Live Villages

Young Karelia centre and University of Helsinki, supported by the Kone Foundation

A task of bring the Karelian language back into fashion

The project team, comprised by artists, linguists and activists from Karelia, Finland and Estonia, arrived to Vedlozero, aiming to revive in this ancient place the fashion for the Karelian language. The project participants offered the local community to try on T-shirts with fancy Karelian inscriptions and shop, turning the routine into a pleasant language drill. The pleasant part had also a material representation: a talk with a shop assistant in Karelian was awarded with a gift — a linen bag with a Pagize minunke karjalakse (‘Talk to me in Karelian’) sign.

The inscriptions were applied to T-shirts and bags at the exit from a shop located in the centre of the settlement. Surprised with an unusual plain-air, the local customers were eagerly joining Finnish artists Heidi Hänninen, Valttari Halmetoja and Anne Siirtola. Regardless of the age, everyone wanted to get a T-shirt with an original phrase, like a personal confession Jaša suvaiččou Kat’ua (‘Yasha loves Katya’), or an expression of the native settlement appreciation Mašoi suvaiččou Vieljärvie (‘Masha loves Vieljärvie). Nearby, linguists Evar Saar and Mariko Faster from the Võro Institute, based in Estonia, taught local children how to make pins with inscriptions and images.

Along with that, a lot of work was done within the shop. Representatives of University of Helsinki, prof. Janne Saarikivi and student Markus Juutinen, translated all price tags and signs. Two days of work, and all customers, irrespective of their language background, are now able to buy sausage, cheese, milk, and even jellied meat or fish, in Karelian. In the meantime, an Estonian filming crew was shooting a documentary on Vedlozero and its cultural heritage.

The project does not impose anything; it is just an encouragement to use the native language in everyday situations, be it a grocery store, or a bar. We want to set a trend for speaking Karelian in a given settlement. And the locals seem not to be against it at all.

Alexey Tsykarev, project coordinator

Karelian language in the rural environment

When the local children hang around in clothing with phrases in Karelian, like I love Vedlozero, or I love Karelia, when the youngsters confess in their feelings using a T-shirt with a love message in Karelian, it means that the situation has changed and the language environment is now different.

It is the commitment of the community which is pivotal: the locals shall participate on par. Otherwise, an initiative is perceived as a travelling show of urban smart guys who think that they know rural life better. The rural people are very capable; they just need an impetus.

Svetlana Kolchurina, art manager

The project activists and local people held the Karelian Language Revitalization Week. Within the Week, the House of the Karelian Language, not yet fully commissioned back then, hosted a fair, a workshop on traditional Karelian clothing, an improvised concert, and a session of street signs translation into Karelian. In addition, the Finnish artists together with the local children painted Karelian-language graffiti on a wall of the shop. The project has changed the appearance of the settlement to a more Karelian style, both visually and mentally.