Sunday, October 20, 2013

words for fox in Finnic and European languages

Last week was Rebaste nädal in the school where I work. Rebane is the Estonian word for "fox", so the phrase translates as "Week of the Foxes". It is a week in which the new 10th grades are initiated into life in their new gümnaasium (upper-high school), forced to do humiliating tasks and wear stupid costumes by the 12th graders. It got me thinking about the origin of the word rebane. Below is what I found out with the help of Wiktionary, the Online Etymology Dictionary and the Võro-Eesti Synaraamat.

The Estonian rebane goes back to the Proto-Finno-Ugric (PFU) *repä, and is cognate with Finnish, Karelian and Votic repo, Veps reboi, Northern Sámi rieban and Võro repän/rebo, amongst others. This is apparently a loan from Indo-European, as seen by the Proto-Germanic *rebaz, Persian rubah and modern Scandinavian räv/ræv.

Students of Finnish will know that the modern word for "fox" in Finnish is kettu, while repo and repolainen are archaic and/or poetic. Wiktionary states that the word kettu is "derived from the archaic noun kesi ('skin'), probably because of the importance of the fox as a skin and fur animal".

It seems that the English fox and German Fuchs have a different origin to the words in Scandinavian and Baltic-Finnic. The former words have their origin in the Proto-Germanic *fuh-, which corresponds to PIE *puk- "tail" (cf. Sanskrit puccha- "tail"). 

The latter words should be compared to the Spanish/Portuguese word rabo "tail", giving the modern word for "fox" of raposa in Galician and Portuguese. This word can be traced back to the Latin rāpum "turnip". The modern Spanish word for "fox", zorro, is a loan from the Basque azeri.

The journey from "tail" to "fox" is also seen in the Lithuanian uodegis "fox", from uodega "tail". Compare English bushy tail to Welsh lwynog "fox" (from llwyn "bush"; cf. Estonian vihtsaba below).

In Irish there are two terms for fox: sionnach and madra rua. The latter literally translates as "red-haired dog" (madra "dog", rua "red of hair"). Curiously the Irish term for "thresher shark" is sionnach mara "fox of the sea". The word sionnach is also to be found in Gaelic, and gives the phrase sionnach ann an craiceann na caorach "a wolf in sheep's clothing" (craiceann "skin, hide", sionnach "fox"). Curiously the Gaelic term sionnachair can mean either "fox hunter" or "will-o'-the-wisp". Sionnach in Gaelic can also mean "valve, bellows", giving the Gaelic pìob-shionnaich "uilleann pipes".

Returning to Estonia, Estonian and Võro have the word reinuvader / reinovatõr' "Rein's godparent". This comes from a folktale (Reinowadder Rebbane as told by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald) where a fox becomes the godparent to an orphan.

Võro also has the term sorrõhand, which translates as "fluent tail" (sorav saba in Estonian). Learners of Finnish will in the Võro word hand recognise the Finnish häntä "tail". An Estonian term for "fox" that uses the word saba is vihtsaba "bunch of twigs tail" (cf. English bushy tail and Welsh lwynog)

See also this page for other names for "fox" in Estonian, and this page for the terms for other forest creatures. For example, echoing the Irish madra rua above, in Estonian the fox is also known as laanekoer "dog of the greenwood" (< laas "greenwood", also lehtmets) or metsapune "forest red".

Sunday, September 8, 2013

learning Estonian through advertising (2)

I will avoid translating and providing details for every word in this picture, as to do so would make the post too long. However, provided below is a translation for every sentence and a discussion of some of the more interesting words and expressions. (Click on picture to enlarge.)

Kui emme tahab kinno, siis emme läheb kinno!
If/when mom wants [to go] to the cinema, mom goes to the cinema!

Võta beebi kaasa, sõbrannad ligi ja Solaris Kino ootab teid!
Bring the baby along and have your girlfriends close. Solaris Cinema awaits your visit!

NB! Emme ja Beebi Kinopäevale on ka issid väga teretulnud!
NB! Dads are also very welcome at the Mom and Baby Cinema Days.

