On the variation of French loanword spellings in Estonian

Ekläär vs ekleer


Keywords: corpus planning, standards of written language, spelling variants, culinary terms, adaptation of borrowings, French borrowings

The article looks at the ways the spelling of foreign words of French origin has become fixed in Estonian, with a focus on the adaptation into Estonian of words pronounced with an open e in French. In Estonian, the spelling of foreign words typically follows their pronunciation, i.e., the spelling is based on the approximate pronunciation in the (original) language. Hence, the variations in the spelling of the Estonian adaptations likely derive from the French pronunciation instructions provided in Estonian sources and possibly from the influence of intermediary languages.

Two spellings of the word for the French choux pastry cake eclair currently co­exist in Estonian: ekleer and ekläär. The word first appeared in ÕS 1960 as ekläär and was also standardized as ekleer in 2013; as such, it is a good example of the adaptation of French words in Estonian.

The adaptation of French borrowings containing an open e has been inconsis­tent in Estonian. The initial fixation of the word éclair with the spelling ekläär likely derived from the erstwhile custom of pronouncing the open e in the stressed syllables of French words as a long ä in Estonian. An effort was probably also made to avoid the spelling coinciding with the Russian form (эклер); there is a general tendency to ignore Russian-influenced forms when it comes to the standardization of foreign words in Estonian.

The variation of the open e in Estonian adaptations has been affected by pronunciation – differences in the phonotactics of French and Estonian – as well as inter­mediary languages: German, Swedish and Russian.


Madis Jürviste (b. 1985), MA, Institute of the Estonian Language, Lexicographer, Junior Researcher (Roosikrantsi 6, 10119 Tallinn); University of Tartu, Doctoral Student, madis.jyrviste@eki.ee

Tiina Paet (b. 1974), MA, Institute of the Estonian Language, Senior Language Planner, Junior Researcher (Roosikrantsi 6, 10119 Tallinn); University of Tartu, Doctoral Student, tiina.paet@eki.ee