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Verbs meaning 'get; become' are used in different grammatical constructions in many European languages, e. g. German, Swedish, Russian, English, Irish, Welsh, Swedish, Finnish (Bybee, Perkins, Pagliuca 1994; Heine, Kuteva 2002; The Art of Getting: GET verbs in European languages from a synchronic and diachronic point of view 2012). The Estonian verb saama 'get; become', together with different non-finite verb forms, is used to form impersonal, passive, resultative, modal, and future constructions (e.g. me saame tootada 'we can work'; ta sai vigastada 's/he got injured' etc). The usages of saama which appear in these constructions have been found from the very beginning of the history of written Estonian. The first (partially) preserved Estonian-language book, the Wanradt-Koell catechism (1535), contains an example of a complex modal verb chain typical of the oldest period of written Estonian, which includes a passive saama construction with future meaning modeled on (Low) German:
(1) Eth mey[e] [ro]em pydda-p  meil antut
    CONJ our   joy   must-3SG  we:AD give.IMPS.PTCP
    sa-ma (COLE, Wanradt-Koell 1535)
    'That our joy must be granted to us'

Thanks to its multifunctionality and high frequency of usage from the very earliest times and in all text types and registers, saama is an effective vehicle by which to analyze the mechanisms of change in language usage and the socio-cultural factors influencing these changes.

Previous studies of get verbs have primarily focused on these verbs' synchronic multifunctionality arising from their polysemy (e.g. Askedal (2012) on Norwegian fa 'get' or Viberg (2012) on Swedish fa). Somewhat similarly to the present article, Stenson (2012) has examined the influence of language contact on the broadening of the meaning and the development of functions of Irish faigh 'get' from the 16th century to the present day. Stenson finds that the changes undergone by this verb are well explained by the classical multiple causation model of language change. The newer functions of faigh also have many properties identified as incipient categories in the grammaticalization process (Stenson 2012 : 1363-1364). As far as we know, the influence of language-external factors, e.g. the prestige of different language varieties, the presence and scope of language planning efforts, and the influence of important authors and texts on the choice of construction has not previously been studied.

Our research questions are

(a) which functions are fulfilled by saama constructions in different text types in different periods;

(b) which socio-cultural factors explain the variation in frequency of different saama constructions;

(c) which general mechanisms of language change can be identified on the example of saama constructions.

1.1. Estonian saama: previous studies

The Estonian verb saama has previously been studied primarily from a purely linguistic perspective. Its multifunctionality and presumed grammaticalization paths have been described (Tragel, Habicht 2012; Habicht, Tragel 2014; Tragel, Habicht 2017). Tragel and Habicht's (2017) qualitative study sketches a grammaticalization chain for saama, pointing out constructions expressing success, agent-oriented possibility, epistemic possibility, future and resultativity. Their description is based on the abstraction of meaning (from lexical to grammatical meaning) as well as the grammatical form of the constructions.

Based on form and function, saama constructions are divided into three groups (Tragel, Habicht 2017 : 35).

One group consists of future forms with the supine (1) (ta saab roomustama 's/he will rejoice'), which are based on the lexical meanings of saama expressing change and success (ta sai pogenema 'S/he managed to escape').

The second group is formed by modal constructions with da-infinitive forms (saame minna 'we can go'), which are related to the verb's original meaning of acquisition in transitive sentences (saame kooki '(we) get cake' > saame suua '(we) get to/can eat') (see also Kehayov, Torn-Leesik 2009 : 368; Saukkonen 1966)). (2)

The third group consists of constructions with past participles, both personal (ta saab soonud 's/he will (get to) eat') and impersonal (sai (oue) mindud 'got to go (to the garden)') as well as passive (sook saab soodud 'the food will get eaten'), which are related to the verb's meaning expressing change of state (ta saab terveks 's/he will get healthy').

Analyses have shown that in modern written Estonian and in 20th-century Estonian dialects, modal constructions with saama primarily express agent-oriented (non-deontic, non-epistemic) modality (Penjam 2008 : 133; Uiboaed 2013 : 96).

Uiboaed (2013 : 178) finds that saama + infinitive constructions are found primarily in northern Estonian dialects. (3) Also typical of northern dialects is the construction with the passive participle, which appears most often in an impersonal form, e.g. kui magama sai eidettut 'when (one, I, we) went to bed' (Coastal dialect). Other constructions are fairly rare in dialects, including future constructions, e.g. tulevankred saavad soitma 'the fire trolleys will go' (Western dialect) (Uiboaed 2013 : 153-154).

Previous studies have shown that the various saama constructions differ with regard to the extent to which they have been influenced/motivated by foreign languages. As regards the saama + supine construction, the SUCCEED construction is originally Estonian.

The development and usage of the saama future construction, as well as attitudes toward it (the construction typically being regarded as German-like), have been discussed by Julius Magiste (1936), who acknowledges the influence of the German werden future construction on the spread of the saama future in 17th-century translation-based written Estonian. Helle Metslang (1994, 2017) argues that the Estonian saama future could not have developed via natural grammaticalization, because there was no common construction suitable in semantics or form from which the saama future could have developed. Therefore, the saama future represents a case of forced grammaticalization, copying the German construction.

Constructions featuring saama + infinitive, along with the saama + active participle construction, have developed via natural grammaticalization (Magiste 1936; Tragel, Habicht 2012). In the case of saama + passive participle constructions, foreign influence may have reinforced the natural grammaticalization (Aavik 1936; Magiste 1936). Fixed expressions with saama, e.g. teada saama 'to find out', tunda saama 'to get to feel', have emerged through a lengthy lexicalization process, as these compounds appear even in the oldest written language sources (Habicht, Tragel 2014).

