(raie)lank ‘cutting area’ as a reflection of time and history


Keywords: Estonian language, history of vocabulary, etymology

The article discusses the etymology of the Estonian word (raie)lank ‘a piece of forest land meant for cutting’. The first documented use of this word dates back to 1898. The word has no etymological counterparts in other Balto-Finnic languages. In etymological literature, the Estonian lank has been linked to the verb langema ‘to fall’, assuming the formation of a new basic root – lank – through the sound change g > k in the root. This explanation is unconvincing. The assumption is not supported by any derivative relationships in the relevant vocabulary in the neighbouring or contact languages. This interpretation is even more clearly challenged by evidence in the vernacular literature in Estonian dialects, where not just lank but also, plank : plangi ~ plangu has been documented in the sense of ‘a piece of a forest land that has been cut down or is meant for cutting; a plot of farmland or hayfield’. It is probably a German loan, cf. Middle Low German planke, German Planke ‘a thick board, a plank’. This is assumed that the semantics of the Estonian (raie)lank originates from the meaning branch ‘fence, barrier’ in the German semantic line that has served as the source of the loan. In the Estonian language context the meaning has developed as follows: ‘a demarcated area’ ⇒ ‘a piece of forest land where the cutting area has been marked with poles and lines’ ⇒ ‘a piece of forest land that has been cut down, a clearing’.

Between 1898 and 1915, one of the largest pulp factories in the world, Waldhof, operated in Pärnu as a subsidiary of the German-based corporation AG Zellstoff­fabrik Waldhof. To supply the factory with raw materials, the surrounding areas of Pärnu were subjected to devastating logging activities, resulting in enormous clear-cut areas, which people began to call Waldhof’s clearings. Taking into account the described circumstances and economic situation, it is plausible to assume that it was at that time that lank, meaning a forest area designated for cutting, started to spread and take root more widely in Estonian.


Lembit Vaba (b. 1945), PhD, Foreign Member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, ­phorest45@gmail.com