Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
“Did You Eat the Whole Cake?” On Learning Estonian (deepbaltic.com)
170 points by collate 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments



I love the list of vowel-heavy words. You can also construct some similar words in Dutch. Or at least you used to before 1996, when a spelling change introduced hyphens into many of these:

  zeeëend - sea duck, or Velvet scoter (nowadays "zee-eend")
  koeieuier - cow udder (nowadays "koeienuier")
  zaaiuien - seed onions (still legal I think)
  kraaieëieren - crow eggs (nowadays kraaieneieren, I think)
We also have the opposite:

  angstschreeuw - cry of fear
  slechtstschrijvend - worst writing
These are fairly normal words. With a bit of creativity, you can make some that are much worse:

  borsjtsjschrokkende - borscht gorging
  haaiaaioorkonde - shark petting certificate
  weggooiooien - throw-away ewes


I shuddered when I saw what a 4 letter word got mutilated into

originally (russian) it was Борщ

And coincidentally Borš in estonian.

And in dutch it became borsjtsjsch? How? Why? Why do you need 8 letters to transmit a single phonem?

No wonder dutch can construct these weird word combos.

Edit, nvm, apparently last sch belongs to next word. Still creepy


Because there's no close sound to щ /ɕː/ in many European languages.

Some languages approximate it with /ʂ/ (think "sh" in English). For example, Romanian: borş.

Most languages approximate it with a combination of /ʃ/ ("sh"), /t/, and /tʃ/ ("ch"):

- "sh" and "ch",

- "sh" and "t", or

- all three, "sh", "t" and "ch".

Or an approximation thereof.

In Swedish: Approximation for /ʃ/ is "sj" /ɧ/. Approximation for /tʃ/ is "tj" /ɕ/ which yields "borsjtj". Though they could've gone for just "bortj" :)

Dutch is "Borsjtsj": Approximation for /ʃtʃ/ (sh t ch) with sj /ʃ/ and t

German is "Borschtsch": Approximation for /ʃtʃ/ (sh t ch) with sch /ʃ/ and t

etc. etc.


> Most languages approximate it with a combination of /ʃ/ ("sh"), /t/, and /tʃ/ ("ch"):

> - all three, "sh", "t" and "ch".

This is not because we're confused! Just borrowing from the historical Russian pronunciation of Щ as ШЧ


My Russian teachers always used the old "fre[sh ch]eese" example for us English speakers.


To my ear "shit/sheet" are closer to щ :)


"In English, Shcha [щ] is romanized as ⟨shch⟩ or ⟨šč⟩ (with hačeks) (occasionally ⟨sch⟩, all reflecting the historical Russian pronunciation of the letter (as a combined Ш and Ч)." The story in Dutch is similar, except "sh" and "ch" aren't phonemes in Dutch so they're approximated as "sj" and "tsj".


In German, sch and tsch are normal phonemes as far as I know, but they use even one more letter to spell them.

I checked the origins of all Dutch words starting with sj- some time ago because some of them look and feel native (and because I'm a nerd), but it turned out that indeed all of them are loan words, even e.g. sjorren which comes from Frisian. It looks like all surrounding languages do have these as phonemes, but Dutch doesn't. (Not sure about Plattdeutsch.)


Yeah, it's 'borsjtsj'. No idea why. Presumably it's the closest approximation of that phoneme in Dutch, but it seems unlikely that anyone trying to pronounce the Dutch transliteration would get anywhere close to the Russian original.

Borsjt or possibly even borsj would probably be better.


There is good reason for the Dutch transliteration. Compare English, where /ʃ/ is a very common phoneme, but due to deriving the alphabet from Latin (which had no /ʃ/), there is no letter for it.

People are taught that the sound is spelled "sh", but that's not quite true:

    mission
    contrition
    sure
And as all of those examples illustrate, in addition to being a phoneme in its own right, [ʃ] is also the English allophonic reduction of the sound sequence /sj/. It's not a coincidence that "sj" is the standard Dutch spelling of the same sound. The English standard orthographical equivalent, "borshch", is less accurate than the Dutch is.

