To some extent one can read a nation's history from its language. Words borrowed from elsewhere indicate what, from whom and when we acquired new knowledge. In addition to the international Greek- and Latin-based vocabulary, the Estonian word stock has borrowed most words from the following languages: - Baltic (from the 2nd millennium BC) (ratas "wheel", oder "barley", hani "goose", mõrsja "bride" - Latvian (from the 8th century AD) (kauss "bowl", kukkel "bun", kõuts "tomcat", mulk "naïve or foolish peasant") - Germanic (up to the 13th century) (puri "sail", leib "bread", lammas "sheep", kuningas "king") - Low German (from the 13th century) (tool "chair", pärm "yeast", hunt "wolf", naaber "neighbour") - Swedish (from the end of the 13th century) (käru "wheelbarrow", kakk "owl", räim "Baltic herring", pagar "baker") - Russian (from the mid-14th century) (nari "bunk", porgand "carrot", hurt "greyhound", vurle "slicker") - German (from the mid-16th century) (kleit "dress", pirn "pear", ahv "ape", tisler ""joiner") - Finnish (from the end of the 19th century) (toode "product", mehu "nectar", olend "being", näitleja "actor") - English (from the mid-20th century) (meik "make-up", puding, buldog, fänn)

Of course Estonian does not expand its vocabulary merely by borrowing from elsewhere, but by drawing on its own reserves of existing words to make new words or compounds. Estonian has plenty of derivatives and compounds, especially in specialised terms. Growth of the vocabulary is overseen, as much as possible, by language planners such as the language committee of the Mother Tongue Society, and the Estonian Terminology Association among others.

Sometimes the need to define a concept is so great that no good candidate can be found. In such cases there have been word-making competitions, something unprecedented in the world, in which the population has always taken an active part. For example, in 1976 the words taidlus (meaning "artistic activity") and pardel (meaning "electric razor") entered the language, and in 2002 the competition produced üleilmastumine (for "globalisation") and lõiming (for "integration").

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