Earth Apples & Ground Pears

One of the Dutch words I learnt recently is aardappel [ˈaːr.dɑ.pəl], which means potato, or literally “earthapple”. This is cognate with one of the German words for potato – Erdapfel [ˈeːɐ̯tˌʔa.p͡fl̩/], which is used mainly in southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Apparently earthapple also exists in English, although it’s rare, The Sinhala word අර්‍තාපල් [art̪aːpal] was apparently borrowed from Dutch [source].

One French word for potato, pomme de terre, means “apple of the earth”, though comes from different roots.

Untitled

Related words include:

  • aardappelpuree = mashed potato(es)
  • aardappelschilmesje = potato peeler
  • aardappel in de schil = baked potato, jacket potato, potato skins
  • aardappelsoep = potato soup
  • aardappelknödel = potato dumplings
  • aardappelsalade = potato salad
  • aardappeloogst = potato harvest
  • De aardappeleters = The Potato Eaters (a painting by Van Gogh – see below)

In case you’re feeling hungry now, here are a few receipes for potato-based dishes (in Dutch). I might even try some of these myself. It would be a fun way to practise using my Dutch.

De aardappeleters

Another Dutch word for potato is patat [paːˈtɑt], borrowed from the French patate (potato), which is used mainly in Canada and Louisiana, and comes from the Spanish patata (potato), from the Taíno batata (sweet potato) and/or the the Quechua papa (potato). This is also the root of the English word potato, and similar words in other languages [source].

Another German word for potato is Grundbirne [ˈɡʁʊntˌbɪʁ.nə] (ground pear), which is used in Austria. It’s cognate with the Luxembourgish Gromper [ˈɡʀompeʀ] (potato), the Slovenian krompir [krɔmpìːr] (potato), the Macedonian компир (potato) [source].

The Dutch word aardpeer means “earthpear”, and refers to the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), a kind of sunflower native to North America [source].

The more common German word for potato, Kartoffel [kaʁˈtɔfəl], and related words in other languages, comes from the Italian tartufolo, a diminutive of tartufo (truffle), from the Medieval Latin *territūberum or the Latin terrae tūber (tuber of the earth) [source].

In Mandarin Chinese, a potato is a 土豆 (tǔdòu) or “earth bean”, at least in Mainland China. In Taiwan this means peanut [source] – a potato is a 馬鈴薯 (mǎlíngshǔ), or “horse bell potato / yam”, probably because potatoes look like the bells used on horses [source].

Hamstering Squirrels

An interesting Dutch word I learnt the other day is hamsteren [ˈɦɑm.stə.rə(n)]. It means “to hoard (food, supplies), typically for emergencies”, and was borrowed from the German hamstern (to hoard). The same word is also found in Luxembourgish and Norwegian. It’s thought to be a reference to the way hamsters store food in their cheek pouches [source].

a167071 henke-2

The verb to hamster also exists in English and means “to secrete or store privately” [source] – not quite the same as the Dutch meaning.

Then there’s to squirrel, meaning “to store in a secretive manner, to hide something for future use” [source], and to squirrel away (to stash or hide; to hoard, collect, save, or accumulate; to create a reserve, stash, or hoard of some supply) [source], which are closer to the meaning of hamsteren.

Are there similar words in other languages?

Honey eaters, brown ones and tramplers

A Eurasian brown bear

In many European languages the words for bear have their origins in taboo avoidance. It is thought that people who spoke Proto-Indo-European (PIE) believed that if you called a bear by its true name, it would hear you and may harm you. So instead they used different names when referring to bears [source].

The words for bear in Germanic languages can be traced back to the PIE *bʰer- (brown), via the Proto-Germanic berô (bear).

Examples include bear (English / West Frisian), beer (Dutch / Afrikaans), Bär (German), Bier (Luxembourgish), björn (Icelandic / Swedish), and bjørn (Norwegian / Danish / Faroese) [source].

In Slavic languages the words for bear can all be traced back to the Proto-Slavic word medvědь, from *medu-ēdis, from medъ (honey) &‎ *(j)ěsti (to eat), so could be translated as “honey eater”.

