International Scientific Conference
Daugavpils, January 29 - 30, 2009

What language are we using when we are speaking with pets

Mare Kõiva

The purpose of this paper is to examine the language use, and switching between different languages when speaking with pets. Based on a survey of 130 interviews and recordings, the findings indicate that people talk with pets using normal common adult language, slightly adapted sentences or baby talk.

Confirms Crystal (1987) that switching is connected with: 1) being unable to express him/herself in one language - to compensate for the deficiency; 2) wanting to convey his/her attitude to the listener; 3) aiming to create a special effect.

The paper uses sociolinguistic and folkloristic tools for analysis.

Slurs Containing Names of Animals in Estonian Phraseology

Anneli Baran

The use of animal names, or to be more precise, animal metaphors in phraseology and pareomics in general is popular in all languages. This comes from the background of anthropocentric world view and the resulting anthropomorphism - applying human attributes (mental characteristic, among others) to animals. Considering phrases in different languages, the undisputed leader in many languages is the one with a component of dog or pig. But swear names may be varied from language to language and culture to culture. Understanding these requires considerably more additional or background knowledge. Expressions with animal names in Estonian language function mostly as pejorative or derogatory names, of which the Estonian tradition is so rich in that they form a separate subcategory of phrases. Pig and dog are the most popular animals also in estonian phraseology, often found in synonymous sayings, but not only - they can also be found in one and the same expression. In Estonian phraseology, the dog is despite his primary function as protector of the home and habitants attributed mostly negative human characteristics such as stupidity, laziness, insolence, lying. The pig is used in revile because it is considered dirty, lazy, insolent and greedy. There is also the view that being compared to an animal is better than being worthy of not even that.

Animal Lore in Estonian Riddle Periphery

Piret Voolaid

The study focuses on the use of animals in three major recently emerged subgenres of what has become to be called riddle periphery: conundrums, compound word games, and droodles.

Conondrums are direct "wh"-questions, e.g., Q: How do you put an elephant in the fridge? A: 1. Open the fridge. 2. Put the elephant inside. 3. Close the fridge. Droodles mostly consist of a visual image serving as the question and the description of the image serving as the answer, e.g., What is this? Four elephants sniffing an orange.

Compound word games mostly use the initial formula "What" or "Which kind?" and expect, instead of an adjective, a compound word as an answer, such as Mis tõugu hobune on parim ujuja? Vastus: Merehobune. [ Q: What horses swim the best? A: Seahorses.]

Animals appear as characters in these riddles in great numbers but in specific riddle subcategories the animal paradigm manifests in a unique way.

About one fourth of all Estonian conundrums feature animal names, and like in folk narratives (folktale, joke, tall tale) or other genres of verbal art (fable, cartoons, plays) the animal is associated with highly diverse imagery. Quite often these genres include anthropomorphic personification, where human characteristics attributed to a zoological creature tend to function as specific stereotypes and the animals often talk about us and serve as embodiments of humans. The use of animal characters who act as representatives of different types of humans allows safe ridiculing of the vices of humans and the society. In other minor forms of folklore (proverbs and phrases), the most popular animals are generally local domestic animals and fowl, but the most popular animal characters in Estonian conundrums are rather exotic (elephant, hippopotamus, etc.). One reason for this is perhaps the predominance of international material (e.g., elephant jokes originating from the Anglo-American culture area) in the Estonian riddle material, and the exotic stranger is still appealing in folklore texts. The situations and settings in which the animal characters are presented in conundrums (and droodles) are often distanced from the reality, which is why the material associated with animals can be seen as zoological absurdity.

The compound word games point to the favouring of compounds in the Estonian language, and the frequent occurrence of zoological creatures as elements of the Estonian compound words prove that the animal kingdom has greatly inspired the naming of things, phenomena and qualities with compounds. Compound word games are most often based on fixed metaphors (e.g., kohtukull 'legal hawk', raamatukoi 'bookworm'), in which the figurative image has become secondary and the user no longer recognises it.

In Estonian language, animals tend to be used as the end constituent of the compound noun, though there are many others in which the animal name figures as a genitive substantive in the attributive constituent. One third of the entire corpus of Estonian droodles depict representatives of the animal kingdom, though the most popular ones are those with characteristic appearance (the hare's long ears, the elephant's trunk, the camel's humps, the giraffe's long and spotted neck, the zebra's stripes), because these are simple to sketch and thus are easily adopted in the tradition.

The text samples used in the article have been taken from online folklore databases of Estonian conundrums (Eesti keerdküsimused,, approx. 25,000 texts), of Estonian compound word games (Eesti (liit)sõnamängud,, approx. 5,000 texts) and of Estonian droodles (Eesti piltmõistatused,, approx. 7,500 texts).

Animals in Estonian Folk Astronomy

Andres Kuperjanov

The first systematic overview about Estonian folk astronomy based on his collected materials was presented by Jakob Hurt 1899. Today we have nearly 500 recordings, connected with astronymes in our archives. Some of them are animal names like Härg (Ox), Hunt (Wolf), Karu (Bear), Madu (Serpent). Milky Way is commonly called Linnutee (Birds Way). Creators of pseudomythological star maps (Grenstein 1885, Heintalu 2001) also have constellation names connected with animals on their maps.

Some Considerations on Naming Animals in the Estonian tradition

Ell Vahtramäe

The relationship of Estonians in village communities and animals has always been practical. In towns, on the other hand, pets are kept for emotional purposes: people need a companion, friend or a family member; some people miss the lost connection with the wild nature. In cities and towns, people have very limited space at their disposal: in large blocks of houses the space is limited to the boundaries of an apartment. Pets have needs of their own, so these have to be satisfied. For instance, it is more practical to buy the cat a scratching pole instead of buying a new couch every two years. The rapid urbanisation is changing the function of animals: an animal used for domestic work is turning into a pet.

Changes in the function are also reflected in pet names, which are the focus of my paper. I will discuss topics connected with animal names: which animals are given names, what inspires animal names, which factors have influenced the choice, how are the names spelled and how are pets called.