Estonian is a vital language with an official status and around a million speakers.

The oldest literary sources featuring Estonian are chronicles (accounts of historical events) from the 1200s. These include both names and words as well as sentence fragments in Estonian.

The first actual texts in Estonian are from the 1500s. The oldest texts in Estonian are religious, with the first one of these a bilingual Lutheran catechism (a religious instruction book in the form of questions and answers) published in 1535. In addition to religious literature, the early books in Estonian were grammar books and small dictionaries. In the 1600s and 1700s, Estonian was mainly written by priests who were native speakers of German, which is why texts from that period do not even follow all of the key features of Estonian grammar. In the 1800s, native speakers of Estonian also began to write in Estonian. This is when the letter õ was introduced in Estonian, and the orthography (writing system) of the language changed into the current form in other respects, too. Norms approximately the same as those in use today date back to the early 1900s.

There have been two literary languages in use in Estonia from very early days. The literary language of Tallinn, which is also the official language in use today, is based on northern dialects, whereas the Tartu literary language is based on southern Estonian dialects.

Today, the Võro and Seto (also called Setu) languages spoken in Southeastern Estonia can also be classified as languages of their own. Previously Võru was regarded as a dialect of Estonian and Seto as a subdialect of Võru.

Võru currently has around 50,000 speakers. The earliest text in Võru is a translation of the New Testament from 1686. Today, Võru is taught as an elective subject in around twenty schools.

The letter Õ

The letter Õ (õ) occurs not only in Estonian and Võru but also in Skolt Saami, Portuguese and Vietnamese. The wavy tilde symbol denotes pitch (the degree of highness of a tone), and in Estonian õ is pronounced as an illabial (unrounded) o. It used to be marked with Ö (ö).

Finnish–Estonian Dictionary, online version. Institute for the Languages of Finland and Institute of the Estonian Language. Technical implementation by Indrek Hein, 2017.