Martin  Ehala Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Martin Ehala

University of Tartu

My research interests are focused on language ecology, particularly on the question of why some ethno-linguistic communities remain sustainable while others assimilate to other groups. Recognizing that the focal question here is the strength of collective identity, I have pursued to develop a theory of identity that would enable to explain the complexities of intergroup dynamics, cultural change and assimilation. My particular expertise lies in the interethnic processes in the Baltic countries.


    PhD, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, 1996

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    My PhD dissertation "Self-organisation and language change" theorized under which conditions a change happens in a language and how it disseminates through the speech community. In my early years I published on different aspects of language change, its dynamics, progression, constraints and outcomes, mostly on the data from the Estonian language. This research has provided me with a strong base for theorizing about other changes in the social realm.

    The last 20 years, my focus has been on language sustainability, i.e. why some languages are being used over generations while others are abandoned when their speakers shift to other languages.  It is a complex phenomenon that depends on human geographic, demographic, economic, political and cultural factors that form a complex environment for each language community. However, the process of language extinction as a social phenomenon is not very different from the process of language change.

    While many factors that contribute to language extinction are beyond the control of the speakers of the language, or the language community as a group, there is one element that can be modified by the community to increase its own sustainability - it is their collective identity. For this reason, the last 12 years of my research has been focussed on elaborating a theory of collective identity that would explicate the mechanisms of group formation and sustainability, collective action, and the nature of intergroup relations.

    For this task I needed to familiarize myself with identity research in a wide range of disciplines, such as social and political psychology, ethnography, sociology, semiotics, history and philosophy. I have found a large array of approaches and immense number of individual studies on different aspects of identity. Yet there is a scarcity of meta studies, and a total lack of interdisciplinary meta studies. Filling this gap is where my research activities are currently aimed at. "Signs of Identity" is just a first step in this direction.



Featured Title
 Featured Title - Signs of Identity - Ehala - 1st Edition book cover


Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication

Intergroup Communication: The Baltic Countries

Published: Apr 15, 2017 by Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication
Authors: Ehala, Martin

Intergroup communication in the Baltic setting is particularly interesting, since the three countries have several historical parallels: the Russian-speaking communities have fairly similar origin, but different size and prominence. These differences in the power balance between the majority and minority have been one of the major factors that have motivated different rhetoric by the nationalizing states, which has resulted in noticeably different outcomes in each setting.

International Journal of Multilingualism

Refining the Notion of Ethnolinguistic Vitality

Published: Mar 03, 2010 by International Journal of Multilingualism
Authors: Ehala, Martin

The sustainability (S) of an ethnolinguistic group is the function of the group's strength (S) and vitality (V) in dealing with the challenges that the social environment (E) of the group poses (S = V + S – E). The crucial factor is vitality which is the potential for collective action to safeguard the group from environmental challenges. Vitality depends directly on social psychological factors that influence the group's shared perception of the interethnic situation.

Journal of Baltic Studies 40.1 (2009): 139-158.

The Bronze Soldier: identity threat and maintenance in Estonia

Published: Mar 01, 2009 by Journal of Baltic Studies 40.1 (2009): 139-158.
Authors: Ehala, Martin

The paper analyses the events leading to the relocation of a WW2 monument in Tallinn. The tension building up around the monument reflected the threat to the ethnic identities caused by a speedy integration process to Europe together with the emergence of consumerist identities. The consequences of the relocation of the monument lead to reaffirmation of ethnic identities – sharpening of the group prototypes and boundaries.


What is essentialist and what is not in ethnicity?

By: Martin Ehala

Poster presentation at the 40th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology at Edinburgh.

Interest toward my approach was lively, and I had many exiting conversations about the identity issues. I found that poster presentation is a better way to disseminate ideas and get feedback than traditional oral presentation, particularly if there is very little time for questions, as was the case in this year's meeting.