The relationships between socio-cultural factors and changes in usage of Estonian saama constructions have not previously been systematically studied.

2. Data and method

Our data come from the language corpora of the University of Tartu ( We took material representing different time periods, registers, and text types:
17th-18th century religious texts (4)
18th century didactic-moralizing texts (4)
didactic and fiction texts from the first half of the 19th century (5)
fiction and popular non-fiction texts from the end of the 19th century
1930s print media (6)
1930s fiction (6)
21st century print media (7)
20th-21st century fiction (8)
21st century computer-mediated comments (9)
21st century instant messaging dialogues (10)

The corpus of old Estonian written texts consists primarily of translations and adaptations from German. 17th-century written Estonian consists primarily of religious texts. In the 18th century, consumer texts and didactic-moralizing texts appear (a cook book, didactic stories containing directions for how to organize one's life and cure illnesses, etc.). At the end of the 18th century and in the first half of the 19th century, didactic-moralizing fiction begins to appear. The texts from this period thus represent the text types which existed in Estonian at the time.

A change in the landscape of Estonian text types begins in the second half of the 19th century, when original Estonian fiction and popular nonfiction appears, along with regular print media (newspapers, magazines). In the material analyzed in the present study, this period is represented by popular non-fiction and fiction texts from the Corpus of Old Written Estonian. In the 20th century, written Estonian texts appear continuously and represent all registers and text types. For our analysis, we have chosen two main registers of public edited texts: fiction and print media from the 1930s as well as from the turn of the 20th-21st centuries.

In the 21st century, online texts have gained prominence. We have chosen two types of online texts: public comments, in which anonymous authors comment on stories appearing in online newspapers and each other's previous comments, and instant messaging dialogues, which represent spontaneous everyday communication. These online texts provide a valuable point of comparison as they are unedited; we also assume that they indicate current trends and hint at future developments in language usage.

We focus on the construction types which appeared in our research material. We took the functions identified in previous studies (11) and classified them into five types (for a more detailed description of the constructions see Tragel, Habicht 2012; Erelt 2017):

1) saama + supine:

1a) SUCCEED construction: ta sa-i pogene-ma (s/he SAA-PST escape-SUP 's/he managed to escape');

1b) future construction: see saa-b tore ole-ma (this SAA-3SG nice be-SUP 'it will be nice'),

2) saama + infinitive:

2a) agent-oriented modal construction: me saa-me toota-da (we SAA-1PL work-INF 'we can work');

2b) epistemic construction: see ei saa nii oll-a (this NEG SAA.CNG so be-INF 'it can't be that way'),

2c) passive construction: ta sa-i vigasta-da (s/he SAA-PST injure-INF 's/he got injured');

3) saama + active participle: personal/active resultative construction: nad saa-vad soo-nud they SAA-3PL eat-PST.PTCP 'they will get to eat');

4) saama + passive participle:

4a) resultative passive construction: ulesande-d sa-i-d taide-tud (task-PL SAA-PST-PL complete-PST.IMPS.PTCP 'their tasks got completed'),

4b) resultative impersonal construction: too-d sa-i teh-tud hoole-ga (work-PRTV SAA-PST do-PST.IMPS.PTCP care-COM 'the work got done with care'),

5) some fixed expressions, which have developed into idioms over time, such as compound verbs describing mental activity such as teada saa-ma (know.INF SAA-SUP 'to find out'), tunda saa-ma (feel.INF SAA-SUP 'to get to feel'), nah-a saa-ma (see-INF SAA-SUP 'to get to see'), as well as hakkama saa-ma (begin-SUP SAA-SUP 'to manage, get by').

We randomly chose 100 sentences featuring saama-constructions from each text type (total 1000 sentences). We qualitatively distinguished the construction types and quantitatively described their distribution across different periods and text types.

Our study is usage-based (cf. Barlow, Kemmer 2000; Bybee 2010; Cousse, Mengden 2014) and is influenced by the approach of historical sociolinguistics in addressing the relationships between language dynamics and societal development. This approach takes into consideration the sociohistorical environment, the choices available to language users, and language ideologies (McColl Millar 2014; Nevalainen, Raumolin-Brunberg 2014; Milroy 2014; see e.g. Hilpert 2017; Saily et al. 2017). Our analysis combines quantitative and qualitative approaches.

First, we describe the usage of saama constructions in eight text types from the 17th to the 21st century. We then analyze the dynamics of the usage of saama constructions in the context of the sociohistory of written Estonian in order to find relationships between attitudes toward language in different periods and trends in actual language usage.

3. Usage of saama constructions in different time periods and text types

In this section, we examine the usage of saama constructions in different time periods and text types. (12) The distribution of functions of saama constructions in the research material is shown in Appendix 1.

3.1. Saama constructions in 17th and 18th century religious texts

The most common type of saama construction in old religious texts is future constructions, formed on the example of the German werden future (39%). Future tense is typically expressed in the oldest texts by means of the supine construction (2); only a pair of authors also provide examples of future constructions with the infinitive in place of the supine (3).
(2) Se oigke agkas sah-p om~ast ussust ella-ma
    this righteous PTCL SAA-3SG own:ELA faith:ELA live-SUP
    Der Gerechte aber wird deb Glaubens leben (COLE, Stahl 1638)
    'But the righteous will live by faith'

(3) Ninck tem~a sah-p temma wasto tull - a kudt ux Em~a
    and s/he SAA-3SG s/he.GEN POSTP come-INF CONJ ART mother
    Vnd sie wird jhm begegnen wie eine Mutter (COLE, Stahl 1638)
    'And she will meet him like a mother'

The implementation of the German werden future construction in Estonian in 17th-century religious texts can be seen as a case of forced grammaticalization, where stages in the natural grammaticalization process were skipped and a highly grammaticalized construction was quickly established (see Metslang 2017).