Imelises Kehrwiederi Jäätisekohvikus kinopileti esitamisel saavad emmed ja nende beedid 2 teed või 2 mahla ühe hinnaga, samuti pakutakse 10% soodustust teistele jookidele ja kookidele.
In the marvellous Kehrwieder Ice-cream café moms and babies get 2 teas or 2 juices for the price of 1, as well as a 10%  discount on other drinks and cakes [slices of cakes], on the presentation of a cinema ticket.

Kohvikus Komeet ootab teid spetsiaalne BEEBIMENÜÜ – klientidele vanuses 1-17 kuud. Valmistame erinevaid värskeid aed- ja puuviljamehusid ning püreesid kõige pisematele.
In Komeet café a special BABY MENU awaits - for customers aged 1-17 months. We prepare various fresh vegetable and fruit juices* and purées for all little ones.


ligi 'near, close; nearly', Eestis on ligi 6000 mesinikku 'There are close to/ nearly 6,000 beekeepers in Estonia', present in the compound ligipääs 'access', as in Õiglane ligipääs kõrgharidusele Eestis 'Equitable [just/fair/unbiased] access to vocational education in Estonia.'

kinopileti esitamisel = kino 'cinema' + pilet 'ticket' + -i gen. suffix + esitamise < esitamine 'act of presenting' + -l ade. case = on presentation of a cinema ticket

ühe hinnaga = ühe gen. of üks 'one' + hinna gen. of hind 'price' + -ga com. case. = for the price of one (lit. with the price of one).

vili - 'fruit, crop'. Beware in Estonian that the English words vegetable and fruit are translated as aedvili 'garden crop'/ juurvili 'root crop' and puuvili 'tree crop' respectively. Thus värskeid aed- ja puuviljamehusid - fresh vegetable and fruit juice (lit. fresh garden and tree crop juice).  A carrot porgand would be an example of a juurvili but a courgette (zucchini) would be an example of a aedvili. There is also the word köögivili 'cooking crop'.

mehu - in Finnish this is the simple word for juice, as in appelsiinimehu 'orange juice'. Here however, in Estonian, it refers specifically more to a juice with pulp. EKSS (Explanation dictionary of the Estonian language) defines mehu as viljalihaga mahl 'juice with fruit meat' (meat here as in nutmeat), mahl being the simple word for juice, which we have seen above in 2 teed või 2 mahla '2 teas or 2 juices' (teed here is in the singular partitive, not the nominative plural (forms are identical), cf. kaks mahla '2 juices', singular partitive of mahl, and mahlad 'juices', nominative plural).

pisematele = pisem < pisike 'tiny, minute' + -a- gen. affx + -te- gen. pl. affix + -le all. case = for little ones (lit. on to the tinier ones)

* with pulp

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

follow now also on tumblr!

You can now follow, like and share the Estonian language blog on Tumblr!

I will be posting lots of short and snappy Tumblr-sized Estonian language posts: favourite words, phrases, words of wisdom, breakdowns of the language on signs and in advertising.

The content on the two blogs will be different, so the Tumblr blog will not simply be a mirror of this blog but on a different blogging platform. On this blog I will continue to post longer posts, which aren't really suitable for the short and snappy re-blogging Tumblr format.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

learning Estonian through advertising (1)

Lase oma sisemine sportlane välja. - Release your inner athlete.

lase - vb., 2nd person sg. imperative of laskma (da-inf. = lasta): let, allow!

omareflexive poss. adj. (refers back to preceding pronun).

cf.  Õpetaja ütles õpilasele, et ta loeks oma raamatut. 'The teacher told the student to read his own [the student's] book.'

Õpetaja ütles õpilasele, et ta loeks tema raamatut. 'The teacher told the student to read his [the teacher's] book.'

