[Spellyans] "The Last Livonian" has passed away

Daniel Prohaska daniel at ryan-prohaska.com
Tue Apr 7 13:16:00 IST 2009

Thanks for this Michael. It always makes me sad to have a traditional
language fade with its last speakers. There is something about the flavour
of native speech which is not quite recoverable. Even with revived languages
that again have native speakers, such as Ivrit and in some cases Cornish and
Manx, it’s not quite the same.  



-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Everson
Sent: Tuesday, April 07, 2009 1:50 PM


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




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