Les coups de glotte and other coups

Coup de glotte / Glottal Stop

Yesterday I discovered that the French for glottal stop is coup de glotte (“blow of the glottis”).

The word coup (blow, shot, stroke, wave, kick, punch, move) appears in many other expressions, including:

– (donner un) coup de balai = (to) sweep; shake up
– coup de vent = blow of wind
– coup de tête = header; whim
– coup de tabac = squall; gale
– coup de pied = kick
– c’est le coup de barre ! = it’s daylight robbery!
– j’ai le coup de barre ! = all of a sudden I feel totally shattered!
– coup de bol = stroke of luck (bol = bowl)
– coup de boule = headbutt
– coup de brosse = brushstroke
– coup de théâtre = dramatic turn of events
– coup de cafard = fit of the blues (cafard = cockroach)
– coup de chapeau = pat on the back (fig)
– donner un coup de chapeau à qn/qch = to give sb/sth full marks; to praise sb/sth
– coup de chapeau à X ! = hats off to X!
– coup d’état = coup (d’État); putsch
– coup de grâce = coup de grace; deathblow
– (pousser un) coup de gueule = (to have a) rant

Gueule is another interesting word that came up in the French conversation group yesterday and which means the mouth/snout/muzzle of an animal, and is used as a slang word for a person’s mouth – the equivalent of mug, gob, cakehole, etc in English. Do you have any others?

One quite rude way to tell people to be quiet in French is “Ta gueule !”, and if you drink a lot of alcohol you might wake up the following morning with une gueule de bois (“a wooden gob”) or a hangover. A gueule-de-loup (“wolf’s snout”), on the other hand, is a snapdragon (Antirrhinum), which is a trwyn llo (“cow’s nose”) or a safn y llew (“lion’s mouth”) in Welsh. By the way, the botanical name for snapdragon, Antirrhinum, comes from Greek and means “like a nose”.

English, Etymology, French, Language, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Changing accents

I heard an interesting discussion on Radio Cymru recently about accents. They talked about Welsh, and English, regional accents that have negative associations for people from other regions, or that people find difficult to follow, and whether they would change their accent to make it easier for others to understand them, and/or to avoid the negative associations.

My accent has changed a bit over time – it is currently more or less RP, but used to be more northern, and it depends to some extent though on who I’m talking to. I haven’t tried to change it deliberately. The only thing I consciously pay attention to in formal situations is the pronunciation of th [θ/ð], particularly the unvoiced version, [θ], which tends to default to [f].

Are the negative associations with accents from particular parts of your country, or with accents of particular social groups within your country?

Have you deliberately changed your accent in your native language(s)? If so, what led you to do so?

English, Language, Pronunciation, Welsh 8 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 7 Comments


There’s an interesting article in the Guardian I came across today about motivation in language learning.

The article discusses different types of motivation, and concludes that three things that are particularly important in language learning are working memory; associative memory – how well you content new and known information; and your ability to learn implicitly – that is the ability to spot patterns. If you have a good level in these skills, plus a high level of motivation, you are more likely to succeed.

What motivates you to learn languages?

For me it’s a combination of interest in the languages themselves, and in aspects of the cultures associated with them, especially music and literature.

Language, Language learning 2 Comments

Gabions and the importance of names


The other day I discovered that the name for those wire cages filled with rocks used in construction and to stabilise river banks, hillsides and shorelines are called gabions. The word comes from the Italian gabbione (big cage), which comes from the Latin cavea (cage).

There are plenty of gabions around here, but I didn’t know what to call them before, apart from wire baskets filled with rocks and stones, or something similar. I find that knowing the name of something makes it so much easier to talk about it – would you agree?

For example, if you go for a walk in the country and want to point out particular flora and fauna that you see, or want to describe what you saw afterwards, it helps if you know the names of things. So instead of saying that you saw some trees, flowers and birds, you might say that you saw oak, beech and ash trees; dandelions, old man’s trousers and buttercups, and so on. Some people, like my mum, could probably give you the Latin names of some of the flora as well.

Knowing the names of things, in your native language, and in other languages you know, enriches your world and enables you to talk about a variety of things without having to resort to paraphrases and long descriptions. The common names of flora and fauna can be interesting and poetic even – for example, the Irish name for fuschia is deaora dé (“God’s tears”). I learnt this word first in Irish, then found out what the plant is called in English.

I’m quite good at the names of birds and animals in English, Welsh, French and Irish, but not so good at plants and trees, which I’m working on.

English, Etymology, Irish, Italian, Language, Latin, Words and phrases 5 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a song in multiple languages.

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

Language, Quiz questions 5 Comments

Novi Sad

Novi Sad / Нови Сад

As I’m going to the Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad (Нови Сад) [nôʋiː sâːd] in October, I thought I should find out what Novi Sad actually means – it’s the kind of thing I like to know. I guessed that Novi probably means new, but had no idea what Sad might mean.

According to this dictionary, нови means new and сад means ‘plantation’.

Wikipedia translates the name as ‘New Garden’, and gives versions of the name in a number of languages used in local administration:

– Serbian: Нови Сад, Novi Sad
– Hungarian: Újvidék (‘new territory/region/land’)
– Slovak: Nový Sad
– Rusyn: Нови Сад (Novi Sad)

In Latin it’s known as Neoplanta, and as Novi Sad in Croatian and Romanian.

The word сад / sad comes from the Proto-Slavic *saditi (to plant), and means vessel, container or dish in Macedonian; garden, orchard or park in Russian and Ukrainian; orchard in Czech and Polish; fruit in Lower Sorbian; and garden, orchard or plantation in Slovak.

