Foundation for Endangered Languages
7. Matters Overheard on the Web
Defender of a Small Nation: Livonia - Hubert Jakobs
Perhaps those interested in history have heard about the Livonian War, the Knights of the Livonian Order and the geopolitical formation called Livonia, which was located on the territory that now makes up Estonia and Latvia during the Middle Ages. When I studied Finno-Ugric philology at the University of Tartu, we also had lectures on the Livonian language and culture. But back then, I regarded Livonian as an extinct language that only linguists and folklorists could find some interest in.
Therefore, I was astonished when, 20 years later, I discovered that Livonian culture was still alive. I had been invited to the release party of the first CD of the Estonian-Livonian joint project, Tulli Lum ("Hot Snow" in Livonian). The emotional power and expressive performance of lead singer Julgi Stalte captivated me completely. I got the album and, as I liked it more with every listen, I wanted to learn more about the group, its singer and the history behind the album. Why would anybody in Estonia want to unite modern ethno-jazz with the cultural heritage of an almost extinct national group that is as good as unknown to the outside world; not to mention sing in a language, which, although beautiful, is understandable to only a few?
The Livonians are an almost extinct Balto-Finnic nation, living in the coastal villages of northern Couronia in Latvia by the Baltic Sea. In order to find answers to these questions, I arranged an interview with Julgi Stalte, after the group performed at the annual Jazzkaar festival in Tallinn. The musicians in Tulli Lum, all of whom have also been involved in other groups, had already played together for some time, and the uniting factor was probably their mutual interest in ethno-jazz and folk music.
After listening to a recording of Livonian folk songs, the leader of the group, Alari Piispea, expressed a desire to use an authentic folk singer, most likely an old man. But, after they met Stalte, Julgi Stalte a bright young Livonian girl from Riga who had come to study folk music in Estonia, their search ended. Most of the material in Tulli Lum's repertoire stems from the books of Estonian folklorist Oskar Loorits. And, in a way, it is a fusion of authentic folk music and modern day jazz-rock. Although Stalte has grown up amidst traditional Livonian folk music, she regards this kind of contemporary folk sound as excellent. "It adds modern power to the old folk song," says Stalte. "The main thing is to not lose respect for the authentic folk song. And this Tulli Lum hasn't done."
There are only about a handful of people who speak Livonian, which is closely related to Estonian and Finnish, as their mother tongue. Stalte is one of those few. She remembers well her grandfather, who only spoke Livonian with her. Her parents were very actively involved in reviving Livonian folklore and, together with their children, took part in the work of the Skandinieki folk ensemble. The Stalte family performed on the first Livonian compact disc ever made, which contains the Livonian anthem, which is based on the same melody as the national anthems of Estonia and Finland.
Julgi Stalte is a fighter. Not only is she proudly declaring her own nationality and cultural belonging (although she is married to an Estonian, she has no doubt that their son, Karl Oskar, is Livonian), her heart's desire is that everybody who regards themselves as Livonian should also show it in their actions and words. Stalte knows that there are many more "hidden Livonians" than the official statistics maintain, with Livonian blood in their veins, in both Latvia and southern Estonia.
Today there are only about 300 Livonians, most of whom have become Latvianised. Approximately 70 of them understand Livonian partially, maybe ten speak it as their mother tongue. The fate of Livonians can also act as a warning to the relatively bigger Baltic nations, who are still in danger of losing their cultural identity, as they aspire to become members of the EU. Music, of course, can sometimes speak louder than words, and Tulli Lum's first album is just a beginning. There is so much more material from the rich Livonian heritage that is waiting to be made known. Tulli Lum wants to bring the message of a tiny nation, with its tragedies and hopes, to the world outside.
As Julgi Stalte says: "If you dare to say who you are, if you dare to fight for it, then you have actually won the whole world. But if you steal it from your children, then you have indeed stolen the whole world from them, language-wise, culturally, in every sense.
Hubert Jakobs, 10 July 2000
Transmitter Boost for Gaelic Radio
24 July 2000
Mr Wilson said:
"By June of next year Strathspey, North Sutherland and Perth and Kinross should be among the areas that will be able to receive Radio nan Gaidheal.
"These are all areas in which there is a significant Gaelic presence and commitment by the education authorities to the promotion of the language. I have no doubt that access to Radio nan Gaidheal is a necessary facility, as well as a basic right.
"I am sure the improved service will be welcomed by the expanded Gaelic audience, and the many English speaking listeners who tune in to enjoy Gaelic music and singing."
Broadcasting is a matter reserved to the Westminster Parliament. Certain administrative and financial functions related to Gaelic Broadcasting are devolved to the Scottish Executive.
Discussions between Scotland Office officials and BBC Scotland have indicated that the BBC expects that by June 2001, the upgrade in coverage by the Radio nan Gaidheal service will have taken place in the majority of sites that have been designated for improvement. The transmitter at Rumster Forest, which will deliver the service across North Sutherland, has been earmarked for upgrading as part of the initial rollout of improvements.
Figures from BBC Radio Scotland put the current coverage of Radio nan Gaidheal at approximately 95% of the Gaelic-speaking population. The scheduled improvements should extend the coverage to the vast majority of the remaining 5%.
The 1991 Census of population recorded 69,510 people aged three or over as being able to speak, read, or write Gaelic.
Alasdair MacCaluim points out that Raidio nan Gaidheal is available online at
New Report Recommends Dedicated Channel for Scots Gaelic Television
Alasdair Milne was in 1982-7 Director-General of the BBC.
The Taskforce embraced the principle underlying the support of the Welsh-language channel S4C: namely that minority languages of the UK are an asset belonging to the whole of the UK, and should not be seen as the responsibility solely of their regions.
The report is issued by the Scottish Executive, ISBN 1-84268-025-0, and available from The Stationery Office Bookshop, 71 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9AZ Scotland. (tel +44-870-606-5566).
Cf comments on the report of the Taskforce for Public Funding of Gaelic, by Alasdair MacCaluim, in the section 10 (Reviews) below.
Note on Hassanpour: Language Rights in the Emerging World Linguistic Order
Mike Maxwell Mike_Maxwell@sil.org notes:
Amir Hassanpour's contribution "Language Rights in the Emerging World Linguistic Order: The State, the Market and Communication Technologies" (pp. 223-241) documents the rise (starting in May 1994) and (erstwhile, cf. "Postcript (July 1999)", pp. 237-239) fall of a virtual Kurdish state by means of Med-TV, a private satellite television station. Interestingly enough, this virtual state was able to grant its "citizens" the enjoyment of language rights in a way unprecedented in the history of the Kurdish people. It can be read as a sequel to Skutnabb-Kangas & Bucak (1994).
I don't have the book, but if someone does, it might be nice to review it in Ogmios (or reprint the review there, or at least point to its URL).