Post-vernacular languages

In an article I read today – Sustaining languages: An interview with Peter Austin, I came across an interesting idea – post-vernacular languages.

A vernacular language is one you use in your everyday life, while a post-vernacular language is one you may not want to use in your daily life and as means of communication, but may learn to connect or reconnect with your heritage, culture and heritage, for fun, out of interest, or for other reasons.

An example given in the article is of Jewish people in the USA who use English as their everyday language, but decide to learn some Yiddish as it was the language of their parents or grandparents. Some may just learn a few words and phrases, others may learn more of the language, but few will use it as a vernacular language.

Here is an interesting video which discusses the status of Yiddish as a post-vernacular language:

There is also a book which discuss the phenomenon: Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture by Jeffrey Shandler

My learning and use of languages is mostly post-vernacular – I learn them mainly for fun and out of interest, and while I do sometimes use them to communicate with others, that isn’t necessarily my primary goal. I have used languages in a vernacular way when living in other countries, and I do currently life in Wales, in an area where the majority of people speak Welsh, and I use Welsh quite often, though not necessarily every day.

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

Hmyz and Hums


I came across an interesting Czech word today – hmyz, which means “insect, ant, bug, creepy-crawly”.

It appears in my Czech phrasebook in the sentence, “V našem pokoji je hmyz” (There are insects in our room).

It sounds like the sounds insects make, but there are other words for hum in Czech – bzučet, vrčet, hučet (verbs); bzukot, šum, hukot (nouns).

Related words include:

– hmyzožravec = insectivore
– hmyzožravý = insectivorous
– repelent proti hmyzu = insect repellent


Czech, English, Language, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Language quiz

Language quiz image

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

Fosses and Sextons

At the French Conversation Group last night one of the people had an old French language textbook from the 1950s which contains lots of stories in French. One of them contains the word “Le Fossoyeur” in the title, which is translated as “The Sexton”. As this wasn’t a word I’d come across before, I thought I’d find out more about it.

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, a sexton is:

A person who looks after a church and churchyard, typically acting as bell-ringer and gravedigger.

Sexton is a Middle English word that comes from the Anglo-Norman French segrestein, from medieval Latin sacristānus (sacristan), which comes from the Latin sacer/sacr- (sacred).

A sacristan is person in charge of a sacristy and its contents, and a sacristy is a “room in a church where a priest prepares for a service, and where vestments and articles of worship are kept.”

The French word fossoyeur can also mean “personne ou chose qui ruine, détruit” (sb or sth that ruins or destroys) [source], and comes from the word fosse (pit, grave), from the Latin fossa (ditch, trench), from fodiō (dig out, excavate) from the Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European *bʰedʰ- (to pierce, dig) [source].

The word fosse / foss also exists in English and means a ditch or moat, but is rarely used, except by archaeologist, for whom it means “a long, narrow trench or excavation, especially in a fortification.” [source]. Fosse also appears in the name of the old Roman road from Lincoln to Exeter – the Fosse Way.

English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 2 Comments

How to you?

An interesting structure that came up in the Russian lesson I worked on today is Как тебе …? (Kak tebe …) or literally “How to you …”), which means “What do you think of …?”. The example in the lesson is Ну, как тебе пельмени? (Nu, kak tebe pel’meni?), which means “So, what do you think of pelmeni*?”. The reply is Очень вкусно! (Ochen’ vkusno!) = “Very tasty!”.

This illustrates the fact that you often use fewer words in Russian sentences than in other languages like English. In some ways this makes Russian easier as there are fewer words to worry about in sentences like this. Although if you’re trying to translate from English to Russian you have to remember to leave half the words out.

Do any other languages use a similar structure?

*Pelmeni are a kind of dumpling, usually filled with meat, or sometimes with vegetables or fish.

English, Language, Russian, Words and phrases 5 Comments

Language quiz

Language quiz image

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

Suo Gân

We are learning the traditional Welsh lullaby Suo Gân [sɨɔ ɡɑːn] in one of the choirs I sing in at the moment. It’s a lovely song that was first written down in 1800, but was probably composed around before then.

When I first saw the words Suo Gân I thought they might be Mandarin Chinese – I knew that gân is mutated version of the Welsh word for song, cân, but suo doesn’t look like Welsh. In fact suo is a variant spelling of sïo, which means “to hum, whizz or murmur”, so suo gân could be translated as “humming / murmured song”.

Here’s a recording of Bryn Terfel singing this song:

The words suo [suɔ] and gan [kan] have many meanings in Chinese, but there are only a couple of expressions I can find that combine both of them:

– 锁杆 [鎖桿] (suǒgǎn) = locking bar
– 所感 (suǒgǎn) = one’s impression of something

Chinese, English, Language, Music, Songs, Welsh, Words and phrases 3 Comments

In the cold light of day

An interesting expression I noticed recently is in the cold light of day. It is used to indicate that you are thinking about something calmly and clearly, and you might feel foolish, sorry or ashamed for thinking or doing that something. For example “The next morning, in the cold light of day, Sam realized that his ideas, which seemed so brilliant the night before, were complete nonsense.”

I hadn’t thought about it much before, but when I came across it today it struck me as slightly odd – can light be cold?

According to, “This expression transfers the illumination of daylight to rational understanding and uses cold to emphasize the lack of passion.”

On AnswerBag it’s suggested that this phrase originates in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, published in 1894-5. A similar phrase certainly does appear in that book in the following extract, from the beginning of chapter 5:

“Oh, I don’t want any! I fear I ought not to have run away from that school! Things seem so different in the cold light of morning, don’t they? What Mr. Phillotson will say I don’t know! It was quite by his wish that I went there. He is the only man in the world for whom I have any respect or fear. I hope he’ll forgive me; but he’ll scold me dreadfully, I expect!”

Do you know of any earlier uses of this phrase?

Are there equivalents of this phrase in other languages?

English, Language, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Northern and Southern Korean

Today I found an interesting article about difference between the Korean spoken in North Korea and South Korea. Apparently the Korean spoken in North Korean has a different accent, archaic vocabulary, and lots of loanwords from Chinese and Russian, while in South Korea they have a lot of English loanwords. To South Koreans the Korean of North Korea sounds old fashioned and quaint. Some also see it as ‘pure’ as it has few loanwords from English.

The article mentions an app called Univoca, short for “unification vocabulary”, that is being developed to help North Korean defectors in South Korea to learn the Southern version of Korean.

Have you ever tried to learn a different dialect or regional variety of your language?

Have you changed your accent to fit in?

Korean, Language 5 Comments

Language quiz

Language quiz image

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
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