The development schedule of the Institute of the Estonian Language (henceforth: Institute, IEL) is a strategic base document covering the five year period coinciding with the period the scientific topics of the Institute are project-specifically funded. The development schedule is reviewed at the beginning of every year by the IEL Scientific Council. This schedule serves as the basis for the action plans for the given year. The development schedule of the Institute is finally approved, with recommendations, if any, by the IEL International Advisory Board.

The Institute is a R&D facility in the administrative domain of the Ministry of Education and Science, operating under the R&D Act, other legal acts and international agreements. The goal of the Institute is to engage in constructive co-operation with the language departments of Tartu University and Tallinn Pedagogical University, however preserving its independence as a state research institution. Close co-operation is contemplated (primarily in the area of language technology) with the Institute of Cybernetics at Tallinn Technical University.

The Institute was founded on 1 January 1947 as the Institute of Language and Literature at the Academy of Sciences of the ESSR. The original name persisted until 1993 when the departments engaged in the study of literature left the Institute, setting up an independent research establishment “Under & Tuglas Literature Centre”. The research units involved in folklore spun off the Institute in 2000, and are now in the composition of the Estonian Literary Museum. Due to such structural reorganisation the Institute retained only its language research departments. Currently there are three departments, fulfilling two project-specifically funded scientific topics. The Department of Lexicology and the Grammar Department fulfil the topic “Lexical and grammatical structure of the contemporary Estonian language” (2003–2007) and the Department of the Estonian Dialects and Cognate Languages fulfils the topic “Geographic and diachronic transformation of the Estonian language” (2003–2007).


The Institute is a R&D facility with the mission to study the standard Estonian language, Estonian dialects and cognate languages, and to provide for the care, planning and development of the Estonian literary standard.

Main research areas

The main research areas of the Institute are:

  1. research on modern standard Estonian;
  2. research on the origin and history of the Estonian language;
  3. research on the Estonian dialects and cognate languages;
  4. compilation and editing of fundamental original dictionaries important from the viewpoint of the Estonian national culture;
  5. compilation and editing of reference books and source publications, important from the viewpoint of the Estonian national culture;
  6. maintenance and replenishing of databases and scientific archives of standard Estonian, the Estonian dialects and cognate (kin) languages and enabling them to be used by all researchers home and abroad;
  7. promotion of language planning in theory and practice;
  8. co-ordination of terminological work and names planning;
  9. solution of various issues of language theory and general linguistics;
  10. elaboration of devices of language technology for the Estonian language.


The Institute continues holding an important place in the academic study and development of the Estonian language. Besides the current research directions several applied directions are being laid down, first of all, the Estonian-Russian contrastive study, with a direct outcome to positively impact the integration processes. Also, forensic linguistics is being elaborated. As a result, the linkage with practice of the research done in the Institute is becoming tangibly more effective.

Strategic and tactical goals

The Institute aims at achievements of high fundamental and applied value. Therefore it seeks to publish its scientific results in peer-reviewed international issues. In order to meet its tasks as the institute of the national language, the results of research are also published in Estonian. As a result of the R&D activities of the Institute, the Estonian language and culture can benefit from vital basic dictionaries like The Dictionary of the Estonian Language ÕS, The Defining Dictionary of the Standard Language, The Dictionary of the Estonian Dialects, and The Estonian-Russian Dictionary.

The Institute attaches much value to co-operation with other research facilities both home and abroad. It also seeks to participate in domestic and international research projects.

Personnel, post-graduate programmes, structure and resources

For due performance in its area, the Institute must be able to motivate its personnel properly, providing them with all opportunities to engage in life-long education. In the forthcoming years, at least five people at the Institute will defend their doctoral degrees. The reseachers of the Institute are also supervising MA and PhD theses. The Institute is actually turning into a national centre for post-graduate studies, in its area.

In addition to the existent three departments, conditions permitting, a department of applied linguistics will be established. Besides, several ad hoc structural units - working teams are being formed, either embedded in departments, serving as interface between departments, or attracting people from without the Institute.

The IT-based infrastructure of the Institute iss continued to be developed with an aim to create an integrated working environment based on intranet ad providing all researchers with access to language resources. Every member of the personnel will be supplied with a desktop. Developed are both the electronic language resources necessary for work (electronic dictionaries, corpuses) and linguistic implements (software). The ultimate goal is to digitalise the Institute’s sound archives.

Participation in state programs and application for research grants

In order to achieve its goals, the Institute participates actively in state programs, in the first place, “The Estonian language and national culture” (1999 – 2003), “The Estonian language and national memory” (2004 – 2008) and “Collections of the humanities and sciences” (2004 – 2008). The Institute also participates in the program “The South Estonian language and culture”.The IEL employees actively apply for grants from the Estonian Science Foundation.