esmaspäev, mai 04, 2009

mänguväljakul

In one month's time, Estonia has gone from a dull, gray post-winter abyss to a sunlit patchwork of inviting forests and sunny cities. Once again, I find myself in Tartu's many playgrounds because that's the best place to let wild children out to pasture.

When I am "at the playground" -- mänguväljakul -- I have the difficult task of making sure both of my daughters don't hurt themselves. One might be hanging upside down from a swing, while the other is preparing to launch herself off the slide. But while I am spotting each, I also notice things around me, I notice how the kids relate to each other, and occasionally arise at some thoughts resembling general observations.

Observation number 1. The Estonian name generation gap is huge. As another American traveler to these parts once remarked, "in Estonia, if you forget the name of any man over the age of 55, there is an 89% chance his name is Rein."

But what about the young men under the age of 5? Not a chance. On the playground, you will find no Tiits, Reins, Marts, or any other moniker of the middle aged. But just yell out the name Martin or Oliver, and the little heads will turn. I don't even want to ask the names of nearby children, because I already know what they are. The well of Tiits in Estonia has run dry.

Observation number 2. The division of Estonians by linguistic group is unconvincing. You read so many articles about "Estonians" and "non-Estonians" or "Russophones" and "Estophones," but when you sit on a playground and watch a group of kids play in Estonian AND Russian, such metrics lose their potency.

I watched at a playground in Supilinn as eight children, none of them older than 10, covered the playground like furious ants, playing bilingual games. For the life of me, I could not distinguish who spoke Estonian or Russian as a native language. The nexus of this group was a lanky girl with long red hair who would switch languages on a dime. They played "rock, paper, scissors" in Russian and "hide and go seek" in Estonian. So much for language-based identity.

Observation number 3. Tartu is a child-friendly city. Within walking distance of our house are several playgrounds, and no matter where we are in the city, it seems that there is one within walking distance. Some of them are really high quality, and laid out in a manner that makes it easy for adults to let their kids play for several hours at a time. This may be Estonia's second-largest city, but the playgrounds resemble anything but a crowded urban environment. Having access to these kinds of resources makes it easier for me to be a parent. Thanks Tartu.

62 kommentaari:

Doris ütles ...

bilingual children: my point exactly ;) Been there, done that even :) Starting from tranalsating Russian-dubbed A-team cartoons (yes, I know... horrible, isn't it?) in the late 80's/early 90's when we still got Russian channels to my little brother and ending with playing with the Russian kids who lived across the street at Grandma's (in J6hvi).

Heli ütles ...

To me seems such a bilingualism pretty one-side also among the children as estonian kids know russian only if they attend "russian kindergarten" or one parent is estonian and other russian, but how many estonian kids are attending russian kindergarten actually? Very low percentage- at least in Tallinn, Pärnu, places I know. But thatś of course great that new generation of our russians are indeed becoming more and more bilingual without that "awful pain" what their parents still seem to suffer.

Martasmimi ütles ...

A young man came into my office today a Geo physicist professor from Stony Brook Uni. He was giving me his information in hopes that we might have a house he could afford to purchase. One of my co-workers said as she drifted by my desk that there was a travel article on Estonia she was reading at the doctors office that morning and it said what a romantic country Estonia was...I commented as I was writing that it was of course romantic, why else would my son be living there with his wife and my two grandaughters. He, Admen remarked, I have been to Estonia... You have I said ? Yes to Tallinn..
He asked does your son speak the language? Yes I said. He said "I have a PHD in Math & Geo physic's I speake several languages and I have determined that it is impossible to learn that one."

Lingüista ütles ...

Estonian is not so hard to learn. If your friend wants to see one that is really, really difficult to learn, perhaps the closest to really impossible... then try Navajo. Or any other Athapaskan language for that matter (Apache, Tolowa, Slave,...)

Meelis ütles ...

"children, none of them older than 10, covered the playground like furious ants, playing bilingual games"
Absolute majority of ethnic Estonian children under age 10 can not speak Russian or speak it only a bit.

