Background and status
The Estonian language is the official language of Estonia (or the Republic of Estonia, as it is officially called), and is also an official language of the European Union. Estonian is spoken by approximately 1 100 000 people throughout the world. About 950 000 of them live in Estonia, and more than 150 000 are scattered over Sweden, Canada, USA, Russia, Australia, Finland, Germany and other countries.
Estonian is a Finnic language closely related to Finnish. The main difference between Estonian and Finnish is that Finnish has a lot of loan words from Swedish, while Estonian contains many words of German origin, plus some words from Russian, Latin, Greek and English. There is considerable mutual intelligibility between Estonian and Finnish.
The primus motor of the Estonian culture has always been a belief in language. Estonian was thought of as a powerful means of communication on its own, as a way of achieving a better education and the nation's own cultural space. Estonians thus could distract the attention of both the Baltic Germans and the Russian authorities by means of their “secret” language and gradually attained a position of strength - until independence was achieved in 1918.
Traditionally, Estonians are avid readers, listeners and viewers. Five daily newspapers serve the small population, which is 1.36 million. A plethora of weekly papers and magazines, nine domestic television channels and over 20 radio stations are available within the 45,000 sq km of Estonia.
Growth and usage
Along with Icelandic, Estonian is at present one of the smallest languages in the world that fulfils all the functions necessary for an independent state to 'perform' linguistically. Teaching, at both primary school and university level, is in Estonian; it is also the language of modern science (molecular biology, astronomy, computer science, semiotics, etc.). Estonian is used in the army, in the theatre, aviation, journalism - in all walks of life. Estonian is the only official language in Estonia in local government and state institutions.