Estonian dialect primers

Living in the chronotope of idyll


Keywords: Estonian language, dialects, primers, ethnofuturism, chronotope, idyll

In recent decades publication of primers in local dialects has flourished in Estonia. The reasons for this process are related to the availability of financial support shemes for advancing regional culture as well as to identity creation on a more specific (local) level than just national identity. There are nine dialect primers issued in Estonia in 1998–2021. The initial inspiration for compiling such books comes from the ethno­futurist movement, but the reasons for publishing efforts are multiple, mostly related to the felt need of promoting local identity. The article describes the ­primers in a chronological order and proceeds to analyse them with the help of some concepts derived from semiotic theory. First, primers are regarded as inter­semiotic phenomena combining verbal and pictorial information. Second, the concept of the chronotope of idyll, elaborated in the works of Mikhail Bakhtin, is applied in order to highlight the common features of the dialect primers, which are as follows: unity of place and time; cyclical pace of life; closeness to nature and the importance of natural sites and objects in the creation of human identity. Third, primers are related to Juri Lotman’s ideas about two general types of culture, based respectively on oral and written transmission of information. Situated at an intersection of oral culture (dialect) and written culture (primers) these books pose complex challenges for analysis. Contentwise, dialect primers are based on the assumption that the so-called ethnographic time, featuring the lifestyle practised approximately at the end of the 19th century, is a particularly suitable frame for introducing local dialects to contemporary schoolchildren. In practice, ‘gaps of time’ occur in the texts as well as in illustrations that reveal the palimpsest-like texture of the chronotope of idyll featured in dialect primers. In conclusion it can be said that in addition to the effort of advancing pupils’ linguistic abilities, it is the strengthening of local identity and intimate connection with the local natural environment that forms the basis of the dialect primers.


Kadri Tüür (b. 1975), PhD, Tallinn University, Researcher (Narva mnt 25, 10120 Tallinn), tyyr@tlu.ee