Estonian – the Most Insignificant Language?

Some while ago an online media outlet ran a poll, asking the readers where do they think Estonian language falls among the languages of this world by “usefulness”. Many Estonian-speakers do tend to think that a million speakers means… nothing. That the language is on the verge of going distinct. About 2/3rds of answers ranked the language to the bottom third of worlds’ 6000 languages.

There was a linguistics forum in April that surfaced some interesting data of the contrary, which I thought are worth sharing… in English as well:

  • By the speaker count, Estonian ranks at 274th place out of 6000
  • Higher education is available in just 100 languages in the world (including Estonian). 30 in Europe and just 3 out of the hundreds of African languages.
  • There are about 200 countries in the world, where state language is the same as majority of population’s mother tongue.
  • Estonian ranks among top 30 IT-languages. For example, Microsoft products have been localized to 35 (Skype is available in 28), including Estonian.
  • Human to computer speech synthesis exists for 25 languages, Estonian included.

(source: Sirje Kiin at Eesti Ekspress)

So, we’re well alive and kicking in that weird and complicated tongue. Good to know, even when the reality of globalizing world has brought the dire need for becoming an English bilingual to communicate and ultimately succeed. I will keep blogging in both.


  • Andres

    Actually, what I understand from Hardo Aasmäe (said at some point on Raadioentsüklopeedia http://podcast.pencillin.net/saated/raadioentsuklopeedia/), it is actually vital that we learn and develop Estonian language.
    The thing is that at some point in pretty near future real-time automated speech translation will become a reality. However, for a language to be possible to be translated like that it needs to have a very deeply studied grammar, sufficient vocabulary and so forth which is only true for languages that are spoken, developed and researched. List of those languages will be very limited and when all this happens, it will only make sense to learn (or speak) a language that is on that list. We better make sure Estonian is.

  • Bill Chapman

    There is an alternative to English as a global language – and that is Esperanto. Esperanto is also well represented on the internet – its accented letters are avbailable on Microsoft Word, for example.
    An important part of the philosophy underying Esperanto is that national languages such as Estonian are unique treasures, and should at all costs be supported and maintained.
    Take a look at http://www.esperanto.net.

  • Sten, see on võibolla ülletus teile, aga palju välismaalasi eestis õpivad eesti keelt ja mõned välismaalased räägib vabalt. Siis, eesti keelne keskkond ikka kasvab.

  • Giustino,
    see on väga tore ja ei ole mulle üllatuseks.
    Skype Tallinna kontoris töötab mitukümmend välismaalast lähemalt ja kaugemalt. Suurem enamus neist õpib eesti keelt ja võimalusel ka kasutab seda. 🙂
    Sten

  • shojiro maki

    Hi Sten,
    I am just curious why you chose to call your blog
    Seikatsu, life in Japanese,
    at least so it seems to me…
    Maki, Japanese for more than half a century