Language Council backs law amendments affecting food couriers, taxi drivers

Birute Klaas-Lang.
Birute Klaas-Lang. Source: ERR

The Estonian Language Council (Eesti keelenõukogu) in general supports Ministry of Education and Research plans to amend legislation relating to the use of the Estonian language in the workplace and public space, the organization's chair, Professor Birute Klaas-Lang, says.

Klaas-Lang told ERR that: "This idea of strengthening the place of the Estonian language in the public space, and to bolster the position of the Estonian language as one of information, of communication is, in our opinion, certainly required. The proposals now intended to be made via the amendments to the Language Act should contribute to achieving all of this."

The education ministry had earlier justified amendments to the Language Act on the grounds of a desire to strengthen Estonian in its position as the official state language, and also to boost its visibility in the public space, for instance in advertisements.

This would also apply to audible adverts, with those playing in shopping malls being singled out as an area in which the proportion of Estonian (vis-a-vis English, Russian, or any other foreign language) needs to be raised.

The ministry's bill, sent for its coordination round last week, addressed these concerns, in addition to those relating to food couriers and taxi drivers and their abilities in the Estonian language.

The administration of public institutions in the Estonian language was also in the picture.

Klass-Lang said the language council welcomes, for instance, legislative amendments which would decouple advertising and marketing in Estonian from the standardized language norms, to allow colloquialisms (in Estonian) to appear – the example given was the slogan "Siin on nii ubane."*

Official Estonian should remain based on the norms of the standardized, witten language, the council says, adding that the policy of boosting the share of Estonian in audible ads (to a minimum of 80 percent of the total, as the bill stands – ed.) was something the council could get behind also.

"It is sometimes the case that these foreign language ads keep on spinning. We find that while a foreign language ad can be used in addition to Estonian, it must not predominate," Klass-Lang added.

The council says it is also aware that while the working language in public higher education institutions is Estonian, since there are also many foreign students and lecturers attending and working in such universities, one of the council's wishes is that in the case of foreign language curricula, it would still be possible to use a foreign language for administration, where necessary.

Klaas-Lang added that the language council also discussed at length ride-sharing and food courier services, with the consensus being that taxi drivers should be competent in Estonian up to B1 level in the Common European Framework (CEF). This is also the level required for those applying for Estonian citizenship.

Klaas-Lang provided personal, anecdotal evidence of the importance of this herself. "I have had several experiences just in the past month where I had to ultimately pick up the phone and explain to a Bolt taxi driver whereabouts I am."

There was an even bigger discussion on the issue of the language skills of food couriers, Klaas-Lang said, adding that the council's final position was that these service providers should know Estonian to at least A2 level (where the CEF has paired levels, A1-A2 (beginner to pre-intermediate), B1-B2 (intermediate to upper intermediate) and C1-C2 (proficiency levels).

This would allow: "Even the most vulnerable class could do much better in Estonian society and have a much better position, if they still know Estonian to some extent," she said.

"And just as with the feedback about these Wolt and Bolt couriers, in fact other companies could also understand that the provision of Estonian language training should also be part of the recruitment of these so-called employees. However, to help make it possible for Estonian society to cope with the Estonian language. This would rather help things in Estonian society to be dealt with, in the Estonian language."

The two laws to be amended by the bill are the Language Act and the Public Transport Act.

The Estonian Language Council (Eesti keelenõukogu) falls under the education ministry's auspices and advises the government of the day on developing and implementing language policy in Estonia, the ministry says on its website.

ERR News' Michael Cole conducted this recent vox pop on the Estonian language issue, with food couriers working in Tartu.

*Presumably, "Siin on Hubane", meaning "It's cozy here", with the -h dropped from "hubane". The tagline could potentially have a double meaning as "ubane" could be taken to mean "bean-y" ("Uba" being the nominative form of the Estonian word for bean), which might apply best, for instance, in a cafe, or a store selling coffee paraphernalia.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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