Ma loen oma raamatut! - I am reading (some of) my book. Sa loed oma raamatut! - You are reading (some of) your book.

sisemine – adj. inner (ending mine should not be confused with suffix -mine, the latter signifying 'act of doing', as in luge+mine 'reading' (from lugema 'read'), söö+mine 'eating' (sööma 'eat'), etc. You know -mine attaches to the stem of the ma-infinitive and not the da-infinitive, because it's söömine and not süümine* (da-infinitive is süüa)). The breakdown of sisemine is actually sisemi+ne, -ne being an adjectival ending, with sg. genitive -se and sg. partitive -st.

sportlane – n. sportsperson. It can stand for both male 'sportsman' and female 'sportswoman', though if one wishes to specify 'sportswoman' one can use the female form of the suffix -lane (sg. gen. -lase, sg. part. -last), which is -lanna (sg. gen. -lanna, sg. part. -lannat). However, it must be said that this is a rare usage, especially in the singular. A female athlete would call herself sportlane, just like in English where more and more actresses refer to themselves as 'actor'.

Where I have most heard the use of the -lanna suffix is in the word sõbranna 'female friend', what straight women in English call a 'girlfriend'. It can also be used with nationalities: cf. eestlane, eestlased 'Estonian person, Estonians'; eestlanna, eestlannad 'Estonian woman, Estonian women'. The stand alone noun maa ('land') used in compound nouns and the suffix -lane are very productive. Ex. Iiri+maa, iir+lane 'Ireland, Irish person', Vene+maa, vene+lane 'Russia, Russian person', etc. (Be careful of the dropped final vowel in the first part of iirlane - not iirilane*. Cf. Soome, soomlane 'Finland, Finn' and Eesti, eestlane 'Estonian, Estonian person').

välja – adv. 'out' as in Lind lendas aknast välja. 'The bird flew out through (lit. 'from') the window' and väljapääs 'exit' (pääs 'escape' < pääsemine/pääsema 'escape n./vb.; 'way, passage'. Cf. sisepääs 'entrance' as in sisepääs kaubamajja 'entrance to the department store'. The double j here is not a mistake, majja is the sg. illative case form of maja 'house, building' – the illative is often expressed by a lengthening of a vowel or consonant of the word, and may not be indicated in the orthography. For example kool 'school' (nom. long o), kooli 'of the school' (gen., long o), but kooli 'to the school' (ill., overlong o in speech, but not in orthography)).

Not to be confused with the orthographically identical, but phonetically different välja, the genitive form of the noun väli 'field, empty space, expanse'. The latter has a long l, which you will notice is not indicated by the orthography. Estonian has a few nice, little, juicy gems like this. For example, take the two orthographically identical words palk 'wage' and palk 'log'. The latter has a palatalised l. Their genitive and partitive forms are also different: wage: palk, palga, palka log: palk, palgi, palki. And so you know, the palatalised l continues also through the case forms of log. There is also the partitive case form of väli, which is also välja, but with a short l.

Handy reminder of the above: välja (short l) = 1) adverb meaning 'out' ; 2) partitive case form of väli 'field, empty space, expanse'. välja (long l) = genitive case form of väli.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Estonian comedy and TV with subtitles

On their YouTube channel Catapult Films has kindly taken the time to upload some of their videos with English subtitles. Like any people, Estonians love their comedy, but over the years I have missed out on a number of laughs as it's not possible to follow the story when there is no aid in terms of subtitles.

Lastefarmer (Children farmer) - A struggling farmer struggling to make end's meet comes up with a genius plan to generate money.


Päästeamet "Purjusujumise treeninglaager" (Estonian Rescue Service "Drunk Swimming Training Camp") - Founder and trainer of the Estonian Drunk Swimming Association takes us around his training camp to teach us a very important lesson.


It has been possible for a few years to watch Estonian TV online, but what I didn't know until now is that some of them have subtitles in Estonian, which makes it easier to follow the story. An example is the long-run soap Õnne 13. The show is your standard daytime TV soap, so don't expect to find it engaging in terms of content. However, with subtitles it's watchable and useful as a learning aid.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

English in Estonian: Estonglish

As a teacher I hear a lot of English being mixed in with Estonian by the young. Two examples I came across recently were:

Tegin cheatiga (I.did [it] with.a.cheat), during a discussion between two middle-school boys, obviously about a computer game, and, written as a comment under an Estonian music video on YouTube, the following:

Minu vend vihkab aga mina fännan (My brother hates it but, the first time I have encountered the Estonian rendering of the English word ‘fan’ fänn used as a verb.

