Elephants & Camels

Elephants and camels

What do elephants and camels have in common?

Well, words for camel in Slavic languages like Czech and Russian possibly come from an Ancient Greek word meaning elephant.

In Czech the word for camel is velbloud [ˈvɛlblou̯t], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *velьb(l)ǫdъ / vъlьb(l)ǫdъ (camel), from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus – camel), from the Latin elephantus (elephant), from the Ancient Greek ἐλέφας (eléphas – elephant) [source].

Words from camel in other Slavic languages come from the same root: верблюд (verbljúd) in Russian and Ukrainian, вярблюд (vjarbljúd) in Belarusian, wielbłąd in Polish, and so on [source].

These all come from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus), but from there the etmological trial gets a bit hazy, as they quite often do. Traditionally this word is thought to derive from the Greek ἐλέφας, via the Latin elephantus.

Another theory is that the Gothic word comes from the Proto-Germanic *elpanduz (elephant, camel), which possibly comes from the Hittite word hu(wa)lpant (humpback), or from another ancient language of Anatolian such as Luwian [source].

The word for elephant in Czech (and also in Slovak, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian) is slon [slon], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *slonъ (elephant) [source], which comes either from the Turkish aslan (lion), or from *sloniti (to lean against), relating to the medieval story of an elephant sleeping leaning on a tree [source].

So now we know where the name of the lion in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe probably comes from.

Do you tartle?

An interesting word I heard the other day is tartle. It’s a Scots word that means “To hesitate, to be uncertain as in recognising a person or object; to boggle, “as a horse does”; to hesitate about clinching a bargain.” or “To recognise, esp. after some uncertainty, to discern”.

An example of how it is used is: “I tartled at him, I could not with certainty recognise him.”

The related adjective, tartlesome, means “disposed to start objections, captious*”.

*Captious [ˈkæpʃəs] = “apt to notice and make much of trivial faults or defects; faultfinding; difficult to please.” [source].

Source: Dictionary of the Scots Language / Dictionar o the Scots Leid.

I heard tartle on the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast, where it’s defined as “to hesitate when introducing someone because you’ve forgetten their name”.

To avoid tartling, I just don’t use people’s names, except when necessary. Although I find that if I repeat someone’s name several times after being introduced to them, I’m more likely to remember it.

Do you have any good ways to remember name, and to avoid tartling?

Grab it and run!

One of the Russian words I learnt this week is грабить [ˈɡrabʲɪtʲ], which sounds like ‘grab it’ and means to rob, burgle or pillage.

An example of how it’s used is: Нельзя же грабить банк в платье (You can’t rob a bank in a dress) – is this something that often comes up in Russian conversation? [source].

I wondered if this word is related to the English word grab, so decided to find out.

According to Wiktionary, грабить comes from the Proto-Slavic *gràbiti (to grab, seize). This comes either from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *grāˀb-, from Proto-Indo-European *gʰreb (to rake). Or from the Proto-Indo-European *gʰrebʰ- (to seize).

Grab comes from the Middle Dutch grabben (to grab), or from the Middle Low German grabben (to snap), from the Proto-Germanic *grab-, from Proto-Indo-European *gʰrebʰ-, which is one possible root of грабить, so they might be related [source].

Even if the two words are not related, their similar sound will help me remember the Russian one.

Standard Writing for Inuit

According to an article I came across today, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami / ᐃᓄᐃᑦ ᑕᐱᕇᑦ ᑲᓇᑕᒥ (ITK), an organization the protects and advances the rights and interests of Inuit people in Canada, have agreed on a standard way of writing the Inuit languages of Canada.

There are currently nine different ways to write these languages, using either the Roman alphabet (qaliujaaqpait) or the Inkutitut syllabary (ᖃᓂᐅᔮᖅᐸᐃᑦ / qaniujaaqpait).

On 10th September 2019 the ITK decided to adopt a standardised way of writing all the Inuit languages and dialects of Canada using the Roman alphabet known as the Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait writing system. It includes ways to write the sounds found in all these languages, even though some are only used in a few of the languages. More information.

Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait writing system

I’m not entirely sure how all the consonants are pronunced – the illustrations of the orthography don’t include pronuciation.

The intention with the new orthography is to provide an alternative, auxiliary writing system that can be used as well as, or instead of, the existing systems. The new writing system will make it easier to produce learning resources and other written material. It is also hoped that more speakers of Inuit languages will write in them, rather than using English.

