Murdelisest tegelaskõnest "Tõe ja õiguse" I osas / Dialect in the Speech of Characters in A. H. Tammsaare’s Truth and Justice Part I


  • Maria Mandri Tartu International School



stiilianalüüs, keskmurre, murded, kirjanduslik stiil, dialoog, ilukirjandus, stylistic analysis, Central dialect of Estonian language, dialects, literary style, dialogue, fiction


Teesid: Artikkel keskendub A. H. Tammsaare „Tõe ja õiguse“ pentaloogia I osas leiduvale murdelisele tegelaskõnele. Murdeline tegelaskõne on ilukirjanduslik võte, mis lähtub autori loomingulistest taotlustest ning on seega lahutamatu teose sisust. Keele- ja kirjandusteadust ühendades pakub artikkel seni puudu nud kontekstisidusa käsitluse „Tõe ja õiguse“ I osa tegelaskõnes kasutatud murdepärasuste omadustest ning funktsioonist teose sisu ja kompositsiooni toetamisel. Murdeline tegelaskõne osutab geograafiliselt kesk- ja läänemurde alale, iseloomustab tegelasi kui talurahva hulka kuulujaid, taotleb külaühiskonna realistlikku esitlust, toetab keeleliselt Vargamäe Ees- ja Tagapere ning vanade ja noorte vastandust. 




The use of language in Part I of A. H. Tammsaare’s five-volume novel Truth and Justice (Tõde ja Õigus) has received quite a bit of scholarly attention. However, up till now there have been few treatments of dialect in characters’ speech that also take into account the coherence of context and the writer’s aesthetic goals. Features of dialect in characters’ speech have been noticed by many researchers, but they mostly limited themselves to giving descriptive accounts of dialect words. These earlier accounts often approached these passages as authentic specimens of dialect, and did not interpret them in context or as aspects of literary form.

This article is based on the literary dialect theory of linguist and literary scholar Sumner Ives, who argues from the principle that dialect phenomena in literature cannot be studied as authentic specimens of dialect. In literature, when characters speak in dialect, this serves goals related to the content and composition of the work, and does not attempt to be a precise representation of real dialect speech. In this spirit, I will examine dialect in the characters’ speech in the first volume of Tammsaare’s cycle of novels Truth and Justice, and connect linguistics and literary theory to include the context and literary aims in my analysis.

The basis for context-coherence was the statistical analysis and description of dialect phenomena in the speech of the novel’s characters. First, all dialectal linguistic forms were inventoried and systematized according to their connection with characters, linguistic levels, and geographical indications. This article draws its conclusions from 57 different dialect phenomena, and 80 dialect words in 53 speeches of characters.

Based on the analysis of geographical indicators carried by dialect in characters’ speech, we can claim that the novel has mainly made use of dialect features from of central and western Estonia. Previous researchers who have studied Part I of the novel have noticed typical traits of the author’s home dialect from Järva-Madise parish, which is located in the core area of the central Estonian dialect. Though autobiographical influences on the speech of characters are plausible , the claim that all of these derive from the Järva-Madise parish dialect would be much too broad a statement. In addition, Tammsaare’s understanding of dialect speech was most likely influenced by his parents’ language use, influenced by the western and Mulgi dialects. We can also not exclude the possibility that Tammsare may have consulted scholarly sources on dialects.

Social references that avail themselves through characters’ dialect speech should be considered more important than geographical references. In fact, when dialect is used in literary texts, one can make the following distinction: Use of dialect that points to a very specific geographical location is a designator of a character’s place of origin. If, however, the dialect speech constructed in the literary text contains linguistic traits shared by a particular social group spread over a large area, dialect functions mainly as a social indicator. The dialect phenomena found in Part I of Truth and Justice are shared across a wide area. Therefore the use of dialect in the text is first and foremost a social marker which locates the characters of the novel among the peasantry.

In his journalistic writings, Tammsaare’s diverse views on language and style enable us to argue that the writer considered the content and form of a literary work as inseparable, and that for him language played an important role in rendering the atmosphere, characters, and events more believable. This principle justifies the dialect-rich dialogues in Part I of Truth and Justice. In order to make the representation of rural people of the second half of the 19th century more convincing and true to life; in order to confer a sense of the era, the surroundings, and the temperament of the people, Tammsaare used traits of dialect when constructing the characters’ speech.

When we consider these dialect elements in the context of the novel’s content, more specific goals come into view. In addition to identifying the characters as farm folk, geographically locating them in the area of central and western dialects, and representing 19th century village society as truthfully as possible, dialect in the speech of characters also serves comedy and satire. Furthermore, it illustrates the linguistic hierarchies prevalent at the time the events took place and undergirds oppositions among the characters. As is true more generally when literary texts make use of dialect, in Truth and Justice Part I the various purposes of dialect use are intertwined. Most important, however, is the pursuit of realism, which encompasses all other indicators and the language-based opposition that structures the entire work: the opposition between the the two farm families at Vargamäe, Ees- and Tagapere (the family in the „front“ and the family in the „back“ of Vargamäe).

Social hierarchies are reinforced by the language use of educated characters, which is closer to the written language, and by the peasants’ use of dialect speech. This is not intended to judge peasant language as inferior, but to represent the social reality of the time truthfully. Tammsaare’s personal views indicate that he considered the expressive possibilities of dialect to be less extensive than that of written language. However, since the characters’ speech serves the purpose of verisimilitude, it is perhaps more accurate to say that the novel represents natural use of language. In this context, Tammsaare leaves space in his representation of social reality for satire and mockery of those characters who aspire to be like the Germans, and makes fun of their language use.

The characters’ speech in dialect supports many of the pervasive motifs in the novel. One of the main goals is to differentiate the two farmowners at Vargamäe, Oru Pearu and Mäe Andres and build an opposition between them. The linguistic opposition is expressed by the diphthongisation of the long, low vowels (characteristic of the central Estonian dialect), as in the speech of Pearu and his wife, while this element is absent from the direct speech of Andres’ family. The fact that the writer used this feature primarily to construct an opposition between main characters is further supported by the speech of other inhabitants of the area, in which the diphthongized forms should have been predominant.

The nuancing feature of dialect was introduced into the novel in the interest of strengthening its sense of realism; sketching the outlines of characters, their surroundings, and ideational structures attests to the author’s skill in using formal features, and confirms that the writer submitted the dialect speech of the characters to firm creative purposes. Similarly, the analysis of the speech of characters as a fragment of structure allows us to conjecture about how consciously Tammsaare represented the different layers of form in Truth and Justice Part I.


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Author Biography

Maria Mandri, Tartu International School

Maria Mandri – post-graduate MA student at the University of Tartu in the Teacher of Estonian Language and Literature programme. Estonian teacher at the Tartu International School. 






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