kolmapäev, märts 14, 2007

Emakeele päev

Today is Emakeele päev, or 'mother tongue day' in Estonia. I guess the philosophy behind this holiday is to create nation-wide appreciation for the language of Estonia, Estonian.

I have been working on my Estonian lately by picking my way through Dagmar Normet's book Une-Mati, Päris-Mati, ja Tups. Each page yields an unending avalanche of new vocabulary words. Just from the first pages of this book I have learned:

Noomima (to scold), Vahva (cool), Oivaline (wonderful), and Püstitama (to erect). Another key word, used all the time in Estonian, is Mõistma (to realize/understand). All of these words, just from the first few pages of a children's book.

People tend to think that Estonian is an impossible language. I do not agree. I recall watching my roommate in college trying to learn Japanese characters, just so he could write a basic sentence. Now that was a tough language.

But the real challenge here is learning the vocabulary and remembering it. The grammar can be learned, with effort, well enough, and if you listen to Estonian enough you'll be able to guess the cases. But the vocabulary is so different that words literally slip in one ear and out the other. It takes a long time to make words stick for good.

To an English speaker, how am I really supposed to figure out the difference between suusatamine (skiing) and suitsetamine (smoking)? Then there's the difficult past tense. Ma suusatan (I ski), ma suusatasin (I skied), ma suitsetan (I smoke), ma suitsetasin (I smoked), and then the mouthful, past perfect mina olen suusatanud (I have skied), ma olen suitsetanud (I have smoked).

And if you make one tiny mistake, nobody understands what you are talking about because in the Estonian language everything has to be put into context. You have to explain everything or else people just don't understand you. For example, the other day I went to buy tissues at the Apteek.

I was sent to buy ninataskurätikud, literally 'nose pocket towels,' but instead I asked for 'ninakäterätikud' or 'nose hand towels', to which the müüja (seller) mockingly replied, "Kuidas?" (What?). Another time I was sent to buy tikkud (matches) and wound up asking for tundlik (sensitive) instead. These words are all gobbeldygook to me. They are random combinations of consonants and vowels.

One of my first brain busters was learning to differentiate between ostma (to buy) and otsima (to look for). The only real difference is that one is ots and the other is ost. These two sounds make a world of difference.

Of course, English is no easy language either. English speakers forget how difficult this language is. In reality, English is nothing but an apple that fell a bit far from the Germanic tree. It's a mutt, in other words, an odd mix of German, French, and Scandinavian languages with Celtic syntax and pronunciation added in. What makes English that different from Estonian? Not much.

I try to remember this fact as I work my way through the Estonian language. I try to remember that for Estonians, what's the difference between "sale", "sail", "seal" (to close), "seal" (the animal), "cell" (the bilogical construct), and "cell" (the room in the prison) not to mention "shell"?

As hard as your language is for me, I am sure that my language has been just as much a pain in the ass for you.

40 kommentaari:

plasma-jack ütles ...

dunno, I'm an Estonian and English has always been the easiest foreign language I know. what do the others think? I studied myself French and Russian since the first grades, English since highschool. And it has been the only foreign language that I would dare to use in public.

but that might be thanks to all the computer games and books and films and music, of course.

Sten ütles ...

I "speak" english since the first grade I think, because I watched Cartoon Network when I was little. That's why english has never been really that hard for me. I never translated anything and after some time I just realized that I can speak english. I think that's only possible for children, not adults. Learning a language as an adult is much harder.

Btw I love that story about the estonian words. It made me laugh.

Jerruke ütles ...

And don't forget about the irregular verbs :) Most languages are similar in the sense that the verbs used most often tend to be irregular (because when they are used often, then it is more easy to remember their irregularity, and if a verb is not used so often, if it doesn't belong to everyday vocabulary, then it must be regular - otherwise nobody would use it right).
I sometimes think that some Estonian verbs could be a nightmare to foreigners.
Examples:
minema - mina lähen
sööma - mina sõin (past)
lööma - lõin
lugema - loen
etc...

so, I wish you good luck :)

luize ütles ...