Sources: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/сад and http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sad

Czech, English, Etymology, Language, Latin, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Extreme Polyglottery

The Polyglot Gathering in Berlin last week was fantastic and I enjoyed everything about it. The organizers did an excellent job and everything went well, with only minor hitches. Many other people helped things to run smoothly, and gave talks and/or arranged discussions and language practise sessions.

The A&O Hauptbahnhof hostel/hotel where the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin took place in June 2014

The venue was a huge hostel/hotel near Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (main station), and not far from famous places like the Reichstag (home of the German parliament) and the Brandenburg Gate. It was equipped with hotel and hostel-style rooms, a dining hall in the basement, a reception area with seating and a games section on the ground floor, and a roof-top bar on the 5th floor. The gathering itself took place mainly in function rooms on the 5th floor, with a large room for the talks and activities and two smaller rooms for discussions and talks. One of the smaller rooms also served as a tea room – Gufujo (owl room in Esperanto) – in the evenings for those looking for somewhere quieter than the bar for a chat. There were also spontaneous outbreaks of polyglottery in other parts of the venue, and outside as well.

The program for the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in June 2014

The program included lectures, talks, discussions, games, and plenty opportunities to practise languages and to talk about language learning, language and languages – or polyglottery as I like to call it. The talks and discussions ran from 9am to 1pm, with two hours for lunch, and from 3-6pm. In most time spots there were two or three things going on at the same time, so you couldn’t go to everything. Fortunately the talks were all videoed and the videos will appear online when they have been edited, so I can watch the ones I missed, and those who weren’t there can watch all the ones that interest them. The program booklet was printed several months before the gathering, so there were some changes, and people filled in empty spots with talks on a variety of language-related topics, and other activities.

The talks I went to include ones on Proto-Indo-European, careers for polyglots, neuroscience and language learning, practising languages in virtual words, Scots and Scottish English, Welsh; and discussions on passive v active learning, and synesthesia; and introductions to Indonesian, Toki Pona and Macedonian. Some talks were quite academic, others were more informal. All were interesting.

On the first evening there was an international culinary festival with food and drink from many different countries. There were polyglot games on the subsequent two evenings, and an international culture evening with songs and poems in many different languages on the final evening. I started it off with a song in Welsh – Lisa Lân, and my Manx/English song about seagulls and chips – Spollagyn son tey / Chips for tea, and finished it with my song Everyday Adventures, which all went down well.

Here’s me singing Lisa Lân and Spollagyn son tey / Chips for tea (videoed by David J. James):

The most impressive contribution was Richard Simcott singing Let it Go from Frozen in some 20 different languages from memory:

There were some 230 participants there from all over the world ranging in age from teenagers to pensioners. All spoke at least two languages, and many spoke quite a few more – I think the average number of languages spoken there was around four or five, with a number of people who speak ten or more languages. There were plenty of students there who are studying languages, and many other subjects, as well as people who run language-related businesses, or work as translators, writers, journalists, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and many other professions. Whatever our background, we all shared a passion for languages, and were interested in finding out about other peoples, countries and cultures.

A group photo of most of the participants in the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in June 2014

Meeting so many other polyglots and being able to talk in many different languages and about languages and language learning was wonderful. I don’t often get to do this as I only know a few other polyglots where I live, so the gathering was fantastic for me. I didn’t need to suppress or hold back any of my enthusiasm for languages, as I usually do to varying degrees when talking to people who don’t share my passion. Everyone was friendly, interesting, and had different stories to tell, and I now feel like a part of the polyglot community. Before the gathering I had watched videos and read blogs and forum posts, and even commented from time to time, so I was familiar with a number of polyglots with an online presence, but felt that I was kind of on the periphery of the community. Few people recognised me, but many were familiar with Omniglot, and were happy to meet the guy behind it.

I found the talks, discussions and other activities interesting and fun, especially the discussions on synesthesia, and on raising bi/multilingual children – I don’t any kids, but my niece is being raised bilingually in English and Russian, and quite a few of my friends are raising their kids with two or more languages, especially English and Welsh.

I would recommend this kind of event to anybody interested in languages, and I’m looking forward to the Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad in Serbia in October.

Chinese, Czech, Dutch, Endangered languages, English, Esperanto, French, German, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Language, Manx, Polish, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish, Swedish, Taiwanese, Turkish, Welsh 3 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a song in multiple languages- it’s a multilingual version of ‘Let it Go’ from the film Frozen sung by Richard Simcott at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin. He sang it a capella and from memory – very impressive. The sound quality isn’t great, but it’s okay.

Can you identify the different languages?

Language, Quiz questions 5 Comments


I’m having a wonderful time at the Polyglot Gathering. My luggage arrived, finally, and I’ve been speaking even more languages, including Cantonese, Taiwanese, Irish, Japanese, Czech, Russian and Turkish (a few words only). I haven’t found any speakers of Breton, Manx or Scottish Gaelic yet though.

I have been to some very interesting lectures and discussion about subjects like synesthesia, Scots, Indonesian, raising multilingual children, maintaining multiple languages, and the neuroscience of polyglot brains.

This morning I gave a talk about language death and revival, focusing particularly on the Celtic languages. When I saw that I’d been given an hour in the programme I thought I wouldn’t have enough material to fill it, but I could have easily talked for twice as long. Instead I talked for about 45 minutes then opened it up for questions. My talk was semi-structured and semi-stream of conciousness, but it seemed to go down well, and people found it interesting.

Tonight there’s another polyglot games evening, similar to the one we had last night. Tomorrow night I’ll be singing a few songs in the international culture evening. I will probably do a Welsh one and maybe an Irish one, but haven’t decided which ones yet.

Breton, English, Japanese, Language, Manx, Russian, Scottish Gaelic Comments Off