The Estonian Language: Past, Present, and Future Perspectives

Delaney Michael Skerrett, Universitat de Tartu | 20 novembre, 2009

«Challenges for the Estonian language: a poststructuralist perspective» by Delaney Skerrett (University of Queensland) examines the specific challenges faced as part of the process of promoting Estonian as the language of wider societal, interethnic use in Estonia from a historical-structural approach which strives to contextualize this process in the framework of the changing power balances in Estonia in recent times.

Most of the paper is devoted to the intricate relationships between the two major languages spoken in the country, Estonian and Russian. Skerrett’s review of the available research shows that Estonian appears to reaffirm its position as the national language, by slowly gaining ground as the default language in interethnic communication, in a general framework of slow intergenerational decrease in competence in Russian and increase in competence in Estonian. According to Skerrett, a process of social integration across the ethnolinguistic gap is underway, with Russian speakers redefining their identity and feeling increasingly part of Estonian society even though they have retained their language: nevertheless, a number of factors, including some attitudes among ethnic Estonians and the Russian authorities, may be hindering this process. In this context, Skerrett argues that a reconstruction of Estonianness is vital to overcoming the challenges posed to Estonia(n) in the near future. This reconstruction should aim at promoting “the solidarity between all residents of Estonia, regardless of ethnicity, by emphasising the commonalities they share in inhabiting the same physical and, in many ways, social space. At the same time, respect for diversity, promoted through continued minority language maintenance in the case of “Estonian Russian” and by strengthening revivals efforts of Võro, would, it is hoped, see a queerer, more equitable sense of what it means to be “Estonian”.” In a context of an increasing societal need for Estonian, this more inclusive approach to Estonian identity would enhance the potential for positive outcomes for all residents of Estonia through the Estonian language.





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