Gallo

While browsing YouTube this morning I came across a video about Gallo, a Gallo-Romance language spoken in Brittany and Normandy in the northwest of France.

Gallo is one of the langues d’oïl, and is closely related to such languages as Norman and Picard. It is recognised as a minority language in France, and is taught at state schools in Upper Brittany, although few students choose to study it.

One of the comments on the video goes as follows:

De ce que j’en entends dans ce reportage, c’est plutôt une déformation paysanne du français et non une langue avec sa grammaire et son vocabulaire comme le breton.

Which means:

From what I hear in this report, it is rather a peasant distortion of French and not a language with its grammar and vocabulary like Breton.

This kind of thing seems to be quite common when minority and regional languages and dialects are discussed. Speakers of majority languages often belittle them, claim they are not proper languages, that they don’t have their own grammar, and/or that they are ‘just’ dialects, patois, or distorted / corrupted versions of a majority language, and so on.

I wonder why people feel the need to make such comments. Any ideas?

Online Polyglottery

This year the Polyglot Gathering was supposed to take place in Teresin near Warsaw in Poland, but it was cancelled and moved online.

It’s actually happening as I write this, and I’m currently listening to one of the online talks. There are two talks happening at the same time, as well as chat rooms to practise languages. There are also quizzes, a talent show and other activities. It will all be recorded and available online eventually.

The online gathering started today, and continues until Monday 1st June. I plan to dip in and out, listening to talks that interest me, and maybe taking part in some of the other activities.

At previous gatherings I tended to go to some of the talks and workshops, and spend the rest of the time talking to other participants, exploring the local area, or relaxing. It can be quite intense for an introvert like me speaking lots of languages and meeting so many people – there were about 600 at the last gathering I went to, so I need some quiet time as well.

This year there are over 1100 participants, so it’s grown a bit since last time.

100 years!

The other day I was wishing a friend a happy birthday on Facebook, and as they live in Poland, I decided to do so in Polish, as you do.

So off I went to the birthday page on Omniglot and found that in Polish birthday greetings include:

  • Wszystkiego najlepszego!
  • Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin!
  • Sto lat!

The first two look quite formal (and very difficult to pronounce): wszystkiego najlepszego means “all the best”, and wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin means “all the best on your birthday.

I chose Sto lat. Which got me thinking about what it means, and that there’s a town in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books called Sto Lat, and another called Sto Helit. Whenever these names come up, I wonder if they mean something in any round world languages.

After pondering this, I guessed that sto lat means a hundred years – I don’t speak Polish, but my knowledge of other Slavic languages (mainly Czech and Russian) helped. Sto Helit doesn’t mean anything, as far as I can discover.

Sto lat does indeed mean a hundred years and comes from a Polish song that’s sung at birthdays, wedding and anniversaries.

Sto lat, sto lat
Niech żyje, żyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje, żyje nam,
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz,
Niech żyje, żyje nam,
Niech żyje nam!

This means:

100 years, 100 years,
May they live!
100 years, 100 years,
May they live!
Once again, once again,
May they live!
May they live!

You can hear it here:

And there’s another version here:

Extra Horses

In Dutch one word for horse is paard [paːrt]. It also means a knight in chess, a pommel horse or an ugly woman. When I learnt this recently, I starting wondering where it comes from, as you do.

Paard

At first I thought, it’s completely different to words for horse in other Germanic languages – hest in Danish and Norwegian, häst in Swedish, and hestur in Icelandic and Faroese.

While this is true, paard is in fact cognate with the German word for horse Pferd [pfeːrt], and also with the Afrikaans perd, the Luxembourgish Päerd, the Yiddish פֿערד (ferd), the English palfrey* and the French palefroi.

* palfrey = “a small horse with a smooth, ambling gait, popular in the Middle Ages with nobles and women” [source].

These words paard, Pferd, etc come from the Latin Latin paraverēdus, “an extra horse; post horse or courier’s horse for outlying or out of the way places” [source], from para- (beside, next to, near), from the Ancient Greek παρά (from, by, near), and verēdus (a fast or light breed of horse, a courier’s horse, a hunter), from the Gaulish *werēdos, from Proto-Celtic *uɸorēdos (horse) [source].

The Proto-Celtic word *uɸorēdos is also the root of the Welsh word gorwydd (steed, horse) and the Spanish word vereda (path, lane, sidewalk) [source].

The word horse itself comes from the Old English hors (horse), from the Proto-Germanic *hrussą (horse), from Proto-Indo-European *ḱr̥sos (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱers- (to run) [source]. This is also the root of the Proto-Celtic *karros (wagon) and the Latin currus (chariot, wagon) [source].

