The Estonian alfabeet's originality lies at its tail end. If you were woken up in the middle of the night and asked what order its last 4 star letters are in, would you know? Singing the alphabet song in English won't help. Just remember: Õ is the most unique and special – it's first. And then, just like A, O, U, the order is Ä, Ö, Ü. But you'll never guess where the Z is! (If and when it takes part.) But there’s a discrepancy in the photo – with no X and Y at the end (the unofficial, longest version of the alphabet), the W should not be there either. Shows you how confusing it can get. Or not. Photo: Riina Kindlam (2018)
Reede, 02 Märts 2018 19:00
Riina Kindlam - Estonian Life No. 9 2018
can mean both stars (taeva/ tähed
– "sky tähed
") and letters of the alfabeet
aka the tähestik
– "writing tähed
"). The Estonian tähestik
is as flexible and versatile as Estonians are. It can consist of 23, 27 or 32 letters.
Wikipedia sums it up so well: "Due to German influence, the Estonian alphabet (Estonian: eesti tähestik
) has the letters Ä, Ö, and Ü (A, O, and U with umlaut), which represent the vowel sounds [æ], [ø] and [y], respectively. Unlike the German umlauts, they are considered and alphabetised as separate letters and are part of the alphabet. The most distinctive letter in the Estonian alphabet, however, is the Õ (O with tilde
), which was added to the alphabet in the 19th century by Otto Wilhelm Masing and stands for the vowel [ɤ]. In addition, the alphabet also differs from the Latin alphabet by the addition of the letters Š and Ž (S and Z with caron/háček), and by the position of Z in the alphabet: it has been moved from the end to between Š and Ž."
The OFFICIAL Estonian alphabet has 27 letters: A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, Š, Z, Ž, T, U, V, Õ, Ä, Ö, Ü.
The letters F, Š, Z, Ž are so-called "foreign letters" (võõr/tähed
), and occur only in loan words (laen/sõnad
) and foreign proper names. Occasionally, the alphabet is recited without them, and thus has only 23 letters: A, B, D, E, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U, V, Õ, Ä, Ö, Ü.
Additionally C, Q, W, X and Y are used in writing foreign proper names. They do not occur in Estonian words, and are not officially part of the alphabet. Including all the foreign, unofficial letters, the alphabet then consists of the following 32 letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, Š, Z, Ž, T, U, V, W, Õ, Ä, Ö, Ü, X, Y. So it's only in the unofficial version, that the Estonian Õ and so-called täpi/tähed
("dot letters") are not at the very end, but give way to a few visiting guests.
In the early 20th century, keele/teadlane
(philologist) Johannes Aavik suggested replacing the letter Ü with Y, as in the Finnish alphabet, but we still have our great smiling Ü wrapping up the parade.Riina Kindlam