reede, veebruar 09, 2007

Kuidas?

My Estonian language skills have been growing each day I've been back in Estonia. I understand a great deal of what is said around me. But once in awhile, like some sort of free jazz, the Estonians slip into this mumbling language where I have absolutely no friggin' idea what they are saying.

For starters, Estonian conversations are usually barely above a whisper, and then there's the sucking in of the air once in awhile when you say "jah." The radio, the TV, the newspaper, this can all be understood. But the actual conversations often come down to:

Mart: Ja, ulla ulla ulla ulla
Andrus: Ei, ma sala sala sala sala
Mart: Vist küll

(sarcastic laughter)


Are there actual words and sentences in those mumbles? I guess. But it would help me if you could learn to enunciate like Anu Valba and Marko Reikop, who are still the best thing on Eesti Television. Noh, mis juhtus sõbrad? Miks teie telekat on nii jama? Ma arvan et soome TV on ikka parem. Nelonen-il on suusatamine kogu aeg. Aga Kanal 3? America's Funniest Home Videos, dubbed into mumbling Estonian.

Sometimes I wonder if it is possible to gain fluency in this language. But, in reality, it is my first võõrkeel. I'll let you know how it works out.

44 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

In your troubles and confusion my friend this help may I offer - read from the experiences of those who travelled this road before: http://www.eki.ee/keel/et997.html

aivar ütles ...

I used to teach English to estonian kids in grades 4-8 in a tiny village school in the 80s and I rembemer how once one kid asked me why do they have to learn this stupid and hard language? (these rascals were constantly getting a knee slapping laughter out of the verb 'put') Who needs it anyway and it's just a waste of time. So of course, I explained that most of the world speaks and understands English, that it has a beautiful literary legacy and is used for conducting business yadda, yadda, yadda - it just made them shrug. Then the argument arose that all people all around the world should speak Estonian instead. I asked why? Their answer - because it is just so easy to speak, it does not make your jaw hurt, everything pronounced exactly how its spelled you can clearly understand the words in a spoken speech. Someone topped it off by saying that it is normal and natural like breathing.

So stay tough trying to learn to 'breathe'. Once you get it, you'll enjoy it. :-)

Anonüümne ütles ...

:-)

dresolve ütles ...

And now that you are in Tartu you may come across people from southern rural Estonia who speak a crazy dialect, good luck understanding what the hell they're saying. I learned to nod my head and intersperse a "noh jah" every now again. Still had no idea what was being said but at least it kept the conversation going.

notsu ütles ...

:)))
Reminds my problems with Swedish (a languages can hardly be easier when you learn it from books and harder to understand when spoken) and all the British English languages. Do you anglophones all understand Vicky Pollard's talk?
My worst linguistic experience was with a half-Sicilian, half-Picardian guy who spoke a mixture of both. But as he was happy with me saying "oui, oui" or sth, it wasn't much of a problem.

Dresolve, how many monolingual south-Estonians you have actually met? People under their 50s I've met generally speak northh_Estonian too.

Flasher T ütles ...

The quote, I believe, is the equivalent of Boris Johnson's "Badgers badgers badger badger badgers". (One of my old favourites when trying to stump one is Boris's "I could not fail to disagree with you less".)

I'll agree with you that Finnish TV is great, but is seems that Elion's digital cable is the only way to get it in Tartu, which is annoying.

Also, most south Estonians can speak northern perfectly well. They just choose not to. If nationalism is in the Estonian blood, tribalism is doubly so. If you've seen the movie Malev, one of the ancient Estonian tribes is characterized as "smart guys, know lots of secrets and can fly - but arrogant wankers..."

Anonüümne ütles ...

Is this "Malev" movie on the internet anywhere? I keep hearing about it. Time to check it out.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Here ya go:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0445554/

Anonüümne ütles ...

Oh... and here:

http://www.malevafilm.ee/sisu.php?lev1=4&lev2=&lang=1&sait=1

dresolve ütles ...

