Bilingual communication in Tallinn and Ida-Virumaa: regional patterns

Anastassia Zabrodskaja

Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia / University of Helsinki, Finland

WS127: Multilingualism in post-Soviet countries

This study discerns different language choice patterns between Russian-speakers in two diverse geographical areas: bilingual Tallinn and mostly Russian-populated Ida-Virumaa. An analysis of the language choice patterns on micro level is presented from the results of the questionnaires in combination with fieldwork made in both communities. The data comes from recorded conversations as well as observation of informants’ bilingual practices in everyday language behaviour.

The results show how age, level of education, neighborhood and other social variables influence the choice of the Estonian language. The use of both languages and code-switching functions in informal intergenerational conversation within the family and in other social settings is analyzed.

There are considerable differences in bilingual communication between two settings. In Tallinn, bilingualism is on the increase. While the speaker of Estonian as L2 is more likely to be a young, upward-mobile person, it would be wrong to conclude that middle-age people are monolingual. Compared to Russian-dominant areas in North East, Russian-speakers of Tallinn are more exposed to Estonian and use a variety of compromise strategies if they are not confident enough in their proficiency (so-called “marked discourse”, frequent code-switching). The evidence from Tallinn points at internalization of practices earlier used for Russian-to-Estonian communication: some discourse markers have entered the repertoire of monolingual Russian-speakers.

If in Tallinn Estonian may be considered to be the second language for Russian-speakers, then in Ida-Virumaa Estonian is more like a foreign language. Here, only young Russian-speakers have a more sovereign command of Estonian than their parents and are essentially moving towards primary use of Estonian as they become socialized into the larger society. Self-identification with Estonia or Russia actuates variations in Estonian language skills, degree of contacts with Estonians, and in linguistic and cultural identity.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Multilingualism in post-Soviet countries
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 17