Examples are медведь (Russian), médved (Slovenian), medvěd (Czech), niedźwiedź (Polish). The Hungarian word for bear, medve, possibly comes from the same root [source].

In Baltic languages the words for bear from the Proto-Baltic *talk-, *tlāk-, from Proto-Indo-European *tel-k-, *tl-ek- (to push, to hit, to kick, to trample), and could be translated as “trampler”, “stomper”, “pounder”, [source]. In Latvian the word is lācis, and in Lithuanian it’s lokys.

The PIE word for bear was *h₂ŕ̥tḱos, which is possibly related to destroying or destruction – another taboo avoidance? This is the root of *artos in Proto-Celtic, άρκτος (árktos) in Greek, ursus in Latin and ari in Albanian, and related words in modern Celtic and Romance languages [source].

National Motto(e)s

Navis volitans mihi anguillis plena est
Created with The Keep Calm-O-Matic

Do you know your country’s national motto?

Not all countries have them. Many are in Latin and other ancient languages, and most are a bit bland and include things like freedom, liberty, unity, strength, work, progress, God, etc.

Here are some more interesting ones:

Isle of Man (Latin): Quocunque Ieceris Stabit (Whithersoever you throw it, it will stand) – refers to the triskelion on the flag.

– Luxembourg (Luxembourgish): Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn (We wish to remain what we are)

– Moldova (Romanian): Limba noastră-i o comoară (Our Language is a Treasure)

– Somalia: Go forward, and never backward

– South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Latin): Leo terram propriam protegat (Let the lion protect his own land)

– Switzerland (Latin): Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (One for all, all for on)

– Turks and Caicos Islands: Beautiful By Nature, Clean By Choice

You can see a list of them on Wikipedia, and here’s an infographic with a selection of them:

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From The Translation Company blog

If you were asked to think of a new motto for your country, perhaps one that reflects how you feel about the country, what would you suggest?

Here’s a few I came up with:

Wales:
Nid yn bwrw glaw trwy’r amser (Not Always Raining – the English version comes from Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels)
Mae dreigiau yma (Here Be Dragons)
Gwlad Gydgordiol (Harmonious Country)

England:
Perfer et Obdura (Keep Calm and Carry On) [source]
Let’s Not Make a Fuss
Ignosce mihi! (Sorry!)
Terra antiqua (The Antique Terror, or possibly the Old Land)
Navis volitans mihi anguillis plena est (My hovercraft is full of eels)

Reflections on the Polyglot Gathering

Polyglots dancing at the Slaughterhouse in Berlin

I got back from the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin late on Monday night. I travelled by train the whole way, which is a bit more expensive than the plane, and takes a few hours longer, but I prefer to travel this way, and you see more. The journey went smoothly, apart from the train from London, which was an hour late getting into Bangor. Fortunately I got a partial refund on my ticket. On the Eurostar I talked to a interesting lady from Vancouver, and on the train to Bangor I talked, mainly in Welsh, to a doctor from Felinheli.

This year’s Gathering was as much fun as previous years – it was my third. I arrived in Berlin quite late on Wednesday evening the day before it officially started, and missed out on most of the polyglot games that were going on in the afternoon and evening. Next year I might arrive a day or two before the start to give me a chance to explore more of Berlin – this year I spent most of my time in the venue and didn’t go exploring.

Over the next four days I learnt about many things, including Portuguese-based creoles, Greek, minimalism, Sardinian languages and dialects, why many language learners don’t acquire native-like accents, metaphors in native Canadian languages, language mentoring, how musical techniques can be applied to language learning, the stagecraft of multilingualism, and much more. I got to know old friends better, met lots of new ones, and I spoke lots of different languages. My talk on Manx went well, as did the introduction to Welsh that I helped with.

The talks were mainly in English, with some in French, Italian, German, Esperanto, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Indonesian, and in various combinations of these.

Between us we polyglots speak quite a few different languages. The most common (i.e. those with quite a few speakers / learners) include English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Romanian, Esperanto, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Serbian, Greek, Finnish, Hungarian, Welsh, Irish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malay, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Swahili. There were also speakers and learners of Wolof, Punjabi, Hindi, Marathi, Romani, Tamil, Latin, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Cornish, Breton, Sardinian, Luxembourgish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, Albanian, Basque, Tagalog, Turkish, Navajo, Toki Pona, Klingon, and probably other languages.

