Quebec and Estonia

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This is an unofficial English translation of "Le Québec et l'Estonie", an article found in a special issue of the OQLF's Revue d'aménagement linguistique published for the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Québec's Charter of the French language in 2002.

Mart Rannut, vice-dean of research at the Department of Philology of the University of Tallinn, in Estonia.

During the period of independent legislation (already possible in 1988, when Estonia still formed part of the Soviet Union, then in the process of collapse), Estonia adopted two laws directly regulating the use of language. The first, adopted in 1989, was a transitory law of standardization, of which many provisions aimed at protecting the use of bilingualism by individuals, providing for a transitional period towards Estonian for physical persons. The second, adopted in 1995, founded the current linguistic system with a single national language and some options for the use of other languages according to the region (territorial autonomy), the minority group (cultural autonomy) and the functional field (like tourism and trade).

At the time of the drafting of the Estonian language Law of 1989, local knowhow in this field was insufficient. It was thus necessary to resort to external help. One of my colleagues, Tiiu Erelt, pleasantly offered me documentation coming from Quebec, the text of Bill 101 and the comments relative to this law, which were analyzed attentively. It is on this basis that Arvo Eek, Väino Villik, Kaido Pihlakas, Aare Tark, Mart Meri and Mart Rannut wrote a preliminary version, which was then sent in Finland to Liisa Huovinen-Nyberg and Mikael Reuter, researchers of the KOTUS, the research center on national languages, whose observations and recommendations were very invaluable. Certain ideas were given up or radically changed during the political campaign of the parliamentary committee. (At that time, the Parliament, the Supreme Soviet, was still a place where one voted by a raising the hand, and it was not recommended to express divergent opinions there.) In spite of the great number of changes, the basic ideas drawn from Bill 101 were still recognizable in the final version which was adopted.

The law had an enormous influence. Some of its elements were retaken by other Baltic States and countries that had gained independence from the former Soviet Union. In addition, the experience gained by writing this law enabled us to advise Moldova in 1989 and Yakutia, to make our regulation on the language known to a delegation of Kazakhstan and to hold several meetings with specialists in the Ukraine. Thus, Bill 101 indirectly touched one sixth of the planet.

Many researchers have analyzed the similarities or, more precisely, the bonds between the Estonian language law and Bill 101.

See also