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Factors Affecting the Language Choices: Interplay Between the Ideological and Practical

This section discusses findings related to different aspects of language policy in the studied community. This section is organized thematically around the most important findings of the study. First it analyzes how the official policy was interpreted by the members of the organizations. Next, it explores how the members of the organizations talked about the effects of the policy and how they advocate for certain behaviors according to, or regardless of, what they perceived as the policy. This is followed by an analysis of the ideological aspects of the policy, and finally the actual use of different languages is studied on the micro level, in informal interactions.

Discrepancy Between the Official Policy and How It Was Interpreted

The document that serves as a basis for the existence of the studied Estonian-Finnish community is called the soprusleping/ystavyyssopimus, “agreement of friendship”, which was signed in two original copies (one in Estonian, and one in Finnish) in Tartu in 1933. The eighth paragraph of the agreement states the language policy of the group as follows (in Estonian[1]):

Kumbki lepingupool omavahelises kirjavahetuses tarvitab oma keelt.

Both parties are to use their own languages in mutual correspondence.

Thus, the organizations have an official policy of using RM, but this applies only to official written communication. The existence of an explicit policy does not guarantee that it will be implemented or even known by people it is addressed to. Indeed, ethnographic observation suggested that the actual content of the official policy was not known to all the members of the organizations. For this reason the survey contained a question that aimed to determine how the rule was understood. The question translates to English as follows: “The agreement of friendship contains a paragraph on language use. What does it say? If you are not sure, please answer according to what you think it says.” The responses to this open-ended question were categorized as illustrated in Fig. 1 (in absolute numbers). One answer could contain features from several categories, but for the most part the answers fell into only one category.

As Fig. 1 shows, the majority of the respondents thought that the language policy of the group contains the idea of “everyone always using their mother tongue.” Finnish respondents (15/31) in particular conceived of this as a positive right; their answers included such words/expressions as “can” or “is allowed to.” Out of 29 Estonians, five used similar expressions. Of the respondents, 16% thought that the policy of using one’s mother tongue was restricted to official contexts. Other answers contained ideas of learning and respecting the other language. A few respondents thought that the language policy emphasizes the importance of mutual understanding and allows participants to select the language according to interactional needs.

It is interesting that none of the respondents knew the exact, correct answer, even though two Finnish and two Estonian respondents mentioned official correspondence as part of their answers. Thus, the interpretations of the language policy were

Official language policy according to the respondents very different from the actual official policy

Fig. 1 Official language policy according to the respondents very different from the actual official policy. This shows that as a written document the agreement of friendship is not central to the community, but the policy has been passed down in terms of practices and as oral information. It is interesting to note that the respondents thought that the policy applies to a wider variety of contexts than it actually does. This leads us to think that RM is used more widely than the official policy imposes, and/or RM is somewhat idealized.

  • [1] All translations are by the author.
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