Linguistic Ghettos

Following the early days of the Georgian crisis, an Estonian news special sought to find out what Estonia’s Russian population thought about the Russian presence in South Ossetia and Georgia. They discovered that many of the Russians in Eastern Estonia have been getting their news directly from Russian state-influenced news sources rather than from international or Estonian TV stations. Thus their opinions tended to reflect disbelief that the world would be reacting so strongly to good-willed Russian attempts at peace-keeping in anarchistic/tyrannical parts of the world.

One of the reasons that given that these Russians have been getting their news from Russian sources is that Estonia has not yet provided news in the Russian language (for the record, I have seen one channel which offers an Estonian based Russian language program). This points to one of the weaknesses in Estonia’s conservative language laws. By allowing for only one official language (as opposed to recommendations widely accepted within the EU for primary and secondary state languages) and setting the bar for proficiency so high, Estonia has driven some of its less linguistically able minority groups back to their familiar sources. Rather than encouraging integration into Estonian culture, these laws are reinforcing a linguistic ghetto.

I am highly sympathetic to the Estonian need to preserve language and culture while surrounded and infiltrated by larger and sometimes predatory languages (speaking of both English and Russian here). However, I think that defensive efforts to preserve cultural and linguistic purity will only backfire given that the nation is already composed of a large minority and draws heavily on foreign investment.

Linguistic integration is in fact happening spontaneously among younger populations who realize that multiple languages only benefit their chances for prosperity and social mobility. This is true in both Estonian and Russian populations. Conservative language laws in these fields are really a moot point. Where they do have an effect is among populations whose language learning abilities have stagnated, those in the later half of their life. This population will remain with us for many years yet and naturally will ally with whoever most warmly receives them. Given the current situation in Eastern Europe, can Estonian lawmakers really afford not to reach out?

4 Comments

  1. well, had I read on, this answers in part the questions I have posed. It seems from your analysis, that Estonia is in the difficult place of cultural integrity in tension with the changing face of Eastern Europe and more broadly, a globalized world.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on integrated markets and the “decoupling” theory that holds emerging markets are now less attached to western markets than ever before, and in short order will operate independent of a primary market influence, say the United States.

    I realize that Estonia aspires to Europe so this may not be particularly relevant in Estonia, but perspective from an emerging market still matters.

    Also, the current credit crisis seems to have infected the EuroZone as well.

    A bit rambly.

    Reply

    1. @donald, I don?t have much expertise in macro economics so I can only answer from an observers point of view. From what I?m seeing and have heard in analysis on the news, I?d say the decoupling theory is dead. The world is simply too integrated. We already knew this from a political point of view. Any decision made by a major power inevitably effects everyone else, either economically or simply in terms of the shape of the world and its action. But I think it?s also clear now that consumers, producers and economic confidence are simply too intertwined in this global economy to imagine anything other than a global jenga tower. Be careful pulling out blocks!

      There are two interesting things that we?ve been observing from this corner of the world that are worth bringing up here.

      1) Credit Systems and Confidence as Currency
      Emerging economies in Eastern Europe all understood the need to get on the credit train and fast. The idea is that if we get money circulating, the economy will grow. And that works when confidence is high. But in essence this means that confidence becomes to item of exchange rather than something tangible like gold ? or clams for that matter. So when confidence begins to fail, the whole house of cards collapses. I would hope that you still have clams at the end of the day but that remains to be seen.

      2) In the world economy we now have consumption based economies (the USA) and production based economies (China). The former tend to be very rich because of the ?circulation of confidence? (credit) while the latter tend to lumber slowly forward. The current crisis in the States affects everybody else not only because of loss of trust in the credit system but also because the worlds greatest consumers have just left the marketplace. There is now a glut of produced material with no one to buy them up.

      This isn?t just an American problem. We?ve also seen that the financial institutions around the world are so intertwined that saving them in America actually means sending money outside of the States. Just take a look at what is happening with the Bank of Iceland. It turns out we are more interconnected than we ever thought.

      Reply

  2. ?If globalization really works, then what is the endgame?? asked Kenneth Rogoff, the American economist, in 2004. Today, we have an answer. The prospect of simultaneous economic collapse is, paradoxically, made possible by the global mechanisms erected to prevent economic failure. Across the world we have, since the end of the Second World War, developed mutually supporting systems, an international network designed to defend itself and therefore achieve stability. Yet if the shocks to this global system are too great, the network?s interconnectedness, normally a strength, becomes its weakness as one part brings down another. As in an overstressed electrical grid, problems can ripple, then cascade, and finally lead to total collapse.

    From Commentary Magazine

    (Usually too conservative for my tastes, but on this they seem spot on).

    Reply

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