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The Charm of “Minor” Languages

One of the received ideas about Estonia is that it is a place where the dancing is monotonous and slow and where traditional folksongs are invariably sung with long faces and in the minor key…. Despite the undeniable geographical realities, such as long, dark northern winters, in which only the snow lightens the air at winter solstice, the sound of the Estonian language sparkles in the ear and on the tongue, making the torturous windings of the declension system worth the weariness and effort of hours of practice. Some brave souls would even argue that learning Estonian is (really) easy.

The teaching of Estonian language and culture is one of the stated goals of the Chair of Estonian Studies, and thus a part of its original curricular design. More than ten years after the restoration of the independent Estonian republic, few formal university-level Estonian-language programs are available in Estonian universities specifically for English speakers. In North America, the University of Toronto is one of three academic institutions (along with Indiana University and the University of Washington at Seattle) where Estonian language instruction is offered. Since Estonia became a candidate nation for the European Union (and has been recently accepted to EU membership), the European Studies Program took initiative to list Estonian language as an option for its concentrators to meet their foreign language requirements. This step is an acknowledgment of the place of Estonia not only within the context of its near and more distant Finno-Ugric neighbours (Finnish and Hungarian) but on the regional map of Europe.

Estonian language courses at the University of Toronto have historically drawn both “true beginners” bold enough to brave the rough waters of learning a Finno/Ugric language, and those with a foundation in the language (including Heritage Language Program alumni) who want to scrape the rust from their spoken and written Estonian, and to take a fresh look at the language in its cultural and historical context. Following the exquisite example of Dr. Harri Mürk, Estonian lecturer at the University of Toronto for many years, all Estonian language courses are taught wholistically as „civilization“ courses. Students of Estonian have the benefit of a wide range of excellent textbooks and audiovisual resources developed in Estonia over the last five years, as well as Dr. Mürk`s indispensable Handbook of Estonian (Vol. 163, Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, 1997).

The popular Baltic Folklore course (EST 210H), taught in English, has beckoned many a student back to intensive study of Estonian, and generated new interest in study abroad in Estonia through the University of Toronto`s exchange programs. Beginning (EST 100) and intermediate (EST 200) Estonian courses are taught in alternating years, with independent study options available for students with more focused interests and a need for more advanced level instruction. All courses provide a broad spectrum of exercises for oral, reading, and written competency.

NB! During academic year 2004-2005 prof. Jüri Kivimäe will be on sabbatical. Likewise, prof. Tiina Kirss will be on leave in the fall semester 2004. Courses listed and marked for the spring 2005 half-term will be offered. Please continue to check for updates on possible additional course offerings.

Language & Literature Courses

Dr. Tiina Kirss
Assistant Professor, Estonian Studies
109N Munk Centre for International Studies
Office telephone 416-946-8945
Office Hours: Thursdays 3-4PM and by appointment

Hours: 4 hours per week
Exclusion: Native speakers, people with some knowledge of Estonian
Course Description: This course will provide an introduction to the basic features of Estonian grammar and pronunciation. Students will acquire essential vocabulary for conversation and for comprehension. Emphasis will be placed on a balanced development of reading and speaking as well as writing skills.

Hours: 4 hours per week
Exclusion: Native speakers, people with some knowledge of Estonian
Course Description: In this course an emphasis on basic language skills is continued. Active and passive vocabularies are enriched.

Hours: 2 hours per week
Prerequisite: EST 200Y or permission of instructor
Course Description: This course is divided into two sections. Section one is for students who have successfully completed EST 200Y (or its equivalent). The emphasis in this section will be on expanding vocabulary and developing speaking and writing skills. Section two is for students with prior knowledge of Estonian. Basic and advanced grammatical patterns will be reviewed to improve speaking and writing skills. Students in either section will find it useful (but are not obliged) to attend classes in both sections. All students will be encouraged to read as much as possible from a variety of different genres.

Hours: 2 hours per week
Prerequisite: EST 300Y/400Y or permission of instructor
Course Description: In this course a survey of Estonian literature is offered from Käsu Hans' Lament of Tartu to the singing revolution of 1988. Readings include works from the National Awakening, the first Independence, the Soviet period, expatriate literature and the second awakening.