Ja emakeelepäev on üks sõna :)

Tatsutahime ütles ...

I still wonder how on earth could I learn english as a foreign language by adult age. It just consists of exeptions :) But I've heard english around me since I was born (BBC, friends of parents now and then) and started to learn in at around six (as most of estonians, I presume), so the enourmous complexity has somewhat passed me (but I still make a bunch of mistakes in articles, because it has just no logic - and I guess in some other grammar aspects as well).

By the way, japanese sounds much more logical to me than english, i am just lucky, that I learned the latter as a child.

And - "ninataskurätikud", I think that this word mostly doesn't exist. It is like your nose had pockets (and "ninakäterätikud" sounds like your nose had hands). You should either use "ninarätik" or "taskurätik", which are mostly the same (little towels which fit in the pocket and are useful for nose). "Käterätik" is something bigger, like a kitchen towel. The little towels you use for hands but hold in pockets are basically "taskurätik" or even "kätepuhastuslapp"

Evil Purc ütles ...

I am trully sorry, but i picked your language up along with Finnish from Finnish TV when I was about five years old. =]

Trulla ütles ...

I started learning English from zero when I was 18 years old. But since I've always found it one of my favourite languages (it has a sort of "singing" accent to it), I guess it hasn't been hard for me to learn it. Although of course I still sometimes make mistakes, especially with articles and prepositions (tend to notice my mistakes only a bit after already having made some and sometimes it's too late to correct them by then :)), and my vocabulary is somewhat limited compared to a native speaker. But I hope to keep developing of course :).

I also liked your description of your struggles with the Estonian vocabulary :). It was funny :). And opened some new perspectives for me on how foreigners' minds work when trying to differentiate between our words and their roots. It may come in handy for me since I work as a language teacher (with beginners, though :)).

For me, skilful writing in Estonian is a rather tiresome task, since I have trouble in using commas correctly. I really haven't managed to get that right so far :).

Mattias ütles ...

By the way, today emakeelepäeval it's nice to see such news - http://www.epl.ee/artikkel/378079 .

That's why we need Keeleinspektsioon.

Flasher T ütles ...

Giustino, I believe what you really wanted was pabertaskurätikud - paper pocket towels. :)

As an English major whose mother tongue is neither English nor Estonian, I have to say - English is a piece of cake. This is why it's the lingua franca - because it is very easy to learn for people who speak languages with way more complicated morphology. Most Estonians may not be proficient in English, but they're fair in it.

and started to learn in at around six (as most of estonians, I presume)

When most Estonians were six, they started learning Russian. :P

Anonüümne ütles ...

Kiirkeedukannukaanesoojendaja.

Kaur ütles ...

And you haven't spoken about the toughest part yet. In our school we had an exchange student from Germany last year and the most difficult words for him were "palk" (salary) and "palk" (log, beam) or "kass" (cat) and "kas" (Kas sa tead? / Do you know?) which are pronounced differently. And btw matches is in estonian tikud, not tikkud.

space_maze ütles ...

I don't think Estonian grammar is particularily hard really. People keep telling me how scary they've heard Uralic languages are, as they have "so many cases" .. the 15 are really the easiest thing for me. You need to learn the genitive, and then you've got it.

Whereas in German, you have only four cases .. but these go, classically:

der Bub
des Bubs
dem Bubem
den Buben

.. and completely different with any other word. Compared to that (not that I know personally, as, unlike my parents, I was spared the pain of actually having to aquire German), Estonian grammar is a piece of cake.

What is less easy though - and correlates to what guistino is saying .. it might be an illusion of mine, but it just seems like the bulk of Estonian vocabulary has no limits.

I recently bought "Väike Prints" from a book store in central Vienna (that was a most surprising find indeed) .. a children's book, yes? Should be simple enough? Especially as it wasn't actually written in Estonia, and thus shouldn't have too many overly "alien" formulations?

