Author Archives: Simon

I have worked in various parts of the UK, and in a few other countries, doing a variety of jobs in hotels, farms and offices. I currently make my living from my website, Omniglot, an online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages that makes money from adverts. I also play a variety of musical instruments, sing and write songs.

Churches and Cells

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Today I discovered that the Welsh word llan (church, parish), which is used mainly in place names, such as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, has cognates in the other Celtic languages: lann in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish and Manx, and lan in Breton. These words all come from the Proto-Indo-European root *lendʰ- (land, heath) [source]. Another word church-related word […]

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Breton, Cornish, English, Etymology, Irish, Language, Proto-Indo-European, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases 7 Comments

High Stones

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I spent yesterday in Harlech [ˈharlɛx] with a friend looking round the castle, exploring the village and wandering along the beach. We wondered where the name Harlech comes from, so I thought I’d find out. According to Wikipedia, there are two possible sources: from the Welsh ardd (high; hill) llech (stone) or from hardd (beautiful) […]

Breton, English, Etymology, Irish, Language, Manx, Proto-Indo-European, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases 3 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 5 Comments

Blackberries and Walls

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The French words mur (wall) mûr (ripe; mature) and mûre (blackberry; mulberry) are written differently but pronounced the same – [myʁ], so are only distinguished by context in speech. The word mur (wall) comes from the Latin mūrus (wall), from the Old Latin *moerus/*moiros, from the Proto-Indo-European *mei (to fix, to build fortifications or fences) […]

English, Etymology, French, Greek, Language, Latin, Portuguese, Proto-Indo-European, Spanish, Welsh, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Differently polite

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I discovered the other day that in Chinese families it is considered impolite to say the equivalents of please and thank you, as this is seen as distancing yourself from other members of the family, so within a family such words are apparently rarely used. Is this correct? Does it vary between families? Although I […]

Chinese, English, Language 8 Comments

српски (Serbian)

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Last week I started learning Serbian (српски) in preparation for the Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad in Serbia in October. Whenever I visit a country whose language I don’t already speak I learn at least the basics of their language, so I couldn’t go to Serbia without learning some Serbian. I’m using online materials, such […]

English, Language, Language learning, Serbian 3 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 5 Comments

When is a language not a language?

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One perennial problem in linguistics is how to decide whether a language is a language or dialect. In the fascinating book, Speak: A Short History of Languages, which I read recently, Tore Janson argues that a language can be considered a language when those who speak it decide that it is one, and they give […]

English, Italian, Language, Latin, Linguistics 2 Comments

Brushing up languages

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Last week in Scotland I tried to speak Scottish Gaelic as much as possible, and had a number of good conversations. At first though, I was adding quite a lot of Irish Gaelic into the mix, which works sometimes as the two languages are close, but not always. Last year I had a month between […]

English, Irish, Language, Language learning, Scottish Gaelic 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?

Language, Quiz questions 4 Comments