Estonian/Lesson 1

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Alphabet[edit | edit source]

Estonian alphabet is based on Latin alphabet. The original Estonian alphabet consists of 23 letters.

A, B, D, E, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U, V, Õ, Ä, Ö, Ü.

So-called "foreign letters" ('võõrtähed) F, Š, Z and Ž occur only in loanwords and foreign proper names. They do not occur in local Estonian words and are not officially part of the local alphabet. With the so-called "foreign letters" included, makes the Estonian alphabet consist of 27 letters.

The following letters C, Q, W, X and Y occur only in loanwords. They do not occur in Estonian words and are not officially part of the alphabet. Including these following letters, makes the Estonian alphabet consist of 32 letters.

Loanwords[edit | edit source]

Estonian has "borrowed" many words from other languages. Many of them have been altered more or less in the process of nativization.

Examples:

  • baar, pubi – bar, pub
  • buss – bus
  • dieet – diet
  • elevant – elephant
  • paber – paper
  • pank – bank
  • raadio – radio
  • süsteem – system
  • šampoon – shampoo
  • tee – tea
  • televisioon – television
  • tšekk – cheque
  • turist – tourist

Exercise[edit | edit source]

Figure out what these Estonian words are in English.

  1. projekt
  2. faks
  3. galerii
  4. skandaal
  5. idioot
  6. klassik
  7. koopia
  8. pomm
  9. kaart
  10. füüsika

Sounds[edit | edit source]

Vowels[edit | edit source]

Writing IPA Rough pronunciation guide
a [ɑ] like the "a" in "car"
e [e] like the "e" in "net"
i [i] like the "i" in "pink"
o [o] like the "o" in "sock"
u [u] like the "u" in "put"
õ [ɤ] somewhat like the "o" in "roses"
ä [æ] like the "a" in "cat"
ö [ø] just like the German ö in "Österreich" or "u" in "burn"
ü [y] just like the German ü in "über"

There are three vowel lengths in Estonian: short, long and over-long. Short vowels are marked with one letter, but both long and over-long vowels are marked with two letters, for example:

  • tore [tore] "nice", toore [to:re] "raw material", toore [to::re] "raw (gen.sg.)".

So, as you may see, vowel length is sometimes crucial to understand the meaning of a word correctly.

Diphthongs[edit | edit source]

Diphthongs sound like the sounds of two letters pronounced quickly after each other. Try to pronounce them:

ae ai ao au
ea ei eo eu
ia io iu
oa oe oi ou
ua ue ui uo
õa õe õi õo õu
äe äi äo äu
öa öe öi
üa üe üi üo

Consonants[edit | edit source]

  • Consonants "b", "d", "g" are usually pronounced voiceless in Estonian, similar to "p", "t", "k".
  • "Š" is pronounced like "sh" in English and "ž" like "zh".
  • Consonant "j" sounds like "y" in "yoghurt".
  • "N", "t", "s", "l" may sound palatalized, which is not indicated in writing, but changes the meaning of a word, for example: palk [palk] "salary", palk [palʲk] "log".

Three different lengths are possible with consonants too:

  • short peni "hound", long penni "penny (gen.sg.)", over-long penni "penny (acc.sg)".

But with stops it works like this:

  • short kabi "hoof", long kapi "cupboard (gen.sg.)", over-long kappi "cupboard (acc.sg.)"
  • short kade "jealous", long kate "cover", over-long katte "cover (gen.sg.)"
  • short lage "bare", long lake "slop", over-long lakke "to the ceiling"