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Language Policy in Estonia,
by Mart Rannut


The laws on language and citizenship adopted in 1995 signal the stability of society and the consolidation of power, making it possible to launch a new language policy aimed at nation-building. The main blocks of it are the following:

- Estonian as the sole national and official language (common language principle);

- minority protection through territorial and cultural autonomy (hierarchisation and regulation of autochthonous languages);

- various functional foreign language regimes;

- respect for individual linguistic human rights;

- active promotion of integration;

- subordination to international law.

The approach in legislation is non-ethnic and purely instrumental. In contrast to the Language Law of 1989, this language legislation is not used for propagandistic goals. It is possible for almost all residents legally living in Estonia, regardless of ethnicity, to apply and acquire Estonian citizenship if they wish to. Thus, ethnicity has no legal value in establishing one‘s position in society. Instead, proficiency of the common language is valued through the system of various domains (citizenship, employment, elections, etc.). In this way, the developments signal the transformation of the society to a more democratic and civic one. However, during recent years, language legislation in Estonia has been developing inconsistently, affected by domestic political reshuffle and international pressures.

In spite of all tensions, one may witness a gradual linguistic normalisation with Estonian as the national language known by the vast majority, while minority languages are still accommodating to the new conditions (including ethnic revival) and there is an ever-increasing popularity of major foreign languages.

Mart Rannut
Tallinn Pedagogical University

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