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.