I am currently in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Language Event, brought to you by the people behind the Polyglot Conference. It’s a smaller than other polyglot events I’ve been to, with only 100 or participants, and the main focus is languages of the Isles, or the British Isles and Ireland, if you prefer.
I arrived earlier this evening, and eventually found the AirBnB I’m staying in after a few wrong turns. Then I discovered that my phone charger was no longer in my bag – it must have dropped out somewhere, probably on the train. So by the time I found my accommodation, it had only 3% charge. I hope to borrow someone’s charger tomorrow, or I might have to buy a new one.
I met up with some of the other participants at a large bar in the centre of Edinburgh. Some I know already from previous such events, and others I didn’t know before. Most of the conversations were in English, but I also spoke some Welsh, Russian, Swedish, Mandarin and Japanese.
The event starts tomorrow morning, and I’ll be giving a talk about connections between Celtic languages tomorrow afternoon. I know there are speakers of Welsh, Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic here, and there may even be some Cornish and Breton speakers.
The Polyglot Conference officially started today. There were talks and workshops all day on all sorts of interesting topics. I went to talks on Slovenian, linguistic relavtivity, Romani, the Cathars, and audiolinguistics. They were all interesting, especially the linguistic ones.
There was plenty of time between the talks to talk to other participants, and I managed to make some recordings in quite a variety of languages for the next episode of my podcast. I hope to make more recordings tomorrow.
I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, Irish, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and tried to speak a few other languages.
They are preparing Ljubljana for the Ljubljana Marathon tomorrow, and quite a few streets are being lined with barriers. I hope I’ll be able to get to the conference venue tomorrow.
Yesterday I say a post in the Silly Linguistics Community on Facebook challenging people to write a sentence in all the languages they speak. This is what I came up with:
Tha e duilich writing une phrase ym mhob språk atá agam, pero ich 試試 red ennagh symoil を書く, kaj nun я хочу říct že il mio tomo tawa supa está cheio de țipari.
This means “It is difficult writing a sentence in every language I speak, but I will try to write something interesting, and now I want to say my hovercraft is full of eels”.
The languages, in order, are Scottish Gaelic, English, French, Welsh, Swedish, Irish, Spanish, German, Chinese, Manx, Japanese, Esperanto, Russian, Czech, Italian, Toki Pona, Portuguese and Romanian.
It’s not the best sentence ever, perhaps, but I enjoyed the challenge of putting it together. It also got me thinking about how many languages and writing systems I could use in a version of my motto “one language is never enough“. This motto appears on some versions of my logo, such as the one above, and I usually try to write it in several difficult languages.
Here are some versions I came up with today. The first version incorporates some of the languages I speak and am learning, plus a few others.
Une singură 语言 är nikdy недостаточно – languages = French, Romanian, Chinese, Swedish, Czech / Slovak, Russian.
Ett seule 言語 ist nunca yn ddigon – languages = Norwegian / Swedish, French, Japanese, German, Portuguese / Galician / Spanish, Welsh.
Jeden lingua er niemals suficiente – languages = Czech / Polish / Slovak / Rusyn, Asturian / Chamorro / Corsican / Galician / Italian / Latin / Sicilian / Interlingua, Danish / Faroese / Icelandic / Norwegian, German, Spanish / Asturian.
Can you incorporate more languages and/or writing systems into this phrase?
English is a bit of a mongrel. It is basically a West Germanic language, but contains words from many other languages, especially French, Latin, Greek and Old Norse. In fact, only about 26% of English vocabulary is Germanic, 29% is from French, 29% from Latin, 6% from Greek, and the rest from many other languages [source].
When English borrows words from other languages, which it does all the time, most people see the process as a positive one that expands and enriches English vocabulary.
There will always be some who object to the adoption of certain words, however, within a few generations, or even a few years, those words can become fully integrated in the language, and people might not even be aware they were borrowed in the first place.
Japanese is also open and accepting of foreign words, mainly from Chinese and English. These loan words are changed to fit Japanese phonetics, and some are shortened and combined to make original new words, such as リモコン (rimokon) = remote control, and オープンカー (ōpun-kā) = convertible car.
Borrowing between languages is common around the world where languages come into contact. The borrowing often flows from large languages, like English or Spanish, into smaller languages, such as regional, minority and endangered languages.
When smaller languages borrow from bigger languages, some believe the smaller languages suffer in the process, becoming corrupted, impoverished, polluted, etc. Such sentiments are much less common when talking about borrowing from smaller languages into bigger languages.
There seems to be a double standard here.
Borrowing will happen, even though language regulators, such as the Académie française, might object and try to stop it. Languages change and influence one another. They can borrow many words from other languages without losing their identity, and without breaking down into incomprehensible grunts.
Have you ever learnt a language just because you like the way it sounds?
This is one of the reasons for learning a language discussed by John McWhorter is this TED talk:
He talks about the joys of getting your tongue round the sounds of other languages, and mentions Khmer, with its large inventory of vowels.
Which languages sound good to you?
Are there any particular sounds or combinations of sounds that really appeal to you (in any language)?
I like listening to languages with clicks, such as Xhosa and Zulu, and also to ones with ejectives, such as Georgian. I also like listening to and speaking tonal languages, like Mandarin and Cantonese.
At the moment, my favourite language in terms of sounds, is Swedish.
Other sound favourites include Japanese, Finnish, Italian, Icelandic and Swahili.
The Polyglot Conference is over now for another year, and I arrived back to Bangor yesterday. Although the conference only lasted two days, a lot was packed into that time.
On the Friday I went on a Golden Circle tour with two coach loads of other polyglots. Unfortunately it was a wet, cloudy and cold day, so the views were not great, but the landscape we could see was rather fine.
The first stop was Þingvellir (Thingvellir), a World Heritage Site where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It is also where the Iceland parliament (Alþingi) met from AD 930 until 1798.
Next we went to Geysir, and area of volcanic activity with a number of sprouting hot springs, including the famous Great Geysir, which is currently inactive, and Stokkur, which erupts every few minutes (see photo below). We also had lunch here – there are a number of eating places and souvenir shops in the complex near the hot springs. I was expecting the whole place to stink of sulphur, but it didn’t really.
Our final stop was Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”), waterfalls in the canyon of Ölfusá river. They were spectacular, and well worth seeing.
In the evening, after we arrived back in Reykajvik, I went for dinner at an Indian restaurant with a few other polyglots.
Then there were talks on a variety of topics, with themes including Icelandic language and culture, bilingualism and autism, and maintaining ‘small’ languages. Some of the speakers were lecturers or researchers in universities, others were language enthusiasts. The talks I found most interesting were the one by Daniel Tammet and Sigriður Kristinsdóttir about how he learnt Icelandic in a week with her help; one about bilingualism and autism, one about the cognitive effects of language learning, and one about Mongolian.
There was plenty of time between the talks and at lunch to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and practise languages. During my time in Iceland, I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese and Irish, and spoke bits of Czech, Scottish Gaelic, Breton, Manx, Swedish and Icelandic.
Lunch was provided – small sandwiches and wraps, though didn’t appeal to me, so I bought something else in a supermarket.
There weren’t any organised activities in the evenings, as there are at the Polyglot Gatherings. Instead babbles of polyglots went off to do their own thing. I went for dinner with some polyglot friends and had very interesting discussions about all sorts of things, not all of which were related to languages – we do have other interests.
The next Polyglot Conference will be in Ljubljana in Slovenia from 5-7 October 2018 (as you might have guessed from this photo). So next year I will learn some Slovenian before the conference in Ljubljana, and some Slovak before the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava in Slovakia.
On Monday I did some work on Omniglot in the morning, explored Reykjavik a bit, had lunch in a restaurant in the old harbour area of Reykjavik, did some more work, then explored a bit more with the two Russian teachers who were staying in the same place as me.
Iceland is a very expensive place, which I expected. Meals in restaurants cost at least twice as much as in the UK, as do most other things. It wasn’t as cold as I expected – about 7-10°C during the day and 2-5°C at night. All the locals I met speak very good English, but if you speak Icelandic, they’re happy to speak it with you. There are apparently quite a few people who have moved to Iceland recently for work, most don’t speak Icelandic. On a clear, dry day, the scenery is spectacular. Even on grey, wet days, it’s still impressive and dramatic.
Last night I went to the first Languages of London meetup – it’s the same group I’ve been going to for a few months (the Polyglot Pub), but with a new name and venue, and more participants.
The meetup was supposed to take place in the Institute of Education in UCL, which is a good location in central London near Russell Square and Euston. Unfortunately they were closed for the Easter holidays, even though they had confirmed in advance that the venue would be available. So we had to find somewhere else in a hurry. Fortunately we found a good alternative in the café in the nearby Wellcome Collection.
There were more people there last night than have been at any of the Polyglot Pub meetups I’ve been to, from various countries. We chatted about languages, and other things, in a variety of languages, and generally had a good time. I had conversations in English, Welsh, French and Japanese, and spoke odd bits of Spanish and Portuguese. There were also conversations in Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Thai and a few other languages.
These meetups happen once a month and if you’re in London for the next one. Do come along. They’re for anybody who is learning a language or two, who speaks a few languages, and/or is interested in languages.
I have tried and reviewed their Hindi and Japanese courses, and think they are definitely worth a look. Since then they have added some new languages – Russian and Portuguese – and I’m tempted to try their Russian course, even though I already have plenty of other Russian courses and learning materials. Can you ever have too many language learning materials?
Note: I am a Rocket Languages affiliate, and will receive commission if you buy any of the courses via the links above.