Hours: 2 hours per week

A full-year seminar focused on contemporary Estonian novelist Jaan Kross (1920-), whose historical fictions of the distant past resonated analogically with Soviet realities. The seminar will set Kross’ choice and practice of historical fiction in the context of East and West European traditions of „historical belles lettres,“ questions of national identity, cultural diversity, and post-Soviet challenges to revisioning the past. A key question to be posed and historicized is „What and where is Europe as seen from its Baltic corner?“ Readings (in English) will include novels and short fiction by Jaan Kross, and selected works from Pushkin, Tolstoy, Mann, Tynjanov, Scott, Waltari, and Sienkiewicz.

Hours: TBA
Prerequisite: EST 300Y/400Y or permission of instructor
Course Description: The student will write a major research paper on a topic of interest in the area of Estonian language or culture under the supervision of an instructor. Regular meetings between student and instructor will be arranged to discuss the progress of the paper throughout the year. The aim of the course is twofold: to allow the student to become familiar with the literature in the chosen area and to help the student develop the necessary skills and discipline for writing a major research paper.

Other Estonian Courses

EST 210H - Baltic Folklore

Spring 2004
University of Toronto
MW 2-4PM , Alumni Hall ( St. Michaels College ), Room 304

Course Description: An introduction to the folklore of the Finno-Ugric and Latvian peoples (folk song, folktale, fairy tale, folk humour, proverb), which is rooted in the material culture and lifeworld of these cultures. Though our primary focus will be on texts, which are spoken, written, and sung, we should not forget that folklore is made with the hands, as objects of everyday use are adorned to tell their own stories, and acted out communally in ritual. Folklore being vitally related to the making of histories and nations, we will also take an intensive look at the writing of national epics in the 19th century. Topics of discussion include the folk calendar, rituals, folk religion, and the use of folkloric materials in 20th century art and music. Instruction is in the form of lecture-discussion, supplemented by guest lectures and the occasional short excursion.

For more information please visit the course website at


History Courses

Dr. Juri Kivimäe
Chair of Estonian Studies
, Department of History
100 St. George Street.
Office telephone 416-978-8471
Office Hours: TBA

HIS 331H1-S – Modern Baltic History

Course Description: This course is an examination of political, social, cultural and economic developments in Baltic history from 1900 to the present day. Although the whole Baltic Sea region will be considered, special attention will be paid to the small Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We study the emergence of independent Baltic states in context of the Russian Revolution and the First World War, the interwar period of independence, the casualties of the Second World War, the fate and daily life of the Baltic nations under Soviet rule, the fall of the Soviet Union and the Baltic Revolution; national rebirth and the restoration of indepedence. The course will conclude with discussion of some modern dilemmas, such as national and cultural identity, rewriting of history and European integration of the Baltic countries.

Recommended Texts: Toivo U. Raun, Estonia and the Estonians, Hoover Institution Press, 2nd ed., 2001; Andrejs Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, Hoover Institution Press, 1995; John Hiden & Patrick Salmon, The Baltic Nations and Europe: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania in the Twentieth Century, Longman, 1995.

Recommended preparation: HIS 250Y1 or HIS 251Y1/ permission of the instructor

For more information please visit the course website at

Course Texts and Images

HIS 362H1-F – The Hansa: the World of Merchants

Course Description: This course seeks to examine the rise and decline of the Hanseatic League in medieval Europe from the late 12th to the late 16th century. Topics will include the organization of the German Hansa and its maritime activities; the Hanseatic long distance trade and the biographies of the Hanseatic merchants; the cultural aspects of the medieval communication. Particular attention will be given to the daily life of the Hanseatic merchants in Western and Eastern Europe. The very special idea of this course is to demonstrate the historical case of an early integration of Europe.

Besides the lectures a 3-part series film “The Hanseatic League” will be presented and discussed in conjunction with the course.

Textbook: Philippe Dollinger, The German Hansa (1970); and a course reader

PREREQUISITE: HIS 220Y1/ permission of the instructor

For more information please visit the course website at

Course Texts and Images

HIS 412 Y1-Y – War, Plague and Hunger in the Early Modern Baltic
(Joint undergraduate/graduate course – HIS412Y/1284H)

This seminar is concentrated on reading Balthasar Russow’s “Chronicle of the Province of Livonia” (1584), using it as a gateway to the explanation of Danish, Swedish, German, Polish and Russian aspirations for hegemony in the Baltic Sea region. Beginning with the frames of political and military history of the Livonian Wars (1558–1583), it goes on to examine the everyday life history of the Baltic people in a multicultural and multinational context of Early Modern Eastern and Northern Europe.

