Pre-Modern Seminar No 18: Anti Selart
On Monday November 5th at 18.15 at the library of Skandinavistika prof. Anti Selart will give a talk called:
“Economic profit and political ignorance: Knowing Russian in medieval Baltics"
The seminar will take place in the library of Skandinavistika (Ülikooli 17, 3rd floor, room 305) at 18.15.
Wine, bread, fruit, cheese and ham will be served.
Anti has sent us a short presentation of the lecture:
“Medieval Livonia was a multilingual area. Finnic and Baltic languages were spoken by the majority of the population. The language of the nobility, clerics, and urban elite was the Middle Low German. From the 14th century it also replaced Latin as the language of written communication and administration here and in all the hanseatic Northern Europe. There was a remarkable Swedish population in Estonian coastal areas and some coastal towns as well. In Early Modern Estonia and Latvia the language remained a social marker. More than elementary education was available only in German and social career simultaneously included becoming “German”. At the same time, the common language of socially higher and lower classes was the language of the majority, Estonian or Latvian. The language eventually also marked political and religious divisions. The usage sometimes demonstrated the political alterity as well. The Russian language and alphabet e.g. demonstrated the belonging to the Orthodox Church. There were some Russian immigrants in Livonian towns, in the first line in the 13th-14th centuries. The number of Russian population remained small and could not shape the Livonian linguistic landscape.
Learning of languages was an important part of training of late medieval merchants. Knowledge of Russian was for a merchant like a privilege, which opened the doors to Russia. Young hanseatic merchants eventually spent some time in Novgorod and probably also in other Russian towns to learn the language. Knowledge of Russian was a specific advantage. It became some kind of professional secret, an instrument of keeping away of non-local and non-hanseatic competitors. The prohibition of language study for non-hanseatic, especially Dutch merchants was repeatedly reinforced by the Hanseatic Diets in the 15th century. Russians in Livonia, and Germans, who could not Russian, had to use the service of interpreters.
The language learning of merchants did not include writing in the foreign language. The medieval and early modern German-Russian phrase books used Latin alphabet for writing in Russian. The documents of the hanseatic towns repeatedly inform about the need for a Russian writer. The Russian also remained the language of diplomatic communication between Livonian territories and Russian lands and principalities. Normally it was the Livonian, “German” side that had to translate the oral and written communication. However, it seems that the relevant competency was concentrated in towns and the courts of Livonian bishops and order’s masters did not include translators on a regular basis.”
Everybody is welcome!