Mother Tongue Day celebrated home and abroad


Mother Tongue Day, which marks the birthday of Kristjan Jaak Peterson on March 14, one of the founding fathers of Estonian poetic tradition, was first recognized as a national holiday in 1999. It is now celebrated not only in Estonia but in many Estonian Houses, schools and universities all around the world.

Hundreds of larger and smaller events are held in Estonia and abroad to mark the occasion, including a traditional dictation in ERR's Vikerraadio. This year, 4,225 people jumped on the opportunity to test their Estonian grammar skills, but according to the initial results, only five managed a mistake-free text.

The day is also widely celebrated outside of Estonia, with many Estonian societies and foreign institutions holding contests and special events. The University of Lviv in Ukraine, for example, is running a competition to find the most interesting Estonian word.

Estonian language is taught in nearly 60 communities outside of Estonia and the number is growing each year.

According to the Estonian Institute, around 1,000 students are learning Estonian in universities all over the world, the largest numbers in Finland, Sweden, Latvia and Hungary, but also in Ukraine, the US and China.

Teachers of Estonian assigned by the state are working in Riga, Pechory, an Estonian village of Upper Suetuk, and lectors in St. Petersburg, Göttingen, Paris, Vilnius, Warsaw, Brno, Lviv, Peking, Riga, and Syktyvkar, Russia.

Today, Estonian language is spoken by roughly 1.1 million people. According to the latest census, 130,000 Estonian speakers also speak one of several Estonian dialects. However, researchers fear that the dialects are dying out as a result of increasing urbanization.

Dialects have carried different meanings for Estonians in different times. If the development of written Estonian made many consider the dialects as less valuable or a sub-language for quite a while, they are now increasingly seen as an important marker of cultural diversity and local identity.

As written Estonian is based on the northern dialect, the southern dialects have statistically more speakers. The latter are rather different from the everyday spoken Estonian, making it easier for people to identify themselves as dialect-speakers. The most widely-spoken Estonian dialect is Võru dialect, used by over 87,000 people.

Editor: M. Oll

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