When is a blog not a blog?

When I meet people who are familiar with my website, some of them say how much they like my blog. When I ask them what they like about it, they mention things that are on my website, rather than on this blog, so I soon realise that they’re using the word blog to refer to my website, and possibly this blog, although not all of them are aware of the blog’s existence.

To me the distinction between my website and my blog(s) is clear. They may be on the same server, but they look different and have different functions. I’ve noticed that on some other websites though there isn’t such a clear distinction between blogs and other pages, especially on ones that have grown from blogs. Maybe that’s why people get confused.

Sometimes people tell me about mistakes on other sites which are linked to on Omniglot, thinking that I have something to do with them and can make changes on them. I understand why this happens as they might not realise that they’re on a different site.

None of these things are particularly important, but it’s interesting, to me at least, to notice them.

Is there a distinction between the words for website and blog in other languages?

English, General, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Phrase finder

Screenshot of the phrase finder

There is a now a new way to view the phrases on Omniglot: a Phrase finder.

This page enables you to see phrases in any combination of two languages. This is something I’ve been planning to set up for years, and now it’s finally ready.

So if your native language isn’t English and you want to see phrases in your mother tongue and another language, you can.

If you want to see the similarities and differences between two closely related languages, you can.

If you want to see two completely different languages side by side, you can.

The phrases are stored in server-side includes and displayed on the page using PHP, which was written by David Stephens of LinguaShop.

The phrases are currently available in 233 languages. If you can provide phrases in other languages, or additional phrases for the existing languages, or recordings, please contact me.

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Language quiz

Here’s a poem in a mystery language.

Poem in a mystery language

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

Language, Quiz questions 3 Comments

Suspending disbelief

One of the things we talked about in the French conversation group this week was suspending disbelief, which is accepter les invraisemblances in French. That is “accepting the improbabilities”. Another way to say this in French is suspension d’incrédulité.

The word invraisemblance also means unlikeliness or inverisimilitude. Related words include invraisemblable (unlikely, incredible, implausible, improbable) and invraisemblablement (implausible, unlikely).

Its antonym is vraisemblance (plausibility, verisimilitude, likelihood). It comes from vrai (true, real), plus sembler (to seem).

Expressions incorporating vraisemblance include:

– selon toute vraisemblance = in all likelihood, apparently
– essai de vraisemblance = plausibility test
– contrôle de vraisemblance = absurdity check

Sources: Reverso, Linguee and Wikipedia

Apparently the English phrase suspension of disbelief was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 in his Biographia literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions

See: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/suspension-of-disbelief.html

Are there interesting ways to express this idea in other languages?

English, French, Language, Words and phrases Leave a comment

Are you a phenom?

I came across an interesting word in an article about hyperpolyglots I read today (it’s an old article, but I only just found it) – phenoms, which appears in the following sentence:

TIME spoke to Erard about phenoms who can speak more languages than they have fingers, whether anyone can do it and where the upper limits of human potential lie.

According to Dictionary.com, phenom [fɪˈnɒm] is an abbreviation of phenomenon and refers especially to a young prodigy. The definitions are “a person or thing of outstanding abilities or qualities” (informal), or “A phenomenally skilled or impressive person; a performing wonder, esp in sports”.

Apparently it comes from US baseball slang, and was first recorded in 1890.

Merriam-Webster defines a phenom as “a person who is very good at doing something (such as a sport)” or “a person of phenomenal ability or promise”.

Have you come across this word before?

English, Language, Language learning, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Language quiz

Hôtel Le St-James, Vieux Montréal

Today’s quiz is a bit different. The question is, what do you call the (red and black) canvas canopies over the windows in the photo?

I could easily google the answer, but just want to see if any of you know it without googling. If you don’t know, why not make something up?

I don’t know what these things are called in English or any other language, so I’m interested to see what you come up with.

This photo is of Hôtel Le St-James in Vieux Montréal. You can see a larger version here.

Language, Quiz questions, Travel 8 Comments

Les chuchoteuses

Lindsay et les chuchoteuses

On Rue Staint-Paul in Vieux Montréal there’s a statue of three women having a gossip. It’s known as Les chuchoteuses or ‘The whisperers’. It’s also known as the “fat ladies talking statue”. It’s by Rose-Aimée Bélanger, a sculptor from Ontario, and was installed as part of a 2006 initiative to highlight some of Old Montreal’s forgotten spaces.

