The Origins of the Estonian Language


The Origins of the Estonian Language I just celebrated my fifth year in Estonia and my fifth fruitless year trying to figure out how to correctly speak Estonian. I mean really, it wouldn't be so bad if Estonians weren't so smug about it. Oh, they will congratulate you on your good Estonian even if you can only speak a few words, but deep inside they really don't want you to learn it!

They are so happy with their secret code and you can see it every time someone asks you "Oh, are you learning to speak Estonian?". Then comes the sly grin, the "You've got a snowball's chance in hell of learning OUR language" grin. This is quickly replaced by a faked look of concern as they say "Oh, its a very difficult language isn't it?". I think after this, they go off and laugh uncontrollably and give high-fives to other Estonians, but I haven't actually seen it happen.

I have decided to write an expose' on the Estonian language. One time I sent my brother a tape of Estonian language and he asked me if Estonians have an obsession with sex. There is terviseks and ostmiseks and kasutamiseks, teadmiseks, parandamiseks and armastamiseks. All kinds of "seks". That, plus the fact that after five years little kids still laugh when I speak Estonian, has made me decide to tell all. The real story behind why Estonian is the way it is.

A long time ago, about 1000 or 1100 B.C. there were three Estonian guys sitting around the campfire. Their names were Billy, Ray and Duke (bet you didn't know that these are real ancient Estonian names). It was winter time and they were bored. Billy spoke first. "Ya know Ray, what we need is a new language". "Damn straight!" said Ray, "Talkin' this way is gettin' boring and besides everybody almost understands us. We need a language that's sooo crazy, soooooo complicated that nobody will ever understand what's going on!" As the idea picked up steam, Duke piped up. "Let's do it this way, that you can't say he or she. That way you won't know if your talkin' about a man or a woman. Also, we gotta think up names for people that give no clue to foreigners about their gender, names that change with the grammer so you never know what to call somebody." Ray nodded in approval "Yeah," he said thoughtfully "that's it. Then we can eliminate the future tense. Think of trying to ask someone out on a date when you can't say the right name, whether it's a boy or girl or when it is going to happen!"

Billy, the smart one, was thinking in more technical terms already. "O.K., let's make it this way, that when you learn a noun, you don't have to learn just one word but FOURTEEN Yeah and instead of just saying that you are going to or from something, you have to change the noun in some weird way." Now Ray was excited and spilled his beer. "Yeah Yeah! And..and.. the nouns can't change the same way, let's make like, a hundred different spelling groups that all change in different ways!" This appealed to Duke who added slyly, "Ya wanna make it real hard, a real nut-buster? Let's make it so all the adjectives change, too. In boring old English, you say 'five small, red houses', 'small, red houses' and many small, red houses'. Small and red always stay the same but in our new language? Whoaaaa Nellie!" They exchange high fives all around and cracked a few beers. After that they started practicing how to say "Oh, you're learning Estonian" without busting up laughing.

That's how Estonian came to be, honest!

by Douglas Wells