Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This coming week I will be at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, doing a course in Argyll Gaelic Song / Òrain Earra-Ghàidheal with Joy Dunlop. I think this is the eighth time I’ve been to the college, and I’m looking forward to it very much.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Tonight I’m staying in Glasgow, and tomorrow I’ll get the train along the West Highland Line to Mallaig, a very scenic journey, the ferry to Armadale, and then hopefully there’ll be a bus to the college.

Glasgow / Glaschu

On the train from Glasgow to Crookston, the suburb of Glasgow where I’m staying, I heard some Italian tourists talking to the guard. They didn’t seem to speak much English, and they had the wrong tickets, or they’d got on the wrong train. They asked the guard in Italian if he spoke Italian, and fortunately for them he did. It sounded to me like his Italian was very fluent, and everything was quickly sorted out. You never know when language skills might come in handy.

I haven’t heard any Scottish Gaelic yet, though I have seen it on some signs.

Polyglot Cruise

Costa Pacifica

On 18th April 2020 the good ship Costa Pacifica will set sail from Barcelona with 100 polyglots on board. They will be taking part in the first Polyglot Cruise, which is organized by Kris Broholm of the Actual Fluency Podcast.

The cruise is open to anybody interested in languages, whether you consider yourself a polyglot or not. During the week-long event there will be presentations, discussions and workshops every day, and plenty of time to enjoy the ameneties of the ship, and to explore the places it visits, including Palma (Mallorca), La Valetta (Malta), Catania and Genoa (Italy).

For a shared cabin it costs US$897 (about €788 / £704) for the week, which includes participation in the polyglot activities, accommodation, meals, entertainment, and use of other facilities on the ship. It’s more if you want a single cabin, or a travelling as a couple or family.

This may sound like a lot, but I think it’s worth it, and I signed up yesterday. I’ll giving a short presentation on the old Mediterranean Lingua Franca (Sabir), a pidgin that was used by sailors and others around the Mediterranean from about the 11th century to the 19th century. It was based particuarly on Venetian, Genoese, Catalan and Occitan, and also contained words from French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Berber.

If you book within the next 5 days, you can enjoy early bird prices, and if you use the offer code OMNIGLOT, you can get a further US$50 discount.

More details of the cruise.

If this doesn’t appeal, maybe you’ll be interested in other polyglot events.

Note: as an affiliate, I will get a small commission if you register via a link in this post, or on my events page.

Blah blah English blah blah

Blah blah

A Danish friend came to visit Bangor this week. He makes the ActualFluency podcast, and is one of the people behind such courses as Italian Uncovered.

We talked a lot about websites and marketing, particularly email marketing, which I haven’t done before, but am going to try.

As well as Danish and English, he also speaks Russian and Hungarian, and has studied other languages. He doesn’t know any Welsh though, and I was curious to find out what Welsh sounded like to him. As I speak and understand Welsh, I can’t get an outsider’s perspective on it. To him it sounded very foreign – something like “blah blah blah blah English word blah blah blah blah”.

When I listen to languages I don’t know, they may sound like that to me. Mostly mysterious sounds with occasional recognisable words. The recognisable words are borrowed from English, or from another language I know, or are the names of places or people.

When listening to languages related to ones I know, I can usually understand more, or at least recognise more words.

What do unknown languages sound like to you?

The hieroglyphs in the image mean “The cat dances when the crocodile hides” (iw ib(A) miw imn msH), and come from Hieroglyphs.net

Cards, charts & papyrus

χάρτης / Papyrus

What do cards, charts and papyrus have in common?

The words card and chart both come from the Ancient Greek word χάρτης (khártēs – papyrus), via the Old French carte / charte / chautre (charter, record, letter), from Latin charta (see below) [source].

χάρτης comes from χαράσσω (kharássō – I scratch, inscribe), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰer- (to scratch) [source].

χάρτης is also the root of the Latin word charta (papyrus, paper, poem, a writing, map, the papyrus plant), from which we get words in many languages, including the Italian carta (paper, map, menu), the Spanish carta (letter, map, menu, playing card), the German Charta (charter), the Irish cárta (card), the Icelandic kort (map, card, credit card), and the Czech charta (charter).

I discovered this when looking into the origins of the Spanish word cartera (wallet, handbag), which comes from the same root, as do the English words cartel, cartography and charter.

