The Curious Correlation of FennoSwedes and EstoRussians
Arvamus 20 Oct 2010  EWR
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Andrei Tuch, Antyx
Here's a bit of a controversial thought for you. This gets really tangential, so try to keep up.

One uniquely Estonian experience is that of two native Russian speakers meeting outside Lasnamäe and talking to each other in Estonian. It's been twenty years; there's plenty of people in my generation who have grown up, gone to university, and gotten office jobs in Estonian-speaking teams. People who have no problem defaulting to Estonian.

But this is a very difficult language, and even if you're fluent, it's incredibly hard to lose an accent. I'm told that my accent in Estonian is not that of Russian, rather an odd and indistinguishable blend, but it's there; with anything more substantial than a conversation with a Selver cashier, people will realize I'm not a native speaker. There is also the issue of names. There is very little overlap between Estonian and Russian namespaces; with the exception of a few universal copouts, once you learn a person's name, you will know whether they are Estonian or Russian.

This is not a hard & fast rule. I've known people with Russian-sounding names who spoke no word of Russian and looked about as Nordic as you can get, and I've seen people with Estonian names born & raised in Ida-Virumaa, struggling to make themselves understood. I've also seen Russians who get married and take the Estonian spouse's last name. This can result in two kinds of hilarity: a girl with a Russian family name that stays in its masculine form, against the rules of Russian grammar, or a guy who took his wife's last name because he thought it might help him succeed in the workplace. (People who think this is a significant factor tend to underestimate the importance of actual competence, and as a result, fail.)

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