We know Estonia
14.3.2023 | Culture

Today is Native Language Day – 243 different languages are spoken in Estonia as a mother tongue

Text Mark Taylor
Photo Arno Mikkor / Vabariigi Presidendi Kantselei

Today is Native Language Day – 243 different languages are spoken in Estonia as a mother tongue

 

Today is Native Language Day (emakeelepäeval, in Estonian). As well as Estonian and Russian, a total of 241 other languages are spoken as a mother tongue by residents of the country. To mark the day, a reading marathon is taking place at the President’s Palace in Tallinn.

According to data from the latest census, Estonian is spoken as a mother tongue by 67 per cent, and as a foreign language by 17 per cent of the population. Therefore, a total of 84 per cent of the population speaks Estonian. However, this is just the tip of the language iceberg in the country.

“While a total of 109 different mother tongues were counted in the 2000 census, a decade later, in 2011, there were 157 of them, and as many as 243 in the 2021 census,” explained Henry Lass, an analyst at Statistics Estonia.

According to the census, 3,879 people in Estonia speak English as their mother tongue, while Chinese is spoken as a native language by 419, Hindi by 630, Spanish by 1,378, and French by 1,424 people living here. Of the new languages added to the list since the last census in 2011, the languages with the most speakers include Iranian (62), Niger-Kordofanian (20), Sindhi (19), and Mandar (15).

“The oldest languages spoken as mother tongues in Estonia are Egyptian, Hebrew, and Tamil. 21 people are native speakers of Egyptian, while Hebrew is the mother tongue of 79 and Tamil of 124 people,” Lass added.

In the latest census, inhabitants were also given an opportunity to indicate two mother tongues. It turned out that there are a total of 30,710 people with two native languages in Estonia, or about 2 per cent of the population.

“The largest number of people – 18,160 – declared Estonian and Russian as their two mother tongues. The second most common combination of two mother tongues, Estonian and English, was indicated by 1,220 people,” said Lass.

To mark Native Language Day, a reading marathon is taking place at the president’s palace in Tallinn. The reading marathon, which kicked off at dawn and will end at sunset, will see 70 well-known public figures read Estonian texts that have a strong meaning for them.

 

To learn more about this and similar topics
English Estonian Languages in Estonia Mother Tongue Mother Tongues Estonia Native Language Day Native Language Day Estonia Russian

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