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Map of the Estonian Diaspora in the World.svg
Countries with significant Estonian population and descendants.
Total population
c. 1.1 million[ citation needed ]
Regions with significant populations
Flag of Estonia.svg  Estonia 919,711 (2021) [1]
Other significant population centers:
Flag of Finland.svg  Finland 49,590–100,000 [lower-alpha 1] [2] [3]
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 27,113 [4]
Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden 25,509 [5]
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 24,000 [6]
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia 17,875 [7]
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom 10,000–15,000 [8]
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 7,543 [9]
Flag of Germany.svg  Germany 6,286 [10]
Flag of Norway.svg  Norway 5,092 [11]
Flag of Ukraine.svg  Ukraine 2,868 [12]
Flag of Ireland.svg  Ireland 2,560 [13]
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium 2,000 [14]
Flag of Latvia.svg  Latvia 1,676 [15]
Flag of Denmark.svg  Denmark 1,606 [16]
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands 1,482 [17]
Primarily Estonian
also Võro and Seto
Majority irreligious
Historically Protestant Christian (Lutheranism) [18] [19]
Currently Lutheran and regional Eastern Orthodox (Estonian Apostolic Orthodox) minority
Related ethnic groups
Other Baltic Finns

Estonians or Estonian people (Estonian : eestlased) are a Finnic ethnic group native to Estonia who speak the Estonian language.


The Estonian language is spoken as the first language by the vast majority of Estonians; it is closely related to other Finnic languages, e.g. Finnish, Karelian and Livonian. The Finnic languages are a subgroup of the larger Uralic family of languages, which also includes, e.g., the Sami languages. These languages are markedly different from most other native languages spoken in Europe, most of which have been assigned to Indo-European family of languages. Estonians can also be classified into subgroups according to dialects (e.g., Võros, Setos), although such divisions have become less pronounced due to internal migration and rapid urbanisation in Estonia in the 20th century.

There are approximately 1.1 million ethnic Estonians and their descendants with some degree of Estonian identity worldwide; the large majority of them are living in Estonia.


Prehistoric roots

Estonia was first inhabited about 10,000 years ago, just after the ice from the Baltic Ice Lake had melted. Living in the same area for more than 5,000 years would put the ancestors of Estonians among the oldest permanent inhabitants in Europe. [20] On the other hand, some recent linguistic estimations suggest that Finno-Ugric language speakers arrived around the Baltic Sea considerably later, perhaps during the Early Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BCE). [21] [22] [23]

The oldest known endonym of the Estonians is maarahvas, [24] literally meaning "land people" or "country folk". It was used up until the mid-19th century, when it was gradually replaced by Eesti rahvas "Estonian people" during the Estonian national awakening. [25] [26] Eesti, the modern endonym of Estonia, is thought to be derived from the word Aestii , the name used by the ancient Germanic tribes for the people living northeast of the mouth of river Vistula. The Roman historian Tacitus in 98 CE was the first to mention the "Aestii" people. In Old Norse the land south of the Gulf of Finland was called Eistland and the people eistr. The first known book in Estonian language was printed in 1525, while the oldest known examples of written Estonian originate in 13th-century chronicles.

National consciousness

Estonian national costumes:
1. Kadrina 2. Mihkli 3. Seto 4. Paistu Eesti rahvaroivad-EE 1.jpg
Estonian national costumes:
1. Kadrina 2. Mihkli 3. Seto 4. Paistu
Estonian national costumes:
5. Muhu 6. Karja 7. Tostamaa 8. Parnu-Jaagupi Eesti rahvaroivad-EE 2.jpg
Estonian national costumes:
5. Muhu 6. Karja 7. Tõstamaa 8. Pärnu-Jaagupi

Although Estonian national consciousness spread in the course of the 19th century during the Estonian national awakening, [27] some degree of ethnic awareness preceded this development. [28] By the 18th century the self-denomination eestlane spread among Estonians along with the older maarahvas. [24] Anton thor Helle's translation of the Bible into Estonian appeared in 1739, and the number of books and brochures published in Estonian increased from 18 in the 1750s to 54 in the 1790s. By the end of the century more than a half of adult peasants could read. The first university-educated intellectuals identifying themselves as Estonians, including Friedrich Robert Faehlmann (1798–1850), Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801–1822) and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803–1882), appeared in the 1820s. The ruling elites had remained predominantly German in language and culture since the conquest of the early 13th century. Garlieb Merkel (1769–1850), a Baltic-German Estophile, became the first author to treat the Estonians as a nationality equal to others; he became a source of inspiration for the Estonian national movement, modelled on Baltic German cultural world before the middle of the 19th century. However, in the middle of the century, the Estonians became more ambitious and started leaning toward the Finns as a successful model of national movement and, to some extent, toward the neighbouring Latvian national movement. By the end of 1860 the Estonians became unwilling to reconcile with German cultural and political hegemony. Before the attempts at Russification in the 1880s, their view of Imperial Russia remained positive. [28]

Estonians have strong ties to the Nordic countries stemming from important cultural and religious influences gained over centuries during Scandinavian and German rule and settlement. [29] Indeed, Estonians consider themselves Nordic rather than Baltic, [30] [31] in particular because of close ethnic and linguistic affinities with the Finns.

After the Treaty of Tartu (1920) recognised Estonia's 1918 independence from Russia, ethnic Estonians residing in Russia gained the option of opting for Estonian citizenship (those who opted were called optandid – 'optants') and returning to their fatherland. An estimated 40,000 Estonians lived in Russia in 1920. In sum, 37,578 people moved from Soviet Russia to Estonia (1920–1923). [32] [ failed verification ]


During World War II, when Estonia was invaded by the Soviet Army in 1944, large numbers of Estonians fled their homeland on ships or smaller boats over the Baltic Sea. Many refugees who survived the risky sea voyage to Sweden or Germany later moved from there to Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States or Australia. [33] Some of these refugees and their descendants returned to Estonia after the nation regained its independence in 1991.

