Novi Sad

There are various polyglot activities scheduled for this afternoon and evening, and talks and lectures start tomorrow, so I have this morning free. I plan to do a bit of work on Omniglot, and will try to meet up with other people who are here for the conference.

Unlike in Berlin, where most people stayed in a large hostel and the polyglot gathering was in the same place, here in Novi Sad things are a bit more spread out – we are staying in various hotels around the city and the conference is taking place in a cultural centre. My hotel doesn’t have a restaurant and breakfast is available at a café round the corner.

It seems that smoking is permitted inside in some places here – ugh! Since the smoking ban came into force in the UK I’ve tried to avoid visiting places where indoor smoking is still allowed. I didn’t check before coming here and might not have come if I’d known. At least the weather is warm and sunny so I can sit outside and avoid most of the smoke.

I’ve spoken a bit of Serbian so far, and found that some people in hotels and restaurants speak English as well. Last night I shared a taxi from Belgrade to Novi Sad with one of the other conference participants – a Polish guy with Vietnamese roots. We talked mainly in French, with a bit of Spanish, English and Russian thrown in for good measure. The taxi driver spoke only Serbian, plus a bit of Russian and German, and I struggled to explain to him that one of the people who was supposed to be with us had missed his connection in Zurich, due to a delayed flight from London, and would be arriving later.

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English, French, German, Language, Russian, Serbian, Travel 2 Comments

Polyglot Conference

Polyglot Conference logo

Tomorrow I’m off to a polyglot conference in Novi Sad in Serbia. It will be my first visit to Serbia, and my first opportunity to speak Serbian – I’ve been learning a bit more or less every day for the past month or so, but have yet to use it, so it’ll be interesting to find out how much I can say and understand. I’ll get to speak many other languages as well, and am really looking forward to it.

Are any of you going to the conference?

English, Language, Language learning, Serbian Leave a comment

Found poetry


I went to a poetry recital last night featuring Nia Davies, a Welsh/English poet who lives in Wales, and Hu Dong, a Chinese poet who lives in England. It was part of the North Wales International Poetry Festival. Nia’s poems were all in English, and Hu Dong’s were in Sichuanese, with English and Welsh translations.

Nia read a series of interesting poems based on really long words in various languages, or at least on their English definitions. She was inspired to write the first of these after discovering the Turkish word Çekoslavakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdansınız? (Are you one we couldn’t Czechoslavakianize?) while learning Turkish. She then looked for similarly long words in other languages, and wrote poems about some of them.

While listening to the long word-based poems I was trying to think up with a suitably long word to describe such activity. I came up with sesquipedalogology, which combines sesquipedalian ([of a word] polysyllabic; long; characterized by long words; long-winded), and logology (originally the science of word studies, but now the field of recreational linguistics, particularly word games).

Another interesting word that came up was metrophobia, the fear of poetry, which was the theme of one of the poems.

The English translations of long words in other languages can be quite poetic – a kind of found poetry. In fact you can take definitions from any monolingual dictionary and find poetry in them. Here are few from my English dicitonary:

elevenses, pl. n. Brit. informal
a light snack
usually tea or coffee
taken in mid-morning

elflock, n.
a lock of hair
fancifully regarded as having been
tangled by the elves

If you have a monolingual dictionary to hand, why not open it at random and see if you can find any interesting words and definitions.

Chinese, English, Language, Poetry, Turkish, Welsh, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Language quiz

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

Sandwiches and Portsmouths

The sandwich is named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who is reputed to have invented it as a convenient way to eat while playing cards. He didn’t come up with the idea of putting meat or filling between two slices of bread, but he certainly popularised it and gave it his title.

According to the QI* elves on the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast, the Earl would have preferred to be the Earl of Portsmouth, but someone else got that title first. If he had got his wish, we might be eating portsmouths rather than sandwiches.

Do you know of any other interesting stories attached to foodstuffs, items of clothing or other things named after famous people?

*QI (Quite Interesting) is a quiz show on BBC TV.

English, Language, Words and phrases 4 Comments

Social Media Helps Threatened Language Threatened by Social Media

Today we have a guest post by Alissa Stern of BASAbali.org

On the eve of the Balinese holy day of knowledge, learning, and wisdom (Saraswati Day), a free innovative multi-media Balinese-Indonesian-English wiki dictionary was just made available to people in Bali and throughout the world.