Eskimo-Aleut languages on Omniglot
Aleut, Alutiiq, Greenlandic, Inuktitut, Iñupiaq, Yup’ik (Central Alaskan), Yupik (Central Siberian)

When is a gate not a gate?

In a Russian lesson I did yesterday, I learnt that a word for gate is ворота (vorota). Then it gave me a phrase using a different word for gate – Где гейт? (Gde gejt?), which means “Where is the gate?”, and refers to the kind of gate you get at an airport. Slightly confusing. So I wondered what kind of gate is a ворота.

Apparently a ворота is a (double) gate, gateway, portal, goal or sluicegate.

Other Russian words for gate include:

  • выход (vychod) = egress, exit, gate, orifice, outcome
  • вход (vchod) = embouchure, entrance, entry, gate, gateway, ingress, inlet
  • шлагбаум (shlagbaum) = gate (of lock, level crossing), tollbar
  • калитка (kalitka) = (single) gate, wicket
  • шлюз (shlyuz) = flood-gate, gate, lock, sluice
  • гейт (gejt) = gate (at an airport)

Below are some illustrations on different kinds of gates I found via Google:

Some different kinds of gates and the words for them in Russian

Searching for images of words like this seems is interesting, and may help me to remember them.

Sources: Reverso Dictionary & bab.la

Bilingual Kids

Many families raise their children to be bilingual. This might involve one parent speaking one language, and the other parent speaking a different one. Or maybe the family will speak one language at home, and the children will pick up another at school. The hope is that the children will end up speaking both languages fluently.

Recently I got talking to a Czech woman, who told me that she spoke Czech to her sons for the first year or so, while her husband spoke English to them – he doesn’t know much Czech. After that however, she switched to English, as she found it too hard to speak Czech to them all the time. This surprised me, as you’d think that speaking your mother tongue would be easier than speaking another language, but not in this case, it seems.

As they currently live in Wales, the main languages her boys encounter are English and Welsh. Maybe their mother is the only Czech speaker around – I certainly haven’t come across any others. Maybe she feels more comfortable speaking English than Czech after living here for many years.

She told me that they’re soon moving to Czechia, so her sons will have to learn Czech. They’re young (4 and 2), so will probably soon pick it up. Whether her husband learns it is another matter – it is quite a challenging language to learn as an adult.

Are any of you raising your children bilingually?

What challenges do you face, and how do you deal with them?

Have you become more comfortable speaking a foreign language than your mother tongue?

Two Left Feet / Dwy Droed Chwith

Last night I wrote a song called Two Left Feet, about someone who believes he can’t dance because he has two left feet – not literally, but in the idiomatic sense of being clumsy and awkward, especally when trying to dance.

I used to feel like this, and still do a bit when I try to learn new dances, or different styles of dancing. I don’t let this stop me though, and dance anyway, which is what the song is all about. I’ll add a link to the song here when I’ve recorded it.

I like to translate the titles of my songs and tunes into Welsh, so I looked for Welsh equivalents of this idiom. These include:

  • bod â dwy droed chwith = to be with two left feet
  • bod yn drwstan eich traed = to be clumsy of foot
  • bod yn drwstan ar eich traed = to be clumsy on one’s feet
  • bod yn lloglog = to be clumsy / awkward

Drwstan [ˈtrʊstan] is a mutated form of trwstan which means clumsy, awkward, unsteady, bungling, unpolished, shoddy, unfortunate, unlucky, unhappy, sad or wretched.

Lloglog [ˈɬɔɡlɔɡ] means clumsy, awkward, untidy or baggy.

Trwstan and Lloglog might be good names for characters in a story or song – maybe I’ll use them in my next song.

Incidentally, trwstan is not related to the name Tristan, which comes, via Old French, from the Celtic name Drystan, from drest (riot, tumult).

Other Welsh words for clumsy and awkward include:

  • trwsgl, afrosgo, lletchwith, trwstan, ysgaprwth, clogyrnaidd, anfedrus, di-lun, annehau, anneheuig, ysgafnrwth
    annosbarthus, annechau, clemog, sgrongol, siagal

The word awkward comes from the awk, an old word meaning odd, wrong, clumsy or uncomfortable, and the adjectival suffix -ward.

Awk comes from the Old Norse ǫfugr / ǫfigr / afigr (turned backwards, unkind, harsh).

Sources: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (A Dictionary of the Welsh Language), Geiriadur yr Academi (The Welsh Academy English-Welsh Dictionary Online), Wiktionary