The second-most common group of constructions in old religious texts consists of resultative passive constructions with the passive participle (27%), as in (4).
(4) Minna sah-n otzi-tut   neist /
    I   SAA-1SG seek-PST.IMPS.PTCP those:ELA
    kumba mitte minno   jerrel kussisit
    who do not ask for me
    Ich werde gesucht von dehnen / di nicht nach Mir fragten
    (COLE, Blume 1662)
    'I am sought after by those who do not ask for me'

A third group is formed by agent-oriented modality (ability and possibility) constructions with the infinitive (15%), e.g. (5).
(5) Ja keik Egiptusserahwas kaevasid joe umber,
    and all the Egyptian people dug around the river
    et  nemmad  saa-ksi-d wet  ju-a (COLE, Bible 1739)
    CONJ they  SAA-COND-PL water:PRTV drink-INF
    'And all the Egyptian people dug around the river, so that they
    could drink water'

Personal resultative constructions formed with the active participle accounted for 10% of the sample. These constructions express the resultativity and completedness of the action (6).
(6) Ning kui temma sedda sa-i uttel-nud
    and  CONJ  s/he  that  SAA-PST say-PST.PTCP
    naitis temma neile Kaad  ning omma Kulge (COLE, NT 1715)
    he showed them his hand and his side
    'And when he had said that, he showed them his hand and his side'

This type of personal construction appears in the old religious text material only in 18th century Bible translations, which consciously strove for more vernacular Estonian as a result of the ecclesiastical written language reform which began at the end of the 17th century (see Kask 1970 : 70-71; Kilgi 2012 : 54-55, 63). It can therefore be assumed that the authors regarded this construction as Estonian vernacular.

Other saama constructions were represented by a few examples in the sample. No examples of epistemic modality constructions with saama were found in the old religious text material. (13)

3.2. Saama constructions in 18th-century didactic texts

In 18th-century didactic texts, by far the most common saama constructions are those expressing resultativity (87%). The great majority of these are passive resultative constructions (74%). Typical examples of these are descriptions of sequences of actions, which appear e.g. in food preparation instructions (7), but other usages occur as well (8).
(7) Kui siis saa-b waljawoe-tud,
    CONJ  then SAA-3SG  out_take-PST.IMPS.PTCP
    siis wotta need pealmissed kinki wilokad
    remove the uppermost  ham slices
    ja keik raswast wahto pealt arra
    and all of the fatty foam (COLE, Lithander 1781)
    'When it is taken out, remove the uppermost ham slices and all of
    the fatty foam'

(8) Perre mehhe oigus jarrele waatada,
    the proprietor's obligation is to supervise
    et  Ellaiad  wisi    parrast  saa-wad
    CONJ animal:PL manner.GEN POSTP SAA-3PL
    sote-tud (COLE, Willmann 1782)
    'The proprietor's obligation is to supervise and ensure that the
    animals get fed properly'

Active resultative constructions are much less common (13%). Here as well, descriptions of sequences of actions feature prominently (9).
(9) Kui supp saa-b hasti ulleskee-nud,
    CONJ  soup   SAA-3SG   nicely     boil-PST.PTCP
    siis panne kalla tukkid essite waagna sisse,
    then put the pieces of fish in a bowl
    walla supp senna jure, riwi Muskati peale,
    pour the soup in grate muscat over it,
    ja nattoke hakkitud Petersilli lehte (COLE, Lithander 1781)
    and a little bit of chopped parsley
    'When the soup has boiled nicely, put the pieces of fish in a bowl,
    pour the soup in, grate muscat over it, and a little bit of chopped

Other functions appeared either very sporadically or not at all.

The usage of saama constructions in 18th-century didactic texts differs dramatically from that found in older religious texts in three ways: the prominence of resultative passive constructions (74% vs. 29%), the near absence of future constructions (1% vs. 39%), and the decline in examples of agent-oriented modality (3% vs.15%).

The high frequency of resultative passive constructions may be partly a function of the genre. The cookbook which comprises a large portion of the sample contains many descriptions of sequences of actions to be performed with/on an object, which naturally require the mention of certain intermediate stages of the process (7). Approximately the same distribution of constructions is found in the storyteller Willmann's fable-like didactic narratives, describing sequential completed actions. The dominance of resultative passive constructions is also to some extent a statistical artifact: as the use of future constructions declined dramatically, the relative frequencies of other constructions increased.

The marginalization of the saama future in this time period can be explained by the late 17th-century vernacularization reform led by Bible translators (Adrian Virginius, Johann Hornung) (see 3.1). Among other things, it was decided to abandon the German-like saama future construction in Northern Estonian Bible translations.