Texts: The Chronicle of Balthasar Russow & A Forthright Rebuttal by Elert Kruse & Errors and Mistakes of Balthasar Russow by Heinrich Tiesenhausen. Translated by Terry C. Smith with the collaboration of Juergen Eichhoff and William L. Urban. Madison, Wisconsin: Baltic Studies Center, 1988. Johannes Renner’s Livonian History 1556 – 1561. Translated by Terry c. Smith and William Urban with J. Ward Jones. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. Salomon Henning’s Chronicle of Courland and Livonia. Translated by Jerry Smith, J. Ward Jones and William Urban. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1992.

Recommended Preparation: one course in Early Modern European History and one course in Russian History.


For more information please visit the course website at

Community seminar (in Estonian)

Toronto Ülikooli Eesti Õppetooli seminar
Tartu College’is 2003 – 2004

BALTHASAR RUSSOW JA TEMA KROONIKA: inimesed ja olud Eestis ning Baltikumis Liivimaa sõja ajal (1558 – 1583)
Prof. Jüri Kivimäe, Toronto Ülikooli Eesti Õppetooli juhataja

On saanud üldtuntud tõeks, et Balthasar Russow (sünd. u. 1534-6 Tallinnas – surn. 24. nov. 1600 Tallinnas) oli Tallinna Pühavaimu kiriku eestlasest pastor, kes kirjutas alamsaksakeelse “Liivimaa provintsi kroonika” (1578, 1584). Russowi elusaatust ja tema aega tunnevad küllap paljud Jaan Krossi suurteose “Kolme katku vahel” põhjal. Kirjaniku visiooni ja sulega loodud täisverelise kangelase ja tema tegude kõrval teame aga võrratult vähem tegelikult eksisteerinud Pühavaimu pastorist ja kroonikust Russowist. Kui eesti vanemas kultuuriloos on tänaseks kinnistunud arusaam, et Russow oli eesti päritolu, siis kahjuks on tegemist vaid ühe hüpoteesiga, mille esitas 1964. aastal ajaloolane Paul Johansen. Russowi päritolu, tema miljöö ja elukäigu küsimuste arutelu hõlmaks kavandatava seminari algupoole. Meie kasutada on üpris palju eestikeelseid tekste (Paul Johansen, Küllike Kaplinski, Elina Öpik, Jaan Kross, Sulev Vahtre jt.), mille kallal annab pead murda. Lisaks vaatleme ka mõningaid seniavaldamata allikaid ja seisukohti Russowi eluloo selgitamiseks. Loodetavasti jõuame senikehtivatest arusaamadest erinevatele tulemustele ja õpime eristama ajaloolist Russowit kirjanduslikust Russowist.

Seminari peamiseks sihiks on aga Russowi “Liivimaa provintsi kroonika” lugemine ja analüüsimine. Meie kasutada on harukordne ajalookroonika, mis jutustab Eesti ala ja laiemalt kogu Läänemereruumi 16. sajandi teisel poolel varjutanud Liivimaa sõjast. Raskes heitluses, milles osalesid Venemaa, Rootsi, Taani ja Poola-Leedu, kaotas Vana-Liivimaa riikide konföderatsioon oma keskaegse iseseisvuse ja alad jagati võõrvõimude vahel. Me õpime tundma nende suurte muutuste põhjuseid ja poliitilist, sõjalist ning diplomaatilist tagapõhja. Sõda, katk ja näljahäda muutusid sel perioodil argielu tavapäraseks osaks nii Tallinnas kui ka kogu Eesti alal ja kõigest sellest jutustab meile Russowi kroonika. Arutluse alla võetakse ka ajalookroonika kui teksti eripära, selle jutustava stiili laad, keel ja motiivid, ehk teisisõnu kuidas ja miks Russow oma kroonika kirja pani. Ja lõpuks seegi, kuidas Russowi kroonikat on vastu võetud ja kasutatud ning milline on selle koht suurte ajaloonarratiivide seas. Head ainest võrdlemiseks ja eristamiseks pakub meile Johannes Renneri “Liivimaa ajalugu 1556 – 1561”. Seminariarutlustes ettevõetavad rännakud Eesti kaugemasse minevikku koos Russowi ja Renneriga saavad olema põnevad ja avastamisrõõmu pakkuvad.

Peamised tekstid: Balthasar Russow, Liivimaa kroonika (tõlk. Dagmar ja Hermann Stock; Stockholm: Vaba Eesti, 1967; 364 lk.); Johann Renner, Liivimaa ajalugu 1556 – 1561 (tõlk. Ivar Leimus; Tallinn: Olion 1995; 194 lk.). Seminari põhiline lugemismaterjal jagatakse osavõtjaile fotokoopiatena.

