One of my e-penfriends comes from Estonia. Estonia. Estonia – isn’t this the country, where-? Erm, no. And which-? No. So what do I know about it?
OK, so what does Wikipedia know about it? 1,3 million inhabitants. Lovely. But let’s have a look at the language first, must be interesting.

The official language of Estonia is Estonian, they themselves call it eesti keel. Though also one of the EU languages, it is not an Indo-European language. It is Finno-Ugric and thus related to Finnish and Hungarian.

Hm, this could become interesting. Remember the time you thought you could learn Hungarian? I wonder how many vowels and how many grammatical cases they have.

The Estonian alphabet consists of 32 letters. Ouch. Slovenian has only 25. They include Õ, Ä, Ö, Ü among other things. That’s nice. It’s also a funny feeling to be able to pronounce at least three of the Estonian vowels.

A distinctive feature of Estonian is its three degrees of phoneme length: short, long and overlong.

Hm. So I may not be able to say anything resembling Estonian, ever. OK, such is life. Now, what about those cases?

Nouns and pronouns do not have grammatical gender. That’s good! No DER, DIE, DAS in Estonian then. How very modern. Let’s continue. What-?!?

Nouns and adjectives decline in fourteen cases. Fourteen, ladies and gentlemen. And you thought Slovenian was difficult.

The cases are called nominative, genitive, partitive, illative, inessive, elative, allative, adessive, ablative, translative, terminative, essive, abessive, and comitative.

I just have to have a closer look at their meaning. I’ve never heard of them before!

Partitive denotes partialness, being without result or without special identity.

Illative basically means INTO (into the house).

Inessive basically stands for IN (in the house).

Elative means OUT OF (out of the house).

Allative means ONTO (onto the table).

Adessive basically means ON (on the table).

Ablative describes motion AWAY FROM something.

Translative describes a change in the state of a noun (becoming X).

Terminative indicates to what point, where something will end (as far as the river).

Essive describes a temporary state of being (as a child).

Abessive describes lack or absence of the marked noun (without house, homeless).

Comitative denotes companionship (with a dog).

I think I have to stop here. I’ve worked myself into quite a philosophical mood with this research. I’d love to do some thinking now. But, Estonia, I’ll be back soon!

21 responses to “LinguEast

  • Sunshine

    How wrong I was when I thought Slovenian language is difficult. 😳 This sounds like a nightmare if you’re forced to learn it and a huge challenge if you do it voluntarily.

  • alcessa

    Yes, I’d say this language is for learners with a lot of time… Still, it belongs to those really interesting languages, because it contains such unusual elements… Maybe also because there weren’t that many “grammar authorities” working on it in the past? Who knows… 🙂

  • margus

    learning grammar rules is a big pain in the b-hind for us, estonians, too, but learning spoken estonian intuitively doesn’t pose that much of a challenge even for a foreigner. pronunciation is tough though.

    there were grammar authorities working on the estonian language, but the rationalization can’t really eradicate the distinct features that you were amazed about. most common languages in the world besides chinese are Indo-European. If you knew more about microscopic Finno-Ugrian nations that are being harassed in Russia, you wouldn’t think that finnish or hungarian is very special.

  • margus

    btw you should visit a blog by Giustino. he is an Italian-American learning estonian language. mixes english and estonian in his blog: Itching for Eestimaa.

  • ants

    O, Alcessa! Impressed Your knowledges of our language. By the way – fourteen cases, yes, because most prepositions are Not BEFORE, the word, but at the END, expressed with CASE ENDINGS.
    Giustino has really quickly began speak estonian, yet his blogs are very interesting at all!
    “Kes püüab kõigest väest, saab üle igast mäest” (Who strives on with might and main, gets over every mountain peak!) “Jõudu tööle! (Power to your ellbow)

  • alcessa

    Margus: Thank you very much for commenting!! I am going to have a look for audio files of spoken Estonian some time soon, just to see how difficult it really is 🙂 In my opinion, all the really charming languages have distinct features that evolved naturally and could not be overruled by grammarians’ lust for rules… For example: Old English used to have traces of dual… Modern English is highly elaborate, though. My mother tongue, Slovenian, has dual, too (used for saying things like: We two went for a walk) and I love it. Also, I think it is worthwhile to preserve one’s mother tongue, no matter how tiny one is as a nation. There are only 2 millions of Slovenians and we need(ed) to stick to our language quite a lot. 🙂
    This post is the first in a series about Estonia and Estonian language (I want to know more about it and the best way to do so, apart from reading Ants’ mails, is to do some online research). You and your friends are hereby invited to comment upon my endeavours to get to know Estonia anytime you want to 🙂 . OK? And I’ll have a look at the blog you suggested soon.

