[Spellyans] "The Last Livonian" has passed away

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Tue Apr 7 12:49:37 IST 2009

Off topic, and from another list.

Dear Colleagues,

as Riho Grünthal from Helsinki just pointed out to me, Viktor Berthold,
probably the last Livonian speaker of the generation who learnt  
Livonian as
first language in a Livonian-speaking family and community, passed  
away a
few weeks ago. His funeral, obviously unnoticed by large parts of the
Finno-Ugristic community, took place in the village of K?olka on  
28th February this year.

As reported in the Estonian newspaper "Eesti Päevaleht" (by Jaak  
Prozes and
Ott Heinapuu, http://www.epl.ee/artikkel/460898 ), Viktor Berthold was  
1921 and probably belonged to the last generation of children who  
their (Latvian-medium) primary school as Livonian monolinguals; only a  
years later it was noted that Livonian parents had begun to speak  
with their children. During World War II, Berthold, unlike most Livonian
men, managed to avoid being mobilized in the armies of either occupation
force by hiding in the woods. After the war, Berthold worked in various
professions and shared his knowledge of Livonian language and lore  
with many
field linguists; in the 1990s, he also taught Livonian in children's  

Berthold's last Livonian-speaking family members, his brother and his  
died in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, many other prominent "last  
have also passed away, such as Poul?n K?avi?a (1918-2001), keeper of  
Livonian traditions and the last Livonian to reside permanently on the
Courland coast, and Edgar Vaalgamaa (1912-2003), clergyman in Finland,
translator of the New Testament and author of a book on the history and
culture of the Livonians ("Valkoisen hiekan kansa", Jyväskylä 2001).

The survival of the Livonian language now depends on young Livonians  
who --
in the best case -- may have learnt Livonian in their childhood from
grandparents or great-grandparents of the pre-war generations. There  
are not
very many of them, but all in all, there are a few hundred ethnic  
in Latvia now who are interested in their Livonian roots. Some young
Livonians not only sing folk-songs in Livonian but even strive at  
using Livonian in everyday communication.

For more information on Livonian(s), the Internet portal  
www.livones.lv is
warmly recommended.


Univ.-Prof. Dr. Johanna Laakso
Universität Wien, Institut für Europäische und Vergleichende Sprach- und
Literaturwissenschaft (EVSL) | Abteilung Finno-Ugristik

More information about the Spellyans mailing list