Baumanis recipient investigates history of Lutsi-speakers in Latvia

Sep 6, 2016

Uldis_Balodis_webUldis Balodis received the first AABS Baumanis grant to document the current state of villages historically inhabited by Lutsi Estonian speakers, as well as to conduct archival research in Tartu, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland on the work of Oskar Kallas, the original researcher of the Lutsi Estonians (Lutsis). The Lutsis are a little-known ethnic minority group in rural parishes surrounding the city of Ludza in eastern Latvia (Latgale), the members of which still spoke their own dialect of South Estonian until very recently. Balodis’ book, entitled In Kallas’ footsteps in Lutsimaa, will retrace the journey of Oskar Kallas through this region through extensive photography of village communities and interviews with village residents.

The historical language of the Lutsis is most similar to that of the present-day Seto minority of southeastern Estonia and their ancestors most likely came to Latgale from Estonia approximately three to four centuries ago. The project will introduce this little-known minority group in Latvia to a wider audience – Estonians, Latvians, and English speakers interested in linguistics, minority languages, and the Baltic regions. In a larger sense, as Latvia’s population continues to concentrate in larger cities, this project will also show the state of village life in this part of Latvia today, thereby providing an invaluable record for the future.

The villages at the center of this project were first documented as having South Estonian-speaking inhabitants by Kallas during his extensive fieldwork in the region in 1893. In the course of his work, Kallas documented the customs, folklore, and spoken language of the inhabitants of the Lutsi villages in Latgale and published his findings in 1894 in his landmark work Lutsi maarahvas [Lutsi kinfolk]. At the time, Kallas found Lutsi speakers in 53 villages in the rural parishes of Mērdzene (then called Mihalova), Pilda, Nirza, and Brigi (then called Janovole) and estimated that 800 people had knowledge of Lutsi. The last fluent Lutsi speaker died in 2006 and today only some Lutsi descendants still have some passive knowledge of Lutsi or know individual Lutsi words.

Uldis Balodis holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of California, Santa Barbara and focuses on the study of less commonly taught languages and small language communities. These have included the Finnic Livonian community of Latvia and various indigenous language communities of the western United States. During the last three years (2013-2016) Balodis conducted research funded by a Finnish Kone Foundation postdoctoral fellowship on the Lutsi language and completed a number of fieldwork trips throughout this region.

Photo credit: Caleb Roehrig