Facts About the Estonian Language

Estonian is spoken in the northern regions of Europe. This language belongs to the Baltic Finnic languages of the Finno-Ugric language family. According to scholars, Proto-Finno-Ugric tribes inhabited very vast territories that reached far beyond the Ural Mountains where Iranian tribes lived. However, in around the year 3000 BCE they moved closer to the Baltic Sea, where they started establishing close cultural ties with the local Baltic tribes. In archaeological monuments, these tribes are recognised as the representatives of the Pit–Comb Ware Culture.


Estonian is related to the Livonian, Finnish and Votic languages, but are unlike the languages of its neighbouring countries Russia, Latvia, and Sweden. Estonian and Finnish developed when the Proto-Finno-Ugric tribes, which used the so-called Proto-Finnic language in communication, split.

The modern-day Estonian is much more different from Proto-Finnic than Finnish; however, Estonian still uses some archaisms that are no longer found in Finnish.

Estonian is spoken by about 1.1 million people, and it is the second smallest language in the world that holds the status of an official language (the first being Icelandic). As the official language is it used in Estonia, and as a minority language in Russia and Latvia.

Estonian has two dialects: Northern (used in Tallinn) and Southern (used in Tartu). The Northern dialect is also used on Estonian islands: in the Lääne, Harju, Järva, and Viru counties, as well as in the northern parts of Pärnu, Viljandi, and Tartu counties. The Estonian used on the islands is distinctly Swedish. The Southern dialect is spoken in the southern parts of Pärnu, Viljandi, and Tartu counties.

The modern-day literary Estonian language is based mainly on the Northern dialect. Since the 16th century, there have been two varieties of the written language, one for each of the dialects spoken in the country. The Bible translation, which was published in 1739, was defining in the development of the literary Estonian language, being the first source to include both of the language varieties.

The most well-known linguists of the 19th century actively involved in creating the literary Estonian were Ed. Ahrens, F.J. Wiedemann, J. Hurt, and M. Veske. From then on, Estonian literature also experienced rapid development.

The evolution of Estonian writing was fascinating. At the end of the 19th century, linguist M. Veske started a movement that aimed to incorporate the phonetic characteristics of certain dialects in the written language. This movement was so successful that for a while there were two parallel literary languages in Estonia.

The earliest loan words come from the Baltic, Germanic, Indo-Iranian, and Slavic languages, while the latest come from Latvian, Russian, German, and Swedish. Yet there are few internationalisms in Estonian.

The writing system is based on the Latin alphabet that still maintains its German influences: it contains three independent letters with the diacritical mark umlaut (Ä, Ö, and Ü).

Estonian is a language rich in grammatical cases, which there are fourteen of. In addition to the cases familiar to us, such as nominative and genitive, there is also partitive (part or quantity of an object), illative (motion toward or into something), elative (motion out of or away from something), allative (motion toward someplace), adessive (the state of being on something), ablative (motion away from something), essive (the location or state of being), translative (the process of changing or becoming), comitative, or accompaniment case (being in the company of someone); and terminative, or restrictive case (limit in space and time).

The language has many vowels, which are sorted by their length: short, half-long, long, and overlong. Diphthongs and consonants can also be short, half-long, and long. Estonian consists of 45% vowels and 55% consonants.

The Estonian verbal system uses four tenses, one present and three past tenses, but lacks a future tense.

Estonian verbs can take two infinitive forms.

The main stress is always on the first syllable of the word, while the third syllable receives a secondary stress. Word order is relatively free, and the meaning of sentences can be understood even when not using the proper order.

All nouns and adjectives have the same endings in their singular and plural forms. Special suffixes are used to create the plural. One and the same pronoun refers to both genders, because there are no grammatical genders in Estonian.

There is also no superlative in Estonian. Instead, intensifying particles are used at the end of words to denote degrees of quality.

This language has a distinctive relative mood and negative conjugation, but it has no prepositions, hence no verbs with prepositions can be made. This is why it has so many grammatical cases.

It is considered one of the most difficult languages in the world.

Language code: ISO 639-1: et

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Language combinations:

Latvian to Estonian; Estonian to Latvian; Lithuanian to Estonian; Estonian to Lithuanian; Russian to Estonian; Estonian to Russian; Polish to Estonian; Estonian to Polish; Czech to Estonian; Estonian to Czech; Ukrainian to Estonian; Estonian to Ukrainian; English to Estonian; Estonian to English; Estonian to Spanish; Spanish to Estonian; German to Estonian; Estonian to German; Italian to Estonian; Estonian to Italian; French to Estonian; Estonian to French; Danish to Estonian; Estonian to Danish; Norwegian to Estonian; Estonian to Norwegian; Swedish to Estonian; Estonian to Swedish; Finnish to Estonian; Estonian to Finnish and others.


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