Dresolve, how many monolingual south-Estonians you have actually met? People under their 50s I've met generally speak northh_Estonian too -notsu

I don’t think that I’ve ever met anyone who only spoke a Southern Estonian dialect. When I was living in Tartu and learning Estonian, I had gotten to the point where I could converse pretty well with most anyone I came across. At that time I knew a guy from outside of Valga; we got along pretty well even though I understood about 50% of what he said. I thought that maybe it was just him, but when I met his brother and couldn’t really understand either of them I chalked it off to the fact that they were speaking with a “Southern” accent. Maybe it was just that my proficiency in Estonian needed improvement. I know that when I speak Estonian I speak with a pronounced American accent. Is it me, or do people from certain regions of Estonia speak with an accent? and sometimes do they pepper their speech with regionally-influenced vocabulary, such as classic example of lõuna murre väits (nuga; Eng. knife)?

Anonüümne ütles ...

Learn some new language, from new estonian cult movie 'Alien' http://www.hot.ee/tulnukas2006/
But, be careful, when using these words.

ants ütles ...

See keele teema siin Eestimaal on üks päris huvitav asi, mille Sa oma blogis üles tõstnud oled. Mina kirjutangi eesti keeles, sest olen veendunud, et Sa sellest aru saad. Ja pea kõik need noored inemised välismaalt, kes Tartusse õppima tulevad, räägivad õige varsti palju või vähe ka eesti keelt. Minu arust on see väga kena – nii Sinu kui nonde noorte poolt. Aga paljud siin Eestimaal ei õpi ja taha seda keelt rääkida. Venelane ei taha. Venelane ei õpi – Пoчeмy? Этo тaк тpyднo! Tema tahab, et temaga räägitakse siin vene keeles. Ja mõned eestlasedki seda keelt eriti ei armasta. See ei ole “peen”. Papa Kiirgi ei tahtnud oma pojale eesti nime. “Ainult mitte EESTI nime!”, ütles Jorh Tootsile. Nii kirjutavadki paljud eesti intelligent noored oma blogides laupäeva asemel “Saturday”, käivad tšillimas ja hängimas, räägivad “O kei” nii nagu möödunud sajandi alguses peen inemine ütles “Pitte seer”. Mina saan aru, et inglise keelt peab käesoleval ajal oskama, ehk isegi enam kui mõnda muud keelt, aga mina ei tea, mis tähendab “hängima”?! Kuna ma natuke inglise keelt oskan - “not perfect,” siis tuleb see arvatavasti sõnast “hang”, ja kui eesti keeles on sellel sõnal kahesugune tähendus, siis inglise keeles on ta vist kuidagi seotud poomisega? Loomulikult pole minu jutt sugugi “cool” ja sinna pole vist midagi parata, et tegelikult suhtlevad omavahel praegu ainult eesti keeles vaid minusugused vanaätid ja mutid!

stockholm slender ütles ...

For me the problem is the machine gun quality of the conversation. I usually get the point five seconds afterwards, when it's already too late. I really should study Estonian formally, but so far I have been far too lazy to start...

oliver ütles ...

Well I think the "mumbling shock" is natural when one actually starts living in this new environment. All is clearer in language lessons and on TV. It's more or less like that in every country. Estonians boost that effect even more by talking only a few decibels above whisper level. I think it's part-subconscious/part-Estonian - to be careful, not to let no one else but your private circle know what your saying. You can see the opposite (maybe not too much in Tartu), when people in public places literally scream to their cell phones or to each other (in most cases teenagers or non-Estonians). I personally prefer that relaxing humming...

Maybe the situation with the TV is not all that hopeless. When learning language, ETV is a great choice. Besides Välba and Reikop there are many others with almost perfect enunciation - Aarne Rannamäe, Peeter Kaldre, Kersna, Kärmas and so on.
You could try "Tähelaev" (what I believe has become a part of many Estonian families Sunday mornings), to learn the language and get to know Estonian celebrities (the show is actually about REAL rather than stardom-life)

I would also recommend "Valimisstuudio" election debates on every Wednesday. First debate was about Estonian foreign policy. The pace was relatively slow and both the debaters and the hosts tried to be extremely articulate... So a great lesson in Estonian language and politics.
Besides, I'm sure your Estonian blog-readers are looking forward to your exclusive election analysis a few days before the actual event, with percentages of course ;) ... and (if you're OK with it) your personal "if I were a citizen, I would vote for" candidate from your home town

oliver ütles ...

BTW, all the "Valimisstuudiod" will be available online

The first one is already there: "07.02.2007 - Riigikoguvalimiste debatt välispoliitika teemal"

notsu ütles ...

