Brushing up languages

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 my visits to Ireland and Scotland, so had time to get my brain in Scottish Gaelic mode before going to Scotland. This year I only had a week, which wasn’t really enough. By the end of the week in Scotland my Scottish Gaelic was coming back.

Sometimes words that are spelt the same but pronounced differently in the two languages trip me up: for example man is fear, which is [fəuɾˠ] in Irish, and [fɛr] in Scottish Gaelic, which sounds like the Irish word for hay/grass, féar [feːɾˠ], which is feur [fiər/fjɔːrʲ] in Scottish Gaelic – not to be confused with fior (true, genuine, real) [fiər].

Do you need a while to brush up languages you don’t use very often? How do you go about it?

I generally listen and read a lot, and practise speaking to myself. Last year I also wrote something on my other blog every day in the language I was focusing on.

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English, Irish, Language, Language learning, Scottish Gaelic 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 4 Comments

Waulking and Walking

My Gaelic Song course is going well and I’m really enjoying it. There are thirteen of us in the class – most are from Scotland or of Scottish origin, and there are also a few from other countries like the USA and Germany. Some speak Gaelic well, others know a bit, and those without any Gaelic are finding the pronunciation somewhat tricky.

One type of song we’ve learnt is the waulking song. The word waulking refers to the practise of fulling or milling tweed cloth, or pounding the cloth against a board with the hands or trampling it with the feet in order to shrink it and make it water proof. In Scotland, and among Scottish settlers in Nova Scotia, waulking was accompanied by rhythmic songs known as waulking songs (òrain luaidh) which helped people to coordinate their work. Traditionally it was women who did this work – men also did it in Nova Scotia – and one person would sing verses, and everybody who sing the vocables – nonsense syllables that fit the tune. The verses were often improvised.

There are some examples of waulking songs in the songs section of Omniglot.

The word waulking comes from the Old English word wealcan (to roll, toss); from the Proto-Germanic *walkaną (to twist, turn, move); from the Proto-Indo-European *wolg- < *wel- (to bend, twist, run, roll), which is also the root of walk, and of the Latin word valgus (bent, bow-legged).

English, Etymology, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Scottish Gaelic, Words and phrases Leave a 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 8 Comments

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

I’m off to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, later today to do a course in Scottish Gaelic song (Òrain Ghàidhlig) with Christine Primrose. This is the third time I’ve done the course with Christine, and the fourth time I’ve been to the college – last year I was there later in August for a Gaelic song course with Mary-Ann Kennedy.

I’m looking forward to it very much as I love singing, especially in Gaelic, and will have plenty of opportunities to speak Gaelic, and maybe other languages, while I’m there. The place itself is also very beautiful with spectacular views across the Sound of Sleat.

A view of the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig campus

So I’m going to Glasgow by train today, staying there tonight, then continuing my journey by train up to Mallaig, and by ferry to Armadale, then I’ll walk or get a taxi to the college, depending on the weather.

English, Language, Music, Scottish Gaelic Leave a comment

Cigire or Cigydd? Cross-language confusion

Last week in Ireland on the last night of the course each class played some tunes, did a sketch, sang songs, and/or did some other party piece. One of the Irish language classes did a sketch about a bunch of unruly school kids whose class was being visited by an inspector, played by Paul Kavanagh, Irish Ambassador to China. When the inspector turned up and he introduced himself as a “cigire scoile” (school inspector), and I processed the word cig in cigire as the Welsh word for meat. So at first I thought he was the school butcher, which would be cigydd ysgol in Welsh, though that made no sense in the context. I soon realised that he was an inspector, but it took a while for my mind to accept that word cigire had nothing to do with meat.

Incidentally, the Irish word for butcher is búistéir or feolaire, and feoil is meat.

Do you ever suffer from cross-language confusion?

English, Irish, Language, Welsh 5 Comments

Cruite, cláirseacha a chrythau

Cláirseach / Clàrsach / Claasagh / Telyn / Telenn, & Crwth

I discovered last week in Ireland that one word for the harp in Irish is cruit [krutʲ], which sounds similar to the Welsh word crwth [kruːθ], a type of bowed lyre that was once popular in Wales and in other parts of Europe, but which was largely displayed by the fiddle during the 18th century.

The word crwth from a Proto-Celtic word *krotto- (round object) and refers to a swelling or bulging out, of pregnant appearance, or a protuberance. The Irish word cruit comes from the same root and refers to small harps or lyres. The equivalent English word, which was borrowed from Welsh is crowd, which is also written crwd, crout or crouth, and in Medieval Latin such an instrument was called a chorus or crotta. The English surnames Crowder and Crowther, which mean a crowd player, and the Scottish names MacWhirter and MacWhorter also come from the same root [source].

The more common word for harp in Irish is cláirseach. In Scottish Gaelic the words cruit and clàrsach are used, with the latter being the most common, and in Manx we have claasagh and cruitçh. The Welsh word for harp is telyn, which has an equivalent in Manx – tellyn (Welsh harp). The Cornish word for harp is the same as the Welsh, and the Breton word is telenn.

Breton, Cornish, English, Irish, Language, Latin, Manx, Music, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh Leave a 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

Oideas Gael

I’m having a wonderful time in Gleann Cholm Cille learning to play the harp and speaking plenty of Irish. The course is going really well – we started with basic techniques, and have learnt a number of tunes, including some from the Bóroimhe / Brian Boru suite by Michael Rooney.

I’ve videoed our teacher, Oisín Morrison, playing all the pieces we’ve learnt so far, and he’s going to give us some more pieces to learn at home.

People come here from all over the world on holiday and to do courses at Oideas Gael – this week you can do Irish language classes, harp playing, or hill walking – so there are opportunities to speak quite a few languages, including French, German, Swedish, Mandarin, Dutch and Scottish Gaelic. I’ve even learnt a bit of Serbian from a Bosnian woman who is studying Irish here.

Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Language, Language learning, Music, Poetry, Serbian, Swedish 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 4 Comments