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Plans to elevate legal status of Seto and Võro languages moving forward

Seto Folk Festival.
Seto Folk Festival. Source: Seto Folk

The Elders Council of the Seto Congress has welcomed a proposal from the Estonian Language Council (Eesti keelenõukogu) to legally define Võro and Seto as independent languages in the Estonian Language Act. Doing so would also pave the way for people to select Võro or Seto as their first language in the population register.

This May, the Estonian Language Council suggested developing proposals to determine the legal status of the Seto and Võro languages. The language council also advocates for the inclusion of an option for people to select Võro and Seto as their mother tongue in the population and other legal registers.

The Elders Council of the Seto Congress supports the views put forward by the Estonian Language regarding the legal status of the Seto and Võro languages. The elders council has now submitted further proposals provided clarifications to the ministries involved.

"Independent language status is crucial for Seto and Võro, in order to raise the prestige of the languages, which is an indispensable prerequisite for their survival. Language status is also necessary for participation in international networks of minority languages," said Rein Järvelill, head of the Elders Council of the Seto Congress.

According to Järvelill, the Estonian Language Act needs to clearly stipulate the possibilities for using regional languages in the areas they have been spoken historically. "The language act has to state unequivocally that these regional languages are not considered as foreign languages in Estonia. This means that foreign languages in Estonia are all other languages apart from Estonian, Estonian Sign Language and Estonian regional languages," Järvelill said.

He also stressed that introducing the definition of a regional language into the law would not in any way have an impact on the use of the Russian language in Estonia. "According to the National Minorities Cultural Autonomy Act, the Russian ethnic group is a minority ethnic group in Estonia, and the Language Act clearly outlines the possibilities for the use of minority ethnic languages," Järvelill said.

"Determining the status of Seto and Võro as independent languages will also provide a clear legal basis upon which to allow people to indicate Seto or Võro as their mother tongue in the population register," Järvelill said.

The lack of ability to do so in the most recent census led to serious protests and indignation among the Võro and Seto people, he added.

After meeting with representatives of Setomaa Municipality and the Seto and Võro Institutes on May 15, Birute Klaas-Lang, chair of the Estonian Language Council, sent eight proposals to the Ministry of Education and Research and Ministry of Culture to this end.

According to the Estonian Language Council, the status of regional southern Estonian languages (Võro, Seto) needs to analyzed in detail, with suitable proposals drawn up to determine their legal status. To do so, an appropriate legal, sociolinguistic and financial impact analysis should be conducted.

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Editor: Mchael Cole

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