A Dialect is Preserved on Mother Tongue Day
As the country marks Mother Tongue Day, most are celebrating standard Estonian, but other dialects are held dear as well.
When an ERR radio station recently discontinued a news program produced in the Kihnu dialect - the language of a small island off the southwestern coast - two grade school students took over.
"One must remember the Kihnu language. Otherwise it will be forgotten and one will switch over to Estonian instead. It's not something everyone can do," said 12-year-old Kaisa Kolde.
Raigo Pärna, 13, agreed. "Only a Kihnu native can do it. Otherwise there would be a lot to learn," he said. "We like to do the news. It's sort of peculiar. There is a lot of work, but we can do it."
Estonian has a number of dialects, broken into the larger northern and southern groups, the most distinctive of which are Võro and Seto, both currently seeking language status.
Standard Estonian is spoken by roughly 1.1 million people. Closely related to Finnish and more distantly to Hungarian, Estonian belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, which includes about 40 languages spoken by around 20 million people that are mainly thought to have originated thousands of years ago in the Ural mountains, now in western Russia.
Recognized as a national holiday in 1999, Mother Tongue Day marks the birthday of Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801–1822), who is considered the founder of modern Estonian poetry. The oldest records of written Estonian date from the 13th century, and in 1525, the first Estonian-language book was printed, a Lutheran manuscript that was destroyed immediately after publication.