Over the years of independence, increasing numbers of Estonians have chosen to work abroad, primarily in Finland, but also in other European countries (mostly in the UK, Benelux, Sweden, and Germany), making Estonia the country with the highest emigration rate in Europe. [34] This is at least partly due to the easy access to oscillating migration to Finland.

Recognising the problems arising from both low birth rate and high emigration, the country has launched various measures to both increase the birth rate and to lure migrant Estonians back to Estonia. Former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves has lent his support to the campaign Talendid koju! ("Bringing talents home!") [35] which aims to coordinate and promote the return of Estonians who have particular skills needed in Estonia.

Estonians in Canada

One of the largest permanent Estonian community outside Estonia is in Canada with about 24,000 people [6] (according to some sources up to 50,000 people). [36] In the late 1940s and early 1950s, about 17,000 arrived in Canada, initially to Montreal. [37] Toronto is currently the city with the largest population of Estonians outside of Estonia. The first Estonian World Festival was held in Toronto in 1972. Some notable Estonian Canadians include Endel Tulving, Elmar Tampõld, Alison Pill, Uno Prii, Kalle Lasn, and Andreas Vaikla.


Estonians have 49.5% haplogroup R1a [38] and 34% haplogroup N1c. [39]

See also


  1. Statistics Finland does not record ethnicity and instead categorizes the population by their native language; in 2017, Estonian was spoken as a mother tongue by 49,590 people, not all of whom may be ethnic Estonians. [2]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Demographics of Estonia</span>

The demographics of Estonia in the 21st century result from historical trends over more than a thousand years, as with most European countries, but have been disproportionately influenced by events in the second half of the 20th century. The Soviet occupation (1944–1991), extensive immigration from Russia and other parts of the former USSR, and the eventual restoration of independence of Estonia, have all had a major effect on Estonia's current ethnic makeup.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estonian language</span> Uralic language

Estonian is a Finnic language, written in the Latin script. It is the official language of Estonia and one of the official languages of the European Union, spoken natively by about 1.1 million people; 922,000 people in Estonia and 160,000 outside Estonia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Finno-Ugric languages</span> Disputed grouping of Uralic languages

Finno-Ugric or Finno-Ugrian (Fenno-Ugrian), is a traditional grouping of all languages in the Uralic language family except the Samoyedic languages. Its formerly commonly accepted status as a subfamily of Uralic is based on criteria formulated in the 19th century and is criticized by some contemporary linguists such as Tapani Salminen and Ante Aikio as inaccurate and misleading. The three most-spoken Uralic languages, Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian, are all included in Finno-Ugric, although linguistic roots common to both branches of the traditional Finno-Ugric language tree are distant.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baltic states</span> Three countries east of the Baltic Sea

The Baltic states or the Baltic countries is a geopolitical term, which currently is used to group three countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. All three countries are members of NATO, the European Union, the Eurozone, and the OECD. The three sovereign states on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea are sometimes referred to as the "Baltic nations", less often and in historical circumstances also as the "Baltic republics", the "Baltic lands", or simply the Baltics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Latvians</span> Ethnic group

Latvians are a Baltic ethnic group and nation native to Latvia and the immediate geographical region, the Baltics. They are occasionally also referred to as Letts, especially in older bibliography. Latvians share a common Latvian language, culture and history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Finns</span> Baltic Finnic ethnic group indigenous to Finland

Finns or Finnish people are a Baltic Finnic ethnic group native to Finland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chud</span> Loose term for Finnic peoples in Old Russian chronicles

Chud or Chude is a term historically applied in the early East Slavic annals to several Finnic peoples in the area of what is now Estonia, Karelia and Northwestern Russia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ludic language</span> Finnic language of southern Karelia, Russia

Ludic, or Ludian, or Ludic Karelian, is a Finnic language in the Uralic language family or a Karelian dialect. It is transitional between the Olonets Karelian language and the Veps language. It is spoken by 300 Karelians in the Republic of Karelia in Russia, near the southwestern shore of Lake Onega, including a few children.

The Aesti were an ancient people first described by the Roman historian Tacitus in his treatise Germania. According to Tacitus, the land of Aesti was located somewhere east of the Suiones.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heimosodat</span> Interwar conflicts in Finnic territory

The Finnish Heimosodat, refer to a series of armed conflicts and private military expeditions in 1918–1922 into the areas of the former Russian Empire which were neighbouring Finland and inhabited in large part by other Finnic peoples. The term has been translated into English as "Kindred Nations Wars", "Wars for kindred peoples", "Kinfolk wars", or "Kinship Wars," specifically Finnic kinship. It is sometimes erroneously translated as "Tribal wars". Finnish volunteers took part in these conflicts either to assert Finnish control over the areas inhabited by related Finnic peoples, or to help them gain independence from Russia. Many of the volunteer soldiers were inspired by the idea of Greater Finland. Some of the conflicts were incursions from Finland and some were local uprisings, where volunteers wanted either to help the people in their fight for independence or to annex the areas to Finland. According to Roselius, about 10,000 volunteers from Finland took part in the armed conflicts mentioned below.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ludza Estonians</span> Ethnic group in Latvia

The Ludza Estonians are a group of ethnic Estonians living in and around Ludza, south-eastern Latvia.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Languages of Estonia</span> Languages of a geographic region

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baltic Finnic peoples</span> Finno-Ugric peoples resident to the Baltic seashores

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nordic identity in Estonia</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Finnic peoples</span> Historical-linguistic group of people who speak Finnic languages

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Further reading