Dresolve, as far as I know, when southerners speak southern language, it really is another language with its own particular vocabulary and grammar, not just an accent. A language related to northern-Estonian, but not quite the same. Some of them also have some kind of accent when speaking the official language, but to my ear, it should be rather more understandable for a foreigner than the usual northern one, because southerners pronounce consonants stronger (like "peap" instead of "peab" etc).

Annu ütles ...

my in-laws are from south estonia:) (seto) and I feel quite stupid when they talk:D

Anonüümne ütles ...

annu

not to offend anybody, but it is setu that sounds stupid. Like in US, southern accent kind of implies stupidness. It seems to be the same everywhere. I remember hwo Moscow and Leningrad Russians used to make fun of Gorbatchov's country boy accent. Same thing with Clinton. He's a "Bama". I served in the army with a seto and he was no Einstein to put it mildly. :) Kus suitsu seal tuld. Stereotypes exist to be used!

tinakala ütles ...

Yeah, half the time we don`t know what the hell we`re saying either. Welcome to Stonia.

Trulla ütles ...

I was born in Tallinn but went to school in South Estonia (Varstu). And at the moment I live near Tartu (Elva). Also I have relatives in Viljandi and friends in Pärnu. So basically, I guess, I'm kind of able to understand all kinds of Estonian. I suppose that the Võru murrak (Võru dialect (?)) has the biggest difference in vocabulary (and maybe word-order). Were it only pronunciation (although that is quite awful too, and full of vowel- and sound-swallowing :P), it would be still understandable. The setos have many loans from the Russian language (vocabulary), mainly because of their location as closest neighbors to Russia from our side. (Sorry, anonymous, I myself have some seto roots from my father's side - and I wouldn't consider myself a hopeless dumbhead - guess the problem of many setos being kinda "slow" is rather due to their lack of education and mainly rural lifestyle - and maybe the location near Russia and the excessive drinking habit there. It's not a genetic failure :P.)

I think what makes Estonian sometimes difficult to understand for a foreigner, is our habit of swallowing some vovels here and there and also the beginnings and endings of words in the same manner occasionally. And speaking pretty fast - which, by the way, seems to be rather common among Americans or Britons too. But it's possible to get used to it and finally become to understand what the people are laughing about :).

I'd also suggest that Tähelaev (ETV) as a good means to get to know the people we here consider noteworthy or distinguished. And some talk shows (like the ones of Urmas Ott were) are also pretty educational besides the struggle of understanding what on earth is said there :).

Learning to understand Estonian just takes time and practice - both of which you now should have plenty of :D.

So, good luck with that tiresome struggle :).

(A bit offtopic: I've always wondered about Scottish English myself - like "what the hell are THEY mumbling about" :P )

Trulla ütles ...

Ah, besides what's already said: I just LOOOOVE my husband's relatives from Saaremaa speaking their dialect!!! Anyone who ever wants to enjoy Estonian spoken as a jolly springtime rill babbling over smooth shiny marbles, should go to Saaremaa and listen to the locals speaking to each other :)))). It's simply ADORABLE!!

My favourite kind of Estonian!(Although I'm not able to speak it like that myself unfortunately).

Kerho Ukkonen ütles ...

Estonian to me presents a strange challenge. The language is so close to mine, Finnish, that I am sure in the beginning that I will get the relevant point. However, the damn thing gets derailed in no time, and I have to face the fact that these two languages are not the same. So close and yet so far.

Scott ütles ...

If you are in Estonia, we need to meet and share a drink.

Send me an e-mail to estoniakat at hotmail dot com

notsu ütles ...

Kerho, even a North Estonian can feel the same when they first time encounter a hard-boiled Setu... ooops, is it Estonian?

space_maze ütles ...

In my experience (coming from a similar viewpoint guistino comes from - American, grew up in Austria, Estonia first foreign language, as both English and German are native to me), south Estonian is a lot more troublesome to northern Estonian than Finnish, actually. Going to Helsinki is a lot less going abroad than going to Setomaa is.

notsu ütles ...

Maybe due to the continuous practice of Talliners - first Finnish TV, then Finnish tourists. Estonians who speak northern dialects, but are out of reach of Finnish channels and tourism have troubles with understanding Finnish.

notsu ütles ...

