Back to top

On the diffusion of some recently proposed Estonian words

In 2002, a new word contest was held in Estonia, which resulted in the proposition of eleven new words to replace some of the foreign loanwords often used in the context of European legislation. The main goal of this article was to investigate whether these new words have gone through successful diffusion (as described by E. Rogers, 2003) or whether they have been rejected by the general public. Additionally, through the use of corpora texts, the dynamics of the diffusion could be mapped and compared to the predictions of some recent mathematical models (such as that of Fagyal et al, 2010).


It was found that out of the eleven words proposed, five were in wider use. These words were üleilmastumine ‘globalization’, lõimumine ‘integration’, tõukefondid ‘structural funds’, vabaühendus ‘non-governmental organization’, õigustik ‘acquis’. In contrast, the use of words such as kriisiohjamine ‘crisis management’ and täisleppimatus ‘zero tolerance’ had, as of 2009, not been adopted by the general public. Low frequency in corpora did not allow closer analysis of other words proposed during the contest.


The diffusion of new words does not generally follow the S-shaped diffusion pattern proposed by Rogers. It was further found that the rate of diffusion is typically not constant over time: the process of diffusion can stop or even reverse unexpectedly (in agreement with recent results by Chalvin, 2011).