Others words that come from the Proto-Germanic *hrussą include the North Frisian hors (horse), the West Frisian hoars (horse), the Dutch ros (horse, steed), the German Ross (horse, thoroughbred, steed, charger, fool), and the Icelandic hross (horse).

From the Proto-Celtic *karros we get the Gaulish *karros (wagon), the Old Irish carr (cart, wagon), the Welsh car (vehicle, car, sled, dray), and karr (car, vehicle) in Cornish and Breton [source].

From the Latin currus, which was borrowed from Gaulish, we get the word carro (cart, wagon, truck, car, train car, etc) in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, Catalan and Occitan, and the English words car, cart and chariot [source].

The North Germanic words for horse come the Old Norse hestr (horse, stallion), from the Proto-Germanic *hangistaz (horse, stallion), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱanḱest-/kankest- (horse) [source].

I’ve written before about words for horse in Indo-European languages, and you can find more about Celtic words for horse on my Celtiadur blog.

Writing up and down

One of the phrases that came up in the Swedish lessons I did yesterday on Duolingo was about writing things down, which in Swedish was skriva upp (“write up”). This seemed a bit upside down, or downside up, so I thought I’d invesigate.

Skriva upp means to book, charge, enter, note, put down, set down, take, stick, sign up or sign in [source], so in this context it’s being used to mean ‘put/set down’. A related expression is skriva upp på lista (“write up on list”), or to list.

Other expressions featuring skriva include:

  • skriva ut (“write out”) = to print, draw, check, make out, discharge
  • skriva över (“write over”) = to overwrite, replace,
  • skriva under (“write under”) = to sign, endorse, approve, subscribe
  • skriva på (“write on”) = to subscribe, commit, sign in
  • skriva om (“write about”) = to profile, rewrite
  • skriva ner (“write down”) = to dash off, record, write down
  • skriva ned (“write down”) = to bang out, set down, trace, write down. For example, skulle du kunna skriva ned det åt mig? (Could you write it down for me?)
  • skriva in (“write in”) = to key, register, book in, inscribe, pencil in, sign in
  • skriva ihop (“write together”) = to scribble, compile
  • skriva av (“write of”) = to duplicate, extract, transcribe, cancel, write off

Source: bab.la

While writing this, I realised that subscribe literally means “underwrite”, from the Latin sub- (under) and‎ scribo (write) – also the root of skrifa. However, underwrite means something different: to assume financial responsibility for something, and guarantee it against failure, or to lend support to something [source].

In English when you might write up notes you wrote down during an interview, making them more complete and detailed, or write up your diary, bringing it up-to-date. Maybe you’ll write off or write in to a newspaper and ask for your write-up be published. Maybe your debts will be written off (cancelled), and hopefully your car will not be a write-off (damaged beyond repair).

Can you think of other interesting expressions featuring write?

Butter Goose Table

smörgåsbord

One of the Dutch words I learnt this week is boterham [ˈboːtərˌɦɑm], which means sandwich. The boter part means butter, but it’s not certain where the ham part comes from – possibly *ramme / remme (thick slice of bread), or from ham (chunk). Or it might be an abbreviation of boterenbroot (buttered bread) [source].

In Swedish one word for sandwich is smörgås, from smör (butter) and gås (goose). It originally referred to small pieces of butter which float to the surface of the milk as it is churned, and which were spread on bread, and came to mean bread, butter plus toppings, or an open sandwich [source].

A smörgåsbord [ˈsmœrɡɔsˌbuːrd] (“butter-goose-table”) is a buffet made up of many cold dishes, and the slices of meat, cheese and other toppings on the smörgåsar are known as smör­gås­pålägg.

Other Swedish words for sandwich include macka (open sandwich), sandvikare (sandwich), snitt (dainty sandwich, cut, fashion) and sandwich.

The sandwich is named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who is reputed to have invented it as a convenient way to eat while playing cards. He didn’t come up with the idea of putting meat or filling between two slices of bread, but he certainly popularised it and gave it his title [source].

Sandwiches are also known as sarnies, sangers or butties, at least in the UK. Are there other words for them in other English-speaking places?

Are there interesting words for sandwiches in other languages?

Double Dutch

This week I finally finished the Russian course I’ve been working through on Memrise, and am giving Russian a break for now. I may go back to it at some point, and try to get a better grip on the grammar, which I still find hard, even after three years of studying a little every day.

I promised myself that I’d start learning a different language once I’d finished the Russian lessons, and have decided to learn some more Dutch. I know a little already, and can understand it to some extent thanks to my knowledge of English, German and related languages. So it’s easier for me than Russian. I’m just learning it on Duolingo at the moment, and may try other apps as well.