The wiki uses social media to save Balinese, a language threatened by, among other things, social media.

In recent years, Balinese has dwindled down to use by only about a quarter of native Balinese, the result of globalization, nationalization, and social media taking its usual toll on a minority language. With Balinese, where speakers rely on who they are, who they are speaking to, and what they are speaking about to choose the right level of words, the faceless internet presents a serious problem, encouraging Balinese posters to use the national – and status neutral – Indonesian rather than make a mistake with Balinese.

But with the new Wiki, social media is being use to re-energize Balinese by promoting pride in the language through an international web presence and by providing a tool for anyone with internet access – which these days is large portions of the island – to contribute to its well being and benefit from its information.

Nala Antara, Chair of the Linguist team from Badan Pembina Bahasa Aksara dan Sastra, Universitas Udayana, Universitats Pendidikan Ganesha and other universities within and outside of Bali who will oversee and edit the Wiki explains: “Technology will be our bridge to the future. The wiki Balinese-English-Indonesian dictionary will help everyone in Bali learn and speak Balinese alongside Indonesian, so that we two strong languages co-existing: the language of our people and the language of our nation. The wiki allows the people of Bali to actively take part in this project to take pride in their participation.”

Ayu Mandala from BASAbali which is working to connect the Linguist team with the Balinese public says “with this wiki, we can make the Balinese language well known throughout Bali and throughout the world. Wiki technology gives free access to everyone and provides an opportunity for the public to be part of the action.”

A small firm called TinyMighty, based in a remote part of Spain, which also has a threatened language, created the wiki interface. It is being supported by a Kickstarter campaign, using the same crowdsourcing for funding as the wiki uses crowdsourcing for knowledge. The wiki is particularly unique in being able to handle the different registers of Balinese – something unique to the Balinese language – but it also gives real life examples of word usage from Balinese literature, newspapers and other media, and handle the old – the endangered Balinese script – and the new – youtube videos of native speakers.

Alissa Stern of BASAbali“>BASAbali hopes that the Wiki will not only inspire people to learn and use Balinese, but that Balinese can be a model how other threatened languages in the rest of the world might benefit from a collaboration of expert linguists and the general public.

Endangered languages, English, Language, Language learning, Technology Leave a comment

Flierefluiter

The other day I learnt an interesting word in Dutch – flierefluiter – which a Dutch friend described as being a “butterfly type of person”. That is, someone who rarely sticks to or finishes anything.

According to the vanDale dictionary flierefluiter is a nietsnut (layabout or someone fit for nothing).

According to Dictionarist a flierefluiter is a ‘loafer, idler, dawdler, lazy person; low slip-on shoe’.

Are there interesting words for this type of person in other languages?

Dutch, English, Language, Words and phrases 4 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

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

Language, Quiz questions 12 Comments

Can’t do it for toffee

There’s an interesting idiom in British English that means that you are bad at doing something – you can’t do it for toffee. Apparently a US equivalent is can’t do something for beans.

The equivalent of this phrase in French is il n’est pas fichu de faire qch and in Welsh it’s nid yw’n medru gwneud rhywbeth am ffortiwn.

Are the similar idioms in other varieties of English, and in other languages?

English, French, Language, Welsh 1 Comment

Multilingual esprit de l’escalier

Last night I went to Global Café, a gathering of international and local students, and had chances to use quite a few different languages, including Czech, Hindi, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish, and also English. Apart from English and Mandarin, I don’t speak any of these languages well, and I only know bits and pieces of some of them. When I was trying to speak them I soon ran out of things to say, and was thinking that there wasn’t much more I could say.

Afterwards I came up with quite a few other things I could have said, and realised that I know more of these languages then I thought, especially Czech and Spanish, which I’ve been studying on and off for many years, but rarely speak. One thing that tends to hold me back from saying more is uncertainty about how to say things correctly. I don’t mind making mistakes, but I prefer to get things right, or at least not too wrong. I try to get the words in the right order, even if some of the verb conjugations and noun declensions are wrong.

Do you suffer from multilingual esprit de l’escalier?

Does fear of making mistakes stop you from speaking any of your languages?

Chinese, Czech, English, Hindi, Language, Spanish, Taiwanese 7 Comments