Marcus ütles ...

Everything in Tartu is within walking distance. And Tartu is bigger than Pärnu where everything definitely isn't within walking distance, go figure. One of the miracles of the Tartu vaim (Tartu spirit) I guess before it got drunk and went fell asleep:) (reference to university students and not kids who are great no matter what language they speak or where they're from)

Andres ütles ...

Everything in Tartu is within walking distance. And Tartu is bigger than Pärnu where everything definitely isn't within walking distance, go figure.The area of Tartu is 38.8 km2 and it has 100k inhabitants. The area of Pärnu is 32.22 km2 and it has 45k inhabitants. It makes sense that there's more stuff on the same territory in Tartu.

Andres ütles ...

Another fun fact: the population density of Tartu is larger than the population density of Tallinn.

Colm ütles ...

Väsinud laps on rõõmus laps. :-)

Inner monologue ütles ...

People have realized that it would suck to have a name like Tiit Annus for example.

You don't want fellow chicken pluckers in Ireland to laugh at your kid.

Eppppp ütles ...

...or Tiit Sukk...

Giustino ütles ...

Väsinud laps on rõõmus laps. :-)Täpselt.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Re;
Lingüista ütles...
Estonian is not so hard to learn. If your friend wants to see one that is really, really difficult to learn, perhaps the closest to really impossible... then try Navajo. Or any other Athapaskan language for that matter (Apache, Tolowa, Slave,...)

7:34 AM
This person was a client of Serbian or Middle Eastern background (didn't ask as only spoke with him for 15 minutes and it was business related. He said he spoke 6 languages and was lost in any attempts at Easti...

Epp...yes Tiit Sukk is a name that I am thankful you never once considered during the not knowing period of your pregnancies. : ).. a bat would have been the most appropriate baby gift..so as to fend off his lifetime of taunters..

katarina ütles ...

Considering the previous comments it is quite clear that next generation Russions are the bilingual ones and seem to be better off. There will be always jobs that require Russian.
Lots of Estonian bilingual children are abroad and speaking English or French etc instead.

Andres ütles ...

Tiit Sukk seems like a reasonable name to me. Enough of the kadakainglus to be honest!

Eppppp ütles ...

Tiit (teat) - udar. Sukk (suck) - imema.
Just saying...
The English influence is perhaps the reason why young Estonian parents dont use the name Tiit anymore.
My older relative who left Estonia during the WW2 changed his name Tiit into Tim (he lives in UK). He is still Tiit for his Estonian relatives but he uses Tim everywhere else.

Giustino ütles ...

I don't remember seeing a lot of Tiits in the birth registries from the 19th century I looked through. More Juhans, Karls, and Jüris.

peedu ütles ...

Well the name Dick is still widely used in the English-speaking countries. I don't think Tiit will go anywhere either.

Eppppp ütles ...

I dont think Dick is widely used nowadays. or what?

Andres ütles ...

Well, Reet is claimed to mean "ass" in Dutch, then there's the Perse school for girls, etc. You can't name your children considering every language in the world. That's what I meant under kadakainglus: those "nice and pure" English derivative names that children are so massively named after. All the Kevins and Rogers etc. For me it just represents how petty and cheap those parents are. And I doubt anybody actually considers how a name sounds in English when naming their children. Maybe only if they live in England or the US.

Kristopher ütles ...

I've always thought Tiit should have a pair of circumflex accents over the i-s.

Kristopher ütles ...

Just like Dick should have an cedille hanging from the c.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Kristopher ütles...
Just like Dick should have an cedille hanging from the c.

My brother in law is Richard, but he is called Rick..."Dick" is a name that we no longer call our children here..
We use the word more frequently in this manner. "that guy is such a "dick"" .. : )

Troels-Peter ütles ...

I suppose it's the case in most places that first names jump a generation or two. It's my impression that you'll often find the same names in a kindergarten and at a churchyard, at least in my country.