I like the weird and wonderful phrases that come up on Duolingo, and expect there’ll be plenty in Dutch. A couple of very useful phrases that came up today were:

Pardon, ik ben een appel
Excuse me, I am an apple

Nee, je bent geen appel
No, you are not an apple

Perhaps a good way to start a conversation.

I’m collecting these on Omniglot, of course.

Street Festivals at Dawn

будет и на моей улице праздник

An interesting idiom that came up in my Russian lessons this week is будет и на моей улице праздник (budet i na moey ulitse prazdnik), which is translated as “it’s always darkest just before the dawn”, and means literally “There will be a festival / celebration even on my street”.

The origins of this idiom are apparently related to the fact that many streets in Russia used to have their own churches, and they would hold celebrations in the street for the local saint. So no matter how bad things might get or seem, you could look forward to such fesitivities [source].

Some examples of how this Russian idiom is used:

  • Ну ничего, будет и на моей улице праздник
    Well I would see the feast at an end
  • Будет и на моей улице праздник
    I’ll have my day in the sun
  • Будет и на моей улице праздник
    The question is, will you?
  • Ничего, будет и на моей улице праздник!
    One of these days

Source: Reverso

The English version means “there is hope, even in the worst of circumstances”, and first appeared in writing in 1650 as “It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth”, in A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, a book by the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller. It is not known if Fuller coined it, or if he was recording a piece of folk wisdom.

In 1859 Samuel Lover wrote in his book Songs and Ballads that this idiom was popular among the Irish peasantry, who said “Remember that the darkest hour of all. is the hour before day” [source]

Are there equivalents of this idiom in other languages?

Meaningful Nonsense

A new song came to me the other day. I’d been thinking of writing something in a made up language, and spent some of last week speaking to myself in made up words. The words were all open syllables (consonant plus vowel) and most were two syllables.

I wrote the song down and sent it to my singer-songwriter friends. One of them put it into Google Translate, which identified the language as Chichewa, a Bantu language spoken mainly in Malawi.

These are the original words with their Chichewa meanings (according to Google Translate):

Oba mmta uku kitu (Bow and find something)
Tika kuta dupa fu (Tika walls dupa fu)
Fitu mmdu bapi kati (What is the difference between)
Taku mipa untu li (Taku barrels)

Oba mmba undu fitu (Be very serious)
Tepu pimi mmdu ku (Tape pima mmdu to)
Kata tifu uko kibi (Cut off live)
Bifu bafu taku ni (The bath tub taku is)

Kula tupa muta pitu (Eating discarded)
Katu tiku lafu lu (We are already dead)
Lipa lupa pula puli (Pay the pula plum)
Talo tilu lopa mi (So this is the story of my life)

I then played around with the words until they all meant something in Chichewa, and came up with the following:

Oba mpa katu kitu (Pray for nothing)
Tuka kuta taku du (Exit the walls)
Fitu mbu bapi kati (Where’s the mosquito repellent)
Tala mipa untu li (Color your bodies)

Oba mba undu fitu (Pray now and then)
Tafu pima ndu ku (Find out how to)
Kata tifu uko kibi (Cut off live)
Bifu bafu tata ni (The master bath complex is)

Kula tupa muta pitu (Eating discarded)
Katu tiku lafu lu (We are already dead)
Lapa lupa pula puli (The family is raining)
Talo tilu lopa mi (So this is the story of my life)

So I accidentally managed to write a song in a language I don’t know at all. It may be mostly nonsense, but it’s sort of meaningful nonsense.

Do any of you speak Chichewa? If so, is this a good translation?

Have you ever written some nonsense like this, and found that it meant something in a language you don’t know?

This sounds like something from the brilliant YouTube channel Translator Fails, on which songs, and sometimes other things, are put through Google Translate too many times and become thoroughly mangled. Here’s a recent example:

The Linguist

A while ago I was approached by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) asking if I’d like to by interviewed for their journal, The Linguist. They were looking for linguists and others involved with languages who have set up language-related businesses.

This sounded like a good thing to do, and I was interviewed over the phone. Some months latter I was sent a copy of their magazine with the interview in it. I didn’t mention at the time as I was waiting for it to be available online. It is now available in the Februrary/March edition (page 7).

part of my interview with The Linguist

I talk about Omniglot – what it is, how it came to be, how I make a living from it, and my own language background.

I’ve been wondering whether to join the CIOL – I would qualify for membership, I think. Are any of you members or this, or other professional organisations for linguists? Is it worth joining?

In other news, this week I was interviewed, in French, for a podcast by Céline Guerreiro. I’ll let you know when that is online. We talked about language learning, mainly.