Eesti ülikooliks võõrkeelte abil

Terje Lõbu


Becoming an Estonian University
with the Help of Foreign Languages
Terje Lõbu
University of Tartu Museum

In the autumn of 1919, when the Estonian-language University of Tartu
opened its doors, the issue of finding lecturers was one of the most
urgent questions besides other problems. The main purpose of the national
university was to make the transition to Estonian-language instruction
and research work, which is why they had to find employees
capable of working in Estonian. Firstly, negotiations were held with
potential researchers of Estonian origin. However, it became clear from
the start that the few Estonian researchers scattered across Russia
could not fill the positions of all lecturers. The searches turned towards
Finland and Sweden, since Scandinavian lecturers were considered the
most suitable candidates. They came from similar cultural backgrounds
and it was hoped that they would soon be able to lecture in Estonian.
That was how it went indeed – L. Kettunen, A. R. Cederberg, J. G.
Granö, A. M. Tallgren, A. Bierre and others proved their suitability.
Likewise, many lecturers hired to the Baltic German University also
learnt Estonian quickly, as they had lived in the language environment
for years. Nevertheless, the University had to take on lecturers, who at
first lectured in foreign languages: among them were researchers who
escaped from Russia (mainly in the Faculty of Law) and people who
arrived from Europe – many of whom lectured in German.
It was specified in the agreements concluded with the foreigners
how long they could lecture in a foreign language. Pursuant to the
Act of the University of Tartu passed in 1925, professors had the
right to lecture in a foreign language for five years, while associate
professors had to learn Estonian within a year. Often, the right to
hold lectures in a foreign language was extended with the permission
of the Ministry of Education but the rules became stricter as
of 1930. In early 1920s, the Estonian students did not struggle with
understanding lectures in a foreign language since they had studied
in mostly Russian-language schools during the czarist rule and were
taught German as a foreign language – it was the poor level of Estonian
that was a cause for concern. But as years went by, the more it
was complained that students have difficulties with understanding
lectures in foreign languages.
The instruction remained in a foreign language the longest in
the faculties of law and medicine. Russian dominated in the faculty
of law since it employed former researchers of law of the Russian
empire as professors, and their studies of Estonian progressed very
slowly indeed. German dominated in the faculty of medicine since it
employed both local Germans as well as foreign researchers, which is
why the faculty meetings were mainly held in German.
While only 49.8% of lectures were in Estonian in 1920, the proportion
had increased to 93.2% by 1938. At the same time, 53.5% of
the University lecturers were Estonian in 1929, while the respective
proportion was 84.5% in 1938 – this shows that foreign lecturers
succeeded in learning Estonian. Despite the fact that the state and
University were striving towards an Estonian-language study environment
at the University of Tartu, there were no signs of discord between
nationalities, or discrimination. The multicultural atmosphere
of the University only enriched Estonian research since the foreign
lecturers brought new research methods and instruction forms as
well as helped to establish relations with European research centres.

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