500 days of Duolingo

Duolingo screenshot

Today my streak on Duolingo reached 500 days. Before then I had a 96 day streak, but lost that one day when I didn’t quite get enough points. So for the past 596 days I have studied a bit of various languages every day. This is the longest continuous period of study I’ve managed, and I plan to maintain it for as long as possible.

Back in early 2017 I started studying Swedish and Russian on Duolingo. Later I added Romanian to the mix, and this year I added Danish and Esperanto. I’ve finished all the Swedish and Russian lessons, and am continuing to study them on Memrise. I decided to take a break from the Romanian last year, and am currently working on Danish and Esperanto. When I finish them I may add other languages I want to improve, such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German.

I can’t say that I’ve become fluent in any of these languages, but my knowledge of them certainly has improved. I’ve made more progress with Swedish and Danish than with Russian or Romanian, which I find more challenging.

On Memrise I’m currently studying Swedish, Danish, Russian and Cornish, and have learnt bits of Icelandic, Slovak and Slovenian over the past year or so. I may start Slovak again in preparation for the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava next year.

What’s your longest streak on Duolingo, or other language learning apps?

What do you think of this aspect of such apps?

Tykki Duw

Last week I learnt that a butterfly in Cornish is a tykki Duw [tɪkˑi’dyˑʊ / tɪkˑi’diˑʊ], or literally “God’s pretty thing”. A moth is a tykki Duw nos or “God’s pretty thing of the night”).

The word tykki comes from teg (pretty, attractive), and Duw comes from the Proto-Celtic *dēwos (god), from the Proto-Indo-European *deywós (god), from *dyew- (sky, heaven).

Butterfly

Names for butterflies are interesting in other languages as well:

  • Welsh: glöyn byw (glowing ember); iâr fach yr haf (little hen of the summer); pili-pala; plufyn bach yr haf (little feather of the summer), colomen fyw (lively pigeon); glöyn Duw (god’s ember/coal); eilir (spring).
  • Scottish Gaelic: féileagan; dealan-dé (god’s lightning); sglapaid; teine-dé (god’s fire); teillean-dé (god’s bee); tormachan-dé (god’s ptarmigan); dealman-dé; strainnsear (stranger); gogag
  • Manx: foillycan, follican
  • Irish: féileacán; guagóg; uallán
  • Breton: balafenn; barbellig; bobelan; aelig
  • Swedish: fjäril
  • Danish: sommerfugl (summer bird)
  • Spanish: mariposa
  • German: Schmetterling
  • French: papillon
  • Italian: farfalla
  • Russian: бабочка (babochka)

What about in other languages?

Sources: Gerlyver Kernewek, Wiktionary, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Geiriadur yr Academi, Am Faclair Beag On-line Manx Dictionary, Dictionnaire Favereau, bab.la

Not seeing the wood for the trees

Recently a friend asked if there is an idiom in English like I cannot see the wood for the trees, which refers to hearing. We couldn’t think of any, but maybe you can.

This expression means that you “cannot see, understand, or focus on a situation in its entirety due to being preoccupied with minor details” [source]. Apparently in North America the equivalent is “I cannot see the forest for the trees”. The wood refers to a small forest, rather than the material that comes from trees.

Here be trees!

There is an equivalent idiom in Esperanto: Li en arbaro sidas kaj arbojn ne vidas (He sits in the forest and doesn’t see trees).

The equvalent in Italian is avere gli occhi foderati di prociutto (to have one’s eyes lined with ham).

Are there similar idioms in other languages?

In Russian the word for tree is дерево (derevo), which came up in my Russian lessons today. It is comes from the Proto-Slavic *dervo (tree), from Proto-Indo-European *dóru (tree), which is also the root of the English word tree, and of the Welsh derw and the Cornish derow (oak trees) [source].

The photo is one I took of Ashley Jones Field in Bangor.

Goat trousers and hand shoes

Goat in trousers

The Swedish lessons I’ve been working through recently include clothing vocabulary, such as byxor (trousers), halsduk (scarf) handskar (gloves), vantar (mittens) and stövlar (boots).

I thought I’d look into the origins of these words to help me remember them.

