As a gateway between East and West, Estonia has always had an important geographical location; to have also served as a battleground where Denmark, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Poland fought many battles.
Despite its important geopolitical position and the fact that the region has been populated since circa 10,000 B.C., it was only in the late 18th century that English-speaking countries got to know Estonian literature and in particular, Estonian poetry.
Germany, on the other hand, having tighter relations with Estonia, was the country where the first preserved Estonian book was published back in 1535, followed by the first German-Estonian dictionary in the middle of the 1600s.
Compared to the first complete English-Estonian dictionary, published in only 1939.
The author, Johannes Silvet, was an Estonian linguist, who studied Russian language and literature at a college for teachers and later graduated with a Master’s degree in English literature at the University of Tartu.
For several years he worked as an English language lecturer at the University and belonged to the Estonian Literary Society and Academic Literature Board.
His academic work, focused on philology, lexicography and translation, provided him with opportunities to translate American and British literature into Estonian and write critical essays, articles and reviews on a wide variety of literary topics and authors ranging from William Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde.
Silvet further strengthened his English skills during numerous trainings at Oxford University between 1926 and 1938.
And in 1936 published his first English basic vocabulary, later expanded to a comprehensive, containing over 17 000 words, English-Estonian dictionary (1939) – a lasting legacy, which contributed to the exchange of knowledge between Estonia and the rest of the world.
Naturally, the Estonian language evolved and today, Silvet’s dictionary is available in a fourth edition in 1,392 pages with over 100, 000 headwords.
The first edition of the Johannes Silvet’s An English-Estonian Dictionary / Inglise-Eesti Sõnaraamat (published in Tartu, in 1939) is available at display at EVS Translations Bulgaria office, as part of EVS Translations Book Museum.