The photo to the right was taken at a bus shelter in Tallinn. It you look closely you can recognise many words borrowed from English or which are international words also shared by English:

traditsiooniline - traditional

limonaad - fizzy drink; brand name of a fizzy drink

In the former meaning Coke (koka in Estonian) can be called a limonaad. A similar drink is morss which is diluted juice drink made from concentrate, a very common sight on Estonian tables during parties and often homemade by vanaema maal 'grandmother in the countryside', though my wife's family says Mummi, which is the Finnish for 'granny'.

muusika - music

musa - slang for music (s.nom.; mussi - pl.part.)

Comment by keelek6rv:
You wrote: "musa - slang for music (s.nom.; mussi - pl.part.)"

Well, there are at least two slang words for "muusika" and both are used in this poster.

nom sg musa, gen sg musa, part sg musa, part pl musasid (grammatically pl part and any other pl form exists but pl forms are almost never used, though)

nom sg muss, gen sg mussi, part sg mussi (third degree), part pl musse

So at first "musa" was used, and then "muss" in this advertisement.

kood - code (s.gen. koodi, pl.gen. koodide, pl.part. koode)

bänd - music group (band)

skänni (skännima) - scan! (vb. scan)

Skänni koode siit! - Scan the codes from here! (siit <-- siin 'here')


Limonaad üllatab muusikaga - Limonaad [brand name] astonishes with music

üllatama - to astonish, take by surprise

Kogu koodide alt kokku tasuta plaaditäis mussi noortebänd 2012 parimatelt! - Collect from the codes together below a free record full of music from the best [groups] of Youth Band 2012.

kogu can mean 'whole' (like terve) but here it is the command form of koguma (collect, gather, accumulate etc.; pl. would be koguge)

plaaditäis - record-full (plaat - record)

Hea muusika fänn aastast 1936 - A fan of good music [though 'a good music fan' could also be a reading but is unlikely] since the year 1936.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Estonian B1 exam

A2-C1 Estonian language exam time-table 2013
2nd period exam consultation times
Test yourself

As some of you know last month I took the Estonian language B1 state exam (Eesti keele B1-tasemeeksam). I passed!

Two weeks before the exam the centre runs a group consultation where a teacher goes through the exam. It is, of course, not compulsory to attend but I would recommend it. It is a chance to get a feel for the paper and ask any questions. I had my consultation and exam in Pae Gümnaasium, Tallinn.

The consultation started at 09:58 and the majority of people left at 11:27. First the consultation co-ordinator gave an overview of the exam instructions. Then she did a mock oral with two volunteers. This lasts ~ 20m. Then we did the listening section. This is a set 35m. Then we just flicked through the reading and the writing. She went into a little more detail explaining how to do the writing - what to do, what NOT to do.

Technically you could stay to do a whole exam but you might very well be on your own. As I said, there were about 30 in the room and 1 left at 11.15 and 27 left at 11.27. I don't know if the remaining 2 or so stayed on longer or not. The consultation mostly takes place in Estonian (all info is in Estonian) but quite a bit is repeated in Russian as I think everyone else but me was native-Russian-speaking.

Half way through the listening section on a first listen of one of the tasks I got nervous and I kind of felt like I should drop out (you can cancel your exam no questions asked at least 1 week before). However, on the second time round listening I felt more confident. On the first listen one or two of the tasks always sound a bit tricky but the questions you are asked are generally straight-forward.

In general for the B1 level it's important to be very confident with question words and numbers in their proper cases. Overall you need clean, simple, correct language. Nothing fancy, just nice and basic.

The exam itself was roughly the same. The only different was the amount of people! I can't be exactly sure how many there were there doing the B1 exam but it was over 100 at the very least. However, you are put in small rooms with around 20 others so it's not like a big scary exam hall.

The examiners were very polite and friendly. They spoke real slow and clear when giving instructions. The exam is in two separate papers. There are four sections to the exam, each of which are worth 25 marks. First comes the written section for which you have 30 min. There are always two tasks. We had a 50-word note to write about missing a meeting (say why, reschedule and give contact details) and a 100-word word essay to write about a new hobby (why you like it, where you do it, and other interests you have). These were real easy and I finished the tasks very happy.

