Estonian Sign Language

Estonian Sign Language (ESL, Estonian: Eesti viipekeel) is the national sign language of Estonia. In 1998 there were about 4,500 signers out of a deaf population of 2000 and a hearing-impaired population ten times that number. It is widespread in the cities of Tallinn and Pärnu among deaf ethnic Estonians; deaf Russians in Tallinn use Russian Sign Language, Russians outside Tallinn tend to use a RussianEstonian Sign Language pidgin, or may be bilingual. In its formative stages, Estonian Sign Language was influenced by Russian and Finnish Sign Language; for example, the ESL sign for 'butterfly' developed from the Finnish sign for 'bird'. There are several dialects, the most archaic of which is the Pärnu variety.

Estonian Sign Language
Native toEstonia
Native speakers
1,500 (2011)[1]
influenced by Russian Sign
Language codes
ISO 639-3eso

Like other sign languages, ESL is influenced by the local oral language. For instance, some signs are based on fingerspelling the first letter of an Estonian word, as in the sign for restoran 'restaurant'.

Instruction for parents of deaf children is available in Tallinn. Teaching and research began in 1990 at Tartu University.


  1. Estonian Sign Language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Estonian Sign Language". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

Further reading

  • Hollman, Liivi, and Urmas Sutrop. "Basic Color Terms in Estonian Sign Language." Sign Language Studies 11.2 (2010): 130-157.

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