Bywords have been a research subject since 1994. Research into Estonian bywords has been supported by the Estonian Science Foundation grants 458 and 2750 "Typology and Systematics of Estonian Bywords" (1994-2000, grant holder Arvo Krikmann) and 4945 "Phraseologism versus byword versus trope" (2001-2004). Work continued with the project "Database of Estonian Phraseologisms and bywords" (2005-2008), financed by the education and science ministry state programme "Estonian Language and National Memory" (2004-2008). Byword database and general research is conducted by Asta Õim, Arvo Krikmann, Katre Õim, Anneli Baran, Anne Hussar, Kaire Karro, Mari Must and Indrek Kiissel.

Bywords are among the short forms of folklore and include phraseology in its stricter sense - borderline cases include compund phrases, compound words, etc. - as well as longer figurative expressions - borderline cases include dialogues made up of several sentences. The byword card file which includes texts from the Estonian folklore and dialect archival collections as well as the earliest publications, has been digitised - the resulting database includes nearly 167,000 texts. Publicly accessible is the database "JUSTKUI. Eesti kõnekäändude ja fraseologismide andmebaas" - The database is aimed at the general public interested in Estonian fixed expressions. The database is constantly being improved according to researchers' needs. A terminology of bywords has been established, which is applied with the database. Real-time use of the database allows researchers to simultaneously, independently of their physical location, both submit queries as well as manipulate queried results. The database improvement works have been financed by the Estonian Cultural Endowment and the main programmer is I. Kiissel.

The research group works towards the goal of a comprehensive database of Estonian bywords and phrases and an academic text publication of the same. The database of fixed phrases (in work) would offer additional material for studying the Estonian language and would be a useful tool for lexicographers, translators, etc. practical workers.

Two MA works have been defended based on the work of the research group: K. Õim "Structure of Estonian Comparisons" (1997) and A. Baran "Main Features and Structure of Estonian Phraseology" (1999). K. Õim defended in 2004 PhD on "Structure of Comparisons and Semantics of Imagery", in which she analyses throroughly Estonian fixed phrases, based on the database in work. The manuscript was later published in the series "Reetor".

All members of the byword work group have published articles in the journal "Keel ja Kirjandus", publications "Emakeele Seltsi aastaraamat", "Reetor", "Folklore. Electronic Journal of Folklore", "Mäetagused", and other publications of the Institute of the Estonian Language and Estonian Literary Museum, "Pro folkloristica", "Oma Keel". 24. novembril 2003 toimus Eesti Kirjandusmuuseumis rahvusvaheline fraseoloogiakonverents - vt teeside kogumik A thorough study on the problems of systematising and studying bywords is available online - "Compilation of the Database of Estonian Phrases".

Bywords have been included in six popular pocket books: A. Baran "Mis sa soiud, võta soodat" and "Aja või konnale püksid jalga", A. Hussar "Tere, tere, teid ma tunnen" and "Mis see loll seal lakas teeb", K. Õim "Nagu lehmaehmatis" and A. Õim/K. Õim "Kole mees, aga konna ei söö".


Theory of figurative speech is a relatively new field of study for the paremiology research group, studied by Arvo Krikmann, Asta Õim, Katre Õim, et al. The work is based mostly on the theories of cognitive linguistics and psychology, and is closely related to a grant of the same name. The project concerns diachronic as well as synchronic study of the figurative speech units, i.e. phraseological units, of the Estonian language. Research methods include those used in metaphore theory as well as their contemporary extenstions. Also, specific linguistic information technological and software applications will be used when appropriate.

The publication series "Reetor" on rhetorics, paremiology and phraseology studies is published by the working group. Arvo Krikmann gives lecture courses on the semantics of sayings and the theory of figurative speech at Tartu University.


Riddles have been a research subject for the department since the 1990s. Riddle researchers include Arvo Krikmann, Anne Hussar, Piret Voolaid and Rein Saukas.

Riddles are among the short forms of folklore and based on their form, are divided into "regular" riddles and peripheral genres (including bywords, compound word games, letter games, droodles, pseudomath, abbreviation and forumal riddles, etc.). The most important completed task was the publication of the academic volume of "regular" riddles "Eesti mõistatused I - II" (Estonian Riddles 1-2, 2001-2002, 2800 types) and the according comprehensive database. Both are based on the riddles' card file which included material from all Estonian folkloristic and dialectual archive collections and printed publications. The material was authenticated before it was included in the dataset. Currently they are working on the third volume, which should give an overview of the content, imagery, typological problems, collection and publishing history; parallels with riddles of neighbouring nations; distribution maps; and a CD-ROM with the database. Also, Karelian, Finnish, etc. parallel riddles are being sought out and determined (A. Krikmann, R. Saukas).