I made sure to plan my pieces ahead and write slowly and clearly. I wrote that my child was sick and we had to go to the doctors. The only mistake (not a mistake as such, more a change of meaning) that I had to go back and correct was that I wrote: Sellepärast et, minu laps on haige, me peame arsti juurde minema (As my child is sick, we have to doctor's place-to go). I changed it to Sellepärast et, minu laps on haige, me peame arsti juures käima, because if it's a trip to and back one uses the verb käima rather than minema (which then demands the inessive rather than the allative; and remember the verb pidama demands the -ma infinitive and not the -da infinitive!!) This task was then collected by the examiners.

Listening came next which lasted for 30 min. The first task is always real easy. You are given a number of short exchanges and you have to mark the correct answer from a list of choices. The only thing is that all possible answers marked on the page are actually mentioned in the text, just that only one of them is in the correct context for the question. Tasks two, three and four all contain only one text. The text in task 2 is normally an announcement and is also multiple choice but the possible answers are more wordy. In task three you have to write the answer yourself on the page (the start is done for you and you need to finish the sentences) and the text is normally an interview. Task four is again multiple choice and is also an interview.

The reading section last for 50 minutes. Task one is matching statements to little newspaper ads. Task two is a multiple choice text. Task 3 is fill in the gaps (multiple choice, 4 possible answers for every gap) and task 4 is also fill in the gaps but say if the text has 10 gaps you are given 12 possible fillers.

Then comes the final section, the speaking. There are two tasks. Before the tasks start the examiner will ask you some simple questions: where you were born, what is your favourite musician etc. She threw me off with a question I found weird which was Milleks te saate? which means What are you becoming? I looked really confused, not because I didn't understand the question but because I didn't understand why she was asking it. She had just assumed I was a student without asking, simply because I guess I look young and my conversation partner was a 19-year old student. I am not becoming anything, I am a teacher...

So yes, conversation partner. It's kind of weird. I have never had an oral exam before which was done in a pair. The first of the two tasks was we were given a page with pictures related to music and we were told to have a conversation about arranging a trip to a concert. My conversation partner was terrible. She hardly spoke and when she did it was with a really thick Russian accent. It was very hard to have a conversation with her but I did my best to talk as much as possible. The next task is in two parts. One of you is given a list of prompts and they have to ask questions of the partner. The other person reads out the answers (first the answers have to be found in the text which can be a little tricky to do as you are not given time to read the text beforehand). Then you swap roles.

My conversation partner totally messed up both parts (skipping questions, not waiting for my question before reading out the answer, giving me all the answers at one etc.) It was a disaster. Personally I'd rather do the exam with the examiner and work the role-plays like that but, unfortunately, because of time they have to double up to get everyone done that day.

That's something to remember. The exam started on the dot at 10 with the writing section. The reading section then finished at 11.55. Because I was lucky enough to be in the first pair because of my surname I had my oral section at 12.15 but beware that if your surname is at the end you might have to wait for 2 hours.

To pass you need to get 60 marks (60%) and in no task can you get 0 marks, i.e. every section is compulsory. Just be aware that you could be waiting up to 4 weeks for your result.

My result?  I got 90% overall: 23/25 for writing, 23/25 for listening, 25/25 for reading and 19/25 for speaking. I was hoping to get 80% overall but I am delighted with 90%, especially to score so high in writing, reading and listening. However, my speaking is a sad state of affairs in comparison. It would have been nice to get at least 21 pts. out of 25, but oh well.

tunnistus - attestation, certificate
tase - level (gen. taseme)
sooritama - commit, perform
oskus - ability, skill (part. oskust)
hindama - evaluate, rate

hinnati is the past form of the impersonal. hinnatakse - is (being) evaluated, ei hinnata - is not (being) evaluated, hinnati - was (being) evaluated, ei hinnatud - was not (being) evaluated

Tema keeleoskust hinnati järgmiselt.
Their language ability was evaluated as follows.