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“Vabandust, aga ma ei tea!”

By João Lopes Marques (Eesti keeles)

“Ma ei tea...” When I think about the first syllables of an Estonian baby I can imagine “Ma ei tea”... Not “Mama”, let alone “Papa”... Simply “Ma ei tea”.

I explain: not to understand a language can be as annoying as entertaining. Since I can’t follow the full meaning of most conversations around my attention turns selective. I’m always waiting for a sentence I’m able to grab with both hands and process in my mind... That’s how I noticed Estonians just love to say “Ma ei tea!”.

They repeat it over and over, especially women. It seems to me the most natural and spontaneous phrase an average Estonian can pronounce. Still remember when my friend Krista told me her English language teacher had forbidden all students to use “Ma ei tea!” in the classroom.

A national addiction?

I myself embraced the epystemology of “Ma ei tea!” as a personal cause. A tough job, I must admit. Yet, after years of random observation, I feel finally prepared to share my humble impressions:

  • Estonian is a complicated language and the crystal clear simplicity of this three combined words is wonderful. They flow as fast as naturally from one’s mouth. It makes people believe Estonian language doesn’t have so many cases;
  • It’s a daily exercise of modesty, alongside with the “normaalne” or “väga normaalne” idiosyncrasy;
  • Shyness and reservedness may play a role in this republic. We know how Estonians preserve their vital space and if somebody prefers distance or isolation, these are the three magical (and respected) word to say. Or is there any better excuse not to express yourself?;
  • It can also be a personal or social challenge: when an Estonian soul speaks “Ma ei tea!” she is testing other’s perseverance. Do you really want to know that? OK, so you have to nail the topic again...;
  • Like a good ABBA or Ivo Linna refrain it turned into an ear worm, the sentence is always there, itching and automatic in its intriguing, amazingly beautiful, melody;
  • Estonians have the good habit to be assertive and “Ma ei tea!” is a tool used in order to gain extra time for reflection. Rationality is a plus. Then, 10 seconds after the empty sentence, the sharp answer comes;
  • It’s all about coolness. Just nerds, IT guys, bankers, politicians and Soviets must pretend they know it all. “Ma ei tea!” is somehow a symbol of juvenile dandy coolness mixed with arrogant unpretentiousness. Plus, every girl loves to be frivolous from time to time;
  • Happens when the conversation is not warmed up enough. As good Ugro-Finns with singular notions of time and space, Estonians need to build trust before they mingle. The other possibility is to drink a couple of pear ciders, though slightly more unhealthy;
  • “Ma”, “mu” “mina” and “minu” are the most popular words among Estonians, another evidence of the native’s sharp sense of freedom and individualism.

But make no mistake, I’m very used to it. And never ever take my words as a criticism: I’m also addicted. After all, “Ma ei tea!” is one of these interjections that make me feel so home in Tallinn : in Iberian languages the expressions “Não tenho ideia” (Portuguese) or “Ni puta idea” (Spanish) are also used when somebody doesn’t know how nor what to answer.

Phonetically, as surprising as it may sound, they turn out to be very similar to Estonian “Ma ei tea”. Like the words “gorilla”, “nimi”, “muusika”, “meloodia” or “meri”. Or “avarii”... or... huh... or...

Ma ei tea!

Comentários

Manu disse…
Mesmo quando vivemos num país que a língua parece a mesma é complicado.

Como explicar isso: pois sim, quer dizer não. E o pois não, quer dizer sim..
No começo foi um turbilhão..:))
Esta língua é a minha tormenta. Felizmente que já tenho uma filha que a falará, julgo. Sempre acreditei nesta dimensão cósmica, Manu. O papel mítico da estafeta: quando estamos cansados, arrasados, tudo recomeça. Ela que dê o seu melhor. O máximo. Eu estarei por perto.
Manu disse…
Uai..vc tem uma filha?? e eu que não sabia..beijinhos na sola do pé pra ela. E cócegas na barriga:))
Aqui tem brasilidade:)))

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