Martin Boiko
Riga Stradins University, Faculty of European Studies

On the Concepts of Silence and Traditions of Silent Behaviour in the Baltic Region

In Latvian two terms to translate the English term ‘silence’ are used: klusums and klusēšana. (An analogy to this is the use of Stille and Schweigen in German.) The first describes the absence of sound in the environment, the second stands for silent behaviour in human communication, correspondingly, the first is subject of acoustic ecology, the second that of diverse branches of communication studies, linguistics, musicology, etc., although, in his research practice one is confronted with extensive overlaps between the mentioned branches. The first section of the paper is devoted to the concepts of silence and their relationship.

The way people use (or not-use) silence, their attitude towards silence and silent persons characterises in many ways the regions, cultures and countries. In the Baltic region there diverse traditions of silent behaviour und strategic use of silence exist. But only in the recent years and only to a small extent they have been made the subjects of study and reflection. Although in a special way they have been already reflected before, in the Baltic (Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian) folklore: through jokes, stories and anecdotes about silent types, through traditional proverbs praising silent behaviour, etc. In Latvian mythology, going back to pre–Christian time, there one finds evidences of ritual and magic use of silence.

Recent research done among Latvian students allows some preliminary conclusions about the evaluation, understanding and use of silence in the contemporary Latvian society:

1. The prevailing attitude is that of a romantic and idealizing nature: one evaluates the silence a priori as an expression of positive attitude, harmony, wisdom and maturity. (When the respondents were remembered of their concrete experiences, they show more critical approach and recognized that the content of the silence can be and often is negative.)

2. The belief is widespread that the silent behaviour has an important role in Latvian communication culture. (This belief has been expressed not so much through pointing to concrete traditions of silent behaviour among Latvians, as through stressing, that others – other European nations (except Estonians) – used to speak much more than Latvians do.)

3. The use of silence as a strategy of conflict prevention and resolving of conflicts is typical of Latvians.

4. There are strong indications that in the younger generation the attitude towards silence is remarkably changing.

Martin Boiko (1960) was graduated in flute and music theory from the Emīls Dārziņš Music High School in Riga in 1979. In 1984 he graduated from the Latvian Academy of Music (graduation theses The Concept of Musical Rationality in the Musical Sociology of Max Weber). Boiko received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Musicology, University of Hamburg in 1995 (dissertation: The Lithuanian sutartinės. A Study of Baltic Folk Music). In 1999 scholarship of the Alexander fon Humboldt Foundation awarded: 1999–2002 research with Prof. Max-Peter Baumann (University of Bamberg, Germany). Since 2004 professor at the Latvian Academy of Music and Riga Stradins University; Head of the Department of Communication there.
Areas: communication theory, non-verbal acoustic communication, ethnomusicology, acoustic ecology.
Research interests: traditional music of the Baltic countries, acoustic biocommunication and music, music and death, identity and music, silence.

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