3.3. Saama constructions in 19th-century texts

In 19th-century texts, resultative and passive saama constructions with the passive participle continue to dominate, but their frequency declines, from 40% in the first half of the century to 33% in the second half, e.g. (10).
(10) Kui hummalad sa-i-d noppi-tud,
     siis  koggus   temma  igga   ohto   hummala  warred ja lahhed,
     he collected their stalks and leaves every evening
     ja heitis neid omma lammaste ette (COLE, Luce 1812)
     and cast them before his sheep
     'When the hops were picked, he collected their stalks and leaves
     every evening and cast them before his sheep'

The next-most common is the saama future construction, which is somewhat more common (25% to 17%) in the second half of the century than in the first half, e.g. (11).
(11) Tema saa-b Teile ikka meelehead tege-ma,
     s/he SAA-3SG you:ALL PTCL pleasure:PRTV give-SUP
     meie saa-me teda opeta-ma Teid kui
     we SAA-1PL s/he:PRTV teach-SUP you:PRTV CONJ
     sugukonna pohjendajat auusta-ma (COLE, Korv 1889)
     family.GEN founder:PRTV respect-SUP
     'He will give you pleasure, we will teach him to respect you as
     the founder of the family'

Agent-oriented modal constructions (12) account for 13% of the sample in each half of the century.
(12) Woeras seisis nagu kiwisammas imestades paigal
     the stranger stood in place stupefied, like a stone column
     ning ei saa-nud sonagi suust walja utel-da
     and NEG SAA-PST.PTCP word.PRTV:CL mouth:ELA out say-INF
     (Saal 1885)
     'The stranger stood in place stupefied, like a stone column, and
     couldn't get a word out of his mouth'

The vernacular SUCCEED construction appears more frequently in the 19th century than in other time periods (9% in the first half of the 19th century, 7% in the second half) (13).
(13) Ei sedda ood olle kul paljo,
     NEG this:PRTV night:PRTV be.CNG PTCL much
     mis minna magga-ma saa-n;
     what I sleep-SUP SAA-1SG
     sest haiged salliwad mind (COLE, Holtz 1817)
     because the sick people ask for me
     'I can't manage to sleep much at night, because the sick people
     ask for me'

The resultative construction with the active participle shows a decline in usage, from 10% and 13% in earlier periods to 7% in the first half of the 19th century and then only 1% in the second half of the century. This represents the gradual disappearance of a vernacular construction from the written language. It can be assumed that this construction has been partially replaced by the resultative passive construction with the -tud participle.

3.4. Saama constructions in 1930s print media and fiction texts

The 1930s data reveal a remarkably different picture of the use of saama constructions than was seen in previous time periods. In both print media and fiction texts, the majority of saama constructions express modality (62% in print media, 67% in fiction), specifically agent-oriented (14) modality (55% and 61% respectively). Epistemic modality constructions are fairly rare (7% and 3%).
(14) "Walismaalaste" all buroo moistab isikuid,
     the bureau regards as "foreigners" those
     kes mingil pohjusel eisaa ela-da
     who whatever:AD reason:AD NEG SAA.CNG live-INF
     oma kodumaal ja elawad walisriikides (MED)
     own homeland:AD and live:3PL foreign_country:PL:INE
     'The bureau regards as "foreigners" those who for whatever reason
     cannot live in their homeland and live abroads'

Another important change is that, in addition to the personal modal constructions, agent-oriented generic-person modal constructions (15) emerge as a prominent subtype (25% in print media and 15% in fiction). In the 19th century texts, this type only appeared on one or two occasions, and prior to that it was absent entirely from our data.
(15) Kullap maailmas kohti leidub,
     surely there are places in the world
     kus soodsamini seigel-da saa-b (FICT)
     where cheaply:CMP adventure-INF SAA-3SG
     'Surely there are places in the world where one can go adventuring
     more cheaply'

The previously common future and resultative passive functions are greatly diminished in the 1930s material. The saama future construction (16) accounts for 6% and 9% of the print media and fiction samples respectively, while the resultative passive accounts for 9% and 13%, e.g. (17). Personal resultative constructions with the active participle, which featured prominently especially in the 18th century, no longer appear in the sample at all.
(16) Teie saa-te kuu lopul oma-ma raha taskus,
     you SAA-2PL month.GEN end:AD have-SUP money.PRTV pocket:INE
     ilma et pruugiksite maksta korteri woi ulalpeo eest! (MED)
     without having to pay for an apartment or upkeep
     'You will have money in your pocket at the end of the month,
     without having to pay for an apartment or upkeep.'

(17) Moisa suda uhes vastavate hoonete ja
     manor.GEN heart with corresponding:PL.GEN building:PL.GEN and
     elumajaga saa-b kinnista-tud teie taielikuks
     residence:COM SAA-3SG register-PST.IMPS.PTCP you.GEN full:TRL
     omanduseks (FICT)
     'The heart of the manor, together with the corresponding buildings
     and residence, will be registered as your property in full'

One distinguishing feature of the 1930s material in comparison with other periods and text types is the prominence of passive constructions in print media texts (18).
(18) Ainult uks mees sa-i tosisemalt wigasta-da
     only one man SAA-PST seriously:CMP wound-INF
     ninast ja otsmikust (MED)
     nose:ELA and forehead:ELA
     'Only one man was more seriously wounded in the nose and forehead'

This can be explained by the genre and the subject matter. The newspaper Postimees, during this time period, featured numerous accident and crime stories, in which this construction is common (e.g. sai kannatada 'sustained damage', sai vigastada 'got hurt/injured', said haavata 'got wounded').

3.5. Saama constructions in print media and fiction texts from the late 20th--early 21st century

In modern-day print media and fiction texts, the modal usage of saama accounts for an even higher percentage of all saama constructions than it did previously (82% in print media, 80% in fiction). Future and resultative passive constructions have become increasingly marginalized (0-4%). The resultative construction with the active participle is absent, as it was already in the 1930s as well.