It's very interesting to compare people's view of /ʃ/ with /ʒ/, another perfectly normal native English phoneme, but one that most people insist is foreign and hard to pronounce. The only difference I see is that a standard American education covers the idea that /ʃ/ is a real sound and should be spelled "sh", while /ʒ/ is generally not mentioned. But of course the existence of the sound is not actually related to whether your teacher mentioned it in elementary school.


To add even more confusion, in my sort-of Philly accent, street is pronounced [ˈʃtɹit].

My uneducated guess on /ʒ/ is that /dʒ/ is the most common way of encountering it, so people aren't comfortable separating it out, even though it's still common. It probably doesn't help that the usual transcription is zh which basically doesn't exist in native English words.


> It probably doesn't help that the usual transcription is zh which basically doesn't exist in native English words.

Depends what you mean by "the usual transcription". The usual spelling in English is "s" followed by i or u. (As in "usual" / "measure" / "vision" / etc. etc. etc. etc.) "Zh" is the standard transcription for Russian. The same sound in Chinese is today normally transcribed "r", because that is the letter assigned to it by China's official Romanized orthography, Hanyu pinyin[1]. In Wade-Giles, it was transcribed "j".

[1] The pinyin "r" (and the Wade-Giles "j") can represent a sound anywhere along the continuum between what an English speaker would perceive as the two distinct sounds /ʒ/ and /ɹ/. (The "s" and the "r" in "measure".)


I usually spell it borscht, do they do it differently in the UK?


Borscht is also the name that I know (though as an American, I can't speak to the UK). "Borshch" is the orthographical equivalent to Russian Борщ and Dutch borsjtsj.


Borscht with a T is the Yiddish pronunciation, unlike Russian which drops the T. It's a more common spelling in areas that historically had a larger Eastern European Jewish population (like the US, where the "borscht" spelling extended out from New York).


I don't think so. I'm British and know it as "borscht"; I've never (consciously) seen "borshch" until now.


the comment was explaining which spelling would most closely resemble the original russian pronunciation. as some of the sister comments explain, borscht is the yiddish pronunciation


Borscht is the pronunciation in Bulgarian of Борщ.


Is it really? Googling for "borsjtsjsch" gives me just this thread. You've created a combination of letters never seen before by Google!

https://www.google.com/search?q=borsjtsjsch&nfpr=1


borsjtsjschrokkende

- borsjtsj

- schrokkende

borsjtsjch does not exist, borsjtsj does.


Don't forget this classic:

   hottentottententententoonstelling
This translates to 'an exhibition of tents made by hottentotten' (a word used in colonial times to refer to the Khoikhoi, the non-Bantu indigenous nomadic pastoralists of South Africa).


'sproeiauto' is still legal, one of the few Dutch words using all vowels in a row.

One of the interesting differences about Dutch spelling compared to English, is that there's an official institution (Nederlandse Taalunie, literally Dutch Language union), that sets the spelling and spelling rules for most words. The spelling of Dutch thus is the same in the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname. The uniformity in spelling means that for most Dutch words (not loan words), you can easily tell how they're pronounced by the way they're written, as opposed to English that never really changed their spelling of words, despite some shifts in pronunciation. Readings older Dutch texts is takes slightly more effort, because the spelling of some words can be completely different from what it is now.


> you can easily tell how they're pronounced by the way they're written, as opposed to English

I see variations of this suggested for lots of languages, even my Norwegian teacher tried to convince me that Norwegian was spoken just as written. But this takes no account of regional differences in pronunciation. The words castle, boat, house, mouse, grass, for instance, all have different pronunciations depending on where in the UK one grew up. Which one is the spelling supposed to represent?

It seems to me that Dutch would be just as likely to have regional variations in pronunciation as any other language.

If Shakespeare had written phonetically he would be all but unreadable now.


Of course there are regional variations, but when speaking Standaardnederlands (standard Dutch) they are relatively small and consistent, nothing like Norwegian. With consistent meaning that the same syllable will almost always be pronounced the same way within that region. Not like English, where "bread" and "great" have completely different ways of pronouncing the "(r)ea" sound, despite being written the same way. Poems rhyme usually, wherever you go within the language region.

Local dialects have larger differences, but if they are written (relatively rare), it usually uses some form of phonetic writing, and those aren't standardized anyways.


That's certainly how we'd like to look at it, but it's only true by defining "standaardnederlands" fairly narrowly. Plenty of regional accents change phonemes, like 'ij' -> 'ie', hard 'g' to soft 'g', and some of those changes don't happen the same way across all words. Dutch is certainly not the big mess of inconsistency that English is, but it still has some inconsistencies.

For example, the word "lijk" is pronounced different from the suffix "-lijk". And then there's the difference between "een" and "een".


Unfortunately English can’t have a single spelling authority, specifically because it’s so popular. It would have to be able to issue binding regulations to the governments of India, the US and the UK, which would be politically difficult.


But British English could have. I mean it desperately needs reform, it's a mess.

I guess the problem is the momentum of such a large population of speakers means this risks breaking British English off in such a way that it may eventually become too non-standard and British people become disadvantaged somehow.


The first ten years after a major spelling reform can be a bit of a mess, but as long as the changes aren’t too big or unrecognizable, it should be doable. The Commonwealth should be able to do it, if the political will is there.


That doesn’t seem to be a problem with French or Spanish, arguably also quite popular.


`borsjtschrokkende`, not `borsjtsjschrokkende`. And yes, that is `mierenneukerig` (nit-picking, literally: ant f*cking). Besides: using a word like borsjt is cheating.


That's why I didn't include it in the normal words. It is absolutely cheating.

As for the spelling: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borsjtsj

(Edit: That page also mentions a soup called 'sjtsji'.)


I stand corrected, I didn't know you could spell it that way. What a weird language we have :)


Your weird uncle Swedish spells it perhaps even worse, borsjtj. https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borsjtj


>When I asked our teacher how children learn which case to use, her rather wonderful reply was that “it comes with mother’s milk”.

As a native speaker, I think the real answer is experience. You pick up most of the patterns simply by using the language. I think that's how most people learn English as well. English grammar rules are mostly a mystery to me and many of my peers from school. Estonian grammar is slightly less of a mystery, but that's because it is a mandatory subject even in high school (ages 16-19).

About the title:

"Kas sa sõid koogi (ära)?" - "Did you eat the (whole) cake?"

"Kas sa sõid kooki?" - "Did you eat cake?"

"Ära" in the first sentence has the meaning of "nothing left" or "gone". "Ära" doesn't have to be included, but in practice, it almost always is. It's similar with the abessive ("without") case. The example given in the article is "riik on ilma juhita". The word "ilma" means "without" and can be left out. The abessive case of "juhita" is enough - "riik on juhita" - but in practice "ilma" is often included.

All in all, people generally don't care too much if you get the grammar just right. Mostly right is good enough. Many native speakers even have problems with words such as "kelle-ga-gi" vs "kelle-gi-ga" (the first is correct: -gi/-ki is always at the end). Some grammar rules can even result in words that many native speakers will say are incorrect, eg "keni" - the partitive plural of "kena" (neat). People are simply more used to the -id/-sid partitive plural "kenasid".


From personal experience I think English speakers have troubles approaching synthetic languages in general because the English language is very analytic. I lurk in a few language-learning forums and I try to help anglophones learning French from time to time, they're often overwhelmed by the conjugations and to a lesser extent the grammatical genders which are omnipresent in French grammar.

On the other hand I've been studying Russian pretty intensely over the past year or so, so I can definitely empathize with the frustration of having to learn a complex case system.

I think the important thing is: it doesn't really matter if you get it completely right (or even mostly wrong). As long as you build simple sentences a native speaker will be able to figure out what you're trying to say. If somebody asks me "tu parlons anglais ?" it's definitely going to sound very wrong to me but I'll probably be able to figure out what you're attempting to communicate.

I think it's worth it to actually learn the declension/conjugation tables to familiarize yourself with them but you have to face the fact that you'll probably never learn to use them correctly just by memorizing rules. Eventually as you encounter them IRL you'll start to develop a feel for it.

I wonder if the average English speaker would be able to explain why they say "if I were you" and not "if I am you". Yet few get it wrong.

More generally I find that the main difficulty in learning languages is, by far, vocabulary. You can often get by with a surprisingly low amount of grammar if you understand what the words mean.


> If somebody asks me "tu parlons anglais ?" it's definitely going to sound very wrong to me but I'll probably be able to figure out what you're attempting to communicate.

If web browsers had feelings, they would possibly often experience this with the HTML soup being thrown at their parsers. "Hey, I think I know what you're attempting to communicate!"


> You pick up most of the patterns simply by using the language.

I only recently learned that there are rules to the order of adjectives in the English language [1]; it was never taught to us in school, we just used them enough that I know it by what sounds right. Ex "the big, red balloon", not "the red, big balloon".

[1] https://www.gingersoftware.com/content/grammar-rules/adjecti...


Not just adjectives, vowels too! E.g. tick tock vs tock tick, chit chat vs chat chit, ding dong vs dong ding [1]

[1] http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160908-the-language-rules...


Wonderful article, exposing some of the oddities of this non-Indo-European language in the middle of Europe, without becoming too technical.

If you're interested in an entertaining overview of all of the world's languages, I can recommend the course Language Families of the World by The Great Courses - 34 byte-sized (half hour) lectures.

https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/language-families-of...


Certainly looks interesting, but in an era where I've been conditioned to expect free content $335 is a bit steep to indulge in a casual interest.


Maybe it's a price anchoring tactic to make the subscription plan ("The Great Courses Plus" - which includes this) look like good value.


Yeah, plus they have period revolving discounts, where you get it for 80% or more off.

I must say I started listening to The Great Courses way before Udacity, Coursera, EdX, and so on, and back then it was really a good and competitive source (and, at discounted prices, reasonably priced) to get a variety of professionally produced audio courses. Nowadays of course there are more alternatives.


As a Swedish speaker, I get this deeply rooted feeling of righteous indignation about not understanding spoken Danish. I'm only half-joking.

As a Finnish speaker, I don't get that feeling with Estonian. The written form is different enough to warrant a deeper look before I start whining about how annoying I find language studies in general.


As a Finnish speaker, to me Estonian sometimes sounds like I'm having a stroke. Like I'm supposed to understand what is spoken but the words just don't resolve into their meanings.


My wife said something similar when we went for a holiday from Finland to Estonia; the words sounded like they should mean something, but they didn't. She kept suggesting the Estonians were very very drunk!

My Finnish is poor enough that I didn't recognize any of the alleged similiarities.


As an Estonian speaker, I feel the exact same way about Finnish. I guess it's universal :)


No it isn't :) As a Finnish speaker with some exposure to Estonian language, I can understand written and spoken Estonian better than any other language I've had such little exposure to. I'm not very good in speaking Estonian and I can't write it at all.


Out of curiosity, how did you go about picking up this fluency in Estonian? Are there any good sources of particularly easy Estonian to get started? I'm semi-interested.

Granted, I'm also super lazy, but Finnish and Estonian should be close enough to just have some threshold to get over until it's pretty smooth, I guess?

Fwiw, I'm native in Swedish, but I speak and write Finnish daily.

To go on about my earlier comparison, I can really visit the site for a Danish or Norwegian Bokmål newspaper like Politiken ( https://politiken.dk ) or Verdens Gang ( https://www.vg.no/ ) and start reading with a feeling of just moderate confusion. Academic text would require some extra effort. The "voice in my head" or mode of reading doesn't really even change, because I've never attempted to communicate in either Danish or Norwegian per se.

For Estonian Postimees (https://www.postimees.ee ) I'm stuck pretty much immediately. I can pick up words and some context, but that's it.

At my first job, at an internal IT Service Desk for a certain Nordic energy company, I dealt with Norwegians and Danes. But it was a business context where everyone just seemed to agree to just make a polite effort at having a maybe slightly "clear in a Swedish way" common Scandinavians language, because switching to English would feel a little silly. I guess some of the older dudes working in the field somewhere in Norway might not have spoken English.


Even basic Estonian vocabulary is surprisingly different from Finnish. Educated guesses only help you so far due to a large number of false friends and false cognates (some of them rather amusing, eg. hallitus meaning "government" in Finnish and "mold" (as in fungus) in Estonian, or Estonian pulmad meaning "a wedding reception" but Finnish pulmat meaning "problems" or "troubles"!)

Many words in standard Estonian do have true cognates in Finnish, but the Finnish counterparts have a slightly different or more specific meaning, or are nonstandard or colloquial. A typical example would be maja which in Estonian means "house" or "building" but in Finnish has the more specific meaning of "hut" or "cabin"—a dwelling more rudimentary and temporary in nature.


I'm not sure about an answer to your question, but something to look out for are false friends. There are plenty of Finnish and Estonian words that sound the same or similar, but mean something different. Eg

EE: ära surra (to die) - FI: surra (to mourn)

EE: vaim (ghost) - FI: vaimo (wife)

EE: kannatus (suffering) - FI: kannatus (support)

EE: pulm (wedding) - FI: pulma (difficult problem?, puzzle)


I'm not fluent at all. I had several long vacations there as a child, visit every now and then and have some exposure to news and culture. And I'm pretty good in getting a superficial understanding of a language, good enough to read or listen to news and understand the gist of it. I can handle several languages I have never formally studied.


Mm, I referred to 'fluency' as a sliding scale, which I think is a thing.

But anyway, there we probably have it, your vacations as a child. No lifehacks can beat exposure to language at a young age, I guess. SAD.

Waiting for the day when some drug can trick the brain into some semblance of a kid's language learning skills.


Kõik üheskoos: üks, kaks, koli, neli!


With Danish it really depends where in Denmark the speaker is from. I usually have a hard time understanding anything at all, but some accents are funny sounding but understandable.

As a (non-fluent) Spanish speaker I get a similar experience hearing Portuguese, the words sound similar but different and the speaker sounds slightly drunk.

Greek sounds very close to Spanish but none of the words mean anything, it's really weird :)


> Greek sounds very close to Spanish but none of the words mean anything, it's really weird :)

I don't hear Greek that often, so the suggestion also struck me as weird. Some analysis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPMqoHPJzac


> As a Swedish speaker, I get this deeply rooted feeling of righteous indignation about not understanding spoken Danish. I'm only half-joking.

I have a Swedish friend who described Danish speakers as sounding "like they're speaking Swedish with rocks in their mouths"


...or hot potatoes.

Anyway, add the Vigesimal system for numbers above 49 and you're really off to the races https://www.kbh-sprogcenter.dk/en/blog/learn-danish-numbers/

For the sake of hilarity, let's add that Icelandic people are forced to study Danish in school Because Reasons. Icelandic is not mutually intelligible with the major Scandinavian languages, even in written form. The argument for studying Danish is of course that everyone benefits from Nordic countries sticking together.

But Danish is the most cumbersome way to get some of that benefit of a common language.

Some Icelandic professor character actually recently dropped a hot take, suggesting that Icelandic schools could switch to teach some form of Finland Swedish, because it'd be remarkably easy for Icelandic speakers to pronounce and probably the easiest option for most people in the Nordics to grasp relative to effort. https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=auto&tl=en&u...

Being a Swedish speaker from Helsinki, Finland, I kind of don't like the nasality of my own dialect. I'd prefer to listen to dialects from the Swedish west coast around Gothernburg all day, because those are very soft sounding. But the suggestion likely makes some sense. Formal/common institutional spoken Finland Swedish is indeed overly articulated and devoid of slang.

Informal Finland Swedish tends to be hyperlocal and may carry loan words from Finnish, which is a non-starter in the other Nordic countries, and very much frowned upon by Swedish schools in Finland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finland_Swedish


I always find it strange how language materials insist on presenting agglutination as cases. I was lucky enough to not have it when I studied Turkish, so for me the

- -da is "in", not "locative case"

- -(y)a is "towards", not "locative case"

etc.

I personally find that insisting that students learn proper case names greatly hinders the learning process.

Finnish and Estonian are also agglutinative, and I feel abject horror reading about "essive", "comitative", "abessive" and other cases. Stahp! :)


> Finnish and Estonian are also agglutinative

Finnish and Estonian are synthetic languages now. While the Proto-Uralic language ancestral to them both was more agglutinative, the system of consonant gradation (and subsequent loss of consonants) as it developed in these languages means they are no longer very agglutinative.

In a purely agglutinative language you only have to memorize one stem for a word and then you can add all case endings to that one stem. In Finnish, you have to memorize at least two stems (strong and weak stems). In Estonian, things are even more complicated.


Current limitations of English centric software language parsing means it's annoying to type machine generated or parseable text in Finnish.

For example pinging people in Facebook comments doesn't work with correct Finnish.

English: "this would be useful to @Pekka"

Correct Finnish: "tämä olisi hyödyllistä @Pekalle".

Machine parseable but incorrect Finnish: "tämä olisi hyödyllistä @Pekka :lle"

It would probably be possible to make a library to understand the transformed forms of words.


Consonant gradation/assimilation happens at the surface phonology and do not affect the morphological ground form. We have a similar voicing assimilation in Turkish; however, devoicing is progressively applied and do not propagate more than one syllable, unlike Finnish.


From The Fine Article:

> The extent of irregularity came as a shock. I had always believed that the Finno-Ugric family of languages, to which Estonian belongs, was “agglutinative” – that is, with words being formed by adding strings of endings in a regular way. Estonian has far more irregularity than this would suggest: consonant gradation can make forms difficult to recognise, and every putative rule seems to have exceptions.


An interesting thing I've noticed is that a lot of the younger generations in Estonia use English a lot when expressing themselves, especially when talking to their peers. I constantly hear everything from single English words in sentences, to fully English sentences used in-between Estonian ones.

I'm sure this is something that's happening everywhere (because of things like Hollywood and most of the internet being in English), but with the population in Estonia decreasing anyway, I wonder if this is an indication that the Estonian language will be dying out relatively soon.


Young people across Europe use lots of English words or even whole sentences. It tends to be a fad though, a way for young people to show off how trendy they are. Once my own peer group in Romania all reached their thirties and were no longer so interested in showing off, everyone generally dropped the English admixture and went back to speaking fairly “pure” Romanian.

Granted, Estonian may be in a different situation due to demographic factors.


I don't know if it's really a fad. I use plenty of English words when speaking Estonian to somebody that also speaks English well. Sometimes the language switches every other sentence or even mid-sentence. Some concepts are just easier to put forth in English.

I suppose part of this is that a lot of tech vocabulary in Estonian either doesn't exist or is quite awkward.


I've noticed that younger people sometimes use english idioms when there is no equivalent substitute to convey the same expression in the native language.


At least in Panama, and certainly other Latin American countries mixing English and Spanish sounds like one is trying too hard at looking like one belongs to the upper class, or that one is uneducated enough not to know the right words to express an idea in one's own language.


I hear this when my gf is speaking with her mom or friends back home in Hungary. I'd put Hungarian up there with Estonian in terms of "difficult for English speakers to learn" but I'll still pick up some bits of conversation thanks to the English loan words peppered throughout the Hungarian.


I'm half-Australian, half-Estonian, but don't really speak any Estonian yet still live here (sorry, nationalistic Estonians!). My wife is Estonian, and our nieces speak English to each other quite a bit when I'm around (and, I suspect, some significant part of the time besides that).

People like me are definitely 'part of the problem' with the Estonian language being not as used as it should be, however outside of Estonia the language - as beautiful as it is and as significant a part of my heritage as it is - is almost useless. I've done some courses + read some books, and can understand the language a reasonable amount, but I cannot speak it. Time-wise, I find it hard to justify over learning more skills for my software development trade.


Thank you, sir, for your honesty. While mother tongue is surely a big part of a person's identity, any language is also just a means to an end. Some linguistics suggest that entire peoples have switched languages in the past in just a few generations for the utility and convenience. Kalevi Wiik for instance.

Not being an avid learner of languages, I have personally always liked the idea of an universal language. English seems to be closest to the spot at the moment. It seems that Esperanto has its most avid supporters in China these days, because they would like the luxury of having to learn just one western language.

Still, every language is also a cultural artifact the loss of which would be a bummer. Today we cannot read the writing of Rapa-Nui, the Easter Island, which is sad.

The recently deceased Finnish writer Matti Mäkelä once talked about the idea of two languages: the language of the heart and the language of trade. The former you speak to express the deepest thoughts and the latter to make deals with all of the people in the world.

Maybe sometimes in the far-away future we will all speak two languages, the heart-language and the trade-language. I don't care if the latter is English or Chinese or anything else as it's just about trade and utility. For poetry and confessing my love I have another language.


Which highlights that multicultural families should keep using their native languages when talking to their kids. It's a big asset later in life! My niece is currently adoption three languages (mom, dad, kindergarten) and I know another kid that is exposed to four. They seem to have no trouble whatsoever switching to the correct language when they've figured out which one each adult is speaking with them.


I 100% agree, but my mother made the decision not to teach myself or my brother any Estonian when we were young as "there was no point as at that time it seemed Estonia would be part of the USSR forever and you'll never go there anyway". My Dad disagreed with this approach, but went along with it; it's one reason they're still married. :)


I've noticed the same in the Netherlands


I've noticed the same in Finland


Same for me. It can be fun sitting on a tram and hearing teens/youths speaking in Finnish with English interjected somewhat randomly:

"blah blah blah and then I died blah blah blah good game!"


This essential phenomenon is nothing new, of course. In the UK, it's just as fashionable and pretty much always has been to borrow words and phrases from other more exotic languages.

But I do agree that some languages are more inured to this than others, such as British English. Having enough native speakers generating new OC in the language also helps prevent a fashionable trickle of loanwords become a flood that threatens to sweep everything away.

It's the same in Sweden, English has become so commonplace you see it everywhere. Probably half od all public adverts on bus shelters and the like are written in English for no apparent reason other than it's fashionable. "Yes" has become a fairly common alternative to "ja". But overall, I don't worry too much than Swedish is really under threat or that in a generation English will have taken any deeper root.


> In the UK, it's just as fashionable and pretty much always has been to borrow words and phrases from other more exotic languages.

French is definitely the language of choice for pretentious twits who like to do this.


I like to drop a few loan words now and again, does that make me a pretentious twit? My wife popped in whilst I was writing that and said "guten nacht", incidentally.

It's always been a thing in our family, in my childhood it was Kswahili and French, the former because of my parents history and the later because of family holidays en France. After German/Russian/Latvian exchange students stayed with us there would be other phrases.

Nowadays I drop the odd "privyet" (RU), or "ca va?" (FR), or "<signing>" (BSL) but it's mostly domestically, sometimes that leaks in to the public arena ... does it offend?

