The radical Language Renewal of late Johannes Aavik


Without doubt, Johannes Aavik (1880–1973) is one of the most popular and widely known personalities in Estonian linguistics. His activity in the 1910–20s was focused on a renewal of literary Estonian, aimed at enriching its vocabulary and grammar. For this purpose he borrowed words from Estonian dialects and from Finnish, but his most famous achievements are concerned with coining new stems. His idea was to provide Estonian with new invented words enabling translation of any nuance of the words or expressions used in the most cultivated languages.
Although Aavik is a disputed personality, only very few researchers have dared to ask whether this is in principle a good idea, especially if carried out without a consistent theoretical framework, to restructure the meanings in one language just to match those in some other languages?
Aavik wished, for example, to alter the phonetic structure of everyday Estonian vocabulary by promoting archaization of the phonetic shape of many words, e.g. by substituting o for u in the non-initial syllables in an arbitrarily selected vocabulary (kalju > kaljo ’rock’, kirjutama > kirjotama ’to write’) consisting of about 700 words in all. In fact, this would have been a reversal of a historical sound law, which is as impossible as a reversal of time.
Having studied historical linguistics Aavik had an understanding of the importance of phonetic homogeneity in the vocabulary, but in his own inventions he very often neglected the phonetic and phonotactic rules of Estonian word forms. In many cases he tried to introduce in literary Estonian either archaic or alien (Finnish) syllable structures.
In the field of grammar his intentions were even more ambitious: he wished to provide Estonian grammar with certain forms and constructions he admired in Latin, Russian, Finnish, or even Arabic. In those invented grammatical forms he most often ignored the phonotactic constraints of Estonian, and in some cases even language typology. E.g., Estonian has one gerundive form (-des), but Aavik wanted to introduce three more gerundial forms (independent participles) in order to build a symmetrical set of active and passive, present and past gerundives (some of them with complicated morphophonological variants and a dubious pronunciation).
Whenever possible Aavik preferred complicated grammatical rules, considering archaic morphology and morphophonology less banal than regular declension and conjugation.
Also, Aavik invented some fully new cases to be added to the 14-case system of Estonian (i.e. agental, relative, and a typologically alien prepositional no-genitive).
In 2010 the war-time (1942–1943) diary „Ideepe” by Aavik was first published. In that text, comprising 700 pages, Aavik feels free to practise language renewal without limits. After reading that text one should certainly be thankful to Aavik for his many initiatives, yet even more thankful to history for not enabling Aavik to enforce his most radical ideas upon the whole nation and their language.


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