Of course some names are just fashion phenomena and don't return, but once a name has returned once it seems established and will eventually re-emerge two or three generations apart - even the most improbable ones, in my experience.

Giustino ütles ...

It's my impression that you'll often find the same names in a kindergarten and at a churchyard, at least in my country.I found Marta's name in a graveyard on Hiiumaa. I think we had mentioned the name there before, but seeing it there in stone really settled it. It was an old, mossy grave marker written in German. I forget the woman's last name.

plasma-jack ütles ...

"Dick" is a name that we no longer call our children here..Yet you had a Dick for vice president. Or a whole administration full of them,to be more precise.

Giustino ütles ...

Yet you had a Dick for vice president. Or a whole administration full of them,to be more precise.Cheney was born in '41. In some ways he epitomizes the slang.

Martasmimi ütles ...

"Dick" Cheney does represent on so many levels why no one in their right mind would give this name to their child.
I think we are about done with the commentary on the name "Dick" ...
Are we?

Lingüista ütles ...

I'd comment a little on Estonian being 'too difficult' to learn. It's a very different language from the perspective of Europeans (so a Serbian would certainly find it difficult), but not so terribly difficult. It doesn't have so much grammar (OK, the partitive and the genitive are highly irregular and you have to learn it one by one... but all languages have things like that. Let those who learned all their English irregular verbs in just a few days cast the first stone...)

But seriously, is Estonian harder than, say, Japanese, for an European to learn? I don't think so. And there are languages much harder than that, much more different from your usual European languages than Estonian is. (Basque is one such case... with no known relatives anywhere in the world. Any Caucasian language -- Georgian, Abkhaz, etc. -- is, I think, more complicated and difficult to learn than Estonian for the average European. And, as I said, don't even get close to Navajo or other Athapaskan languages... these are real big challenges.)

Mark Oskar ütles ...

"there is an 89% chance his name is Rein."

This is great, and oh so true!

Puu ütles ...

I wont even go into the difficulty of being saddled with a name like puu.

But I do want to watch Russian A-team or the Estonian A-team.

Colm ütles ...

"It doesn't have so much grammar".

Mida!? Aga kuidas inimesed võiksid rääkida eesti keeles kui eesti keelele ei ole palju grammatikat? Eesti keeles on sama palju grammatikat kui teisteski keeltes.

What?! How can people speak Estonian if Estonian doesn't have much grammar? There is as much grammar in Estonian as in the next language.

Lingüista ütles ...

Colm, ma olen nõus, sest kõikidel keeltel on "palju grammatikat", nii et inimesed võivad rääkida. Lastele emakeel ei ole mitte kunagi raske. Aga kui tahad õppida üht võõrkeelt, siis on muidugi "rasked" ja "kerged" keeled. Eesti keel on mulle sama "raske" kui teised keeled Euroopas (ainult sõnad on erinevad, aga see ei ole probleem).

Estonian has the average level. That's my point. If you look at a language like Navajo, that goes way beyond that, then you see what complexity is really like. (For instance, in Estonian verbs only have first, second and third person, singular and plural, i.e. six forms, like all European languages; Navajo has a fourth person, singular, dual and plural, i.e. 4x3 = 21 forms. And that's only in the 'present' tense...)

In a sense of course all languages have "the same amount of grammar"; in another sense, there's more stuff to learn with irregularities like the Estonian osastav and omastav forms, or the verbs with s-s-w gradation (õppima-õppida-õpin) vs. the verbs with s-w-s gradation (hakkama-hakata-hakkan). In the first sense, of course Navajo is just like any other language: a system for communcating thought. In the second sense, there's a lot more to learn, and many more irregularities, in Navajo than in Estonian. (Just like in the same sense English has "less grammar", i.e. there are fewer forms, fewer strange usages, and fewer irregularities to learn. The pronunciation, however, is another story...)

Lingüista ütles ...

4x3=12, of course. That's what I get for typing too fast...

Kristopher ütles ...

"Navajo has a fourth person, singular, dual and plural, i.e. 4x3 = 21 forms. And that's only in the 'present' tense...)"