So I thought :) .. in spite of knowing a bulk of several thousand of Estonian words (I've quizzed myself with a self-built vocabulary sheet), I can't read a single sentence without running into words I have certainly never encountered before. No matter how much I learn, there always seems to be more.

I seem to recall that in English, 90+% of communication happens with less than 2000 words, in spite of the enourmous size of valid English vocabulary. I don't think this figure would be accurate in Estonian.

One problem I've had several times already now .. "mina lõin" - I created (looma) .. or I poured? (lööma) :)

space_maze ütles ...

And you haven't spoken about the toughest part yet. In our school we had an exchange student from Germany last year and the most difficult words for him were "palk" (salary) and "palk" (log, beam) or "kass" (cat) and "kas" (Kas sa tead? / Do you know?) which are pronounced differently. And btw matches is in estonian tikud, not tikkud.

I had problems with that till an Estonian told me a rule that is applicable in very many cases. If a word has four letters, ends with a consonant, and has a genitive ending on -i (kass --> kassi), it will generally be palatalised. If not, then not.

The other difficult thing .. two infinitives. When use which one?

The explenation I got was that aside from "pidama", you generally only use the -ma infinitive when you're using it in a "semi-locative" sense - "hakan töötama" (I start working (I'm throwing myself INTO this work)), jalutan ujuma (I'll run TO a swim), .. (pardon me if I got those cases wrong. I'm not at home, and thus don't have my dictionary with me)

The things I still have yet to master: the imperatives in other persons than 2nd person. The whole -vat thing. Impersonals in various cases.

John Ross ütles ...

Nice to know I'm not the only one feeling the pain!

I just started learning Estonian in September, and am not having an easy time with it.

The other thing I find difficult is the noun conjugation. With the subtle differences between words, it's really hard to figure out if the difference is a conjugation, or a new word.

One thing I love about Estonian is the way you re-use words. Words like 'nahkhiir' and 'võileib' are awsome. Even if you've never heard of those words before, you can guess what a leather mouse is.

All you Estos are crazy, but you're a lovable lot.

John Ross ütles ...

Kiirkeedukannukaanesoojendaja

I've been trying to figure out what this means, but I need some help.

something bed warmer?

Oudekki ütles ...

I wouldn't put english as an easy language. It is definitely not an easy one. But the English, they have a long history how to teach language properly from the colonial times. They basically invented the modern methods of teaching the language, starting from limited number of easy forms and then gradually expanding it.

As I have browsed a lot of language books and books on teaching languages (even if I am not a linguist), I have developed a feeling that no-one else in the world has not yet developed the teaching of language on such a master-level. And that is why the english language is sort of a "lingua franca".

I say "sort of" because there are lots and lots of places where english is not speaken and understood almost at all. Even in Europe for example, Italy for example.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Kiirkeedukannukaanesoojendaja is a theoretical word. As an item, picture smth. like a little mitt that goes over a tea pot cover to keep the contents warm.

But here's a funny sotry how Estonian language was created and why it is as crazy as it is - http://www.eki.ee/keel/et997.html

Anonüümne ütles ...

As an estonian and english speaker I find it annoying that in Estonian we do not have "he" or "She." This often makes story telling quite clumsy as you can imagine. On the other hand, here we have a language where gender equality is built into the grammar. Eat that PC hounds and feminazis of America! :-)

Giustino ütles ...

And btw matches is in estonian tikud, not tikkud.

kurat!

Giustino ütles ...

I am trully sorry, but i picked your language up along with Finnish from Finnish TV when I was about five years old.

