Language quiz

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Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

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

Language, Quiz questions 2 Comments


Typophilia definition

Whenever I see a well-written text with a good layout, it really appeals to me and I find myself staring at it and admiring it. I also admire particularly well-made fonts, and beautiful handwriting and calligraphy.

On the other hand, texts can be marred for me by a poor choice of font and/or layout, and by unattractive handwriting. Errors within texts can grate somewhat, but they far have less impact if I find the text visually appealing.

I’m not sure if my interest in alphabets and writing systems came from this typophilia, or if the typophilia (a word I just coined for this post) came from that interest. Is there another word that means “a love of writing in all its forms”? Graphophilia is a possibility.

If I ever get myself a phone with a camera, one thing I’ll take pictures of will be appealing texts, notices and signs.

Do any of you have a similar obsession with texts, writing and type?

English, Language, Writing 1 Comment

Schiehallion – Constant Storm Mountain

A photo of Schiehallion

I’m currently reading a fascinating book, Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt, and came across an interesting mountain name – Schehallion – which the author says that she was told means “constant storm” in Gaelic, a suitable name as the weather on the mountain is apparently notoriously bad. I thought this unlikely, but couldn’t work out the original Gaelic name from the anglicised version, so I thought I’d investigate.

The mountain in questions is known as Schiehallion or The Maiden’s Pap in English, and the Gaelic name is Sìth Chailleann /ʃi’xal̪ˠʲən̪ˠ/. Sìth means hill or mount, and also fairy, and Cailleann is the Gaelic form of Caledonia, which was the Latin name for what is now Scotland. Wikipedia says that the name can be translated as “”fairy hill of the Caledonians”.

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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

What’s in a name?

The other day I received an email with some corrections to my Scots phrases page. One thing the writer objected strongly to was the use of the name Scots for the language/dialect in question. He believes it should be called Scottish, and that nobody calls it Scots.

My understanding is that three main languages are spoken in Scotland:

Scottish Gaelic – a member of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic language family descended from Old Irish

Scottish English – English spoken with Scottish accents (there are more than one) with a few words from Scots and Scottish Gaelic

Scots – a descendant of the language(s) spoken by the Angles who settled in northern England and southern Scotland from the 5th century AD. Scots has been influenced by Gaelic, Norse, Latin, Dutch, Norman French, Standard French and English, and was the main language of Scotland, used in literature, education, government and in legal documents, from the 14th to the 18th centuries.

There is no doubt about the status of Scottish Gaelic – it is definitely a separate language that is closely related to Irish and Manx Gaelic, and only very distantly related to English and Scots. However there seems to be quite a bit of uncertainty about the status of Scots.

According to a study, “Public attitudes towards the Scots language” carried out by the Scottish Government in 2010, 64% of respondents (around 1,000 individuals) “don’t really think of Scots as a language”, but it also found that “the most frequent speakers are least likely to agree that it is not a language (58%) and those never speaking Scots most likely to do so (72%)”

Scots is a contraction of Scottis, the Older Scots and northern version of late Old English Scottisc (Scottish), which was formerly written Scyttisc. Before the end of the 15th century English speech in Scotland was known as Ynglis or Inglis (English), while Scottis referred to Gaelic. From 1495 Scottis was increasingly used to refer to the language of the Lowlands (Scots), and Scottish Gaelic was known as Erse (Irish).

Scots is also known as braid Scots (broad Scots), Doric (spoken in the north east of Scotland), Lallans (Lowlands – spoken in south and central Scotland). Doric and Lallans have both been used / are used to refer to Scots as a whole.


There are many regional variations in Scots, which can be divided into the following regions and areas: Shetland; Orkney; Caithness; Aberdeen and North East; Angus; Dundee, Perthshire, Fife; Edinburgh and East Central Scotland; Glasgow and West Central Scotland; Borders; South West

You can hear recordings of each of these variations on:

You can see written samples in different varieties of Scots (and many other languages) at:

Do you speak Scots or Scottish?

If so, which variety do you speak, and do you think of it as a distinct language?

By the way, I have up-dated and improved my Scots phrases page so that all the phrases are in the Scots of north east Scotland, a.k.a. Doric. If you can provide recordings of those phrases, or provide them in other varieties of Scots, please let me know.

English, Language, Scots, Scottish Gaelic Comments Off on What’s in a name?


много где

In the Russian lesson I worked on today there was an interesting expression – много где (mnogo gde) – which is a colloquial way of saying “many places” or “lots of places”, and literally means “many where”.

It’s used in the following context:

– где ты был, кроме России?
(gde ty byl, krome Rossii?)
where have you been besides Russia?

– Я много где был, в Европе и Азии.
(Ya mnogo gde byl, v Yevrope i Azii.)
I’ve been to lots of places in Europe and Asia.

Related Russian words include:
– где-то (gde-to) = somewhere
– где-нибудь (gde-nibyd’) = anywhere / somewhere
– нигде (nigde) – nowhere

In English we have somewhere, nowhere and anywhere, but not manywhere, which seems like it could be a useful word. Do any other languages have a word like this?

English, Language, Russian, Words and phrases 2 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 5 Comments

Coasts and competitors


Sometimes when I see new words in English or other languages I can immediately break them down into their component parts and work out their roots, but other times I just accept words as whole entities without trying to work out their derivation.

One such word in Welsh is arfordir, which I hadn’t tried to analyse before. Last weekend, however, I was explaining some Welsh words to a friend who recently moved to Cardiff and who wants to learn Welsh, so I was in the right frame of mind, and the probable etymology of that word jumped out at me – ar (on, by) + môr (sea) + tir (land), so it’s “land by the sea” or the coast. This is correct, according to the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru.

Another etymology I discovered today is the word competitor, which comes from the Middle French compétiteur (rival, competitor), from the Latin competītor (rival, competitor, adversary, opponent; plaintiff), from con (with) and petītor (seeker, striver, applicant, candidate, claimant, plaintiff, suitor, wooer).

Petītor comes from petere (to make, seek, aim at, desire, beg, beseech), from the Proto-Indo-European *peth₂- (to fall, fly), which is also the root of the English word petition, and the Spanish word pedir (to ask for) [source]

English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Spanish, Welsh, Words and phrases Comments Off on Coasts and competitors

Meads and Meadows

Taffs Mead Embankment

I was in Cardiff last weekend and one of the places I walked along was the Taffs Mead Embankment, which runs along the River Taff. I’ve seen the word mead in the name Thamesmead, a district of south east London, but hadn’t thought about what it might mean.

Mead in this context means meadow and comes from the Old English mǣd (meadow), and is cognate with West Frisian miede, and the Low German Meed and Mede. These all come from the Proto-Germanic *mēdwō (meadow, pasture), as does meadow [source].

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 4 Comments
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