The Estonian language (eesti keel ) is the official language of Estonia, spoken natively by about 1.1 million people: 922,000 people in Estonia and 160,000 outside Estonia. It is a Southern Finnic language and is the second most spoken language among all the Finnic languages.
Although the Estonian and Germanic languages are of very different origins, one can identify many similar words in Estonian and German, for example. This is primarily because the Estonian language has borrowed nearly one third of its vocabulary from Germanic languages, mainly from Low Saxon (Middle Low German) during the period of , and High German (including Standard German). The percentage of Low Saxon and High German loanwords can be estimated at 22–25 percent, with Low Saxon making up about 15 percent. Swedish language and Russian language are the other two important sources of borrowings.
Estonian is a predominantly agglutinative language, but unlike Finnish, it has lost vowel harmony, the front vowels occurring exclusively on the first or stressed syllable, although in older texts the vowel harmony can still be recognized. Furthermore, the loss of word-final sounds is extensive, and this has made its inflectional morphology markedly more fusional, especially with respect to noun and adjective inflection. Word order is considerably more flexible than English, but the basic order is subject–verb–object.
The oldest written records of the Finnic languages of Estonia date from the 13th century. Originates Livoniae in Chronicle of Henry of Livonia contains Estonian place names, words and fragments of sentences.
The first extant Estonian book is a bilingual German-Estonian translation of the Lutheran catechism by S.Wanradt and J.Koell dating to 1535, during the Protestant Reformation period. An Estonian grammar book to be used by priests was printed in German in 1637.
Writings in Estonian became more significant in the 19th century during the Estophile Enlightenment Period (1750–1840).
The birth of native Estonian literature was in 1810 to 1820 when the patriotic and philosophical poems by Kristjan Jaak Peterson were published. Peterson, who was the first student at the then German-language University of Dorpat to acknowledge his Estonian origin, is commonly regarded as a herald of Estonian national literature and considered the founder of modern Estonian poetry. His birthday, March 14, is celebrated in Estonia as First language Day.
In the period from 1525 to 1917, 14,503 titles were published in Estonian; by comparison, between 1918 and 1940, 23,868 titles were published.
After the Estonian War of Independence in 1919, the Estonian language became the state language of the newly independent country. In 1945, 97.3% of Estonia considered itself ethnic Estonian and spoke the language.
When Estonia was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union in World War II, the status of the Estonian language changed to the first of two official languages (Russian being the other one).
During the Perestroika era, The Law on the Status of the Estonian Language was adopted in January 1989. The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union led to the restoration of the Estonia's independence. Estonian went back to being the only state language in Estonia which in practice meant that use of Estonian was promoted while the use of Russian language was discouraged.
The return of Soviet immigrants to their countries of origin has brought the proportion of Estonians in Estonia back above 70%. And again as in Latvia, today many of the remnant non-Estonians in Estonia have adopted the Estonian language; about 40% at the 2000 census.
The northern group consists of the keskmurre or central dialect that is also the basis for the standard language, the läänemurre or western dialect, roughly corresponding to Lääne County and Pärnu County, the saarte murre (islands') dialect of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa and the idamurre or eastern dialect on the northwestern shore of Lake Peipus.
South Estonian consists of the Tartu, Mulgi, Võro and Seto dialect varieties. These are sometimes considered either variants of South Estonian or separate languages altogether. Also, Seto and Võro distinguish themselves from each other less by language and more by their culture and their respective Christian confession.
Modern Estonian orthography is based on the Newer Orthography created by Eduard Ahrens in the second half of the 19thcentury based on Finnish orthography. The Older Orthography it replaced was created in the 17thcentury by Bengt Gottfried Forselius and Johann Hornung based on German language orthography. Earlier writing in Estonian had by and large used an ad hoc orthography based on Latin and Middle Low German orthography. Some influences of the standard German orthography — for example, writing 'W'/'w' instead of 'V'/'v' — persisted well into the 1930s.
Estonian words and names quoted in international publications from Soviet sources are often back-transliterations from the Russian transliteration. Examples are the use of "ya" for "ä" (e.g. Pyarnu instead of Pärnu), "y" instead of "õ" (e.g., Pylva instead of Põlva) and "yu" instead of "ü" (e.g., Pyussi instead of Püssi). Even in the Encyclopædia Britannica one can find "ostrov Khiuma", where "ostrov" means "island" in Russian and "Khiuma" is back-transliteration from Russian instead of "Hiiumaa" ( Hiiumaa > Хийума(а) > Khiuma).
In Estonian, nouns and pronouns do not have grammatical gender, but nouns and adjectives decline in fourteen cases: nominative, genitive, Partitive case, illative, inessive, Elative case, allative, adessive, ablative, translative, terminative, essive, abessive, and comitative, with the case and number of the adjective(s) always agreeing with that of the noun (except in the terminative, essive, abessive and comitative, where there is agreement only for the number, the adjective being in the genitive form). Thus the illative for kollane maja ("a yellow house") is kollasesse majja ("into a yellow house"), but the terminative is kollase majani ("as far as a yellow house"). With respect to the Proto-Finnic language, elision has occurred; thus, the actual case marker may be absent, but the stem is changed, cf. maja – majja and the Ostrobothnia dialect of Finnish maja – majahan.
The direct object of the verb appears either in the Accusative case (for total objects) or in the partitive (for partial objects). The accusative coincides with the genitive in the singular and with nominative in the plural. Accusative vs. partitive case opposition of the object used with transitive verbs creates a telicity contrast, just as in Finnish. This is a rough equivalent of the perfective vs. imperfective aspect opposition.
Often 'b' & 'p' are interchangeable, for example 'baggage' becomes 'pagas', 'lob' (to throw) becomes 'loopima'. The initial letter 's' before another consonant is often dropped, for example 'skool' becomes 'kool', 'stool' becomes 'tool'.
The most famous reformer of Estonian, Johannes Aavik (1880–1973), used creations ex nihilo (cf. ‘free constructions’, Tauli 1977), along with other sources of lexical enrichment such as derivations, compositions and loanwords (often from Finnish; cf. Saareste and Raun 1965: 76). In Aavik’s dictionary (1921), which lists approximately 4000 words, there are many words which were (allegedly) created ex nihilo, many of which are in common use today. Examples are
Many of the coinages that have been considered (often by Aavik himself) as words concocted ex nihilo could well have been influenced by foreign lexical items, for example words from Russian language, German language, French language, Finnish language, English language and Swedish language. Aavik had a broad classical education and knew Ancient Greek, Latin and French language. Consider roim ‘crime’ versus English language crime or taunima ‘to condemn, disapprove’ versus Finnish language tuomita ‘to condemn, to judge’ (these Aavikisms appear in Aavik’s 1921 dictionary). These words might be better regarded as a peculiar manifestation of morpho-phonemic adaptation of a foreign lexical item.
Kõik inimesed sünnivad vabadena ja võrdsetena oma väärikuselt ja õigustelt. Neile on antud mõistus ja südametunnistus ja nende suhtumist üksteisesse peab kandma vendluse vaim.
(All people are born free and equal in their dignity and rights. They are given reason and conscience and they shall create their relationships to one another according to the spirit of brotherhood.)