The competence and use of Estonian as a second language

Addenda to the census data


Keywords: language choice, language shift, census, mixed methods, Russian speakers, Estonia

The programming period of „Development Plan of the Estonian language 2011–2017” will end soon. It is high time for an interim evaluation of the status quo of Estonian but also for setting new strategic targets. Puur et al. (2016) have taken up the task by providing an overview of native languages spoken in Estonia, the competence of Estonian as a second language, and the processes of language shift over the last 25 years. While they might be right that the analytic potential of the census data has not been exhausted yet, this data is limited in scope and unable to reflect multilingualism and language practices in a necessary detail. Thus, the census data provides a somewhat simplified account on multilingualism and language shift. However, this can be tackled with quantitative and qualitative, mixed methods research which combines the census data with those from language sociological survey, ethnographic observation, and micro-sociolinguistic analysis. This article presents new survey data from the research project „Sustainability of Estonian in the Era of Globalisation” (2014–2019) at the University of Tartu to complement the analysis by Puur et al. (2016). To start with, the paper outlines the meaning of ‘language environment’ by highlighting constraints of its census- and register-based definitions. Then the use of Estonian as a second language in different Estonian language environments is analysed. The focus is on the Russian speakers’ choice of Estonian in different communicative situations, e.g. in family, with friends, colleagues, officials. The analysis indicates that the family domain is largely monolingual Russian with little signs of language shift. The use of Estonian is wider in official settings, and in public spaces. The analysis also shows that the representatives of third ethnicities attend to shift either to the Estonian or to the Russian community.


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