I sadly don't recall learning any other languages as a child. Maybe Ewok.

plasma-jack ütles ...

dunno, I can't think of any reason why would anyone have to refer to anyone's gender anyway. in Russian language, the declination of these bloody pronouns is a totally impossible quest for me. very confusing, especially because in some cases, the adjective MUST NOT be related to noun, though in most cases it MUST BE. can't say it in Russian, but you know, if you say "that girl is beautiful", you have to use a different form of "beautiful" than when saying "that is a beautiful girl". (krassivo or krassivaja). it makes a helluva lot of sense, indeed.

plasma-jack ütles ...

how do you say 'öeldistäide' in English?

plasma-jack ütles ...

predicative, got it.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Jeezh! Esto is my native, but the word "öeldistäide" sounds like something bricklayers would use instead of cement or smth. I hated Estonian at school. Mainly beacuse of the awful wench we had lording over us.

Kaur ütles ...

As an estonian and english speaker I find it annoying that in Estonian we do not have "he" or "She." This often makes story telling quite clumsy as you can imagine.
Interesting, for me the hardest thing about English is that I always have to think whether to use he or she, and when I speak I often mix them up. Another problem is what to use when the gender is not knwon, "he or she" is too clumsy.

notsu ütles ...

I've noticed that anglophones use "they" when they don't know wheter it is a he or she. Plural signifier, but singular signified.

Sten ütles ...

I have a couple of questions:
does "strange" mean exactly the same as "weird"
and does "intentionally" mean exactly the same as "on purpose"?

Giustino ütles ...

I have a couple of questions:
does "strange" mean exactly the same as "weird"
and does "intentionally" mean exactly the same as "on purpose"?


I think 'strange' sounds more threatening, while 'weird' just sounds odd. 'Strange' has more in common with 'võõr' - something unknown and foreign. 'Weird' is just unusual.

A 'strange' car is one that you don't know, that perhaps belongs to an extraterrestrial from outer space sent here to do harm!

But a 'weird' car might have no windows, or the drivers seat in the back instead of the front.

Sten ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
romana ütles ...

"These words are all gobbeldygook to me. They are random combinations of consonants and vowels."

Well, the sad truth is that all words are actually random combinations of consonants and vowels. Restrictions arise only from the phonemic rules of language which are actually as arbitrary as the words themselves (although we rarely if ever come to think about it). Only the speaking community gives them a meaning.

Any language is easy to learn if you start early enough. It is said that one should start learning the first foreign language at the age of five; then one knows mother tongue good enough not to mix it with another languages. If a child starts learning several languages earlier, she will turn out to be bilingual (or even trilingual); a good example is lovely Marta.

Anyway, jõudu õppimisel! :)

StS's wife ütles ...

hmmm... there of course always is the matter of interpretation... meaning, how one defines and sees one's language skills. being able to express myself and being fluent can be two quite different matters. but 'can speak english' may mean as well one or the other...
so, in a way i do speak english daily. but on the other hand, i speak it quite carelessly and, put it like this, creatively XD. (who said english is probably the most misused and abused language in the world?). the grammar is almost an emotional quetion: i might never quite realise that if i say 'in' or 'on' or 'at', matters as much in english as using different cases matters in estonian.
not to mention the weirdest: english (or more like finglish) is the language we use at home. i am estonian, and Stockholmslender is finnish... and he is far too polite and nice to correct me :O)
good. and now i have forgotten the point i meant to come to. anyway.

Sten ütles ...

I think 'strange' sounds more threatening, while 'weird' just sounds odd. 'Strange' has more in common with 'võõr' - something unknown and foreign. 'Weird' is just unusual.

A 'strange' car is one that you don't know, that perhaps belongs to an extraterrestrial from outer space sent here to do harm!

But a 'weird' car might have no windows, or the drivers seat in the back instead of the front.


Thanks! :)

gobbeldygook ütles ...

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to rscheearch at
Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a
wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be
in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed
it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed
ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I
awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!:)

Toomas ütles ...

To Sten: I think that "strange" means "kummaline" and "weird" is "imelik".

Anonüümne ütles ...