Byxor (trousers (UK) pants (US)) is the plural of byxa, which comes from the Middle Low German buxe, from buck (buck, male goat) & hose (trousers), originally referring to goatskin trousers. It is related to the Icelandic buxur (trousers) [source].

Halsduk (scarf, muffler, shawl) comes from hals (neck) and duk (tablecloth) [source].

Handskar (gloves) is the plural of handske, which comes from the Old Norse hanzki (glove), from Middle Low German hantsche, a colloquial form of hantscho (glove, gauntlet) from Old Saxon handsko (gauntlet, glove), from hand (hand) and sko (shoe) [source].

Related expressions include:

– handskmakare = glove maker
– handskas med = to treat, deal with, handle

Vantar (mittens) is the plural of vante (mitten, glove), which comes from the Old Swedish wante, from Old Norse vǫttr (glove, mitten), from Proto-Germanic *wantuz (glove, mitten), from Proto-Indo-European *wondʰnú- (glove), from Proto-Indo-European *wendʰ- (to wind, wrap). [source].

The PIE *wendʰ- is also the root of the English words to wander, to wend, went and wand.

Stövlar (boots) is the plural of stövel, which comes from the Old Swedish støvel (boot), from the Old Norse styfill, from Middle Low German stevele / stovele, from Italian stivale (boot), from Medieval Latin aestivale (summerly), from the Latin aestās (summer) [source].

Another word for boot is känga, which can also refer to a heavy shoe or kick, and comes from the Finnish kenkä (boot, shoe), from Proto-Finnic *kenkä (shoe) [source].

You can see more Swedish words for clothes on IE Languages.

Photo from Flickr (with added trousers).

When is a moose not a moose?

Moose

In North America a moose is a large member of the deer family, also known by its Latin name alces alces. The word moose comes from Algonquian languages, such as the Naragansett moos or the Eastern Abenaki mos. These words are thought to come from moosu (“it strips”), from the Proto-Alonquian mo.swa.

The same animal is known as an elk in British English, and is called something similar in quite a few other European languages: elc in Welsh, Elch in German, elg in Icelandic, Danish and Norwegian, älg in Swedish, alce in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, and alnis in Latvian [source].

Elk

The word elk refers to a different species of deer in North America, however, which is also known as the wapiti or cervus canadensis in Latin [source]. The name wapiti comes from the Cree or Shawnee waapiti (elk; white rump) [source].

In French a moose or elk is élan [eɪˈlɑːn], wapiti [wa.pi.ti] or orignal [ɔ.ʁi.ɲal]. Élan probably comes from Lativan [source]. Orignal refers to the Canadian moose and comes from the Basque word oreinak, plural of orein (deer) [source].

Moose is also a way to write mouse in Scots – it’s pronouned [mus], and features in the famous saying “there’s a moose loose aboot this hoose”, which comes from the song Hoots Mon by Harry Robinson [source].

So a moose is a moose, except when it’s an elk or a mouse.

Here’s a tune I wrote called The Loose Moose / Yr Elc Rhydd:

Photos by Faris Algosaibi and Andrew E. Russell. Found on Flickr.

Multilingual Skye

Skye is quite a multilingual place with residents and visitors from around the world. During the past few days I’ve met people from a variety of countries, and have spoken quite few different languages, including Scottish Gaelic, Irish, French, German, Swedish, and a bit of English. There are also speakers of Scots, Italian, Finnish and Japanese here, and there are people in the song class who have studied Old Norse, Old English, and Ugaritic.

On Tuesday night I met a guy from New Mexico who is a native speaker of Navajo – his wife has Scottish roots and is studying Gaelic here while he has a holiday. I asked him if he could record a few things in Navajo for me, but he said he can’t read the language very well, so would find it difficult to read them from Omniglot.

Session in the Talla Mòr

Last night there was an epic music session in the bar with lots of tunes and songs – I sang a few of my own songs, which went down well, and others sang in Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Scots and English. When I left the bar at 2am the session was still going, and apparently carried on until at least 4am. So many of us are feeling rather tired today.

Session in the Talla Mòr

Today we recorded a few songs in the college’s recording studio for the people who are doing the sound engineering course. I’m looking foward to hearing the recording.

The end of course cèilidh takes place tonight, and each class will be doing their party piece. Most will be singing, and the song class will be doing five songs.