Time left until the start of the population and housing census

The Population and Housing Census will show the number of inhabitants with two mother tongues and two nationalities

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Posted on 29. September 2021 16:45

Researchers and officials have a special interest to find out through the census how many people living in Estonia have two nationalities and speak two mother tongues. Although information on nationality and mother tongue is also available in the population register, it is the first time that it is possible to choose two options in the census questionnaire.

The Vice Rector for Academic Affairs of University of Tartu Aune Valk believes that almost a fifth of the population might define themselves as multi-ethnic. However, there is still no precise knowledge about this, although such data serve as an indication of the success of integration policy.

“It is not ethical to give people who identify themselves as multi-ethnic only one option in the census. In addition, for more than 20 years, the goal of the Estonian integration policy has been to support multiculturalism, i.e. to strengthen a person’s origins and, at the same time, their connection with Estonia. If a person makes an effort for integration and, as a result, feels belonging to two nations, then this person must be given a political opportunity to express it as well. Such data are scientifically valuable and the shortest and easiest way to understand a person’s connection with Estonia and trust in the state,” explained Valk.

According to Professor of Demography at Tallinn University, Allan Puur, nationality and mother tongue are the two most important features for describing and understanding the ethno-cultural diversity of society. “A person can acquire a new citizenship or learn a new language in a few years, but nationality and mother tongue accompany them through life and form the foundation of self-awareness and identity,” said Puur. In his opinion,  nationality and mother tongue determine which groups a person considers oneself to belong to and who form his or her closest social network. “As a rule, the knowledge of mother tongue is deeper compared to other languages, and despite acquiring foreign languages, a large part of culture consumption still happens through mother tongue, not to mention cultural creation,” added Puur.

According to the researchers, there is currently no knowledge of how many people living in Estonia consider themselves to have more than one nationality and mother tongue, who they are and how their multi-ethnic or multilingualism has developed. It is a relatively small group of people, but having information about them is essential for understanding identity changes and language exchange.

One of the main arguments for gathering this information has been the fact that nowadays the Estonian society is multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. The census results will provide a reliable basis for evidence-based language, national and integration policy, the preparation of corresponding national development plans and monitoring of their implementation. In addition, continuing to ask such questions in the census provides a solid basis for the self-esteem of ethnic and linguistic groups and leaves less room for all kinds of speculation.

According to linguist Jüri Viikberg, the number of bilingual people has increased because more and more people live in two language environments. “Estonian can be the language of the new host country, the language of school or workplace or the language of one parent in a mixed family. The possibility to indicate up to two mother tongues and nationalities in the census is especially important for the descendants of parents of different ethnic backgrounds,” said Viikberg.

According to linguists, the state also needs accurate data on proficiency of Estonian as the state language but also on proficiency of other languages, as these are different target groups for the state’s language and education policy and the financing of corresponding activities. “Asking for these characteristics in the census provides more accurate information about the language and identity of the population, which would not be achievable with the help of registers. This kind of survey gives us a clearer picture of how many children there are in Estonia who grow up in mixed families and are multilingual. This is important for planning the development of these children and support measures for their parents in the education system. Such data collection will be the first in Estonia, but in other countries such possibilities are already in use,” Viikberg added.