There’s an little interview with me on today about language learning and specifically about learning Chinese.

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Going through the motions

In German there are two main verbs that mean ‘to go’: gehen, which is used in expressions about going in general, and particularly going on foot / walking; and fahren, which refers particularly to going/travelling in a form of transport (car, train, bus, boat, etc).

So I could said, “Am Samstag gehe ich nach Berlin” (I’m going to Berlin on Saturday) and this would indicate that I was walking there – which is possible, but would take rather a long time from Bangor. I am actually going to Berlin on Saturday for the Polyglot Gathering – getting the train to Manchester Airport, then flying to Berlin via Amsterdam, and getting the bus into Berlin from the airport – so I could say, “Am Samstag fahre ich nach Berlin” (I’m travelling to Berlin on Saturday).

In Dutch similar verbs exist – gaan and varen – however they are used in different ways. Varen as a verb means ‘to go, to travel, to sail, to navigate, to ride’, and as a noun means sailing. Gaan is the generally word for to go, which also means to travel, to ride and to go on foot (te voet gaan). So in Dutch I could say, “Op zaterdag ga ik naar Berlijn.” (I’m going to Berlin on Saturday), and this wouldn’t necessarily indicate that I was going on foot. If I said, “Ik vaar naar Berlijn.”, that might indicate that I was going there by boat / sailing there – at least that’s how I understand it.

There’s also my favourite Dutch verb lopen (to go, walk, run, march, step, stride, stroll), which seems to be cognate with the German verb laufen (to run, go, walk), and I’m sure there are other verbs of motion in both languages.

Do other languages have separate verbs for different kinds of going?

Dutch, English, German, Language, Words and phrases 6 Comments


While listening to Deutschlandradio this morning one word that kept on coming up and that I didn’t understand was Stockung. It appears mainly in traffic reports, so I assume it meant something like delays or traffic jams.

According to Reverso, Stockung means:

- interruption, hold-up; congestion, traffic jam, hold-up
- breakdown (in negotiations)
- slackening or dropping off (in trade/business)
- break, lull (in speech); pause, hesitation
- thickening; curdling (of milk)

Related expressions include:

- Verkehrsstockung = traffic jam
- der Verkehr läuft wieder ohne Stockungen = traffic is flowing smoothly again

A related verb is stocken, which means: to miss or skip a beat; to falter; to make no progress; to flag; to grind to a halt; to stagnate; to be held up or halted; to thicken; to curdle, to go sour; to become mildewed, to go mouldy/moldy.

Stockung and Stocken come from Stock (stick), which comes from the Old High German stoc, from the Proto-Germanic *Stukka (floor, beam, tree stump), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)teu- (to push, stick, knock, beat), which is also the root of the English words stick and stock [source].

What are traffic jams / hold-ups called in your country?

English, Etymology, German, Language, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 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 6 Comments

How many languages is enough?

I came across an interesting article in The Guardian today about Alexander Arguelles, who says, “I can read about three dozen languages and speak most of them fluently, and I’ve studied many more.” The headline, “Experience: I can speak 50 languages”, is perhaps a slight exaggeration of the kind that’s common in these kinds of articles. The subheading is, ‘I’m often asked what the secret is. The truth is it’s mostly down to endless hours of reading, studying and practising grammar’, which neatly sums up one approach to language learning.

Have you got to the stage where you feel you have taken on enough languages? Or are these always other languages that you’d like to learn one of these days?

Recently I’ve been concentrating mainly on 15 of my languages, and have been trying to maintain and improve my knowledge of them. There are plenty of other languages out there that I’d like to have a go at, but I’ve been resisting the temptations so far.

