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Estonian language

The Estonian language (eesti keel) is spoken by about 1.1 million people, of which the great majority live in the Republic of Estonia.

Estonian belongs to the Finnic branch of the Finno-Ugric languages. Estonian is not, as is sometimes thought, in any way related to its nearest geographic neighbors, Latvian and Lithuanian, which are Baltic languages, but is related to Finnish, spoken on the other side of the Gulf of Finland, and Hungarian. In fact, the northern dialects of Estonian are sufficiently similar to Finnish for the two to be mutually intelligible.

One of the distinctive features of Estonian is that it has three degrees of phoneme length: short, long, and "overlong", such that SAMPA /toto/, /to:to/ and /to::to/ are distinct, as are /toto/, /tot:o/, and /tot::o/. The distinction between long and overlong is, in practice, as much a matter of syllable stress as duration; they are not distinguished in written Estonian.

Like Latvian and Lithuanian, Estonian employs the Roman script. The alphabet lacks the letters c, q, w, x, y, ('foreign letters'; except for foreign names and quote words and phrases) but contains the letters ä, ö, ü, and õ. The last letter denotes a high, central, unrounded vowel (SAMPA /1/). (It has a different sound than the same letter in Portuguese).

Typologically, Estonian represents a transitional form from an agglutinating language to an inflected language. Over the course of its history, it has been subjected to a strong influence from German, both in vocabulary and syntax.

Estonian does not have grammatical gender, but each noun is declined in fourteen cases: nominative, genitive, partitive, illative, inessive, elative, allative, adessive, ablative, translative, terminative, essive, abessive, and comitative.

One of the pecularities of the case system is the absence of the accusative case. Rather, the direct object of the verb is supplied by either the genitive (for total objects) or the partitive (for partial objects).

The verbal system is characterized by the absence of the future tense (the present tense is used) and by the existence of special forms to express an action performed by an undermined subject (the "impersonal").

See also: List of tongue-twisters

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