I’m looking forward to the next polyglot event – the North American Polyglot Symposium in Montreal in July. I’ll be doing a talk on the origins of language there, so should get working on it.

Some things I learnt from the Gathering

There are many ways to learn languages, and no single way will work for everyone. Some like to focus on one language at a time until they have reached a level they are happy with, then move on to the next language; others like to study many different languages at the same time. Some learn grammar and vocabulary first, then learn to speak; others start using their languages straight away, or soon after they start studying. Some like to study on their own; others like to study in a class and/or with a private tutor. Some combine many of the above and more, to varying degrees – I certainly do.

From Malachi Rempen’s talk on cartooning, minimalism and language learning (Less is More: What Silly Doodles Can Teach Us About Fluency), I learnt that you can do a lot with a little. He showed how he can make his Itchy Feet character express a wide variety of emotions with just a few lines, and suggested that the same can be applied to languages – you can communicate even if you know only a little of a language. He also argued that fluency means different things to different people, and might not be the best thing to aim for.

Tim Keeley, professor of Cross-Cultural Management at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka, explained that the idea that only children can acquire native-like accents in foreign languages is wrong – the brain is flexible throughout live and you can learn to perceive and produce foreign sounds. However there are emotional barriers which stop many people from sounding ‘native’. When learning another language you can also take on or create a new identity, and those who are willing and able to do this are most likely to sound more like native speakers. You also shouldn’t worry about mimicking people. In fact that is a good way to acquire native-like pronunciation.

Michael Levi Harris, an actor and polyglot from New York, talked about parallels between learning a part and learning a language. He explained that actors tend to exaggerate speech and physical mannerisms when learning a part, then make them more subtle, and that language learners can try the same things – exaggerate the pronunciation, gestures, etc. until they become second nature, then tone them down. He also talked about taking on different identities when speaking different languages and with different accents. If you can find a native speaker of a language whose voice and mannerisms appeal to you, then you can create your character in that language based on them.

The extend to which you take on a new identity in a new language depends on how much you want to integrate into a new culture. If you want to be taken for a native, then you need to sound and act like them. Alternatively you could try sounding like a native, perhaps with a bit of a foreign accent, but not worry so much about acting like them. If you spend a lot of time in a different county interacting and observing the natives, you’re likely to pick up at least some of their behaviour anyway.

Fiel Sahir, an Indonesian-American musician and polyglot who currently lives in Germany, talked about applying musical techniques to language learning. He explained how practice is the key to music and language, but it has to be intelligent practice that focuses on areas that you find difficult. This might be particular passages in a piece of music, or particular tenses or noun declensions in a language. By focusing like this, you can make a lot of progress.

Focus is something that I find difficult sometimes. I can and do focus, but often get distracted. I was thinking about how I’ve been dabbling with a variety of languages recently and not making a lot of progress in any of them. So my plan is to focus on one, or two, languages for the next year – Russian and Czech – and learn as much as I can in them. I will keep my other languages ticking over, but not spend much time on them.

Word of the day – Moien

Today’s word, Moien, is the Luxembourgish for hello. A related phrase is Gudden Moien, Good morning – Moien also means morning.

Here are some more ‘useful’ phrases in Luxembourgish:

Nee, ech hunn keng Zait fir dengem Monni seng Teppechfabrik.
No, we don’t have time to visit your uncle’s carpet factory.

Ech mengen ar Geessen setzt op menger Plaatz.
I think your goats are in my seat.

These phrases come from The Day12 Phrase Book, which contains phrases in a variety of other languages. I think the same template, which includes the above phrases, is used for all languages.

According to this site, most Luxembourgers speak at least three languages – Luxembourgish, French and German, and use them in their daily lives. Luxembourgish is the national language, French is used for legislative matters, all three languages are used in education, and French and German are the main written languages.

By the way, I’ve just put together a page of useful phrases in Luxembourgish.

Does any one know how to say “My hovercraft is full of eels” or “one language is never enough” in Luxembourgish?