Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Estonian Language

The Estonian language is beloved to all Estonians and has been a key to the nation's survival for centuries. No matter who the occupying power has been, whether it was the Danes, Germans, Swedes or Russians, Estonians have always stubbornly refused to give up their language regardless of the attempts made to eradicate it. The U.S.S.R. were the last to fail when they tried to wipe out all three of the Baltic States' languages. Russian was given equal official status in Estonia between 1944 and 1991 and was often accorded a higher status since it was the official language of the entire U.S.S.R. 

Spoken by a mere 1.1 million people Estonian belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family.  Its nearest relatives are Finnish and the nearly extinct Livonian.  Hungarian is also related to Estonian albeit considerably more distantly.  Estonian is not related to any of the Indo-European languages such as English, French, German or Russian.

A native English speaker may be forgiven for thinking that Estonian is easy to learn because it is a phonetic language with no prepositions, genders or articles. However, it is Estonian's 14 grammatical cases that makes it extraordinarily difficult for foreigners to get right. 

There are three main dialects of Estonian - Northern (includes the dialects of the western Estonian islands), Southern and the nearly extinct Northeastern Coast dialect (Narva and Narva-Jõesuu).  Debates persist among linguists as to whether to classify Võro and Seto as Southern Estonian dialects or as different languages altogether. 

Estonian is now the only official language in the Republic of Estonia and the country's government has taken several steps to preserve it for future generations. Estonian law stipulates that all advertising must be in Estonian and if a Russian business wishes to advertise in Russian it must also feature an Estonian translation.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Estonian Food

The last time my family got together my sister suggested we should cook an Estonian feast. I was thrilled at the prospect of whipping up a few familiar dishes whilst my father pulled a face and said  "Estonian food is boring". I guess his mind flashed back to his childhood, remembering all the times he ate boiled cabbage whilst growing up, and loathing it. But the truth is whenever we're in Tallinn my father often orders kapsapirukas (cabbage pie) which leads me to think he doesn't have such an aversion to cabbage as he would like us to believe. Estonian cuisine whilst simple, is anything but boring.  Its flavours are unique and do not cease to delight the taste buds. You can taste it in the peenleib with the caraway seeds, in the salads with the dill and radishes and you taste it in the cakes and slices filled with the delicious berries picked fresh from the forest.

A huge informal economy for produce still exists in Estonia today. People often produce their own eggs, milk, honey, fruit and vegetables and trade their surplus with friends and family or simply give it away. The Estonian diet largely consists of pork, fish, herrings, cabbage, potatoes, beetroot and myriad types of mushroom. About fifteen types of mushrooms are poisonous so it pays to do your research before eating them. The most common type of berry found in the Estonian forest is the blueberry and you can also find strawberries, cranberries and raspberries.

For our dinner party my sister made traditional Estonian fish salad, I provided dessert with an apple and rhubarb crumble and my father went with my favourite Russian dish - beef stroganoff. As an entrée I also made little pastries filled with bacon, onion and cheese which my grandmother often used to make too.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Interesting Facts About Estonia

Estonia has two Independence Days - February 24th when Estonia first declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1918 and August 20th when independence was restored in 1991

Jõgeva is known for being the coldest place in Estonia. Its lowest recorded temparature was  −43.5 °C

Kiiking is an Estonian sport invented by Ado Kosk in 1996

The cornflower is the national flower of Estonia

Estonia was the first country in the world to introduce a flat tax system and online political

Skype was invented in Estonia

Estonia is the least religious country in the world followed by the Czech Republic

Up until Estonia fully adopted the Euro in January 2011,  Paul Keres was the only chess grandmaster in the world to feature on a banknote, on the 5 Estonian kroon note

Estonia won The Eurovision Song Contest in 2001 with their song "Everybody".  The following year Estonia became the first ex-Soviet country to host Eurovision and many doubted the country's ability to put together a successful show. However, Estonia proved its skeptics wrong and the contest proved to be a great success.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Popular Estonian Names

When my sister was born my mother wanted to name her "Emma" but when my Estonian grandmother heard about this she protested because "Ema" means mother in Estonian. My vanaema implored my parents to change their minds and they did, naming her Sarah instead. As a compromise Emma became her middle name.

There are several names unique to Estonia whilst others have been  Estonianised over the generations. The popular boys name John is known as Jaan or Jaanus in Estonia and Peter is spelt Peeter with the double e. Double vowels are a feature of the Estonian language, including names, and are always pronounced with extra length.

Here are some of the most popular Estonian given names, their meanings and English equivalents.

Andrus - (Andrew) - "manly" or "strong"
Jaak -  (Jacob) - "supplanter"
Mihkel - (Michael) - "who is like God"
Nigul - (Nicholas) - "victory of the people"
Krists - (Christian) - "follower of Christ"
Lembit - "beloved"
Mikk - "who is Godlike"
Leks - (Alexander) - "defender of man"
Rolli - "famous throughout the land"
Toomas -  (Thomas) - "twin"
Tõnis - (Anthony) - "flourishing"

Anu - (Anna) -  "grace"
Etti - (Elizabeth) - "oath to God"
Hele - "shining"
Helja / Helju - "floating"
Leena - (Lena) - "light or enlightened"
Liis - "joined with God"
Kaisa - (katherine) - "pure"
Mari - (Mary) - "bitterness"
Maarja -  (Maria) - "bitter"
Riina - (Katarina) - "pure"
Reet - (Margaret) - "beautiful pearl"

"Sepp" is the most common surname in Estonia, it's the equivalent to the English surname "Smith".  Other common surnames are: Kask, Kukk, Koppel, Rebane, Saar, and Tamm.