Selge see, et teatud talitustel kõrbes on 4. isikus kõnelemine möödapääsmatu, aga kas see on ka tavalises nn 4x3=12 elus vajalik? Kuidas on võimalik?

Colm ütles ...

Ah. I see what's going on here. You're saying that the morphology of Estonian is alike to that of Indo-European languages, or at least it is not far removed compared to that of the North American languages.

That's true and of course I am in agreement on that. It is after all a pan-European sprachbund.

The thing to realise though is morphology is but one component of a language's grammar, and indeed the word grammar itself has many meanings.

I think we can take it as a given that, in general, to a speaker of language A, learning language B is easier than language C, if the letters are representative of the correlation between the languages in terms of contact and areal features.

Thus the clicks of Khoisan languages seem exotic to us but there would be many features of European languages that a speaker of a Khoisan language would find strange, complex and unusual.

"Lastele emakeel ei ole mitte kunagi raske."

I beg to differ. Children do not acquire a first langauge effortlessly. What might seem to adults as children just soaking up a language, is for the child an up-hill battle.

A child, learning its first language, does not posess the advantages of full developed adult cognition nor the prior experience of speaking a language nor pre-existing knowledge of a language.

They need to make inferences and conclusions based on what they are exposed to: input that varies in quality and quantity. They also need to learn the use of gesturing and how language is used.

If it was easy children wouldn't need to simplify consonant-clustersand they wouldn't under or over extend the meaning of words.

Children have to listen to thier first language for hours every day and all the time they are learning it, playing with it, experimenting and when they go to bed they review what they have learned that day. It is a conscious, continuous process over mnay years and even a child of 10 still hasn't mastered some of the finer nuances of everyday speech that an young understands without confusion.

James ütles ...

Selge see, et teatud talitustel kõrbes on 4. isikus kõnelemine möödapääsmatu,

I understood that the so-called fourth person is a variation on the third person, just as there is really no 15th declension in Finnish -- you could understand it as an adverb.

Martasmimi ütles ...

After the tutorial by Colm on the way children learn a first language I am amazed that Marta can speak, at age 5 both languages fluently and with nuance and gestures, especially in English...I wonder if this is because she lived in NY for her first 3 years. and I wonder if Anna living in Eesti most of the time will have less nuance and gestures.

Puu ütles ...

I speak Estonian really well ( but I can t really write it), Estonians especially in America think I m Estonian all the time. And I just grew speaking with my mom and grandparents and then I lived in Estonia for a bit. My language ability is fine, but I m a little crazy, because I speak this weird language. It can be lonely. If I spoke Mari -el for example I would probably be stark raving mad.

I think that language proficiency is less of an issue for bilingual children than identity issues, especially bilingual children in a minority language like Estonian.

Kristopher ütles ...

It's the opposite for me -- my accent is much worse than most third-generation Estos, even though I went to Estonian school. Actually my writing is stilted, too, in its own way, but I can proofread my native wife (stuff like which words are written together or separately).

There are many emigre Estonians who have a thick accent in both languages, I always wonder about their identity.

Inner monologue ütles ...

I think if you out yourself as an Estonian person, it won't be so lonely. You'll find new friends and over time, your family will accept your new lifestyle as well.

Sérgio Meira ütles ...

Colm, I agree in principle with what you said: "grammar" has many meanings, and no matter how "easy" a language is, there is so much in it (and that isn't even adequately described in any grammar -- even for Englsh) that learning a language is a never-ending task.

Morphology is indeed only one aspect of the language. But this is the first and most obvious "stumbling block" when a person tries to learn a foreign language -- so it's not a bad standard for comparison when you're deciding which languages are easy or difficult to learn. Navajo has way more verb forms, including a fourth person and three numbers. Not only that: each verb form is composed in a complicated way, so you can't easily discern the affixes that mark person and/or number (they are all mixed up together, come in different orders, and the verb stem itself is often composed of two separate elements between which other affixes are placed). Also, the third/fourth person distinction is sensitive to level of animacy (the famous Navajo 'Great Chain of Being') for deciding which person/form to use. I still maintain: for a European trying to learn another language, Navajo would be a much worse task than Estonian.

