Estonian has been influenced by Swedish, German (initially Middle Low German, which was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League and spoken natively in the area known today as Estonia by a sizeable burgher community of Baltic Germans, and later, standard German), and Russian, though it is not related to them genetically.
Like Finnish and Hungarian, Estonian is a predominantly agglutinative language, but unlike them, it has lost vowel harmony, the front vowels occurring exclusively on the first or stressed syllable, although in older texts the vowel harmony can still be recognized. Furthermore, the loss of word-final sounds is extensive, and this has made its inflectional morphology markedly more fusional, especially with respect to noun and adjective inflection. Word order is considerably more flexible than English, but the basic order is subject–verb–object.
The two different historical Estonian languages (sometimes considered dialects), the North and South Estonian languages, are based on the ancestors of modern Estonians' migration into the territory of Estonia in at least two different waves, both groups speaking considerably different Finnic vernaculars. Modern standard Estonian has evolved on the basis of the dialects of Northern Estonia.
The oldest written records of the Finnic languages of Estonia date from the 13th century. Originates Livoniae in Chronicle of Henry of Livonia contains Estonian place names, words and fragments of sentences.
The earliest extant samples of connected (north) Estonian are the so-called Kullamaa prayers dating from 1524 and 1528. In 1525 the first book published in the Estonian language was printed. The book was a Lutheran manuscript, which never reached the reader and was destroyed immediately after publication.
The first extant Estonian book is a bilingual German-Estonian translation of the Lutheran catechism by S. Wanradt and J. Koell dating to 1535, during the Protestant Reformation period. An Estonian grammar book to be used by priests was printed in German in 1637. The New Testament was translated into southern Estonian in 1686 (northern Estonian, 1715). The two languages were united based on northern Estonian by Anton thor Helle.