Philologists say that Estonia needs to work harder on preserving the language and national identity in its ever-growing expat communities.
Acclaimed Estonian scholars of humanities and social sciences met at the Estonian Language Council's seminar on demographics and the Estonian language, "Language in the migration mill: A danger or a challenge?" on Thursday to discuss the challenges posed to the sustainability of Estonian language and culture by continuing emigration.
The presentations and discussion focused on the conditions that ensure and foster the continued use of the Estonian language in different linguistic settings, the roles of individuals and the state in preserving this language and identity among the expat communities, language-learning abroad and the changing demographic situation in Estonia itself.
The participants concluded that the country as a whole needs to increase its efforts in making sure that expatriate Estonians and their offspring keep their mother tongue and Estonian identity.
That the language undergoes some changes when one lives in a different linguistic environment are inevitable, said the scholars, but we must now make sure that those who live abroad are not distanced from Estonia on the mental plane, reported ETV's news program, "Aktuaalne Kaamera".
Birute Klaas-Lang, Professor of Estonian at the University of Tartu, discussed the differences between the three Baltic states. The situation is the most worrisome in Lithuania, where the number of expats has reached 1.3 million and the local population has dropped under 3 million. On the other hand, Lithuania has an official program called Global Lithuania, which ensures that all relevant agencies cooperate to preserve the Lithuanian language and culture abroad. Estonia lacks a comparable cooperation program.
"The policies of the Estonian government are slightly fragmented. In my opinion, Estonia needs a well thought-out policy, aimed at our kinsmen abroad, on how to to keep them in our linguistic and cultural sphere, how to offer them an Estonian identity, how to secure its preservation and also how to help them return," Klaas-Lang said.
Professor of General Linguistics Anna Verschik of Tallinn University has studied nationally mixed marriages, and said that the question of primary language is often a complicated one.
"The decisions regarding the family's "language policy" are made by the parents. We can support them and give them advice on what to do if they want the next generation to speak Estonian, but if people are not willing to do it, then we are unable to change that," Verschik said.