On professional correspondence between Julius Mägiste and Andrus Saareste when in exile

Julius Mägiste 120

Keywords: exile, correspondence, linguistics, dialectology, informants

The article describes the correspondence between two language professors of the University of Tartu before the Second World War, Julius Mägiste (1900–1978) and Andrus Saareste (1892–1964), which lasted for nearly two decades in exile from 1944 to 1964. There are 68 letters from the former Finnic professor Mägiste and 80 from the Estonian professor Saareste. The letters are kept at the Cultural History Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum (EKM EKLA, f 254, m 22:22; EKM EKLA, f 340, m 30:23).

After staying in refugee camps both professors found jobs in Swedish universities: Mägiste as associate professor of Finno-Ugric languages at Lund, Saareste as a special scholar at Uppsala. The topics of the correspondence are diverse and culturally valuable, providing information on how the two linguists, having sought and found professional work in exile, went on fulfilling the purpose of their lives, on their working conditions, on problems they encountered and much more.

The focus of the article is on the letters eloquent of professional collaboration between the two linguists, mainly revealing Mägiste’s advice and help in the completion of Saareste’s writings on Estonian dialects. Highlighted are Mägiste’s role as a language informant, his contribution in collecting Estonian dialect material, his responses to the questionnaires, but also the evaluations of Saareste’s linguistic work in the anniversary writings carrying weight for foreign readership, as well as explanations of certain past events worrying the colleague etc.

The correspondence of Julius Mägiste and Andrus Saareste reveals special features of their characters such as tireless working, commitment, collegiality, an indelible sense of mission keeping them creative in face of circumstances in their attempt to practice Estonian linguistics in exile, despite having lost their homeland, their previous jobs, their language collections and libraries. And yet the spirit, the will to work and the interests of life so far were preserved. The present generations of Estonians should certainly be able to read a full publication of this correspondence leading to a better understanding of the importance of linguistic studies completed in exile in the history of Estonian science.


Valve-Liivi Kingisepp (b. 1935), University of Tartu, Associate Professor emeritus (Jakobi 2-423, 51005 Tartu),