >I found the following site:
> I keep getting "Connection could not be
> established", but I'll keep trying.
> Are you sure the URL is correct?
> Where is Voro-Seto spoken? Must confess, I've never
> heard the name.....