Identification. The Estonians are a nominally Lutheran and Orthodox people inhabiting their own nation on the Baltic Sea and having their own language and culture despite having been dominated by foreign powers over most of their history.
Location. The nation of Estonia, with an area of 45,125 square kilometers, is located between 57°30′ and 59°49′ N and 21°46′ and 28°13′ E. It is bounded on the north and west by the Baltic Sea, on the east by Russia, and on the south by Latvia. The climate is maritime and cool, the topography is flat, and there are many rivers and lakes. The precipitation (61-71 centimeters annually), together with a very low evaporation rate and flat topography, often results in saturated soil. The soil is also very rocky, especially in the north. Forty percent of Estonia is forested, and 80 percent of the trees are coniferous.
Demography. The population of the nation of Estonia was estimated at 1,581,000 in 1991. Ethnic Estonians constitute 61.2 percent of this total, Russians 30.3 percent, Ukrainians 3.1 percent, Belarussians 1.8 percent, and Finns 1.1 percent; there are small numbers of Jews, Tatars, and Germans as well. The birthrate was 14 per 1,000 persons, and infant mortality was 25 per 1,000 live births in 1989. More than 72,000 Estonians left Estonia in August and September of 1944, fleeing the Soviet forces who were following the retreating Germans. Most of these people went to Germany and Sweden, although the majority of those in Germany have since emigrated to the United States and Canada.
Linguistic Affiliation. Estonian belongs to the Baltic-Finnic Division of the Finno-Ugric Branch of the Uralic Language Family; it is mutually intelligible with Finnish and is thus related to Livonian, Mordvin, Zyrien, Karelian, Votic, Ingrian, and Veps and distantly to Hungarian. Estonian is famous for its three degrees of consonant and vowel length. The vocabulary currently contains many German loanwords. Structurally, inflection is primarily by use of suffixes. Estonian has two main dialects, the southern or Tartu, and the northern or Tallinn; the latter is spoken by the majority of Estonians and is the standard Estonian literary dialect. Some subdialects show the influence of other languages; for example, the western subdialect of the northern dialect exhibits Swedish influence. All of the Estonians plus .3 percent of the other people living in Estonia (i.e., 61.5 percent in all) speak Estonian as their native language. Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it has been necessary to demonstrate proficiency in Estonian to acquire Estonian citizenship.