Johannes Aavik ja prantsuse keel. Johannes Aavik and the French Language


  • Antoine Chalvin



The French language played an essential role in the life and activities of Young Estonian Johanes Aavik. During his studies in Nežin and Helsinki, Aavik often used French in order to write his personal diary, in which he aspired to literary style. His French diaries are completely devoted to the analysis of unhappy love relationships and feelings, and their style closely resembles French psychological literary texts of the time, which he read with enthusiasm (Paul Bourget). Aavik also wrote the draft of his novel Ruth in French: the choice of language may likewise have been due to his view that French was the most appropriate language to treat of such topics in literature, this is corroborated by his explicit statements commending French as a language that is simultaneously precise, light, and refined. Furthermore, Aavik used French in the context of Young Estonia’s ”foreign relations”; at the request of Gustav Suits, who may have had in mind an emphasis on Young Estonia’s cosmopolitanism and ”French orientation,” Aavik wrote an overview of Estonian literature in French for the Danish literary scholar Georg Brandes. Beginning in 1912, French was a firm though modest source for the project of language reform; Aavik borrowed many words from French, and found inspiration in the French language for at least 30 artificial roots, as well as for three radical syntactical innovations (the re-future; the no-pronoun, and the postposition of the complement). These innovations were all intended as solutions to translation problems. Like all translators, Aavik stumbled over unavoidable differences between source and target languages; however, instead of circumlocution or adjusting the meaning to the resources of the target language, thus acquiescing to a necessary loss or shift, Aavik undertook to make the target language isomorphic to the source language.


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