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Julius Mägiste as a researcher of the Finnic dialects spoken in Estonian Ingermanland



December 19, 2015 is the 115th anniversary of the birth of Estonian linguist Julius Mägiste. One of the earliest scholarly studies by Mägiste was his Master’s thesis Rosona (Eesti Ingeri) murde pääjooned („The main features of Rosona (Estonian Ingermanland) dialect”), defended in 1923 and published in 1925, which provides a systematic survey of two dialects spoken in the western part of Ingermanland. The linguists of the time did not consider Ingrian a separate language, but rather classified it among Finnish dialects. In his study Mägiste has grouped the dialects discussed in his thesis by the religious affiliation of the speakers, namely, Lutherans are soomlased ‘Finns’, while the Greek Catholics are ingrikud ehk isurlased ‘Ingrians, or Izhorians’. The press and officials of the new Estonian Republic were not particularly consistent in their reference to the inhabitants of Estonian Ingermanland either. In order to collect material for his Master’s thesis Mägiste conducted fieldwork in Estonian Ingermanland in 1922, supported by an allowance from the Mother Tongue Society. He replenished his collection in the spring and August of 1923. A survey of Mägiste’s first trip to the region was published in the journal Eesti Keel in 1922, and this was his first publication. Beside the language situation in Estonian Ingermanland he also touched upon the local educational and cultural life. At the early age of 28 Mägiste was elected Extraordinary Professor of Finnic Languages of the University of Tartu, on which occasion his scientific contribution, including his Master’s thesis was highly commended by his proponents Lauri Kettunen, Julius Mark and Andrus Saareste.

In 1937, Mägiste finished a 250-page manuscript of West-Ingrian texts with a glossary, but it was not published. Furthermore, the manuscript fell victim to WW II and it remains lost to this day. Although numerous later publications by Mägiste often contain examples from the language varieties used in Estonian Ingermanland, his Master’s thesis was the first and last special study devoted to the Ingrian dialects spoken in Estonia.