In Estonian there are many Low German loanwords borrowed in the 13th–17th centuries. The present article seeks to define more exactly the period of time they entered the language. An important temporal landmark is the oldest Estonian-language printed material of the 16th–17th centuries. As literary Estonian is relatively young, we can find out the occurrence of loanwords in printed texts, but it is not possible to determine their first appearance in spoken language. It is very likely that the earliest loanwords were oral borrowings. Another temporal landmark is offered by source publications which make available the language of old manuscripts. Historical publications based on archival manuscript materials are also a good source of old Estonian words and personal names. The occurrence of old loanwords therein enables drawing a temporal borderline since when, at the latest, such loanwords have been in use. Owing to archive materials, a more exact dating of literary language finds has become possible. This article presents dating examples of about fifty loanwords recorded in old literary language materials and/or in personal names found in archival documents.
A lively interest in loanwords borrowed before the 17th century arose in the 1920s and 1930s. Since that time, more of essential language and name materials have become available in archives and loanword research has made progress, so that now it is possible to make corrections and additions to earlier results.