  • alcessa

    Ants: Hello! Yes, I know that the prepositions do not go before, I just wanted to illustrate the meaning. As I said above, I am going to do some online research on Estonia and write about it. Please, do comment if you feel the need to, I am very curious about your country. Also: I got your e-mail, thank you. 🙂

    Tell me: why does my elbow need power? 😀

  • ants

    Alcessa! ‘power to your ellbow’ – I discowered from my Est-Engl dictionary, as a synonym of ‘God speed your work’. May send to You some estonian sond, if You have interested. But You have to mail me Your postal address. Liked ‘We two went for a walk’. Sounds pleasent warm!

  • ants

    Excuse me of a misprint – not sond, but SONG.

  • Kaneli

    Nice to read about Estonian indeed. As Finnologist wannabe I must add a comment. 🙂 ”Estonian and Finnish are so close to each other, that in our ears Estonian sounds like Finnish jadajada with some decent words thrown in,” once said my Finnish friend. Well, they cannot understand Hungarians at all… so much on related languages. These cases also seem very similar,too; yet there is said to be total amount of 15 cases in Finnish.

    One brief illustration of similarity (using the sentence ”we are open”):

    Olemme avattu (Finnish) -> Oleme avatud (Estonian)

    When I was in Helsinki last summer, I also went to a short trip to Tallin. Well, Finns trip to Tallin on regular basis. Then, they get drunk on the boats as well as in the city, since everything is cheaper for them in Estonia. Alco especially. Food, too. They also do very serious shopping there… and I was told Estonians had not been very fond of their Nordic cousins. Since the Finns can behave very nasty on Estonian streets when drunk and so on. However, I really liked Tallin; it is very beautiful by all means. I was so sorry I had not had more time (just 5 hours) to see the city better.

  • pengovsky

    I have to say: Ouch! 😯 Fourteen cases?! Then again, French has sixteen tenses, right? I know anything is possible, but I found that French is tricky already at past simple, I learned that German conditional sentences are much more than they seem and Russian… well, it’s not that difficult untill you start with complex structures.

    So I guess Estonian is out of the question for me 😀

  • Christian

    14! … ich würde sagen, das ist alles “illative” bzw. einfach nur “ill” … krank.

    Aber die haben keinen Dual, oder?

    … und das ist echt nicht erfunden?

  • alcessa

    Kaneli: Thank you very much for adding so much information! Keep up the good work, I will write more about Estonian 🙂
    PengovskyGenerally, one can say most modern languages need to be and also are able to encode some standard pieces of information and ways of dealing with this information. For example: results of human time perception. English and French use zillion tenses, Slovenian uses only 3 but Slovenians are used to adding time adverbs and using the (e.g. perfect) aspect to say the same thing that has to be expressed by means of (e.g. perfect) tense in English. And then there is this whole field of conditionality, conveying the degree of the truth of the matter. Germans will indeed go a very long way grammatically to tell you something and to tell you in the very same sentence (by means of conditionals): At least this is what Herr D. said on this matter.
    Some languages put the instruction on how to understand the time and other intended ways of perception of something in advance and gradually (by using auxiliary verbs, for example), others do it in the end (with endings), Mostly, both types of instruction will appear in one and the same language: before the word bearing the meaning (have seen) or after it: luckless (have and less being instructions).

    Sorry for the wordiness, what I wanted to say, is: most languages are difficult because they need to express a large amount of things necessary for human beings to be able to communicate. The only question is: do we prefer tenses or endings (also: prepositions before or after the noun, pronouns with or without grammatical markings – because if without, then we need to do more thinking as to what the speaker is trying to tell us….)

  • Kaneli

    🙂 Also something I can add – I assume there is no future tense in Estonian too, since there is no such thing in Finnish. One has to use present tense. However, it can be distincted from the context pretty much easily is it the future we talk about, or not.

    The lack of grammatical gender can also be quite handy, sometimes. I guess I have had more troubels when learning German (of course on behalf of die, der and das) than Finnish. Well, but there are other things that can drive you mad in Finnish. Very exact language indeed.

  • alcessa

    Kaneli: Exactly – no future tense in Estonian. Looking forward to the verb system 🙂

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  • DarkoV

    Great piece here, Alcessa.
    What an idiot?!!? I thought Slovenian was much closer to Croatian than it really is. 25 Letters? Do you miss the other 5 that you lost when Serob-Croatian was no longer the official language in Slovenia? Was it limiting to lose 5 letters or did you feel more free, not having to deal with a set of 30 letters?

    And this 14 declentions in Estonian? These folks have way too much time on their hands to be splitting declentions into so many fiefdoms.

  • alcessa

    Darko – Slovenian doesn’t know ć,Đ, dž, lj and nj.That is, we do know them (Ljubljana, življenje, Đuro, Janković) but they do not belong to our alphabet. And: it is a nice feeling to be able to claim that Slovenian has ONLY 3 special letters: č, š and ž.

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