Monday, June 18, 2012

Colloquial Estonian question marker

Also see comments below from ainurakne on

So, you probably know that asking questions in Estonian can be quite easy. One way, which also exists in English, is to simply keep the structure of the question the same as with statements but but end with raising intonation.

Oled valmis.
You're ready.

Oled valmis?
(You're) ready?

Or in an advert for car rental in Tallinn that I saw on the train:

Vajad Tallinnas autot?
Need a car in Tallinn?

In the written language or in more formal speech you have learned that yes-no questions are prefaced with kas.

Kas oled valmis?
Are you ready? (Q you ready)

Kas vajad autot Tallinnas?
Do you need a car in Tallinn?

This you refers to the addressee, not the 'indefinite you' of many colloquial English sentences, which is referred to by one in more formal English.

Kas vajatakse autot Tallinnas?
Does one need a car in Tallinn?

However, the most colloquial way to ask a question in Estonian and a way that learners are advised to avoid because it can make you look un(der)educated or rude in the wrong situation is to end a statement with or ä.

Yesterday I heard a little girl ask her friend.

Lähed koju vä?
Going home? (you.go to.home Q)

This question maker should only be used in the spoken language and amongst family or friends. In other situations it is considered out of place.

You would ask a work-colleague that you are on friendly but professional terms:

Kas sa lähed koju?

Very often you will simply hear ä at the end or sometimes a sort of double question with kas at the beginning and ä at the end. The marker when unstressed allows the speaker to signal that they are somewhat unsure or hesitant, more so than a normal question or are maybe looking for the speaker to agree with their assertion.

Sina tegid seda kooki ä?
You made this cake?

It is kind of hard to explain this marker as you won't find any written rules in any grammar books. The best thing to do is listen for it in the speech of your Estonian friends (if you have any) and make a written or mental note of the question/ statement and the situation. If you replicate the speech of your peers you'll blend right in. Just make sure to also make a note of where they don't use it. That is also important to remember.

Comments by ainurakne:

I'm pretty sure it has evolved from 'i'(or) - at least I sometimes use 'või' that way, since '' sounds so very childish.

I think it has evolved like this (I took your sentence, although I think it's not the best for this example):

'Kas sa lähed koju või mitte?' or maybe even 'Lähed (sa) koju või ei (lähe)?'
This has contracted to '(Kas sa) lähed koju või?'
And now some people use '' instead of 'või': 'Lähed koju vä?'

But I haven't heard anyone use just 'ä' instead of '', yet.

'Kas vajatakse autot Tallinnas?' - I think that adessive + 'on vaja' is used more often than the verb 'vajama': 'mul on vaja', 'sul on vaja', etc..., (actually allative (mulle on vaja), ablative (mult on vaja) and elative (must on vaja) forms exist also). This can be transformed to passive very easily by omitting the person(or whatever is used) and just using 'on vaja', for example: 'Kas on vaja autot Tallinnas?' or 'Kas on autot vaja Tallinnas?'

Comments by iidala:

The origin of "vä" is deffinitely "või". But you may notice one interesting thing about "vä". The more educated and grown a person is, the less accent falls on the "word" "vä". Teenage girl asking: Mina VÄÄ? puts all the accent on VÄÄÄ???? Grown up in casual conversation asking "mina vä?" almost sounds like "MINA v?" or "MINA vah?"

Aitäh ainurakne ja iidala!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

English words in Estonian

This post will be continuously updated as I come across more examples.


The example comes from a poster for a venue:

Tule lõunale ja dringile!
Come for lunch and a drink.

As you know, the normal translation of the English drink is jook. The word drink (gen. dringi) refers to an alcoholic beverage served at some pub, club or other venue.


This example comes from an advert in a local newsletter:

Loomaartsi koduvisiidid.
Home visits by the vet.

Loomaarst (lit. animal-doctor) is the Estonian for vet.