Giustino, I got curious about one thing in your post: you say that Estonian is your first foreign language. Aren't there foreign language classes in US schools? I always thought that there were and was wondering what would the most widespread first foreign language (for schools) be - my guess was Spanish or French.

Giustino ütles ...

(A bit offtopic: I've always wondered about Scottish English myself - like "what the hell are THEY mumbling about" :P )

I remember when I saw Trainspotting in the theater, I was one of the few people laughing. Everyone else was kind of like, "wha?"

BUT, when we were in Glasgow two years ago, I had a very embarassing conversation with a Pakistani who kept telling me, "sonna chef" until I understood he was saying "It's on the shelf." Nothing like a Pakistani-Scottish-English accent :)

Estonian to me presents a strange challenge. The language is so close to mine, Finnish, that I am sure in the beginning that I will get the relevant point.

I have a hard time telling the difference between Estonian and Finnish at first, for example, while channel surfing.

south Estonian is a lot more troublesome to northern Estonian than Finnish, actually.

South Estonian is very flat, and there is more "mumbling." North Estonian sounds more like Finnish, more swallowed sounds. Tallinners won't tell you they sound like Finns, but they do.

Giustino ütles ...

Giustino, I got curious about one thing in your post: you say that Estonian is your first foreign language. Aren't there foreign language classes in US schools? I always thought that there were and was wondering what would the most widespread first foreign language (for schools) be - my guess was Spanish or French.

Well, I took Latin from grades 7 through 9. Then I took Spanish in grades 10 - 12. However, I was terrible at Spanish. I failed my first semester of Spanish in college and never looked back.

I also studied Danish in my senior year of university. I was much better at that. But, I obviously don't live in Denmark, so I don't have much use for it. Knowledge of Danish has helped me read the Scandinavian languages though. I can make my way through Norwegian and Swedish newspapers. I can even understand some basic Icelandic things.

But Estonian is a real second language for me. It is a language that I continue to learn with the goal of fluency. These other languages were like hobbies. I am very serious about this one.

Anonüümne ütles ...

In Estonia it is so normal, that a person can speek at least two languages, but mostly there is more then two. I can speak estonian, russian, finnish, english and german.

Giustino ütles ...

In Estonia it is so normal, that a person can speek at least two languages, but mostly there is more then two. I can speak estonian, russian, finnish, english and german.

Most place I go, people speak English, and they often refuse to speak their language with you.

As happens in Estonia, in Denmark too, I could speak in Danish and get all the responses in English.

Until about five years ago, I honestly had no practical use for a second language. I am amazed by how well people speak English. It actually isn't an easy language, especially the quirky spelling and grammar rules.

People make a big deal out of the Estonian cases, but English prepositions aren't much better. It's hard to explain the difference between "at the TV" "on the TV" and "in the TV" and so on.

notsu ütles ...

...and English spelling/pronounciaction rules beat even its grammar. Or beat the spelling rules of any other language with so-to-say phonetical alphabet.

notsu ütles ...

Made a spelling error myself, as if to make the point:). Actually just being careless, sorry for that.

Annu ütles ...

would you like us here speak Estonian, then:)?

Annu ütles ...

speak=write:)

plasma-jack ütles ...

the the other foreigners wouldn't catch up

(personally, I advertise this blog to every foreigner who wants to know mre about Estonia)

indy ütles ...

Try being born in the US to Estonian parents, with a resident Vanaema who spoke the southern dialect (but whose late husband had been from Saaremaa, and so had some of that vocabulary)...

We spoke eesti keel at home, since Vanaema spoke no English, but according to my teachers at eesti kool, we spoke incorrectly. Of course, they were all from Tallinn. So I had it deeply ingrained that I did not know how to speak properly.

The result is that I have decent auditory comprehension as well as good reading comprehension of eesti keel, but am still afraid to try speaking beyond the "Hello, how are you?" stage with anyone except my immediate family. And with them, in my generation it's a mix of eesti keel and English (a little German thrown in for spice)- with their kids, it's all English, with eesti keel being accounted much too hard to learn. And this from kids who learned German and Japanese at school!

Eesti keel is a difficult language to learn, but so is English. I feel fortunate to have grown up speaking both, because for the most part I don't have to think about why I'm using a particular case or whatever - it just comes naturally (more or less!).

notsu ütles ...