Among the modal usages, the most common is agent-oriented modality (53% and 43%), e.g. (19). These constructions are frequently of the generic-person subtype (24% and 10%), e.g. (20).
(19) Parast paari oopaeva pikkust ekslemist
     after couple.GEN day.GEN long:PRTV wandering:PRTV
     saa-b ta lopuks uhes talus riideid
     SAA-3SG s/he finally one:INE farm:INE cloth:PL:PRTV
     kuivata-da ja pisut maga-da (FICT)
     dry-INF and bit sleep-INF
     'After a couple days of wandering around, he can finally dry his
     clothes and sleep a bit at a farm'

(20) Surnult ei saa ju nouda midagi
     dead:ABL NEG SAA.CNG PTCL demand.INF nothing
     ning tema surnud isa elab neis pabereis aegade lopuni (FICT)
     and his dead father will live on in those papers until the end of
     'Nothing can be demanded from a dead person, and his dead father
     will live on in those papers until the end of time'

One anomaly is the high frequency of epistemic modal constructions in the fiction material (23%), e.g. (21).
(21) Uks kuul ei saa-nud tappa korraga kahte
     one bullet NEG SAA-PST.PTCP kill.INF once two.PRTV
     inimest (FICT)
     'One bullet could not kill two people at once'

Another important distinguishing feature in the material from this period is the abundance of modal constructions expressing negative (20), (21) or doubting (22) assessments.
(22) Kas saa-b veel paremat reklaami
     Q SAA-3SG PTCL good.CMP:PRTV advertisement.PRTV
     europarlamendi valimisteks olla? (MED)
     European_Parliament.GEN election:PL:TRL be:INF
     'Can there be any better advertisement for the European Parliament

Of the sentences expressing epistemic modality and borderline cases of agent-oriented and epistemic modality (total 27 cases), 21 are negative. This construction typically expresses the improbability of some situation (21).

All of the types of modality discussed here, except for the personal agent-oriented modality constructions (19), are used primarily to express generalized opinions.

3.6. Saama constructions in 21st century online texts

We have examined two types of online texts. The comments are spontaneous and unedited public texts. This text type also features predominantly modal saama constructions (79%). It is the only text type for which generic-person agent-oriented modality (24) is more common than personal agent-oriented modality (23), at 38% and 36% respectively. Epistemic modality is fairly marginal (5%), as are all other functions.
(23) Siis kui M. Pai sa-i kulusid katta
     then CONJ M. Pai SAA-PST expense:PL.PRTV cover.INF
     riigi rahadest olles ise Nukuteatris direktor
     state.GEN money:PL:ELA be:GER self puppet_theatre:INE director
     siis oli naitlejate meelest koik tore, mitte keegi (COMM)
     the actors thought everything was fine nobody
     'When M. Pai was able to cover expenses from the state budget
     while himself being the director of the puppet theater, the actors
     thought every thing was fine, nobody'

(24) Kas kuidagi EKRE kaela saa-ks selle
     Q somehow EKRE.GEN neck.ILL SAA-COND this.GEN
     aja-da??? (COMM)
     'Can this be blamed on EKRE somehow?'

In this sample, a relatively high number of the modal constructions (40%) feature negation, e.g. (25). Of the five examples of epistemic modality, three are negative.
(25) Kiievi valitsuse samme Vene mojuta-da
     Kiev.GEN government.GEN step.PL.PRTV Russia influence-INF
     ei saa,
     aga Kiievi valitsus ei kaitu sugugi vaoshoitult ega moistlikult
     (COMM) but the Ukrainian government isn't behaving with any sense
     or restraint 'Russia can't in fluence the steps taken by the
     Ukrainian government, but the Ukrainian government isn't behaving
     with any sense or restraint'

Instant messaging is a form of everyday interaction, characterized by spontaneous, unedited dialogue. Here too, modal usages dominate (75%), and within this category personal agent-oriented usage instances are most frequent (59%) e.g. (26); generic-person (27) modal constructions account for 16%. No examples were found of epistemic modality.
(26) aga kas macv saa-n hiljem ka pilti pann-a,
     but Q I CV SAA-1SG later PTCL picture.PRTV put-INF
     arx ohtal tuleb siis teeb (IM)
     Arx will come in the evening and do it
     'But can I add a picture to my CV later, Arx ((name)) will come in
     the evening and do it'

(27) sa ei tea, kus arvutil on mingi selline koht,
     do you know if there's somewhere on the computer
     kus saa-b igast marke vali-da va? (IM)
     where SAA-3SG any.PRTV symbol.PL.PRTV choose-INF Q
     'Do you know if there's somewhere on the computer where one can
     choose all sorts of symbols?'

Other functions are rare; the most common of them is the resultative-passive construction, (9%), as in (28).
(28) ning siis sa-i paar tundi paeval magatud,
     and then SAA-PST couple hour.PRTV day:AD sleep-PST.IMPS.PTCP
     kuid ikkagi ei piisanud (IM)
     but it still wasn't enough
     'And then I got to sleep for a couple hours during the day, but it
     still wasn't enough'

The online texts analyzed herein come from spontaneous and unedited public and everyday interaction. The authors of these texts follow the norms of the standard language only to the extent that they wish to or are able to. However, the use of saama constructions in those texts does not differ from the situation observed in edited modern-day text types.

4. Discussion

Our analysis reveals two types of variation in the usage of saama constructions, which are related to different factors. One group consists of variation occasioned by communicative needs, the other of changes brought about through language planning. Both are related to the text types present in society at a given time and the linguistic choices associated with them.

First, we will examine variation related to communicative needs. The frequency of usage of different saama constructions is influenced by (a) the particular requirements and characteristics of the text types and genres ja (b) the extent to which these needs can be covered by other constructions.

In 18th-century didactic texts, the resultative passive construction dominates, which can in part be ascribed to the fact that the cookbook genre is so heavily represented in the sample (section 3.2). Cookbooks contain many descriptions of sequences of actions to be performed with/on an object, which naturally require the mention of certain intermediate stages of the process.