The word chuchoteuses [ʃyʃɔtø:z] comes from chuchoter [ʃy.ʃɔ.te] (to whisper; to rustle), which is of imitative origin. Related words include chuchoterie (whispering), chuchotis (faint whispering), chuchotement (a whisper / murmur, rustling).

I like the sound of this word, and of the words for whisper in other languages:

– Italian / Portuguese / Spanish: sussurro, from Latin susurrus ‎(a humming, whispering)
– German: Flüstern
– Dutch: fluistering
– Welsh: sibrwd

What about in other languages?

The photo is one I took while exploring Montréal with Linsday Dow of Linsday Does Languages, who features in it.

Sources: Wiktionary and Reverso

Dutch, English, Etymology, French, German, Italian, Language, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, Travel, Welsh, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Stuck in Paris

I had a pleasant wander around Montreal yesterday morning, and a nice lunch in Vieux Montréal, then headed to the airport. It wasn’t very busy, so I got through security in no time, and didn’t have too long to wait for the plane.

On the flight from Montreal to Paris I was sitting between two Tunisians – a old guy who I think lives in Paris, and a young woman who recently moved to Montreal to study in a university there. We chatted a bit in French, and he occasionally switched to Tunisian Arabic. I watched the Shawshank Redemption and really enjoyed it. I’d heard good things about it before, but hadn’t seen it. We arrived in Paris CDG at 5am local time (11pm Montreal time), and I’m feeling very tired as I didn’t manage to sleep much on the plane.

Unfortunately my flight to Manchester, which should have left at 7:20am this morning has been cancelled due to the strike, so they’ve re-booked me on a flight that leaves at 6:20pm, so I’ve only got another 11 hours or so to wait. I could pop into Paris for the day, I suppose, but don’t really feel like it. I’ll just do some work on Omniglot, and read. There’s even a piano here that I could play a few tunes on – someone is currently playing a rather nice classical piece that I don’t recognise. Air France has generously given me two vouchers to buy food and drink up to the value of €24.

So I should be home by about 11pm tonight – only 11 hours late!

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Book hunting in Montreal

Yesterday I spent the morning hunting for interesting language books with Lindsay Dow, of Lindsay Does Languages, Benny Lewis, of Fluent in 3 months, Steve Kaufmann, of lingq, and Josh Koehn from California.

The first book shop we went to had a good selection of books in and about a wide variety of languages, including Old Irish, Middle Welsh, Breton and Sanskrit. I resisted buying anything as I have no spare space in my bag, and already have plenty of language-related books at home.

After wandering around Vieux Montréal for a while we had lunch in a nice café, then Lindsay and I went to meet Moti Lieberman of The Ling Space, where there are videos which explain and discuss linguistic and language-related topics in an accessible way. I hadn’t heard of this site before, but will definitely have a look at some of the videos. It sounds very interesting.

In the evening we met up with Kris Broholm of Actual Fluency, Oli Richards of I will teach you a language, and some local friends of theirs for dinner in a vegetarian place on Rue Saint-Denis.

I’m taking it easy this morning, and after lunch will head to the airport – my plane leaves at 16:45, and I’ll arrive in Manchester at 07:50 tomorrow morning, as long as my flight from Paris isn’t affected by the planned strike by Air France staff.

English, Language, Linguistics, Travel 1 Comment

Multilingual Montreal

Yesterday was the second and final day of the symposium. Although it was only two days, it felt like more as we packed a lot into those days. There were some very interesting talks, including one about raising children multilingually, one about being a polyglot in Latin America, and another about the linguistic diversity of one of the colleges here, were students and staff speak some 83 languages and dialects between them.

Those were the ones I went to. There was also talks about using social media and video to learn languages, living abroad, and introductions to Wolof, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic, Greek, Italian and Papiamento.

Dr Conner Quinn, a linguist at University of Southern Maine in Portland, gave a very interesting and useful talk about language and linguistics. He told us that in order to pronounce a language in a native-like way, you need to pay attention to its rhythm and melody (prosody), and start by trying to imitate this. Then when learning pronunciation, its best to learn combinations of sounds, especially when learning a tonal language like Mandarin or Vietnamese. For grammar you can memorise sentences which illustrate various grammatical structures. He also explained that language is basically about things, events, the relationships between them, and how they relate to the current conversation.

In the evening we gathered in Parc La Fontaine for a picnic, which was good fun. Today I’m meeting a few other polyglots and visiting some of the book shops that have lots of language-related books and courses.

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