Arvo Krikmann used the database to compile the e-publication "Mõista, mõista, mõlle-rõlle" and a compilation on South Estonian riddles "Tere teele, tere meele, tere egalõ talolõ" (2000).

In 2001, Piret Voolaid initiated the project "Mõistatuste perifeeria digiteerimine" (Digitising the Periphery of Riddles). The goal is to create an internet-accessible database that includes all the subgenres of the periphery of riddles. In 2002, with support from the Estonian Cultural Endowment, the free PostgreSQL internet database "Eesti piltmõistatused" (, Estonian Droodles, 7280 texts, 678 types) was opened. The same database in English "Estonian Droodles" is also online In 2003, the database "Eesti (liit)sõnamängud" (, Estonian Compound Word Games, 4840 texts, 899 types) opened, In 2004, the database "Eesti lühendmõistatused" (, Estonian Abbreviation Riddles, 2950 texts, 208 types) was ready, and currently being developed is "Eesti keerdküsimused" (, Estonian Conundrums, digitised 15,500 texts, 984 types) and "Eesti valemid" (, Estonian Formulaic Riddles). The technical structure of all these databases allows for the segregation of all these riddle periphery texts according to the folkloristically significant parameters (question, answer, archival reference, recorder, date of recording, place of recording) and reflects the possibilities of typological taxonomy the genre offers. Based on material congregated into all these databases, P. Voolaid defended in June 2005 her MA degree "Eesti mõistatuste perifeerne aines. Elektroonilised andmebaasid Internetis" (Estonian Peripheral Riddles. Electronic Databases Online). In addition, popular pocket books for pupils have been compiled "Kaelkirjak akna taga. Põimik piltmõistatusi" (2003), "Kotisuu ei räägi. Liitsõnamänge" (2002), "Elevant voodi all, voodi lae all. Keerdküsimusi loomadest" (2002), "Elevant külmkapis. Kimbuke keerdküsimusi koolilaste suust" (1998).

Theoretical treatises on riddles that are available online include Arvo Krikmann's studies and lecture materials "Eesti kihelkondade suhtlemistihedus mõistatustes" (Communication Density Between Estonian Parishes on the Example of Riddles), "Eesti lühivormide allikaloost" (On the Source History of Estonian Short Forms), "Sissevaateid folkloori lühivormidesse" (Insights into the Short Forms of Folklore), articles by Rein Saukas "Matthias Johann Eisen mõistatuste kogumise organiseerija ja publitseerijana aastatel 1869-1890" (M. J. Eisen: his initiatives in collecting and publishing riddles during the period 1869-1890) and "Mõistatuste kogumine Eesti Kirjameeste Seltsis aastatel 1872-1893" (Riddle Collection of the Society of the Estonian Literati during 1872-1893 ) and the article by Piret Voolaid "Keerdküsimusest nii ja teisiti" (About Conundrums This Way and the Other).


Our proverb researchers are Arvo Krikmann, Anne Hussar and Rein Saukas.

Proverbs, just as bywords and riddles, are among the short genres of folklore. The academic publications "Eesti vanasõnad I-V" (Estonian Proverbs 1-5) in the series Monumenta Estoniae Antiquae was published in 1980-1988. Online we present an electronic version of the 1984 "Vanasõnaraamat" (Proveb Book) and the database of 13,000 texts that stands behind the book "Eesti vanasõnad" (Estonian Proverbs) and the German e-publication "Estnische Sprichwörter", "Sprichwörterbuch"; as well as Arvo Krikmann's studies and lecture materials "Eesti lühivormide allikaloost" (On the Source History of Estonian Short Forms), "Sissevaateid folkloori lühivormidesse" (Insights into the Short Forms of Folklore). Together with Finnish folklorists they work on the project on publishing and studying proverbs of the Baltic-Finnic peoples "Proverbia septentrionalia". They aim to compile a publication on the proverbs common for Baltic-Finnic peoples, an extension to the book of most popular Baltic-Finnic proverbs "Proverbia septentrionalia" (FFC 236, Helsinki, 1985), and a complimentary set of overviews and studies. The project is in its final stages.