For a long time, the Karelian language has been a colloquial language, one that is mainly spoken in homes and among family. And since many speakers of Karelian are elderly, the language is somewhat old-fashioned. The University of Eastern Finland has, for a couple of years now, been working to revitalise the endangered Karelian language, including providing support for vocabulary work. Concrete steps are currently being taken on a course dedicated to Karelian dictionary and terminology work, the main aim of which has been to provide students with tools for developing the vocabulary.
“This group has been exceptionally active and, thanks to lively discussions on vocabulary, all of our lectures have run overtime,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Susanna Tavi, who in charge of the course.
Students are currently coining vocabulary related to gastronomy, pharmacy and art, among other things. Words are first considered and discussed in small groups, after which they are presented to all students on the course. Working together, the group then analyses the words and pays attention to how they work in spoken language.
Support is, of course, always available from teachers of Karelian, including from Natalia Giloeva, who has also taught the Karelian language at Petrozavodsk University.
“The first thing our students do is check whether the word they are looking for can already be found in a dictionary of the Karelian language. If so, they have to think about whether the word should be reformed if it doesn’t fit into the desired context, and they’ll also think about whether the word should be a compound or a combination of words. They can also turn to other languages in the same language family, such as Estonian and Veps.”
Students also use various search engines to find parallel texts. Parallel texts are texts that resemble the desired translation as much as possible in their topic and style.
“Finally, the word will be adjusted in terms of its ending, i.e., students have to think about whether to end the word in “i” or “u”, which are forms typically found in the Karelian language. And, of course, the word must be grammatically correct,” Tavi says.
Students often come up with several different translations, and the group works together to find the best one. If the word is very topical, a decision must be reached fast since new words are constantly needed, for example, for Karelian-language radio news broadcasts by the Finnish National Broadcasting Company, Yle.