On August 12th, the University of Tartu’s Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics organized a discussion entitled "What is the future of the Estonian language?" at the nation-wide Opinion Festival in Paide, Estonia. The discussion focused on two main points: intergenerational differences in language usage and the growth in Estonian language learners.
Before the discussion, festival attendees had the opportunity to share their opinions at polling stations. In general, the public was of the opinion that the impact of young people's language use on Estonian is mostly negative, but the influence of people speaking Estonian as a foreign language was predominantly seen as positive.
The discussion focused on young people's language usage and intergenerational differences. Several interesting ideas were presented, and calls to action were made to the public. It was emphasized that language is constantly evolving, and young people should not be deterred by excessive correctness, as language is, after all, a tool for self-expression. It was suggested that linguistics should be introduced as a topic in secondary school so that students would learn to analyze their own language usage, compare Estonian with other languages and recognize where language change can be seen in action. It was also mentioned that the focus on individual words in the case of the Estonian language is not truly justified, and we should instead move towards considering the syntactic and discourse context. Margit Langemets encouraged listeners to be resourceful and help expand the vocabulary of the Estonian language in their fields to avoid gaps in its domains of usage The discussion concluded with an analysis of the public’s comments about young people's language usage and responses to numerous questions from the audience.
The panelists also had a brief conversation about Estonians' attitudes toward Estonian language learners, bilingualism, and the expansion of the Estonian-speaking community. This was generally seen to be positive, and listeners were urged not to automatically switch to English when they encounter second language learners, but to patiently support their efforts to practice the language.
In summary, the panelists agreed that there is no need for concern. As long as there are Estonian speakers and the language is used across domains, the future of the Estonian language looks promising.
The discussion included linguist Virve Vihman, lexicographer Margit Langemets, Estonian language and literature teacher Maarja-Liisa Vokksepp, and linguistics student Aleksandr Petrov. The discussion was moderated by linguistics doctoral candidate Axel Jagau.
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