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The future of the Estonian & Latvian languages

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  1. The future of the Estonian & Latvian languages Dr Uldis Ozolins Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University

  2. Historical background

  3. The short history - Estonia & Latvia • Pre-Christian - amber, seafaring, rural • Crusaders C12-13 • Danes in Tallinn, then sold it to Germans! • Germans in Riga (1201) • Crusaders became city merchants (Hansa League) and rural ‘barons’ - German speaking ‘Livonian order’. Protestant in 1520s • Sweden C17 • Russia C18-19 - World War I

  4. Classical Tallinn

  5. Riga at fin de siècle

  6. The short history of language policy - I • Estonian/Latvian “Peasants’ language” • Studied by German pastors, academics (eg Herder) • Bible translated into Estonian/Latvian C16-17 • Education in own language patchily from Swedish times (C17), increasing in C19 • Growth of national literature mid C19 • For Estonian, C19 influence of Finnish

  7. The short history of language policy - II • Russification moves from 1880s - restricted Estonian/Latvian but also restricted German: a 3-cornered battle • Estonian/Latvian education largely restored after 1905 revolution • National language from 1918

  8. National independence period 1918-1940 • Estonian, Latvian as national languages - Estonian in constitution, Latvian in legislation • Wide use of German, Russian, other languages; multiligualism common • Very high educational levels • Minority policies - cultural autonomy, high status of especially German • National turn after 1934, stronger promotion of titular languages

  9. Three Occupations • USSR 1940-41 • Germany 1941-44 • USSR returns 1944 - 1991 • Most Germans leave Baltics after Molotov/Ribbentrop pact • Most Jews killed in WWII • Massive influx of Soviet settlers

  10. Titular nationals in respective countries, 1920s to 2000/1 (%)

  11. .Non-titulars in the Baltic States claiming proficiency in the titular language, 1989 Census (%)

  12. Language change in the Soviet period • Growing use and status of Russian • Growing asymmetric bilingualism • Growing number of domains where Russian favoured • Strict control & censorship over Estonian and Latvian literature, films, cultural events • Russification of other non-titular minorities

  13. The Soviet linguistic regime • Leninist “equality of languages” cf Stalinist to Brezhnev favouring of Russian • In education, 2 streams - Estonian/ Latvian & Russian; little Estonian/ Latvian taught in Russian schools; rewriting of history • Self-sufficiency of Russian • Still strong Estonian and Latvian maintenance, loyalty

  14. Which is the minority language? “Russian is thus a majorized minority language (a minority language in terms of numbers, but with the power of a majority language), whereas the Baltic languages are minorized majority languages (majority languages, in need of protection usually necessary for the threatened minority languages).” (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1994)

  15. Towards regaining independence 1987-1991 • Gorbachev’s Glasnost-Perstroika period > growing national reassertion • Revival of national symbols - flag, anthem, significant calendar days • Growing political resistance - ‘Baltic way’demonstration Vilnius-Riga-Tallinn on 50th anniversay of Ribbentrop- Molotov pact, 1989 • Violence in Vilnius, Riga, barricades January 1991

  16. Language Laws 1988/9 (while still in Soviet Union) • Reasserted status of Estonian/Latvian as national language (‘Republican’ language) • All government, admin & public contact personnel must know Estonian/Latvian - time limit stipulated to prove competence • Transitional status of Russian, other languages • First resistance to national movements - Interfront, defence of Russian monolingualism

  17. Reasserting national language status from August 1991 • Amending the Language Laws - transition ended, Estonian/Latvian sole State language • Massive program of language attestation for all public contact occupations, for those without Estonian/Latvian language education • The question of citizenship - restricted to those who were citizens in 1940 or their descendents; naturalisation based on language proficiency & knowledge of country

  18. Reactions • Russia begins offensive on human rights restrictions - language & citizenship • International institutions wary • Growing use and prominence of Estonian/Latvian - decyrillisation of public displays, notices • Hundreds of thousands sit language attestation tests

  19. Nature of language laws • Estonian/Latvian sole language of government, public administration (Russian used informally), higher education • All those in positions of public contact must have capacity to use Estonian/Latvian • Language use as such not monitored (eg in shops, institutions), but must have capacity - attestation tests taken at a level appropriate to demands of employment

  20. International dimensions • Continued political pressure from Russia, often through other international organisations (OECD, Council of Europe etc) • European concerns over strict citizenship; over language requirements in private economic sphere; over language requirements for publicly elected persons • Language Laws softened in mid-late 1990s eg in some aspects of language requirements in private economic sphere

  21. The Latvian language today and its future

  22. The Latvian language • Indo-European, close to Lithuanian • Not Slavic, not Germanic, not Finno-Ugric, but influenced by each • Pronunciation stress on first syllable (Finno-Ugric) • Case grammar not unlike Slavic • Loan words from everywhere

  23. Post-Soviet changing functions of language - example of education • Continuation of separate Latvian-stream and Russian stream primary schools; Latvian taught as a subject in Russian schools • Steady contraction of Russian stream system • Small growth of non-Latvian, non-Russian schools • Secondary education - continued separation of language stream schools, but from 2004, non-Latvian schools have 60% of lessons in Latvian, 40% in other language permitted

  24. What is your attitude towards the teaching of subjects in Latvian in minority schools? (By native language, %)

  25. Proficiency in Latvian of persons who have a mother tongue other than Latvian

  26. Opinion about the right of the state to regulate language use in private enterprises (1999, % all respondents) • Latvian Language Institute, 1999

  27. The future

  28. Numbers? Vitality? Self-regard? Lost domains? Global English? Other threats…? ~ 2 million Strong, EU Highly literate In all domains Limited concern Only political? Factors often considered important for language endangerment

  29. Specific perceived threats • Habits: deference in language use; the two faces of tolerance • Media • Language use in private economic area • Political threats Internal threats External threats - Russia - European institutions

  30. Latvians, choice of Latvian in communication with non-Latvians who know Latvian, 1999, %

  31. International norms: language rights • OSCE Oslo Recommendations (1998) - Judicial administration & corrections: 20) The director of a penal institution and other personnel of the institution shall be able to speak the language or languages of the greatest number of prisoners, or a language understood by the greatest number of them. Recruitment and/or training programmes should be directed towards this end. Whenever necessary, the services of an interpreter shall be used.

  32. Relevant notions of human rights and language rights “The Baltic countries represent a unique case, probably not taken into consideration when universal declarations on linguistic human rights are written. The situation shows that the linguistic rights of state language speakers can also be infringed and that the official state language in an independent country may be an endangered language at the same time.” (Druviete, 1997)

  33. Implications • National languages can also be threatened language • Extrinsic minorities (Bratt Paulston 2007) • Colonialism in many guises - how do you ensure that the Soviet language situation is not perpetuated? • Linguistic, not primarily ethnic dispute internally; foreign relations dispute externally

  34. Baltic outcomes - the balance • Knowledge of Baltic languages by non-titulars doubled or tripled since 1989 • Russians: still fully extant though contracting school systems; media, language loyalty • Diversity of ‘Russian-speaking’ minorities; continuing aggression from Russia • Debate over the relevance of international norms on minority languages • Titular population: survived, claimed nationhood, status, perpetual multilingualism - still the likely future