Who is chairwoman?

Keywords: corpus planning, gender marked words, meanings

So far, Estonian language planners have been advising to reserve the word esinaine (chairwoman) for the director of an all-female organization only. In this article I looked at data from the text corpora of different eras (1920s–1940s, 1950s–1970s, 1990–2008, 2013 and 2021) to find out whether the word occurs in its recommended meaning only in the past usage or if it also holds true in modern language. The results showed that this usage was dominant mainly during the 1920s and 1940s, where over 90% of the analyzed examples indicated the meaning of a director of an all-female organization. This is partly explained by the many women’s associations that were established during this period. However, in modern usage starting from the 1990s, esinaine as ‘the leader of a mixed-gender organization’ has been on the rise – for example, in 2021, 58% of the analyzed examples used esinaine in the meaning of a leader of a mixed-gender organization. It is therefore clear that the recommendation is not relevant in modern language, and indeed, in March 2022 it was removed from the Estonian Language Institute’s dictionary portal Sõnaveeb.


Elisabeth Kaukonen (b. 1995), MA, University of Tartu, Estonian and Finno-Ugric Linguistics, Doctoral Student (Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu),