esmaspäev, detsember 11, 2006

The Bane of Your Existence

When I lived in Denmark about five years ago, I made it a point to learn some Danish. Like fellow Nordic pessimists the Estonians, the Danes told me that I shouldn't even bother, that their tongue was impenetrable, and that they'd rather speak English. But I felt strongly that if you are a foreigner in a foreign culture, you should learn the language - even if it's Swahili or Breton or Frisian. Why should I expect people to know my language in their own country. When I got back to the US I tried my Scandinavian skills on a Swedish woman at a party, who promptly pulled her husband over and said, "William, this young man has lived four months in Denmark and can speak some Swedish." Apparently, he had lived with the woman for years but still couldn't muster a word paa svenska.

When I then became 'involved' with an Estonian woman, I kept up my promise that I would never, ever, be that guy that expects his life companion should think in a foreign language 24 hours a day just because, yawn - scratch, he's too lazy to learn. So far I have had mixed results. People tell me I speak very well, even the coveted "vabalt" (fluently) but I don't think so. My mind still works in English and it is hard to quickly assemble those sentences with Estonia's tricky grammar. And then there are the exceptions. You can go "Tartusse" but you can't go "Kuressaaresse" - no, you must go "Kuressaarde." But as bad as I think I am, young women still think I am good enough to introduce to their non-Estonian knowing boyfriends to me who then will procede to hate my guts for being able to speak the Finnic bog language.

So to all of you out there I am sorry if my private ambitions not to be that guy have ever gotten you in hot water with your loved one. If it makes you feel any better, I took five years of Spanish and I don't remember any of it.

33 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

Nice of you to learn Estonian. My brother-in-law is an American too but he's not the least bit interested in Estonia or Estonian. My sister is not even allowed to teach their 2 year old daughter Estonian since she's supposed to be an all-American girl. He's an ass. Too bad all Americans aren't like you.

Giustino ütles ...

My sister is not even allowed to teach their 2 year-old daughter Estonian since she's supposed to be an all-American girl.

I usually tell curious "all-American" types that my daughter can make "a lot of money" as a translator if she knows both.

Once the Americans see $$$, they stop asking questions. :(

stockholm slender ütles ...

Me and my wife are bad Finno-Ugrians, our common language is English... Well, to be honest, I'm the bad Finno-Ugrian as my wife actually has almost perfect Finnish, but my Estonian could be, hmm, way better. I understand most conversations fairly easily and can laboriously read Estonian newspapers, but speaking it still feels way too difficult. Of course, for a Finn this should be the bare minimum - but the languages are actually not mutually understandable: the difference is way bigger than between Norwegian and Swedish for example.

I once saw on an Estonian web page a construction of how Estonian sounded 1000 years ago: it was quite indistiguishable from Finnish. We had a common language once, but us Finns stayed deep (and inbred) in our forests and Estonians chose a more, well, lively place.

notsu ütles ...

Maybe it wasn't the matter of a choice only... after all, we had all those Germans here. Main language changes in Estonian are supposed to have happened in 1300s-1600s - i.e, Estonian of 1600s was pretty similar to Estonian of today already.

stockholm slender ütles ...

I suppose when Estonian changed quite heavily Finnish stayed relatively unchanged. The German invasion must have been hugely more traumatic than the quite gradual Swedish takeover that was fairly non-violent. You happened to have the bad luck of being invaded by robber barons while the first Finns were electing the Swedish king in the 14th century. And the peasants stayed free and were even represented at the Riksdag - even if desperately poor. As a general rule I think it is better to be occupied by the Swedes as opposed to Germans...

Anonüümne ütles ...

I was actually thinking of Benton 2 days ago when I heard my parents are going to his concert - does this guy speak any estonian at all? He has been around for 6 years already and I have only heard him speaking in english... not much different from our russians, is he? #1, is your sisters love so strong or she doesn't have any self respect?

Giustino ütles ...

He has been around for 6 years already and I have only heard him speaking in english... not much different from our russians, is he?

Eestlased on liiga pehm :) Ainult rääki eesti keeles oma sõbraga.

oliver ütles ...

My thoughts on the subject. There's no point learning your wife's/husband's language if you don't plan to be part of it... that means: live in it.
I personally can't understand people who (permanently) leave their cultural space to another, but at the same time continue to live exactly like in their old home. I guess your grand?grand?grandparents thought about it the same way.
On the other hand, if these people feel unsure about their choice or are forced to leave their home (e.g. war refugees), it should be perfectly ok for them to preserve their culture and language to the extent it does not pose threat to their new home country's culture and customs.

However, knowledge of this country's language is a completely different issue - it's the most natural thing in the world - to know the language of your home; question about how much you respect your home and yourself.
To me it's totally absurd to demand language test from people applying for citizenship of certain states. Why would you want to be part of something you don't respect? But as the real life shows, these measures are justified...

-------
As to Mr. Benton, I have hear that he is somewhat embarrassed by his bad pronunciation, but already has quite nice vocabulary and understands almost everything.
And for the past few years he has also included a few Christmas songs in Estonian in his concerts. I'm sure this year is no different.

the other mel ütles ...

I still remember working in Estonia years ago and as a journalist (I have 0% Esto blood), I called up Narva elektrijaamad to ask some questions. The guy over the phone told me to wait (all in Estonian, of course), and I heard him shout in the background 'who wants to deal with this damn foreign Estonian?'

I didn't know whether that was a complement or a dig at my Estonian...

Giustino ütles ...

#

As to Mr. Benton, I have hear that he is somewhat embarrassed by his bad pronunciation, but already has quite nice vocabulary and understands almost everything.
And for the past few years he has also included a few Christmas songs in Estonian in his concerts. I'm sure this year is no different.


Just for clarification, I put up Dave's photo because I needed a photo of a couple where the woman was Estonian and the man was not. Not because I have any opinion on his language skills.

I didn't know whether that was a complement or a dig at my Estonian...

Maybe a dig. Estonians can be really mean about people speaking their language. I called up a friend and requested to speak with him in Estonian, and I could hear the girl over the phone say, "Some guy speaking really bad Estonian wants to talk to you."

Anonüümne ütles ...

she wasn't being mean, I guess..
she was only stating a fact. remember - Estonians are sometimes shockingly straightforward.

T! ütles ...

hmm...what about me...living since 1.5 years in good old eesti, speaking most of the time english, my russian is also not bad at all but unfortunately, my estonian is still poor, to be very honest and without searching for an excuse: estonian is pretty hard for me to learn (I must admit languages in general are pretty hard for me to learn)...So, here I go, speaking german/russian and english but not estonian...still surviving and none Estonian ever told me I shall, in manner to honor my host-country, learn Estonian...they rather say, dont bother, estonian is hard, there are even more people on the world who speak latin...and so they say: we are even proud on our quite high english level.

Anonüümne ütles ...

It sucks big time if we tell anyone not to study estonian - even more, if the person is a resident. To be proud of speaking english equals zero, because, you see, english is not a "foreign" language and we are surrounded with it 24/7 (most of us). Someting should catch on. My vote goes for those, who bother to learn a language so tiny as estonian is. What's the reward? You can become a local "celebrity" as the author of this blog.

Giustino ütles ...

My vote goes for those, who bother to learn a language so tiny as estonian is. What's the reward? You can become a local "celebrity" as the author of this blog.

The real reward is being able to sit down at a family gathering with your in-laws and understand them and be accepted instead of sitting in the corner like a "deaf, dumb, and blind kid" and feeling like a third wheel or handicap.

I didn't learn Estonian to start a blog - I did it because that's what I think you should do if your wife speaks another language. I'd feel pretty arrogant if I didn't at least make an attempt.

Giustino ütles ...

Another added bonus is understanding your wife's conversations :)

You'll never have to wonder what she is saying to your sister-in-law about you again!

Bob ütles ...

I have mentioned before here that I too am trying to learn "Eesti keelt".
I have to agree with whoever that said that the only ones to speak GOOD Estonian are the native speakers. I think I'm actually doing pretty well considering I don't have an Estonian speaker "at my elbow" to help me. I can handle simple conversations and at least be understandable and I can understand a little if the speaker takes it easy on me and stays out of the "turbo" speaking mode. Hey, I could probably land at Tallinn airport and get to one of my friends' homes while eating a meal and doing some shopping on the way. Of course I know that all important term "kus aub tualletruum?"!

My motivation is that while I "speak" to several younger Estonians, which is very good while being mostly accomplished in Inglise, I would also like to converse with some Estonians closer to my own age. Of course this age group is more apt to be able to speak only Eesti keel and Vene (Russian).

I would love to make an extended visit to Eesti one of these days, but unfortunately I am in this position: "If it cost 2 cents to go around the world I couldn't get across the street." Well, in the meantime I listen to Vikerraadio on the internet.

notsu ütles ...

Eva Toulouze speaks GOOD estonian... so good that if you didn't know, you'd think she's an estonian.
I've met several others whose Estonian has perfect grammar and better vocabulary than most of Estonians, only the accent is a giveaway.

Bob ütles ...

"I've met several others whose Estonian has perfect grammar and better vocabulary than most of Estonians, only the accent is a giveaway."

Lol, you never heard me speak English. With my "southwestern drawl", I can butcher it up pretty badly! So, my Eesti keel is spoken with the drawl too! Well, it does leave the Estonians scratching their heads.

Õ - spoken as in Tallinn
Õ - spoken as in Kuressaare
Õ - spoken as in eastern New Mexico or west Texas

Frank ütles ...

Skip the legend of the robber barons, Stockholm Slender ...

Modern Estonian probably was shaped by the Lutheran pastors (modern German is also due to Luther´s translation of the Bible) who in many cases had a German background and certainly a German education ... their idea was not to subjugate (they could have stuck to Latin then) but to spread the good news!

notsu ütles ...

Actually, the largest loan-group (so whe can suppose, the largest influence in other respects too) in Estonian is Low-German. This means 1) no Lutheran priests; 2) according to the nature of these loans, they have come from Robber-Barons neither, but rather from town-bourgeoisie. Take the words like cake, kitchen, plum... what comes to your mind.

Anonüümne ütles ...

http://www.estonica.org/eng/lugu.html?menyy_id=1090&kateg=38&alam=101&leht=9

Anonüümne ütles ...

http://www.estonica.org/eng/lugu.html?menyy_id=1090&kateg=38&alam=101&leht=9

Anonüümne ütles ...

http://www.estonica.org/eng/lugu.html?menyy_id=1090&kateg=38&alam=101&leht=9

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, I guess my point about the robber barons vs Sweden was more political and social and not directly linguistic (I would not really see the German nobility as being language teachers). Sweden seems a better choice for a colonial power than particularly insular feudal overlords. But with them being protestants there surely would have been some sort of a role for the native language. As a historical event it certainly does look more disruptive and traumatic than the slow Swedish takeover of the Finnish areas, so maybe that would have even some effect for the language development but that surely would be hard to prove. Estonian and Finnish were gradually separating in any case into distinct languages.

notsu ütles ...

But I've heard that today's Helsinkian slang shares some features with Estonian... (shorter words, dropped endings etc)

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yeah, any slang version would be shorter than grammatically "correct" Finnish... But I would say that it is Turku dialect that brings Estonian most to mind: "Mää lähre Turkku" instead of "Minä lähden Turkuun", "tois pual jokke" instead of "toisella puolella jokea" etc. etc. There have been theories that the region had a significant inflow of Estonians at some stage of history.

notsu ütles ...

... like theories that our Northern Coast inhabitants are estonized Finns in fact. They have only 2 different lengths of fonemes, for instance.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Now that would be lovely. These 3 lengths just kill me, can't hear the difference basically...

notsu ütles ...

So you could pass as a Kuusalu or Haljala or Jõelähtme guy. They say "Koloraaaado Marrrrdikas" instead of Koloraado mardikas :);
they don't have much of õ and no palatalization at all. And other traits that sound very Finnish.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yeah, I put those lengths fairly randomly at the moment... I usually aim for something like 2,5 length if I feel that it might the long one. Not that I really speak the language freely. It really is funny when my wife tries to illustrate the point by pronouncing the different words: I just hear excactly the same sound, twice. (Hmm, or thrice, she's from Tartu...)

notsu ütles ...

Actually, the Finnish longer one of 2 lenghts sounds like the long one of Estonian to me. The medium is somewhere in between Finnish long and Finnish short.
It is mainly about the relation between the respective lengths stressed syllable and the one after it, not the actual length:
when the stressed syllable is medium, it is pronounced about as long as the syllable after it;
when the stressed syllable is long, it is pronounced twice or thrice longer than the one after it;
when the stressed syllable is short, it is pronounced twice or thrice shorter than the next.
This is one thing that makes it quite tricky to put Estonian words to music. That's why those old bad chorale translations sound so funny.

If I could write musical notes here, it would be easier to visualize. But maybe you can write it in music yourself.

stockholm slender ütles ...

It is a very difficult thing for a Finn to learn. You so naturally use your own language sense and it just doesn't work here. And as you can't much hear the difference, it doesn't seem so important... I would say that this binary long-short -dichotomy seems way simpler, but that is of course only if you view it as a native speaker!

Anonüümne ütles ...

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