reede, mai 30, 2008

heljo mänd

I was unable to finish Andrus Kivirähk's Ivan Orava mälestused, mostly because several English-language books captured my attention, and the library demanded Härra Orav's memoirs back.

I have been trying to increase my exposure to higher levels of Estonian language recently, because my ability is being stunted by the parameters of everyday conversation.

I can handle myself in a store, I can talk to neighbors and friends, but can I really understand news articles or talk shows? Sometimes, the material is so simple, but depending on the writer or the speaker, I can become completely lost.

It reminds me so much of when I was first exposed to jazz, particularly John Coltrane. At first it's just noise, but after repeated listening, you find a melody and a rhythm. Soon after, you wonder how it is that you didn't 'understand' the music the first time around.

One new language resource has been the poetry of Heljo Mänd. Mänd, born in 1926 in Narva, is one of the mothers of modern Estonian children's poetry. There are many poems and songs that you may know by heart that you just assumed were traditional. In fact, the hand behind that poetry is Heljo Mänd's.

Epp has been overdosing recently on children's poetry. There are books upon books of material by Erika Esop and Uno Leies lying around our house. I sometimes feel that I must surf upon these waves of books to reach simple destinations, like the toilet or the kitchen. And so it is with Heljo Mänd's books, which are great reservoirs of memorable vocabulary. Consider the following:


Näe, vist sellel kajakal
päevanorm veel vajaka !
Muudkui nopib kalu veest
tea, kas aitab kalameest.
Või ehk polegi see nii,
miks ta naerab -- hi-hi-hii
Narrib hoopis kalameest,
nopib kalad ära veest.

Essentially, the seagull (kajakas) is annoying the fisherman (kalamees) by eating up his daily catch (päevanorm). From this poem, I learned the words "noppima" (to pluck) and "narrima" (to mock). I wonder a bit, though, about a person who spends their time writing about seagulls, cats in trouble, or giraffes with colds, or mice who jump rope.

Is that really the key to happiness, to write poems about baby bears learning to read? Is there some deep wisdom to be gleaned from children's poetry?

11 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

You have Dr. Seuss, now my children are infected by his writing. And the Dr. dedicated his life to this kind of literature. It is not the worsed thing to do.

Kristopher ütles ...

We have a kid who never says "vaatab telekat" (watching TV), he says "passib telkut", which he has picked up from parroting his mom.

It seems that there is always a more colouful way of saying anything in Estonian, like a whole parallel language, and I think a lot of it comes from kidspeak.

You have slang in English, too, but it's different -- "the tube" seems to be more informed by science, like it came down from engineer jargon or something, it doesn't have the same innocent quality.

In Estonian, for one thing, you've got these diminutives in use, and adults use them too, like "lähme Levikasse" (let's go to Levist Väljas -- the Tallinn Zavood), lähme plaadikale ("let's go to the record market").

Kristopher ütles ...

I wanted to add that when I came back in 1993, spoken Estonian left me more than a little baffled. I grew up speaking what I thought was Estonian at home. I guess I was used to 1930s accents. Going to the theatre was really hopeless, with the reverb and the weird exaggerated diction, I could understand maybe 10%. So I think you have nothing to worry about (not that you seemed worried)

klx ütles ...

reading this just makes me want to learn estonian even more... though i've got no chance. sigh.

Giustino ütles ...


What's really hard is distinguishing between made-up words and real words, especially in poetry. Poets are always throwing in words like "vurr vurr" or "kärr kärr". But look them up in the dictionary and you'll find no definitions.

Unknown ütles ...

Well, actually 'vurr' is something like a children's gyroscope (really don't know the exact term in English).

Kristopher ütles ...

Theoretically they're supposed to sound like the actual noise. Someone says "vurr" and you immediately look around the room to see where the top is spinning.

Aparently it doesn't really work.

Estonians would also have us believe that everyone sneezes in an incredibly effete way (atsihh).

Anonüümne ütles ...

"La:hme" and "lehma" were always a hilarious malapropism.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Just 20 years ago enourmous research institutes were working on Lenin's writings, which supposed to give humankind instructions for the next millennium. I think we can find researchers to discover wisdom in children books too, with sufficient funding.

Anonüümne ütles ...

That's a nice thought. :). Maybe someone can create a field of study on children's literature like Joseph Campbell did for Greek Myths.

tommy ütles ...

The estonians never say "shave". Instead "Ajan oma habeme ära." 'Drive one's beard away.'