Academic journal article Trames

The Ethnic and Linguistic Identity of Russian-Speaking Young People in Estonia

Academic journal article Trames

The Ethnic and Linguistic Identity of Russian-Speaking Young People in Estonia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The study was brought about by several problems related to ethnic and linguistic identity which have arisen in the integration of non-Estonians into the society.

Upon the contact of cultures and languages, ethnic and linguistic identity becomes significant. Since ethnic and linguistic identity have an important role in people's self-concept, it also affects the evaluation given of oneself and of others and one's psychological well-being. In addition to the role of the identity of their group of origin, the relationship between the minority groups and the majority group also bears great significance in the integration of the minority.

Social support and good relationships with friends and family not only foster the development of a positive self-concept but also help in getting to know one's ethnic background. Identity is going through constant changes, since in a multicultural society, common concepts, mentality, attitudes and customs tend to be dispersed through a joint language space (Kirch 2002:87). Therefore, linguistic identity constitutes an important basis for the formation of one's identity. The population density of non-Estonians significantly influences their ethnic and linguistic self-perception. There tends to be a problem with the subsistence of the Russian-language population in areas with a large concentration of non-Estonians which, of course, bears a direct effect on both their attitudes and language skills (Rannut 2005:10).

The majority of non-Estonians are concentrated into the larger cities and the border area. They constitute 46% of the population in Tallinn and 80% in Ida-Virumaa; these two areas being home to 84% of the non-Estonians of the country (Estonian National Census 2000). Areas with a large concentration of non--Estonians are, however, often the sites for the development of oppositional attitudes which are expressed by opposing oneself in the society (us vs. them) to the group speaking the target language as a mother tongue (Rannut 2005:11). Therefore, the object of interest was the study of the ethnic and linguistic identity of the young non-Estonians of those two areas since the influence of the Estonian language is smaller there than in the areas with dispersed non-Estonian population.

Little research has been conducted in Estonia regarding the relationship between the language and identity of non-Estonians. There are research papers and articles about identity and ethnic identity; the significance of language and the effect of language environment in the integration of children and their adaptation to Estonian-language schools has also been researched; however, the language identity problems of young non-Estonians who have already graduated from school are an unexplored area and the topic has hitherto not really been reflected upon. This study is an attempt to fill this gap by analyzing the ethnic and linguistic self-perception of young non-Estonians and the factors influencing this, with a comparison based on young people from monolingual and bilingual families of Tallinn and Ida-Virumaa.

2. Identity

Identity is a person's knowledge about who they are; who other people are; what it is that differentiates them and how one should behave in certain situations considering the social group where one belongs. This feeling of identity has developed historically, on the basis of continuity; i.e. it comprises knowledge about who we were in the past, who we will be in the future, who our mothers and fathers, our grandmothers and grandfathers were (Kidd 2002:7). Identity is a conception of oneself and therefore constitutes the basis of an individual's relationship with the world and its interpretation, as well as their evaluation of the behaviour of both themselves and others (McAdams 1997:106). Identity is related to the specific values of an individual which have been shaped within the limits of their development and environment and are partially cultural formations by referring to common values and their outputs (Liebkind 1995). …

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