Perhaps people aren't showing off but just doing something they think is fun.


To be fair a huge percentage of the language is already French words. Brits just stubbornly refuse to pronounce them “correctly”.


When English picked up all those Anglo-Norman words, they were indeed spoken as written. Middle English texts seem to confirm this.


I say it is time for a Latin revival - quidquid Latine dictum sit, altum videtur.


Quelle surprise! You read my mind.


The "total object” and “partial object” distinction exists in Finnish as well. One famous example is the verb naida, "to marry": nain hänet (total/nominative) means "I married them", but nain häntä (partial/partitive) means I married only a part of them, or in more colloquial terms, "I fucked them".


Great article showing some of the complexities in Estonian, really appreciated this breakdown.

I recently worked on a data visualization platform for the trade statistics office in Estonia (https://data.stat.ee) and many of the nuances from this article came up while we were working on the bilingual version of the site.

For example adding prepositions in front of country names, required us to write a custom function taking into account the normal "rules" and exceptions.

Here is the case for Estonia + preposition

From Estonia: Eestist

To Estonia: Eestisse

With Estonia: Eestiga

Between … and Estonia: Eesti ja … vaheline

And now here is the case for the UK + preposition. (notice the extra g added in the from, with and between cases)

From United Kingdom: Ühendkuningriigist

To United Kingdom: Ühendkuningriiki

With United Kingdom: Ühendkuningriigiga

Between … and United Kingdom: Ühendkuningriigi ja … vaheline


My favourite Estonian pun is a pink bench. Pink means bench in English :)


A wonderful introduction to the Estonian language and some of its quirks. I have minor quibbles, although my relationship to the language is as a non-native historian of the country, not a Finno-Ugric linguist or local. I always felt (rather unscientifically, of course) as though Estonian traded some of the agglutinative regularity that characterize Finnish and Hungarian for greater vocabulary familiarity for Germanic speakers. Despite what the author writes in her first endnote on foreign loan words, I've found a knowledge of German to be quite helpful when trying to guess the meaning of a word (or to extemporaneously construct one) using a calque from German.


> I've found a knowledge of German to be quite helpful when trying to guess the meaning of a word (or to extemporaneously construct one) using a calque from German.

The same can be said of Hungarian. In spite of Hungarian being a Uralic language and utterly opaque to the neighbouring countries, so many of the verbal derivations (especially since the 19th-century language reform) are calques from German. I found it easier to memorize certain Hungarian verbal idioms by storing them mentally alongside their German models.


On the subject of weird language constructs there's also the following correct Swedish sentence:

Bar barbarbarbarbar bar bar barbarbarbarbar

This translates to 'naked naked-barbarian-bar-barbarian carried a naked naked-barbarian-bar-barbarian', a worthy competitor to the well-known Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo


I never thought about the langugue they speak in Estonia

TIL there is a langugue called Estonian :)


There aren't many countries in Europe without their own language. Switzerland, Austria, Cyprus, Belgium, and the microstates -- can't think of anything else?


The national standard languages in Europe all have an associated dialect continuum that they were picked from. The standard varieties tend to overshadow other parts of the spectrum, but if Switzerland or Austria decided to abandon Standard German for a standardized form of Alemannic resp. Bavarian as the national language, those would stand as separate languages in their own right. They even have ISO 639-3 codes assigned already.

For an attempt at mapping not just standard languages, but also dialects that could be considered independent languages, see https://www.deviantart.com/totentanz0/art/Languages-of-Europ...


Switzerland has Romansh as one of its four national languages, though I'm not sure if that's the context you were intending. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romansh_language


Interesting, I somehow had missed the existence of this even though I've lived a couple of months in Switzerland. Thanks for the link!


My pleasure!


Even if one counts Ireland as “not English” there’s at least also Moldova that uses Romanian I believe.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: