“You Should Hear Us Speak Among Ourselves!”: American Estonian Speakers’ Attention to Own Speech

Piibi-Kai Kivik (Indiana University, Bloomington)

The paper explores the phenomenon of self-repair and other manifestations of attention to own speech by American Estonians, mainly of the refugee generation.  It applies methods of conversation analysis to the audio-recorded sociolinguistic interviews in Estonian, conducted by the author in the Unites States.

In the interview situation, there is some heightened attention to own speech. The paper analyzes sequences from the interviews where speakers orient to their identity as (bilingual) Estonian speakers. This orientation is made visible in explicit metalinguistic comments about the language use of the speakers themselves and others, in self-repairs in the form of reformulations, and in ways of switching codes.  American Estonians will often avoid or self-correct the use of loanwords.  From the viewpoint of modern Estonian, the repaired versions are archaisms or clumsy circumlocutions. At the same time, this practice serves as a marker for the variety of American (or more broadly, expatriate) Estonian.

The paper also discusses the need for the study of American Estonian using a variety of methods and approaches, as well as the potential topics to be explored given the sociolinguistic situation in Estonia and the U.S. The Estonian spoken in the U.S. is increasingly going to be shaped by the so-called new immigrants since the 1990s. Although their situation is very different from that of the refugee communities, their language will be similarly in a bilingual and often diglossic situation. At the same time, the Estonian and English languages are increasingly in contact in Estonia.

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