Aega ja koht: seminar toimub Tartu College’is alates 23. septembrist igal teisel teisipäeval, kell 17-19.

Täiendavatele küsimustele vastuse saamiseks palun kirjutada Jüri Kivimäele aadressil

Toronto Ülikooli Eesti Õppetooli seminar 2003-2004
Tartu College`is

ARMASTUS EESTI KIRJANDUSES: Võimalused ja võimatused
Dr. Tiina Kirss, Toronto Ülikooli Eesti Õppetooli keele-ja kirjanduse õppejõud

On sagedasti kuulda nii rahva seas kui „tõsises“ eesti kirjanduskriitikas märkuseid, anekdoote, mõnikord ka tõsielulisi näiteid teemal eestlane ja armastus. Need on enamasti negatiivsed ehk vähemalt mõrudad, mõnikord ka eleegilised. Õnnelik armastus on põgus nähtus, kuulub noorusele, ning pahatihti on traagiline. Kas on eestlane (ka eestlanna) armastajana pelglik, tundetu, räme, rabe, või lihtsalt (matslikult) tuim. Armastuse sõna mainimist välditakse justkui oleks see tuline kartul, mis suu ära kõrvetab. Ehk, kui usume Anna Haava „Põhjamaa lapsi,“ on armastus nii sügavale südamesse peidetud, seitsme tabaluku taha, et sõnagi oleks justkui siivutu, selle lausumine mingi salapärase piiri ületamine, mille tagajärjel katkeb hetkeks loodud nõidus. Eesti rahva hingelaadile omane tundeline kinnisus ning tagasihoidlikkus loovad harvapoetatud lembesõnade ümber kõrgendatud pinge. Ometi on lembesõnavara eesti keeles rikkam ja huvitavam kui tavaliselt arvatakse.

On palju tarku sõnu kulutatud kirjanduse ja rahvuse keeruliste suhete üle, kuid kindel on niipalju, et rahva hing ehk etniline psühholoogia ei peegeldu kirjanduses otseselt, vaid kõverustega ja konksudega, olles siiski seal hoomatav ja ära tuntav. Aastapikkuses seminaris üritame läheneda eestlasele ja armastusele kirjandustekstide kaudu, nii „traditsiooniliste“ kui ka julgelt kaasaegsete läbi. Kuigi eesti lüürika on lembeluule poolest ehe-- kui mitte rikkalik, harva on vaadatud sügavamale allikapõhja—rahvaluulesse. Ka proosas on armastuse võimalused ning ka võimatused, lävepakud ja tulemüürid rikkalikult esindatud. Seminari lugemismaterjal püüab näidata armastuse temaatika mitmekülgsust eesti kirjanduses, selle mõjutlusi euroopa kirjandustest, ning osutada uutele suunitlustele lähitulevikus.

Tekstid: Valik eesti rahvalaule, väljavõtteid Kalevipojast, Kitzberg Libahunt, Vilde Mäeküla piimamees ja Mahtra sõda, Tammsaare Kõrboja peremees, väljavõtteid Tõest ja Õigusest, Elu ja armastus, Ma armastasin sakslast; Gailit Toomas Nipernaadi; Leegitsev süda, Mälk Õitsev meri; Hindrey „Armastuskiri“ (ja teisi novelle), Sündmusteta suvi; Tuglas Felix Ormusson, valik Aino Kallase ja Hella Wuolijoe loomingust; Mati Unt Tühirand; Valton Mustamäe armastus ja valik novelle, Saat Võlu ja vaim, Katastroof; Kivirähk Rehepapp; Undusk Goodbye Vienna, Eeva Park Naeru õpilane, jt.

Eeldused: Rahuldav eesti keele lugemisoskus, valmisolek lugeda kahe nädala vältel 50-100 lk. Tekstide varumine toimub nii laenutamise kui fotokopeerimise korras, mil fotokoopiate eest on ettenähtud osaline tasu. Kursus toimub n.ö. rahvaülikooli stiilis, loeng-diskussioonina.
Õppemaks: 150 CAD semestris

Kursus toimub igal teisel teisipäeval, kell 17-19, algusega septembrikuu keskel, kuupäeva täpsustame suve jooksul Eesti elus. Küsimuste puhul palun pöörduda dr. Tiina Kirsi poole ( või