The Academic Mother Tongue Society (Akadeemiline Emakeele selts) was founded exactly 100 years ago – on 23 March 1920 – in Tartu, Estonia. Since its very start, the Society has paid special attention to the Livonians and the degree to which this work has benefited the Livonians cannot be understated.
The idea of founding the Mother Tongue Society came from Lauri Kettunen. Kettunen was a professor of Baltic Finnic languages at that time and was also the first director of the society. The subsequent directors – Andrus Saareste and Julius Mägiste – were also researchers of the Livonians. It may be that this was a decisive factor in the Mother Tongue Society devoting so much of its time and resources not only to fulfilling its founding goal – the preservation and development of the Estonian language – but also to Livonian language, folklore, and ethnography.
The first expedition organised by the society to gather materials occurred already in 1920 and took researchers to the Courland Livonians. The Mother Tongue Society began its publication series in 1921 with the release of “Ežmi līvõd lugdõbrōntõz” (First Livonian Reading Book). The Mother Tongue Society also collected funds for the construction of the Livonian Community House and its interest in the Livonians also continued after World War II when the Society organised meetings and folklore days. The articles published in the Society’s yearbook (some of which were also in Livonian) helped maintain Livonian identity and culture during the Soviet occupation.
Presently, the Mother Tongue Society has nearly 400 members and in Latvia it is represented by Valts Ernštreits and Kersti Boiko. Since 2006, Helle Metslang has been the director of the Society and Jüri Viikberg and Jüri Valge have served as deputy directors. Livonian researchers Miina Norvik and Karl Pajusalu also serve on the Society’s board.
On the Society’s 80th anniversary, its member Tõnu Karma sent the following congratulations on behalf of the Livonians: “Together with you the Livonians remember today that the Mother Tongue Society was the first organisation in the world, which from its very start gave the Livonians not only moral, but also material, support, and helped them maintain their language and identity. Long live the Mother Tongue Society and may the native languages of the Estonians and Livonians echo long and far!”
The Livonians remember this with gratitude also today on the occasion of the Society’s 100th anniversary and continue to appreciate that they are able to depend on their kindred nation and its organisation – the Mother Tongue Society.