Estonian is the official language in one of Europe’s least populous countries, Estonia. The total number of worldwide speakers of Estonian
is estimated to be about 1.3 million people. While it’s not exactly spoken by enough people to require if you’re outside of its native country, it belongs to the Uralic language family and is very closely related to Finnish. It also shares influences from German, Hungarian, Swedish, among others.
While Estonian is one of the Finno-Ugric languages, it is quite different in nature from Hungarian and Finnish. Rather than being purely agglutinative, it has a fusional structure that follows the basic word order “subject-verb-object” as in English, to make sentences. For writing, the language employs the Latin Script and is read from left to right. It is written using the Latin alphabet, but adds letters such as ä, ö, ü, š, as in Finnish/German. Most words reflect its Uralic nature, but quite a few have been borrowed from other tongues.
Dialects and Structure of Estonian
The Northern and Southern dialects of Estonian were once considered to be two different languages, but they are now more closely related; they follow the same structure and are written similarly.
Tallin, the country’s capital city, is mostly linked with the Northern dialect, while another of its major cities, Tatu in the South is historically associated with the Southern dialect. In the northern group, you have smaller dialects like the keskmurre (central dialect), låånemure (western dialect), idamurre (eastern dialect) and the saarte murre (island dialect). The southern group also has a few of its own, Seto, Tartu, Mulgi and Voro.
In Estonian, the structure has ternary quantity. This means that syllables or phonemes, have three different lengths: short (Q1), long (Q2), and overlong (Q3). It’s a pretty unique aspect that is rarely occurring in linguistics. While the quantity system with these three lengths, play a huge role in grammar it is not indicated in the written version except in the case of some sound types such as plosives. Quite a few words in the Estonian vocabulary, don’t have any meaning of their own and were invented ‘ex nihilo’ (out of nothing), as just more words.
At a glance here are some other cool facts about this language and its speakers:
- There are more female speakers than male speakers. Estonia’s ratio of 100 females for every 84 males is one of the lowest percentages of males in the world.
- Here, the literacy rate is 99.8%, which is the second highest in the world out of 200 recognized countries.
- Its capital city, Tallin is sometimes referred to as Europe’s very own Silicon Valley, with more startups per head than any other country in the continent.
- Some famous Estonian speakers include novelist, Tiit Aleksejev and musical composer, Arvo Pärt.