English, Language, Language learning 6 Comments

HyperGlobal Publishing

Today we have a guest post by Mars Jacobson of HyperGlobal Publishing

In this day and age of globalization and instant communications, you can send an email around the world in seconds while talking on the phone to someone thousands of miles away. It is language differences, not physical differences, that separate us. A new startup publishing company, hyperGlobal Publishing, is here to help close this language gap dividing people and nations around the world.

hyperGlobal Publishing invites the best writers and thinkers from around the world to produce original analysis and commentary that we’ll translate – by humans, not computers – and publish daily to our website. We’ll start with five of the most common online languages – English, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish – thus reaching a far-flung and diverse global audience from day one.

Our experiment with multi-lingual journalism and commentary will begin with the biggest event in the world – the 2014 FIFA World Cup. From June 12 to July 13, one billion fans in nearly every country on earth will cheer on 32 teams as they compete in 64 matches. hyperGlobal would offer these fans a common online space for news on the beautiful game.

The World Cup project would only be the beginning. hyperGlobal would then branch out to a wide variety of topics. For readers, hyperGlobal would be an online platform for them to gain a truly worldwide perspective in their news and media, from unique and talented authors. For writers, hyperGlobal offers an opportunity to be published in several languages and get global exposure.

For more information or to get involved, please check out our Kickstarter campaign.

You can also find us on Facebook.

And on Twitter.

English, Language 1 Comment

In the World of Invented Languages

In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius

Last week I read Arika Okrent’s book In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius, which I found very interesting.

The book covers the history of language invention from Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua Ignota; through philosophical languages like the one John Wilkins devised; International Auxiliary languages like Esperanto and Volapük; logical languages like Loglan and Lojban; to fictional languages like Quenya, Sindarin and Klingon. The author tells the stories behind these languages and the people who invented them, meets some of the inventors who are still around, learns some of the languages, and goes to meet ups for some of them.

One thing that struck me was the fact that many language inventors, especially those of philosophical, universal, logical and international auxiliary languages, believed that it was possible to make perfect, unambiguous and/or totally regular languages, and that natural languages were flawed because they contain irregularities, ambiguity and unnecessary complexities. Okrent argues that these are features, not flaws, and they give languages flexibility. I would add to this that the built in redundancy in languages helps ensure that messages get across even if some of the content is lost due to noisy conditions, unclear pronunciation of the speaker, inattention of the listener, or other factors.

Conlangs, Language 3 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 9 Comments

Cuckoo bells

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

I discovered this week that in Welsh bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are known as Clychau’r Gog (“cuckoo bells”), which I really like the sound of. They are also known as Bwtias y Gog (“cuckoo’s boots”), Croeso Haf (“welcome summer”), Cennin y Brain (“crows’ leeks”), Clychau’r Eos (“nightingale’s bells”), Glas y Llwyn (“green blue of the grove”), hosanau’r Gwcw (“cuckoo’s socks”).

In Breton bluebells are known as bokidi-koukou (“cuckoo flowers”) or pour-bran (“crows’ flowers/pears”).

In French they are known as jacinthe des bois (“wood hyacinths”) or jacinthe sauvage (“wild hyacinths”).

Other names for them in English include common bluebell, English bluebell, British bluebell, wild hyacinth, wood bell, fairy flower and bell bottle.

Do they have interesting names in other languages?

Breton, English, French, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 7 Comments

LOL @ 25

According to an article I found in The Guardian today the accronym LOL (laughing out loud) first appeared 25 years ago in the International FidoNet Association Newsletter dated 8 May 1989.

The article mentions a few equivalents in other languages: “ㅋㅋㅋ” (KKK) in Korean; MDR or mort de rire (died of laughter) in French; and 555 (ห้า ห้า ห้า / haa haa haa) in Thai. Do you know or use any others?

LOL is not related to the Welsh word lol, which means “nonsense, foolery, bosh, bunkum, gammon, moonshine, rigmarole, rot, rubbish, tomfoolery or twaddle”; or to the English word loll (to hang down loosely; to droop, dangle), an expression that, according to the OED, has a sound suggestive or rocking or swinging, and might be connected to the Middle Dutch lollen (to sleep) – found in Modern Dutch in lollebanck (couch, sofa).

English, Language, Words and phrases 4 Comments