Other languages in Estonia

According to census figures for 2000, there are 109 languages spoken in Estonia as mother tongues, the majority language being Estonian (67.3%) followed by Russian (29.7%). The mother tongues of the remainder are the 107 others, the most numerous of those being Ukrainian, Belarussian, Finnish, Latvian and Lithuanian.

The area with the greatest concentration of Russian is north-east Estonia, where there are six towns with Estonian speakers in the minority. Those who wish to get beyond the Russian-speaking community have learned Estonian. More and more children are being placed in Estonian nurseries and schools, language knowledge is being improved by courses, they follow the Estonian-language media - because knowledge of the national language helps in finding a job and getting along in society.

Estonians themselves have for a long time been multilingual. Three-quarters of the Estonian population knows some other language, generally Russian, English, German and Finnish. Foreigners have occasionally complained that they do try to speak Estonian, but Estonians answer in a foreign language. Hospitality and pride in knowing foreign languages does not mean giving up one's own language, though that is what is often feared. Those who made an effort to mimic some other nationality in their speech and way of life were accused by Estonians not so long ago of being "juniper Germans", "willow Russians" or "brushwood Englishmen".

People are no longer called "brushwood English", because in many areas English has now become the language of international relations. That would not matter if Estonian were not threatened with becoming secondary to it. For example, there is anxiety that many scientists prefer to publish their work in English-language journals, as a result of which their findings remain foreign to Estonians and there is no discussion of the relevant issues in Estonian.

The country, which has been under various foreign powers in previous centuries, has been dominated chiefly by the German language, less so by Russian and Swedish. The effect of language contact is most evident in the vocabulary, and they have also had marked effects on sentence structure, intonation and word-formation.

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