To the management at Maxima/Lithuania:
maxima@maxima.lt

Dear sirs,

We are aware that Maxima is planning to open several new stores in Tartu and elsewhere in Estonia. We very much welcome all inter-Baltic ventures and wish Maxima the very best of successes here.

However we would like to make you fully aware of the linguistic problems which are plaguing this country and which you should be very much aware of so that conflicts and misunderstandings are optimally resolved beforehand.

There is a sizable Russian population in Estonia, of which I am certain you are aware from your market researches, and it must be stressed that there is a serious problem with regard to their continued behavior toward, and the respect shown for the nation's official language and its' general use in this small country. The Estonian population is remarking that the local Russian population is consistently and in an organized fashion participating in a general campaign against the use of the Estonian language by members of the Russian community here. This becomes evident as one encounters people of Russian extraction in general everyday situations going about their everyday business in public places. Despite a lapse of more than 15 years since the restoration of Estonia's independence, the Russian-speaking population here has generally demonstrated its' insistence to be able to openly employ the Russian language in shops, etc. and expect that they be addressed in that language. Estonian people, in contrast, being a very peace-loving people, tend to avoid conflict situations in this matter.

We are writing to you to politely ask that Maxima's advertisements be geared to respect the Estonian language and its' language laws. Please be aware that the Russian population residing in Estonia do understand the official language adequately and it is quite reasonable to expect that they do so, in view of the many opportunities open to them to learn the language. Maxima Markets should not have concerns about anybody not being able to read your store's advertisements. Let's be very clear about this point. I am certain that you will agree that the basic thing that matters in the question of the winning and keeping of customers is competitive pricing or the cost of good-quality commodities. We are anxious to see Maxima Markets succeed here, but also very concerned about the said language problem.

We are certain that many of us would want to patronize your newly established stores but please be aware that very few Estonians would praise you for succumbing to the temptation to attempt to appeal to the entire population through the use of the Russian language (bi-lingual advertisements) in your Ads. It should be pointed out that some stores have done so here and they are paying the price for their ill-conceived initiatives. We believe that this would be a mistake by Maxima, since persons of Russian extraction would patronize your stores anyway. There is a real risk that a sizable portion of Estonian customers stay away fro Maxima's stores should this language aspect be ignored.

Hoping to have discreetly cast some light on an aspect that Maxima's management might well take into consideration, we remain,

Yours very truly,

Tartu, January 13th, 2007
(On behalf of numerous Tartu residents and their families)

illi ütles ...

Toomas, ma just pidin täpselt sama ütlema. Kummaline ja imelik. Kuigi "strange" võib vahel tähendada ka "võõras".

Ise olen kümme aastat ingliskeelses keskkonnas elanud ja esimesed viis või kuus ajasin segi "door", "floor" ja "wall".

Giustino, miks me selles blogis enam eestikeelseid postitusi ei näe? Sinu eesti keel on tugev, vägagi arusaadav ja minu arust armas.

Evil Purc ütles ...

Wow gobbeldygook!

Yuor txet was unerdsantdbale wtihuot mcuh eoffrt. Rlelay aamizng!

Giustino ütles ...

Giustino, miks me selles blogis enam eestikeelseid postitusi ei näe? Sinu eesti keel on tugev, vägagi arusaadav ja minu arust armas.

Ära müretse. Värsti tuleb uus post eesti keeles.

ahaa ütles ...

ja ega see inglise keel ka eriti lihtne ei ole.

vaata:

word - world
ski - sky
law - lawn
tree - three

jne :)

somebody ütles ...

As a person who is studying Estonian himself, I would say that the best thing to pick up dialogues is "Naljaga pooleks", a series of radio shows featuring funny situations with useful and usual vocabulary. The only problems is that you get all the time explanations in Russian. If that doesn't annoy you too much, you can follow those dialogues and learn a lot.

By the way, I found it in Emule with the texts. I could actually send you the dialogue texts if you want some easy reading.