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A recurring English language column in Vaba Eesti Sõna… the death nail of the Estonian language in the United States, or a palliative for its demise? 

 

Good question (even if I did write it myself). To some, the fact that this article is written in English by someone who understands and speaks Estonian is a travesty. Seeing it may trigger fist-pounding accompanied by a “kurat!” (general purpose Estonian expletive) or two. Heads shake, deep sighs are exhaled, and the beginning of the Estonian end is muttered. To others, the ability to read this column in the foreign language known as English, within pages of odd diacritical marks and long double-vowel words, is welcome. Maybe it’s an opportunity for connection. Maybe it’s a means to explore a culture that claims less than 100 percent of your DNA. Maybe you want to be engaged in things Estonian, want to support the VES, but simply don’t command the language. 

 

So, we have two differing points of view.

 

For the latter group, welcome to what I hope will be a recurring column exploring US-centric Estonian topics, people, and on occasion, oddities. For the former group, welcome as well. Just please don’t scold me when next we meet. For the majority somewhere in the middle, I’m glad you’ve read this far.  

 

I am first-generation American (or second-generation, if you prefer that connotation of the phrase). Meaning, I am the child of Estonian emigrants (in this case, more accurately, refugees). I am now part of the diaspora, part of the salad bowl of the United States, of which I think Estonians must either be the dill, cucumber, or pickled herring. 

 

This diaspora is engaging in a debate, a dialogue, regarding the Estonian-ness of those that can’t speak the language. It’s a valid dispute, and a tough one. One can argue that English is spoken in Italian-American clubhouses, for example, with nil to negligible cultural loss. At the same time, this is different – Estonian is a unique, and arguably, dying language. 

 

So, back to the opening question. The answer is, of course: neither.

 

This is not a zero-sum game. English language articles and columns are not the panacea for a disappearing language. However, neither will they hasten its collapse. To the contrary, my hope is even a few additional VES readers will read the paper more often, and maybe yearn to strengthen their Estonian language skills. Now, Estonian language education opportunities in the US are few and far between, but that’s a topic for another column.

 

Andres Simonson

Tellimine

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