I discovered an interesting word in Irish yesterday – súilíní [ˈsˠuːl̪ʲiːn̪ʲiː] – which is a diminutive form of súil [sˠuːl̪ʲ] (eye) and means literally “small eyes”, and actually means eyelets, an aperture-sight, or bubbles. For example, uisce gan súilíní is still water (“water without bubbles”) [source].

More common Irish words for bubbles are bolgán and boilgeog.

The word súilíní is also used in Hiberno-English to mean “bubbles of fat floating on top of a stew or clear soup”, and is also written sooleens [source].

The word súil (eye) comes from *sūli, an alteration of the Proto-Celtic *sūle (suns), the dual of *sūlos, which is the genitive of *sāwol (sun), from the Proto-Indo-European *sóh₂wl̥ (sun). Apparently in Irish mythology the sun was seen as the “eye of the sky”, and the word for sun came to mean eye [source].

The words for sun in other European languages come from the same root, and most start with s, e.g. saũle (Latvian), sol (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese), Sonne (German), etc. There are some exceptions though, including haul (Welsh) heol (Breton), howl (Cornish) and ήλιος (ḗlios – Greek) [source].

Breton, Catalan, Cornish, Danish, English, Etymology, German, Irish, Language, Norwegian, Portuguese, Proto-Indo-European, Spanish, Swedish, Welsh, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Language quiz

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Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 3 Comments

The Bold Step

In Hiberno-English (the English spoken in Ireland), children who misbehave are told not to be bold and might be sent to the bold step. I heard this expression being used the other day and it stuck in my mind as I hadn’t heard it before.

In the UK the equivalents are usually naughty and naughty step, which are defined as,

1. A place where a child is sent after misbehaving in order to reflect on their actions: whenever I did something bad, my uncle would make me sit in the naughty corner

2. A situation of public disgrace: the bosses of the unions found themselves on the naughty step

according to the Oxford Dictionaries

Have you heard bold being used in this sense?

Do you have other words to refer to misbehaviour or disobedience (especially in children)?

English, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Gleann Cholm Cille

This week and next week I am in Gleann Cholm Cille (Glencolmcille) in Donegal in the north west of Ireland. I’m doing courses at Oideas Gael, an Irish language and cultural centre: a harp playing course this week, and an Irish language and culture course next week.

This is my 11th visit to Gleann Cholm Cille, and the second year I’ve done the harp course. On the harp course page of the Oideas Gael site there are pictures of the harp group from last year – I’m third from the right in the first one, and in the middle at the back in the second one (see also below).

2014 Oideas Gael Harp class
2014 Oideas Gael Harp class

This year we have a different teacher – a music student called Elsa Kelly, who also plays the flute. We’re learning some O’Carolan tunes and some other traditional Irish tunes, and it’s great fun.

I’ve been speaking plenty of Irish with people here – locals and students – and have also spoken bits of German, French, Scottish Gaelic, Dutch, Russian and Czech. People come here from all over the world to study Irish language, music and related subjects, so there are plenty of opportunities to practise languages.

So far the weather has been very mixed – cloudy and windy one minute, warm and sunny the next, then the rain starts, and it can go on all day and all night sometimes and be rather heavy. This is fairly typical for this part of Ireland, but local people are complaining that they haven’t had much of a summer this year yet.

Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Language, Russian, Scottish Gaelic, Travel 1 Comment

Language quiz

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Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

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Typophilia definition

Whenever I see a well-written text with a good layout, it really appeals to me and I find myself staring at it and admiring it. I also admire particularly well-made fonts, and beautiful handwriting and calligraphy.

On the other hand, texts can be marred for me by a poor choice of font and/or layout, and by unattractive handwriting. Errors within texts can grate somewhat, but they far have less impact if I find the text visually appealing.

I’m not sure if my interest in alphabets and writing systems came from this typophilia, or if the typophilia (a word I just coined for this post) came from that interest. Is there another word that means “a love of writing in all its forms”? Graphophilia is a possibility.

If I ever get myself a phone with a camera, one thing I’ll take pictures of will be appealing texts, notices and signs.

Do any of you have a similar obsession with texts, writing and type?

