1. Is Estonian inflected?
Estonian nouns and adjectives have no genders, but almost all words are inflected according to their roles in the sentence: verbs, nouns, pronouns, numerals, adjectives, and some particles. There are 14 cases. Each noun, adjective, pronoun, and numeral has 14 cases – 3 main grammatical cases: nominative, genitive, partitive; 3 inner locative cases: illative, inessive, elative; 3 outer locative cases: allative, adessive, ablative; and 5 additional cases: translative, terminative, essive, abessive, and comitative. The cases (except for the 3 main grammatical cases) are formed by adding case endings to the genitive case form, and often serve the same purpose as prepositions in English. Despite having many cases, the Estonian language lacks the ordinary object case, the accusative, which is common among the Indo-European languages. The direct object in Estonian is expressed by the nominative, genitive or partitive, in the singular, and by the nominative or the partitive in the plural. Using the genitive object (in singular) and the nominative object (in plural) marks a completion of an action directed at that object, and that all of the object is involved. The usage of the partitive case expresses unfinished nature of the action, and the partiality of an object.
2. How flexible is word order?
The standard word order in Estonian is Subject-Verb-Object, but can be changed to stress some parts of the sentence. Normally, the stressed part is moved to the end of the sentence, especially when the sentence starts with an adverb or object. In that case, the word order can also be Object-Verb-Subject, or Verb-Subject-Object. An adjective precedes the noun it modifies. An adverb of time precedes an adverb of place.
3. How are questions asked? Does Estonian use auxiliary verbs to form questions?
Questions begin with a question word (who, what, etc) followed by the subject, verb and object. Intonation rises on the word that is being emphasized and falls at the end.
Questions can also begin with an interrogative word such as kas (‘yes’/’no’-question), eks (‘yes’-question), ega (‘no’-question), followed by Subject-Verb-Object. In spoken language, interrogative words are sometimes left out, but instead there is either a change in intonation or word order to Verb-Subject-Object.
4. Are there sounds that are hard to pronounce for English native speakers?
There are a few sounds in Estonian uncommon in English: Ä, pronounced as the ‘a’ in ‘cat’; Ö, sometimes pronounced as the ‘i’ in ‘girl’; Õ, pronounced somewhat as ‘oa’ in ‘loan’; and Ü pronounced somewhat like ‘y’ in ‘physical’. In addition to pronunciation, a greater challenge is presented by the three degrees of vowel length, e.g., short degree: jama – ‘rubbish talk’; long degree: jaama – genitive case form, i.e. ‘station’s’; and overlong degree: jaama – short illative form, i.e. ‘to the station’, having double the duration of the already long ‘aa’.
5. Are Estonian words longer, shorter or about the same as in English?
The average Estonian word is longer than its English translation. There are numerous compound words in Estonian.
6. What happens to loan words when they are imported into Estonian?
The so called “foreign words” in Estonian often have similar stems to English words, but may change a little across the 3 main grammatical cases (nominative, genitive, and partitive). Some examples of English–Estonian equivalents in the 3 main cases: ‘auto’ – auto, auto, autot; ‘banana’ – banaan banaani, banaani; ‘lamp’ – lamp, lambi, lampi; ‘theater’ – teater, teatri, teatrit; ‘deficit’ – defitsiit, defitsiidi, defitsiiti; ‘barbaric’ – barbaarne, barbaarse, barbaarset; ‘politics’ – poliitika, poliitika, poliitikat. It is quite possible to develop a feel for turning those “foreign words” into Estonian equivalents.
7. What language family does Estonian belong to?
Estonian belongs to the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic languages family. It’s closest larger relative is Finnish, while another distant relative in the Finno-Ugric group is Hungarian.
8. Does Estonian use more or fewer words than English?
An average Estonian sentence contains fewer words than English. However, because Estonian words are generally longer than English, the total number of characters in a sentence may be the same or higher than English.
10. Are there any special characters or accents?
Estonian uses the same script as English with some additional characters, e.g. õ, ä, ö, ü. Some letters are referred to as foreign letters, most of which are commonly used in English (b, d, c, f, g, š, z, ž). Foreign letters are only seen in “foreign words”. There are no special accents.
11. Are there short and long vowels?
Yes, the vowels occur in short, long, and overlong form, and so do the consonants. The Estonian language is rich in vowels: the vowel-consonant rate in Estonian is 45:55. As many as 36 diphthongs can be formed from vowels that offer interesting combinations (e.g. the compound word kõueööaimdus ’anticipation of the thundery night’). Vowels on their own can also carry a meaning: öö ‘night’, õu ’backyard’, ei ‘no’. Some Estonian compounds may even have quadruplicate vowels, for example: Kuuuurijate töööö jäääärel, ‘A moon researchers’ work-night at the edge of the ice’.
12. On the average, do people in your country speak faster than Americans?
Yes, people speak faster; significant contrast can be seen in typical TV anchors’ speech.
13. Is each letter of the alphabet pronounced always in the same way?
Yes, it is very important to pronounce each letter with the same length in order to be understood. Slight changes in degrees of pronunciation often change both the meanings and grammatical relations of the words.
14. Are all words stressed more or less on the same syllable?
Yes, the stress in Estonian words is almost always on the first syllable. However, there is frequently a secondary stress on odd, non-final syllables.
15. Does Estonian Use the So-Called Title Case?
There is no ‘Title’ case in Estonian. Only the first letter of the first word is capitalized in headings.