- -  Day # 43  + +

EU > Estonia > Tallinn

Estonian Language

Tallinn, EE (View on map)

It may not come as a surprise that the main language in Estonia is Estonian. Over one million people speak it as their first language, leaving a second place for Russian which used to be the main language of public communication until the early 1990s. Estonian is related to Finnish and, at a larger distance, Hungarian. This so called Finno-Ugric language group has very little similarities with other European languages. Today, I am hoping to learn more about the language that Estonians are so proud of.

Marko (23):

`Estonian has plenty of swearing words`
Estonian could be mistaken for a Scandinavian language when overheard by an unexperienced ear. The wide range and unlimited use of vowels makes Estonian in a way the opposite of Polish. A, O and U come with a variety of accents, including an O `con tilde`, ?. Vowels and accents together create words words like ?? meaning `night`, and j????r, meaning `edge of the ice`. Estonians do not have any problem glueing words together. The length of a single word is therefore virtually unlimited.

Estonian has no fewer than 14 cases, which makes it very difficult for foreigners to learn proper Estonian. Mari-Liis (18) tells me that even Estonians need to learn which one is used when. The advantage of the system is that you can use words in mixed order without changing the sense of the sentence.

Estonian does not have a present tense. They don`t say I will send you a postcard, their language only allows them to specify that they are going to send a post card. Also, there is no he or she, just it. You seems to be written with capital letters in written communication. A nice change from the Anglo-American system that reserves capital letters for the writer him- or herself: me, myself and I.

Marko (23, photo) introduces me into Estonian swearing. While Lithuania and Latvia mainly use Russian words for serious insults or offences, Estonia has got many of its own. Sex and the devil seem to be present in the most frequently used foul language. Raisk means `damn` and can be used for all occasions. Kurat v?taks, means `may the devil take you` and other favourites include Estonian versions of `asshole` and alikes.

On my first day in Estonia, I was taught that Estonians `think nine times and cut once`. There are more sayings that quite well explain the Estonian mentality. `Who laughs last, laughs best` is one of them and Villu, whom I interviewed yesterday is so kind to send me some more by email:

KIVI KOTTI! ? ?stone into your bag!? - Used to wish someone good luck executing a project
T?MBA UTTU! ? ?pull into the fog!? - Get lost
LAKU PANNI! ? ?lick the pan!? - This for answering to not give anything -
MUNEMA ? ?to lay eggs? - This is ment to describe not doing anything or being lazy.

Although most young Estonians speak English, they do expect long-term visitors to learn a bit of Estonian. This criterion particularly applies to Russian people living in Estonia. They need to have a basic level of Estonian to even become citizens of Estonia, even those who have lived on Estonian territory all their lives but happened to be born before 1992. Tomorrow`s article will shed some more light on the recent problems between Russians and Estonians, also on non-language related issues.

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