The disappearance in the 19th century of the personal resultative construction with the -nud participle can be explained by the existence of other compound verbs and constructions performing the same function (section 3.3). Some of the -nud constructions are apparently replaced by the resultative -tud participle construction.

In the 1930s print media sample, passive constructions are unusually common, because the newspaper represented in the sample features a large number of stories about accidents and crimes, in which the passive construction is frequent (section 3.4).

In the 20th century, the dominant function of saama constructions becomes the expression of modality. This includes two modal meanings that were quite marginal in older material: epistemic modality and the generic-person use of agent-oriented modality (sections 3.5 and 3.6). The agent-oriented modality construction features an explicit agent who can or cannot do something (see examples (12), (19)). In the case of epistemic modality, the construction is not focused on the agent or the action, but on the situation expressed by the sentence, the possibility of which is expressed by an assessment given by means of the verb saama (examples (21), (22)).

Due to the fact that agent-oriented and epistemic modality constructions with saama have emerged as part of the same grammaticalization process, and considering the high degree of grammaticalization of expressions of epistemic modality (cf. Tragel, Habicht 2012), generic-person modality can be described as a semantic transition zone between agent-oriented and epistemic modality (see examples 15, 20). On the one hand, generic-person modality deals with the abilities/possibilities of the agent, as in agent-oriented modality; on the other hand, the proposition in the sentence applies to all possible agents, making it a judgment of possibility independent of any specific agent, in that regard being more similar to epistemic modality.

In earlier texts, only 0-3% of saama constructions express epistemic modality. In the 20th century this number increases, but remains fairly small, 0-7% even including borderline cases (with the exception of modern fiction, where epistemic modality constructions with saama are unusually common, 27%). The reason for this is that the saama construction is the primary means of expressing agent-oriented modality in Estonian. For epistemic modality, however, there are numerous other options, e.g. the modal particles kullap 'probably, surely', ilmselt 'apparently, seemingly', voib-olla 'maybe', and toenaoliselt 'probably', as well as the constructions pidama 'must' + supine (peab juhtuma 'must happen') ja voima 'can' + infinitive (voib juhtuda 'may happen').

Generic-person modality constructions with saama were very rare (0-2%) prior to the 20th century. In the 20th century, however, their frequency increased dramatically, ranging from 10-38% (average 21%). These figures differ considerably across text types: 10-16% in fiction and IM dialogues, 24-38% in journalism and comments (both of which fall into the broader category of media). This difference may be explained by the fact that the media deals with more general problems and expresses more general truths, while fiction and private conversation tend to deal with more specific, concrete topics. This same explanation can apply to the rise of genericperson modality expressions more broadly, which coincides with changes in society and prominent text types. Over the course of the 20th century, abstract and generalized texts gained importance in the Estonian society. Second, we look at radical changes in the use of saama future constructions in the 20th century, changes which can be ascribed primarily to language planning. The usage of saama constructions can be divided into two clearly distinct periods (Figure 1). Until the end of the 19th century, the most common saama constructions were the future and the resultative passive, while saama was used relatively rarely to express agent-oriented modality. In the 20th and 21st centuries, agent-oriented modality has become the primary function expressed by saama constructions, while usage of the future and resultative passive constructions declined dramatically at the beginning of the 20th century and has shown no signs of recovery since then.

Let us first examine the usage of the saama future construction. The widespread use of this construction in early written Estonian is due to German influence (see e.g. Magiste 1936; Tragel, Habicht 2012; Metslang 1994, 2017). Until the beginning of the 19th century, writers of Estonian-language texts were (Baltic) Germans and most texts were adaptations or translations from German. The saama future was imported into the written language already fully developed, copying the German werden future, in order to meet practical translation needs.

In 18th century didactic texts, the use of the saama future diminishes quite sharply. This is driven by the late 17th-century vernacularization reform led by Bible translators. During this time, innovations were able to take root in the written language relatively quickly and easily, because the language usage in the Bible was authoritative and thus the writers themselves were able to shape the standard written language as they wished.

In the 19th century, native Estonian scholars began writing in Estonian. During the national identity awakening period in the 1860s-1870s, regular Estonian-language press was established, as well as Estonian-language school literature, popular science and fiction written by Estonian. The role of Germans as text producers was substantially diminished. In the last quarter of the 19th century, adaptations began to give way to original Estonian literature (Laanekask 2004 : 31-33). With this in mind, it would be logical to assume that usage of the German-like saama future construction declined during this period; in fact, however, the opposite occurred. Use of the saama future increased not only from the 18th to the 19th century, but also from the first half of the 19th century to the second half. We explain this as an effect of the fact that written Estonian in the second half of the 19th century was a peculiar amalgam (a language form that develops when L1 speakers adopt features of the language as spoken by L2 speakers; see Thomason 2001 : 75) of the German-influenced prestigious form of the language and the local vernacular. This amalgam featured generalizations and overuse in both directions: both expanded usage of authentic Estonian features and overuse of features from the German-influenced written language tradition. This may have influenced the usage of German-like constructions among Estonians as well, since until this time the German-created form of written Estonian was the high-prestige form of the language, the so-called H-variety (see e.g. Rutten 2016), while the L1 of Estonians was of lower status (the L-variety).

Towards the end of the 19th century, Estonian language planning finally fell into the hands of Estonians. The H-variety gradually approached the language form used by L1 Estonian speakers. Many leading language planners were guided by the principle of purism (Raag 2008 : 103). The importance of staying true to the vernacular, i.e. preferring authentic Estonian constructions to patterns borrowed into Estonian from other languages (primarily German), was constantly emphasized.