Of course, a Navajo who wants to learn Estonian would be daunted in just the same way -- Estonian would seem waaay to foreign to him. But then again, so would English -- if Navajo speakers mostly didn't already speak it. So yes, ultimately the difficulty of a language is always a function of the difference between this language and the one(s) you already speak. (Of course, one could maintain that there is a more-or-less "objective" measure of "difficulty" or "complexity": say, the number of irregular forms... But this is a different topic.) So, for Europeans, Navajo grammar is worse than Estonian; the latter is, after all, already a good member of the European Sprachbund, as you said.

"I beg to differ. Children do not acquire a first langauge effortlessly."

Let me rephrase what I said. It's not that learning one's first language is "easy"; it is a lot of effort. But so is learning to walk, for instance; kids take months to learn to do it right. Yet barring physical problems or artificial obstacles, they all learn to walk. And they all learn to speak -- again barring special physical or psychological problems, or abnormal situations (Tarzan among the apes, etc.).

It's hard work to learn a language, but all normal kids do it, and approximately at the same age (5-6) they become quite fluent. No matter if the language is Estonian, English, or Haitian creole.

My daughter is growing up trilingual (Portuguese-Russian-Dutch). She is doing three times as much work as other kids; still, she doesn't seem to be suffering from it. The Russian-Estonian bilingual kids probably aren't either. Bilingualism is not a "problem"; a large part of the world's population is composed of bilinguals.

"I understood that the so-called fourth person is a variation on the third person"
In the sense that a fourth person would be translated into English as a third-person, sure. But that doesn't make the fourth person easy to use for someone learning a language that has one; the rules for using it aren't obvious. Some fourth persons depend on topicality (the first, or the most topical, person mentioned gets the third person pronoun/verb form, the second, or less topical, person mentioned gets the fourth person pronoun/verb form; things get complicated when more than three people are being talked about); but there are also logophoric or reflexive fourth persons (something like Estonian "oma", except that it can be the subject of a sentence), and more complicated systems (Navajo, for instance, makes use of the Great Chain of Being when deciding whether to use third or fourth person), etc.

Lingüista ütles ...

I used a different account by mistake, but the preceding comment was still from me.

Colm ütles ...

"My daughter is growing up trilingual (Portuguese-Russian-Dutch). She is doing three times as much work as other kids; still, she doesn't seem to be suffering from it. The Russian-Estonian bilingual kids probably aren't either. Bilingualism is not a "problem"; a large part of the world's population is composed of bilinguals."

Huh? :-S I never said that bilingualism was a problem. In fact since learning one first language is a difficult task, learning three first languages is even more difficult. And fair play to your daughter, it will be advantageous to her in the future.

And it's great they can do it.

"After the tutorial by Colm on the way children learn a first language I am amazed that Marta can speak, at age 5 both languages fluently and with nuance and gestures, especially in English"

Sigh...as I said before, learning a first langauge for a kid is a difficult task, two is even more difficult. Of course she can do it and I am sure she speaks both languages very well. It is a wonder and it is a difficult task but everyone of us had the ability to become bi-/ tri-lingual from birth if only we had received the right support and exposure.

I wouldn't worry about Anna. She has an English speaking Dad and as she grows up she won't lack of exposure to English, the language is omnipresent.

So, just to clarify, it is not easy to learn 1, 2 or 3 first langauge(s), it's very hard, but that's not the same as saying it is impossible. It is very possible and also very benificial in many ways.

Puu ütles ...

What, out myself as an Estonian so that I don t have to be in the closet about having relations with other Estonians and can safely enter into the Estonian breeding program? So I dont have to live the lie of actually trying to date for love rather than for meat headed Estonian nationalism. Sounds like a great plan.

Puu ütles ...