English, Language, Writing 1 Comment

Schiehallion – Constant Storm Mountain

A photo of Schiehallion

I’m currently reading a fascinating book, Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt, and came across an interesting mountain name – Schehallion – which the author says that she was told means “constant storm” in Gaelic, a suitable name as the weather on the mountain is apparently notoriously bad. I thought this unlikely, but couldn’t work out the original Gaelic name from the anglicised version, so I thought I’d investigate.

The mountain in questions is known as Schiehallion or The Maiden’s Pap in English, and the Gaelic name is Sìth Chailleann /ʃi’xal̪ˠʲən̪ˠ/. Sìth means hill or mount, and also fairy, and Cailleann is the Gaelic form of Caledonia, which was the Latin name for what is now Scotland. Wikipedia says that the name can be translated as “”fairy hill of the Caledonians”.

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Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 6 Comments

What’s in a name?

The other day I received an email with some corrections to my Scots phrases page. One thing the writer objected strongly to was the use of the name Scots for the language/dialect in question. He believes it should be called Scottish, and that nobody calls it Scots.

My understanding is that three main languages are spoken in Scotland:

Scottish Gaelic – a member of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic language family descended from Old Irish

Scottish English – English spoken with Scottish accents (there are more than one) with a few words from Scots and Scottish Gaelic

Scots – a descendant of the language(s) spoken by the Angles who settled in northern England and southern Scotland from the 5th century AD. Scots has been influenced by Gaelic, Norse, Latin, Dutch, Norman French, Standard French and English, and was the main language of Scotland, used in literature, education, government and in legal documents, from the 14th to the 18th centuries.

There is no doubt about the status of Scottish Gaelic – it is definitely a separate language that is closely related to Irish and Manx Gaelic, and only very distantly related to English and Scots. However there seems to be quite a bit of uncertainty about the status of Scots.

According to a study, “Public attitudes towards the Scots language” carried out by the Scottish Government in 2010, 64% of respondents (around 1,000 individuals) “don’t really think of Scots as a language”, but it also found that “the most frequent speakers are least likely to agree that it is not a language (58%) and those never speaking Scots most likely to do so (72%)”

Scots is a contraction of Scottis, the Older Scots and northern version of late Old English Scottisc (Scottish), which was formerly written Scyttisc. Before the end of the 15th century English speech in Scotland was known as Ynglis or Inglis (English), while Scottis referred to Gaelic. From 1495 Scottis was increasingly used to refer to the language of the Lowlands (Scots), and Scottish Gaelic was known as Erse (Irish).

Scots is also known as braid Scots (broad Scots), Doric (spoken in the north east of Scotland), Lallans (Lowlands – spoken in south and central Scotland). Doric and Lallans have both been used / are used to refer to Scots as a whole.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language

There are many regional variations in Scots, which can be divided into the following regions and areas: Shetland; Orkney; Caithness; Aberdeen and North East; Angus; Dundee, Perthshire, Fife; Edinburgh and East Central Scotland; Glasgow and West Central Scotland; Borders; South West

You can hear recordings of each of these variations on: http://www.ayecan.com/listen_to_scots.html

You can see written samples in different varieties of Scots (and many other languages) at: http://www.evertype.com/carrolliana.html

Do you speak Scots or Scottish?

If so, which variety do you speak, and do you think of it as a distinct language?

By the way, I have up-dated and improved my Scots phrases page so that all the phrases are in the Scots of north east Scotland, a.k.a. Doric. If you can provide recordings of those phrases, or provide them in other varieties of Scots, please let me know.

English, Language, Scots, Scottish Gaelic Leave a comment


много где

In the Russian lesson I worked on today there was an interesting expression – много где (mnogo gde) – which is a colloquial way of saying “many places” or “lots of places”, and literally means “many where”.

It’s used in the following context:

– где ты был, кроме России?
(gde ty byl, krome Rossii?)
where have you been besides Russia?

– Я много где был, в Европе и Азии.
(Ya mnogo gde byl, v Yevrope i Azii.)
I’ve been to lots of places in Europe and Asia.

Related Russian words include:
– где-то (gde-to) = somewhere
– где-нибудь (gde-nibyd’) = anywhere / somewhere
– нигде (nigde) – nowhere

In English we have somewhere, nowhere and anywhere, but not manywhere, which seems like it could be a useful word. Do any other languages have a word like this?

English, Language, Russian, Words and phrases 2 Comments
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