A dramatic change in the use of saama future constructions took place at the beginning of the 20th century, brought about largely by language planning efforts. Syntax became a focus of language planning at the beginning of the 20th century. The leading language innovator of the era Johannes Aavik and his adherents highlighted the idea of de-Germanization (Erelt 2003 : 88), the aim of which was to eliminate unnecessary German-like features from Estonian syntax. The fight against the saama future was one aspect of this. According to Aavik, the saama future should be avoided except in cases when it is needed for clarity. However, he also acknowledges that in some corners, attitudes toward the saama future have become needlessly hostile (Aavik 1936 : 85).

We can thus see how language planners succeeded in marginalizing the saama future construction at the beginning of the 20th century. The change was brought about within a period of roughly 30 years, and the saama future has not regained prominence since then, as we can see from the 20th-21st century data in both Standard and everyday written Estonian. However, in our opinion, the influence of language planning alone does not explain the rapid and enduring change in the usage of this construction; there are other contributing factors as well.

First, during this period, the position of the German language in Estonian society weakened considerably. Russification began in the Russian empire in the 1880s. Russian became the language of public affairs and higher education in Estonia as well. In 1918, the Republic of Estonia was formed, with Estonian as the official language. This further reduced the influence of German.

Second, the awakening of Estonian national identity brought about changes in Estonians' attitudes toward German-centric culture. One of the central ideas of the awakening periods was opposition to Germanization. People began to advocate the use of Estonian even among the upper strata of society. Toward the end of the 19th century, attitudes grew even more hostile. The young scholars and cultural figures of the early 20th century (the Young Estonia movement) began to directly oppose the German language and culture. In the independent Republic of Estonia, the German community was quite marginal, while anti-German sentiment remained strong.

Another important change took place in the everyday language usage of Estonians. Until the 20th century, Estonians were a peasant nation whose home language was the local dialect. The small Estonian intelligentsia used German as their everyday language. Around the turn of the century, however, they began to use Estonian instead of German.

In addition to the changes in language usage and attitudes, there are two more general factors to consider.

First, during this period, Estonian society as a whole underwent radical changes. The former peasant nation became a sovereign nation. During periods of such rapid and significant change, society as a whole is more open to changes from "above". The second factor was the modest size of the Estonian language community, which rendered it an excellent laboratory for innovation, susceptible to quick and dramatic changes. The combined influence of the small language community and deliberate action can also be seen in the first attempt at eliminating the saama future, in the 18th century.

The use of the saama future has not increased in recent times either (see Prass 2011). This is due to the fact that more recent language planners have also frowned on its use. The current Dictionary of Standard Estonian (Eesti oigekeelsussonaraamat OS 2013) does not recommend using the saama future, offering alternatives instead:
Uus postkontor {saab olema} [right arrow] tuleb v saab igati ajakohane
'The new post office will be modern in every way'
{Need rahad saavad olema} [right arrow] need rahad saadakse, selle raha
me saame
'That money will be obtained, we will get that money'

However, attitudes toward this construction are not uniformly condemnatory, as the Standard syntax allows saama future constructions with the verb olema 'to be', which is indeed the most common application of the saama future in modern usage (Erelt 2006 : 23-24).

Second, in the beginning of the 20th century, the German-like saama resultative passive construction declined in use as well. This construction was quite common through the 19th century, but then became quite marginal. Unlike the future construction, the resultative passive construction was not actively avoided by Bible translators and did not receive attention as a German-like construction until the end of the 19th century.

Aavik (1936) regards the saama resultative construction (sai ahju koetud 'got the oven heated') as a widespread error in spoken language, an unnecessary construction that ought to be avoided (Aavik 1936 : 84). After Aavik, however, the construction has not drawn the attention of language planners, and it remains in use to this day, although it is far less common than other saama constructions. (14)

It thus emerges that the rapid decline in the usage of German-like saama constructions at the beginning of the 20th century is related to five simultaneous factors: (a) language planners' conscious fight against these constructions, (b) the dramatic decline in the use and influence of German in public life and everyday discourse, (c) the intensification of anti-German sentiment and Estonian nationalism in different strata of society, along with two more general factors in the background: (d) radical societal changes, which helped to facilitate the acceptance of changes introduced from above, and (e) the small size of the society, making it easier for individual reformers to have a wide-ranging impact.

Our position is that it is the concurrence of these factors that made the dramatic changes in language usage possible. Language planners were able to rapidly achieve remarkable results because the preconditions for the acceptance of their reforms were present in society and the language community itself was fairly small.

The achievements of this period of reform have persisted to the present day. Even in 21st century internet language, which follows the norms of the standard language only partially and voluntarily, the German-like saama constructions are quite marginal.

5. Conclusion

The saama constructions used in different time periods and registers of written Estonian provide an opportunity to examine the role of language-internal and external factors in the dynamics of these constructions' usage over time.

Language-internally, both natural and forced grammaticalization processes can be observed in the development of saama constructions. Natural grammaticalization is illustrated by the increase in frequency of more abstract modal functions over time, while forced grammaticalization is seen in e.g. the predominance of the saama future construction in 17th-century religious texts.

Language-external sociocultural factors that have influenced the variation in usage of saama constructions include attitudes toward language, the prestige of particular written language varieties at different times, societal attitudes regarding the nativeness or foreignness of certain constructions , and the role of language planning in society.

The analysis reveals that a critical turn in the use of saama constructions took place from the 1900s-1930s. The genuine Estonian personal resultative construction was marginalized, because the language has other means of expressing that function. On the other hand, the usage of German-like constructions (the saama future and the resultative passive) declined, while the genuine Finnic agent-oriented modality construction with saama + infinitive became much more frequent. This change can largely be explained by sociocultural factors: the endeavor to rid the written language of foreign influences, i.e. the regarding of native linguistic phenomena as good and foreign phenomena as bad, as well as the increased influence of language planning in society.

