Estonian

Estonian belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic languages and is spoken in Estonia.

Basic Estonian phrases Learn

Estonian holiday phrases ordered by topic.

Basic phrases 1Learn

Estonian Numbers. 1 to 10 Learn

Days and seasons Learn

Months Learn

Fruit Learn

Food words. General Learn

Sample text in Estonian

An extract from the Estonian version of the Little Prince as translated by Ott Ojamaa and published by Tiritamm.

Il Piccolo Principe (the Little Prince)

Kui olin kuueaastane, nägin kord ühes raamatus, mille nimi oli "Tõestisündinud lood", toredat pilti ürgmetsadest. See kujutas boamadu, kes parajasti mingit metslooma alla neelas. Siin ongi selle joonistuse koopia.

When I was six, I once saw a beautiful picture of primeval forests in a book called True Stories. It depicted a boamadu who was currently swallowing a wild animal. Here is a copy of this drawing.

The Lords Prayer in Estonian

Meieisapalve

Meie Isa, kes Sa oled taevas!
Pühitsetud olgu Sinu nimi. Sinu riik tulgu.
Sinu tahtmine sündigu nagu taevas, nõnda ka maa peal.
Meie igapäevast leiba anna meile tänapäev.
Ja anna meile andeks meie võlad,
nagu meiegi andeks anname oma võlglastele.
Ja ära saada meid kiusatusse,
vaid päästa meid ära kurjast.
Sest Sinu päralt on riik ja vägi ja au igavesti.
Aamen.

Estonian

Estonia is the smallest and northernmost of the three Baltic states, with Latvia to the south, Russia to the East, bounded on the north and west by the Baltic Sea. This is a region of marked ethnic and linguistic diversity, and the Estonian language is historically distinct from those spoken in the neighbouring countries. It is one of the few European languages which are not derived from the Indo-European linguistic family. Its closest major kinship is with Finnish and it belongs to the Baltic-Finnic sub-family of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family. The origins of this language group are thought to lie further east in the region of the Urals and it is possible that the ancestors of the Estonians moved into the Baltic area as early as four to five thousand years ago. The Ugric group moved southwest, giving rise to a number of languages of which the largest is Hungarian. Despite their common origins Hungarian and Estonian are mutually incomprehensible.

The diversity of the tribes living in the Baltic region and their relative backwardness made them a tempting target for the expansionist inclinations of their larger regional neighbours. By the early part of the 13th century what is now northern Estonia had been occupied by Danes and southern Estonia and Latvia, known as Livonia at the time, colonized by Germans.

For the next three centuries the German influence predominated within a feudal structure overseen by the Knights of the Teutonic order. The native Estonians remained an essentially rural sub-class, retaining their language and their folklore. This state of affairs was brought to an end by the mounting threat from Russia which compelled the loose confederation of Baltic states to seek help elsewhere. Northern Estonia came under Swedish rule, while its southern territories were initially controlled by Poland and then, in 1629, also by Sweden. In the early 18th century it was the turn of the Russians to control Estonia. Towards the end of the 19th century an active process of russification began. Russian control ended for the time being during the chaotic years at the end of World War I and Estonia and the other Baltic states had gained full independence by 1920. This was lost in 1940. The country suffered greatly under both Soviet and German occupation and after the war Estonia underwent a second phase of russification. Estonian, which had been the state language since independence, was downgraded. It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union that Estonian once again became the only state language.

Given all these vicissitudes it is extraordinary that Estonian survived and not surprising that in the course of its development it has been influenced by the languages of its neighbours and colonisers, in particular German, Russian, Swedish and Latvian.

The Estonian language

Non-Indo-European languages present the native English speaker with particular challenges. Word origins are not shared so acquiring a vocabulary is more difficult, and the grammatical structure can be radically different. Both these factors are true of Estonian.

On the plus side there is no grammatical gender in Estonian nor is there a definite or indefinite article; there are also many imported words which tend to turn up in areas of interest to the visitor, krediitkaarte and tualettpaber being two useful examples.

German speakers will be helped by the large proportion of German load words. Another positive is that Estonian is a highly phonetic language.

Two important characteristice of Estonian are that it is primarily an agglutinative language and that it has a special syllable-accent system.

An agglutinative language is one in which meaning is conveyed more by adding components to words rather than relying on word order or prepositions, so in Estonian single words often have to be unpacked into an English phrase. This process can frequently be seen at work in English, although it is not a primarily agglutinative language like Estonian, e.g. in the formation of words like 'beautiful', 'backwards', 'fullness', 'hyperactivity', etc and especially in the formation of new words, particularly from Latin and Greek.

The Estonian syllable-accent system is unusual. It has three contrasting vowel and consonant lengths, short, long and 'overlong', which can represent important differences in meaning. Thus taevas (short e) means 'sky', taevas (long e) 'in the sky'; lina 'linen', linna (two short n's) 'of the city', linna (long n and short n) 'into the city'.

Long sounds are simply indicated by doubling the vowel or consonant. The extra-long sound is not indicated by any special mark, but among the consonants b d g count as singles, while p t k are doubles and pp tt kk are extra-long.

Related languages

Estonian belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic languages. It is distantly related to Hungarian.

Resources

Estonian phrases ordered by topic.
BBC quick fix estonian. Essential Estonian phrases from the BBC.

Learning Method

Original

Related languages

Hungarian