I dont think that being bilingual is bad, but I do think that being bilingual in a minority language like Estonian is. Especially a country that many Anglo American men associate with sex tourism. Putting I speak Estonian on your resume if you are female can be the equivalent of saying, I served beer to drunken Johns on their spring break from Liverpool. Exoticism is nearly always exploited.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Yeah. There are all kinds of estonians, I guess. I myself, I am a recovering Estonian. I did attend some meetings, but these only caused me to relapse.

Giustino ütles ...

Putting I speak Estonian on your resume if you are female can be the equivalent of saying, I served beer to drunken Johns on their spring break from Liverpool. Exoticism is nearly always exploited.The Brits too have a bad reputation as contained in this statement. You just need to turn it around to see what it is. Drunken, rude, faceless, British.

bunsen_lamp ütles ...

I dont think that being bilingual is bad, but I do think that being bilingual in a minority language like Estonian is. Especially a country that many Anglo American men associate with sex tourism.That, my good man, is exactly the reason why CIA can't find enough translators from Arabic. The possible applicants are afraid they might find themselves locked up in Guantanamo Bay if they admit speaking Arabic.

Puu ütles ...

Drunken, rude, faceless, British. Yeah, but when was the last time you looked at how the kroon stacks up against the pound. It isnt an equal value insult.

Martasmimi ütles ...

bunsen_lamp ütles...

That, my good man, is exactly the reason why CIA can't find enough translators from Arabic. The possible applicants are afraid they might find themselves locked up in Guantanamo Bay if they admit speaking Arabic.

No this isn't the reason. My husbands best friend speaks Arabic..and is Palestinian, he has lived here in USA for 40 years but still has many family members, sisters and brothers that live throughout the Middle East. As much as he wanted to help after 9/11 he was afraid that if some nefarious group found out he was working for the CIA they would simply kill his family. Life there is very different from most other places on this earth...

bunsen_lamp ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
bunsen_lamp ütles ...

I know, I know. I was just trying to make fun at puu's outrageous remark that being bilingual in Estonian is something not to be proud of.

Puu ütles ...

I m not saying that being bilingual isnt something to be proud of but this isnt :

Bachelor Parties in Estonia,

Bachelor Parties in Estoniaor that it make it harder to be employed in a serious position than French, Russian or German.

Kristopher ütles ...

"Yeah, but when was the last time you looked at how the kroon stacks up against the pound."

Wait a sec -- if I'm reading you right you're saying the kroon is cheap? The kroon/euro is still hanging on at an all-time high against the pound. I'm surprised any Brit can afford to come to the Continent as a vacation, figured they'd all be heading to Iceland.

Giustino ütles ...

That's how the British operate. I mean, they tried to burn down the White House, and I guarantee you they were wasted at the time. Not the most civilized people.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Puu ütles...
I m not saying that being bilingual isnt something to be proud of but this isnt :

Bachelor Parties in Estonia,

Bachelor Parties in Estoniaor that it make it harder to be employed in a serious position than French, Russian or German.

6:51 PM

Puu...
Perhaps it is that you just see Estonia for these things.
Many people including myself think that Tallinn is a beautiful city and that it's Old Town is both charming and historically interesting.
Many people here on the North Shore Of Long Island have visited Tallin via cruise ships, another went on a side trip from Sweden last summer because they heard so much about it from me...and they too loved the city. I guess as New Yorkers we have a bit more tolerance for the complexities of a city, because we love ours so much even though it too is not perfect.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Puu is basically the Angela character in the Office.

Anybody having any sort of fun is a big no-no.

If she has not turned into a cat lady yet, she soon will.

Puu ütles ...

I think there is a lot of sexism towards prominent estonian women in the media :
for example

Puu ütles ...

Speaking of cat ladies.

Puu ütles ...

Anyway, OMG I am totally not Angela. But I think there is a time and a place for everything.

Puu ütles ...

Also, these aren' t my opinions but those in the press.

Like those from the north of Long Island, I think Tallinn is a beautiful city and Estonian girls don' t find
accountants with beer bellies wildly erotic.