In the expression of agent-oriented modality, from the 1930s onward, generic-person constructions have become substantially more frequent. This, as well as to some extent the dramatic increase in saama constructions expressing epistemic modality in 20th and 21st-century fiction texts, can be explained by the increased level of abstraction in these texts. The frequency of fixed expressions with saama has remained relatively stable over the years, as has the paucity of SUCCEED constructions.

In conclusion, there are different motivations for the variation in usage of different saama constructions. In some cases, the variation is driven by the communicative needs of the language community and/or the particular text type. In other cases, the changes can be explained by socio-cultural factors, language planning and attitudes toward particular constructions. Grammaticalization can be seen in some of the changes, but is not a primary explanatory factor.
Appendix 1. Distribution of functions in the research material

Construction               17/18th  18th  19th I  19th II  1930s  1930s
                           REL      DID                    MED    FICT

Future                     39       1     17      25       6      9
Resultative and passive    29       74    40      33       9      13
(with passive participle)
Personal resultative       10       13    7       1        0      0
(with active participle)
Modality                   15       3     12      11       30     46
personal or impersonal
Modality                   0        0     1       2        25     15
Modality                   0        0     3       0        7      3
(epistemic and border-
line cases between
epistemic and agent-
Passive                    0        0     0       5        13     4
(with infinitive)
Fixed expressions          5        7     11      16       10     10
/ hakkama saama)
Success                    2        2     9       7        0      0
Total                      100      100   100     100      100    100

Construction               21th  20/21st  21st  21st
                           MED   FICT     COMM  IM

Future                     1     0        2     0
Resultative and passive    4     4        4     9
(with passive participle)
Personal resultative       0     0        0     1
(with active participle)
Modality                   53    43       36    59
personal or impersonal
Modality                   24    10       38    16
Modality                   5     27       5     0
(epistemic and border-
line cases between
epistemic and agent-
Passive                    2     4        1     2
(with infinitive)
Fixed expressions          10    12       12    12
/ hakkama saama)
Success                    1     0        2     1
Total                      100   100      100   100


(*) The study was funded by the project PUT475 "Integrated model of morphosyntactic variation in written Estonian: A pilot study" of the Estonian Research Council and by the (European Union) European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies). We thank Jaan Oispuu, Miina Norvik, Heinike Heinsoo, Marje Joalaid, Sulev Iva, and Ilze Talberga for their assistance on Finnic languages and Latvian.


Kulli Habicht

University of Tartu


Tiit Hennoste

University of Tartu


Anni Jurine

University of Tartu


Helle Metslang

University of Tartu


David Ogren

University of Tartu


Liina Parismaa

University of Tartu


Olle Sokk

University of Tartu



1, 2, 3--1st, 2nd, 3rd person; ABL--ablative; AD--adessive; ALL--allative; ART--article; CL--clitic; CNG--connegative; COLE--Corpus of Old Literary Estonian; COM--comitative; COMM--computer-mediated comments; CMP--comparative; COND--conditional; CONJ--conjunction; DID--didactic-moralizing texts; ELA--elative; FICT--fiction; GEN--genitive; GER--gerundive; ILL--illative; IM--instant messaging dialogues; IMPS--impersonal; INE--inessive; INF--infinitive; MED--print media; NEG--negation particle; PL--plural; POSTP--postposition; PRTV--partitive; PST--past; PTCL--particle; PTCP--participle; REL--religious texts; SG--singular; SUP--supine; Q--question particle; TRL--translative.


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(1) Non-finite forms appearing in constructions with saama: the supine or ma-infinitive with the ending -ma (otsi-ma 'search'), the da-infinitive typically ending in -da (otsi-da), the active (personal) past participle ending in -nud (otsi-nud), the passive (impersonal) past participle typically ending in -tud (otsi-tud). The dictionary form of verbs, and that used in descriptions of the language, is the supine.

(2) The multifunctional saa-verb is found in other Finnic languages as well, and in all these languages it expresses agent-oriented possibility.

(3) Uiboaed herself does not distinguish the different modal meanings.

(4) Corpus of Old Literary Estonian.,550,802 words).

(5) Corpus of 19th Century Texts. (750,000 words).

(6) Subcorpus of Corpus of Estonian Literary Language. (252,000 words).

(7) Maaleht subcorpus of Estonian Reference Corpus. (4.3 million words).

(8) 1990-present fiction subcorpus of Estonian Reference Corpus. (5.6 million words).

(9) Data from Estonian media portals Postimees ( and Delfi (

(10) Corpus of Estonian Instant Messaging Dialogues.

(11) The previous descriptions referred to herein have been based on the typology of modal meanings outlined by van Auwera and Plungian (1998).

(12) To avoid repetition, we have combined a) the first and second halves of the 19th century, b) 1930s fiction and print media, and c) internet comments and MSN dialogues each into single subsections.

(13) The epistemic function is rare in the 17th century, but some examples of it do exist in the Corpus of Old Literary Estonian (Tragel, Habicht 2017 : 27-28).

(14) It is important to keep in mind that the deliberate avoidance of the saama future and resultative passive affects the relative usage frequencies of other constructions within the sample of 100 sentences for each text type. These functions are more typically expressed by other means: the future with e.g. the verb hakkama 'to begin' (saavad tegema 'will do'> hakkavad tegema '(will) begin to do'), and the resultative passive with compound verbs including perfective adverbs, e.g. ara 'away, done', valmis 'ready, done' (sai kaidud > kais ara 'went (perf.)').

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