Indy, dialects were disregarded earlier, but today they are in fashion. It is very cool to speak a dialect in today's Estonia. I know a family living in Tartu who purposefully speak only võru dialect with their kids. The kids already speak both, Võru and Estonian language (Estonian like a lingua franca for not-võru people).

Trulla ütles ...

Don't know now. When I was still in high school (which was located in Võrumaa) and went to visit my deskmate's aunt in Pärnu, she actually commented quite a few times on our use of words and also said, that it wasn't "classy" and forbid us speaking like that :). And when I married, my husband (from Tartumaa) used to have a good laugh a couple of times on my way of pronouncing some words like "kauss" or such with my southern accent, whilst he was used to a bit different sound of the word :P.

And as far as I know, speaking some other dialect than the North Estonia style Estonian is still a laughing stock mostly. People find it a bit funny - but not really "classy" as such. You're automatically taken as a maakas (hillbilly) if you happen to use some dialect. Haven't met anybody who'd proven that understanding of mine wrong so far.

notsu ütles ...

Maybe it is cool only in university circles then... or in university finno-ugrian philology circles then. But consider that võru language is even taught to kids in South-East schools today. It has some kind of official status.

Trulla ütles ...

Yep :). I think most philology students (as well as native culture students in Viljandi, too) are a sort of people living more in contact with our rural roots than the rest of Estonians. I respect them for being so stubbornly loyal to their field. But I doubt whether any dialects will ever be really reborn the way they once were alive. Young people in Võrumaa (as the capital and main supports base to our dialect-speakers) still don't prefer that Võru keel, although some activists are really working hard on preserving the dialect. But to my mind it'll finally be something like Latin, which many people learn but almost none speak now. At the times of some centuries back I've heard some professors and philosophers and such at universities used to be able to even speak Latin to each other, not to mention writing in it. But still, Latin is a dead language in my opinion, which will never live the way it used to at the times of ancient Romans.

The work our enthusiasts do now to preserve the Võru dialect and to teach young people at least how it was and should be spoken, is honourable, but I seriously doubt that they'll ever reach more than just some awareness of the dialect as such. There are still only very few active speakers to keep the flag raised. Young people are aware of the existence of the dialect but when speaking, they tend to prefer the more common ways.

The rest of the dialects in Estonia (besides the Võru murre) are dying out quickly. Not much left of Valga or Mulgi or Pärnu dialects, I guess. And the lovely way older residents of Saaremaa still speak to each other is also fading with young people still knowing the old ways but prefering the more common "kirjakeel" to those.

It's kind of sad of course to think so, but yeah, I think the Võru dialect will go the same path that Latin did.

I guess, Justin is an authority here to speak on topic of Latin being alive or not, of course, since he, I understand so, has learned it at school :).

And I also found something similar from one of his previous posts (don't remember exactly which one, though). I mean, the idea that once a culture is dead, it remains dead, however well we try to teach it again and follow the traditions - what was once dead will never be genuine again.

Giustino ütles ...

would you like us here speak Estonian, then:)?

I've considered switching to Estonian, but I think there are already a plethora of Estonian-language blogs. That would also slow things down (for me) quite a bit.

Anyway, this blog is a portal for those that can converse in English that want to talk about things that are going on in Estonia.

notsu ütles ...

Well, Võru dialect isn't dead yet in the sence that Latin is. Many young(-ish) people I've met from this area speak it to each other, although not to me. And those kids I wrote about learn it as their mothertongue. But those people - except for the kids naturally - all either have university education or are in process of getting it. So it _may_ be a kind of reversed snobbery.
Around Elva and Rõngu I know several people in their fifties who still speak old Tartu dialect. I don't know how much has it been taken over by younger generation.
But even native Tartu people (and even when speaking official language) tend to use different forms and constructions from northerners. Take "ei teha/ei minna" forms for instance (in official language "ei tehta/ei minda"). Not to speak about different vocabulary. And Võru area people rather say "ma'" in context where a northerner would say "mina" - even when speaking official language, again. Once I was also mistaken when I was asked "Mille?" and the asker meant "Why?, while I understood it as "of what" or "belonging to what" in my northern thinking.

stockholm slender ütles ...

It's absolutely great to have a lively blog in English about Estonian matters. I'm sure there are plenty of Estonian ones already in existence.