The Estonian visiit (gen. visiidi) refers to a visit one makes to a medical professional or a home visit a professional makes to a patient.

To express to pay someone a visit in Estonian is: külas käia

Meie käisime külas Mummi juures.
We paid Granny a visit.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

inspiratsioon Tartus

Mis inspireerib Sind tegutsema?
What inspires you to take action?

Watch the above video: Fifty People, One Question, Estonia and try to understand the speech the first time round without the subtitles. Then play the video again and press on 'CC' to see how you got on. This is a very cute version of 50P, 1Q especially given that it's in Estonian.

My favourite 50P, 1Q though still has to be the one made in Galway in my homeland of Ireland. This video is so emotional and can be quite sad at times.

What is your biggest life regret?
Mis on Sinu elus kõige suurem kahetsus?
...or a little less literal: Mida sa kahetsed oma elus kõige rohkem?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Agent Nouns

In today's post we are going to look at the creation of agent nouns in Estonian, nouns such as walker, builder, teacher, actor etc. as well as nationalities and other identities built from place-names.

Oftentimes we can construct such agent nouns with the suffix -ja added to the -ma infinitive stem.

õpetama 'teach', stem õpeta- + -ja = õpetaja 'teacher'
näitlema 'act', stem näitle+ -ja = näitleja 'actor'
ehitama 'build', stem ehita+ -ja = ehitaja 'builder'
tantsima 'dance', stem tantsi+ -ja = tantsija 'dancer'
kõndima 'walk', stem kõndi+ -ja = kõndija 'walker'

There are other endings too such as -lane, -nik and -ur.

For nationalities or names for inhabitants of place-names, the root word loses its final vowel.

Soome 'Finland', soom- + -lane = soomlane 'a Finn'
Läti 'Latvia', lät- + -lane = lätlane 'a Latvian'
Rootsi 'Sweden', roots- + -lane = rootslane 'a Swede'

Tallinn 'Tallinn', tallinn- + -lane = tallinnlane 'a Tallinner'

The marked female form ends in -lanna

Eesti 'Estonia', eest- + -lane = eestlane 'an Estonian'
Eesti 'Estonia', eest- + -lanna = eestlanna 'an Estonian woman'

Beware that some countries do not follow this rule. The Poles for example.

Poola 'Poland', poola- + -kas = poolakas 'a Pole'

The plural of eestlane is eestlased and the plural of poolakas is poolakad. 

Examples using -nik are:

ajakirjanik 'journalist' from ajakiri 'journal, magazine'
kunstnik 'art' from kunst 'art'
kirjanik 'writer' from kiri 'letter'
ametnik 'officer' from amet 'office, profession'
talunik 'farmer' from talu 'farmstead'

Examples using -ur, -är, -mees are:

lendur 'aviator' from lendma 'fly'
pensionär 'pensioner' from pension 'pension'
ärimess 'businessman' from äri 'business'
põllumees 'farmer' from põllu- 'agrestic'
meremess 'sailor' from meri 'sea'

Friday, June 1, 2012

Käisin jooksmas

Täna ma käisin jõusaalis linttrenažööri kasutamas. Ma treenin Tallinna Sügispoolmaratoniks. Kuni tänaseni on minu kõige parem distants veel 13 kilomeetrit, mida ma jooksin 77 minutit. Tean küll, et need numbrid kõige paremad ei olegi, aga ma olen ju veel algaja jooksmise maailmas. Öeldakse, et harjutamine teeb meistriks, sellepärast ma käin kaks või kolm korda nädalas jooksmas. Peaksin küll, varsti, ka asfalt-teel harjutama, mitte ainult jõusaalis linttrenažööri peal.

Today I went to the gym to use the treadmill. I am training for the Tallinn autumn half-marathon. Until now my best distance is 13km which I ran in 77min. I know that it's nothing to write home about but I am still a newbie to the running world. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and so I go running two to three times a week. I should really practice on the road as well and not just on the treadmill at the gym.