Earlier this week, some native Russian-speaking members of the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu) said they wouldn’t vote for a resolution, as they claimed that the content pertained only to ethnic Estonians and was without due consideration for other nationalities.

As our linguistic analysis shows, their opinion is based on a mistaken belief. The text of the resolution could be translated into English as follows: “Today marks the 75th anniversary of a tragic day, 14 June 1941, when thousands of the people of Estonia were affected in a bloody reprisal by the communist Soviet regime. On this tragic date, armed members of the occupation forces arrested more than 10,000 Estonian inhabitants in the dead of night and early the following morning.”

The key phrase here is “Eesti inimesed” (people of Estonia), which some Riigikogu members interpreted as meaning only “ethnic Estonians.” They concluded that the resolution excluded other nationalities that were victims of the deportations. In this case, however, capitalisation of the word “Eesti” is key. When the word is used as an adjective to denote nationality, the first letter is not capitalised. Had the resolution referred only to ethnic Estonians, the text would have read “eesti inimesed” (“Estonian people” or “people who are Estonian”), which could be interpreted in different ways.

This linguistic issue is familiar to many professional translators, and the Institute of the Estonian Language has also weighed in, noting that place names are written with a lowercase first letter when referring to peoples and tribes. As a result, it is incorrect to accuse the authors of the text in question of discriminating against anyone on the basis of ethnicity. As a capital letter is used in the word “Eesti,” it is clear that the text refers to all inhabitants of Estonia without prejudice to their ethnicity.

We enjoy working with different languages and appreciate the differences. Our goal isn’t to disparage or accuse anyone but only to spread the word about correct usage.