LinguEast: Estonian Vocabulary

This morning’s initial excitement soon wore out: There are no online sources of simple information about the Estonian verb system, all I found were highly specialised linguistic papers I’m going to read if I have time. So while waiting for the book to arrive, I could share some interesting bits about the Estonian vocabulary instead. Courtesy of Wikipedia, among others.

First, some technical speech: Estonian is an agglutinating language, gradually changing into a fusional language. ??? Yes, exactly, the word agglutinating is closely related to glue, meaning that you make words by gluing pieces together. What pieces? Well, first you take a word with a meaning, like kool (school; no gender in Estonian, remember?). If your word needs plural, you glue the little word (called morpheme in the world of linguists) expressing plural to it. If you need to talk about little schools, you glue the word meaning “diminutive” to the schools, etc. You will have to learn the language itself to find out in which order you can attach these pieces of grammatical information. The good news is: those little bits that you glue to the real words are always the same.

And fusional? What is fusional about a language? Fusional simply means you do not have one morpheme for plural, one for masculine, one for little – you rather have one morpheme (= ending), meaning all three: many, little, masculine. A good example of a fused morpheme can be taken from Slovenian: šola not only means school, it also means (via –a at the end): one, feminine, normal size, nominative case.

Estonian is gradually changing from one type into the other. And changes mean trouble. 🙂

End of technical speech.

Estonian vocabulary has been influenced by many different cultures and languages, among others German and English. Before I name some older loan words, resembling these two Germanic languages, let me tell you something about:

A Moose. It is called põder in Estonian and the word is of Baltic-Finnic origin. Sounds terrible.

Now for some lovely Estonian words (of Low Saxon origin), some of them are quite telling:

kool ‘school’ / torm ‘storm’ / salat ‘salad’ / loorber ‘laurel’ / roos ‘rose’ / hunt ‘wolf; hound’ / köök ‘kitchen’ / pannkook ‘pancake’ / vorst ‘sausage’ / lühter ‘chandelier’ / muda ‘mud’ / ruum ‘room’ / saal ‘hall’ / tool ‘stool’ / trepp ‘stairs’ / vall ‘wall, ridge’ / jaht ‘hunt’ / vaht ‘watch’ / altar ‘altar’ / ingel ‘angel’ / jünger ‘disciple’ / psalm ‘psalm’ / sant ‘beggar, cripple’ / preili ‘miss, maiden’ / memm ‘old woman’ / härra ‘gentleman’ / naaber ‘neighbour’ / saks ‘german, nobleman’ / arst ‘doctor’ / paar ‘pair’ / tosin ‘dozen’ / veerand ‘quarter’ / näärid ‘new year’ / reede ‘friday’ / tund ‘hour’ / kool ‘school’ / kunst ‘art’ / maaler ‘painter’ / just ‘just, namely’ / topelt ‘double’ / väärt ‘valuable’…

An English-Estonian dictionary is to be found here.

10 responses to “LinguEast: Estonian Vocabulary

  • Sunshine

    I’m acting to fast. 😳 I opened my dictionary to search for “agglutinating” before reading the whole post. I could save myself some work. 😀

  • alcessa

    Well, I didn’t have a look at the dictionary at all, so maybe your reaction was absolutely right. 😳

  • Kaneli

    Well, I can try to add something about Finnish verbs… if there are any specific questions, since I am only a very part-time linguist. 🙂 However, there are 6 verb-groups in Finnish; the 6th group is very rare and small. The exact group/type of the verb affects its declination. And the type of the verb is, for instance, also important when dealing with passive; Finnish really prefers the usage of passive. All sorts of it. :S

    I am also trying to think about this agglutating/fusiunal in Finnish…hm, I have never been thinking about Finnish itself in that particular way.

  • Kaneli

    Agglutinating, sorry… 😳

  • alcessa

    So much blushing going on here… 🙂 When I get my book I’ll try to give some examples for the theory above. Estonian is not easy to find on www.

  • Sunshine

    I think you infected us with blushing when you discovered the magic combination of colons and “oops”. :mrgreen:

  • alcessa

    Exactly, Ms. Green. 😳
    I don’t blush much in real life, but I do change my face to indicate bashfullness quite often…as a part of a joke.

  • shay120

    This is a great article. I love linguistics and I think Estonian is such a beautiful language, too bad it is spoken by such a small segment of the population, which puts it in danger of being are endangered. Let’s keep seeing these articles to keep this lovely and lyrical language alive. 🙂

  • alcessa

    🙂 It think it will persist as long as there are any native speakers, which needn’t be too short a period, if they love their mother tongue.

    My mother tongue, Slovene, is also spoken by only 2 mil. and may stay on for a long time…

  • LinguWest: A South American Beauty « moosings

    […] told you all about agglutinating languages when discussing Estonian: they are called agglutinating because “you make words/sentences by gluing pieces […]

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