Spanish Cows

comme une vache espagnole

In French if you don’t speak a langauge very well, you are said to speak it “like a Spanish cow”, or “comme une vache espagnole” [source]. For example:

  • Il parle anglais comme une vache espagnole
    He speaks English like a Spanish cow
  • Elle parle français comme une vache espagnole
    She speaks French like a Spanish cow

This expression was first used in writing in the 17th century, and possibly referred to vasces, that is Gascons or Basques, rather than vaches, or cows. At the time, Basque people from Spain probably didn’t speak French very well. Or it might come from basse (servant, maid), or from the use of comme une vache as an insult. Also, calling people and things espagnole (Spanish) was also an insult at the time [source].

In English you might say that someone speaks broken English or bad English, or that they butcher or murder English. Although, as the American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. says “Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language” [source].

You could make up other ways to say you speak a language badly:

  • I speak Russian like a Pavlovian pig
  • I speak Czech like a Bohemian badger
  • I speak Romanian like a Ruritanian rabbit

Are there idioms in other languages to refer to people speaking them badly, or indeed well?

Here’s an audio version of this post.

Duolingo Progress

I’ve been studying various languages on Duolingo for nearly four years now. My current streak is at 1,238 days today, and I had a 96 day streak before then, so for the past 1,334 days I have been studying at least a little every single day. This year I’ve averaged about 1 hour a day, and at the moment I’m focusing on Dutch and Spanish. Last week I came top of the diamond league – the highest you can get.

My 2020 Duolingo report

So far I’ve completed courses in Swedish, Danish, Russian, Czech, Esperanto, Spanish and Romanian. The courses and the app have changed quite a bit – more for some languages than others. New lessons, tips and levels have been added, especially for Spanish, which has at least 3 or 4 times more lessons than the other languages I’ve studied. That makes sense, I suppose, as there are currently 28.6 million people learning Spanish on Duolingo – far more than any other language. Today I noticed that there are new grammar lessons in Spanish, which are useful, and there are also Spanish podcasts, which I haven’t listened to yet.

One aspect of Duolingo I’m not keen on is the hearts system. At the start of each day you have 5 hearts. Every time you make a mistake you loose one. If you run out of hearts, you can ‘buy’ more, refresh a topic you have already completed to gain more, or wait until the next day. Or you can subscribe and get unlimited hearts. Making mistakes is part of language learning, and not something you should have to worry about, as long as you learn from them. You sometimes get tips when you mistakes in Spanish, which are useful, but not in other languages.

If you’ve studied other languages on Duolingo, how do they compare to Spanish in terms of numbers and types of lessons?

I expect that there are more lessons, etc for French, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean and Chinese – the most popular languages after Spanish – than for less popular languages.

New Year

It seems that a new year, and indeed a new decade has started, so Happy New Year / Decade!

I’ve noticed that some people are looking back at what they’ve done / achieved, etc over the past decade, so I thought I’d do something similar.

Back in 2009 I was studying for an MA in Linguistics at Bangor University, while working on Omniglot in my spare time, and writing for a couple of other websites. I finished my course in September of that year, though didn’t officially graduate until the following year, and have been working full-time on Omniglot since then.

Over the past decade Omniglot has grown quite a bit – I add something new, or make improvements, almost every day. The site now contains:

… and much more.

Since 2009 Omniglot has been visited by 176 million people, who have made 234 milion visits and viewed 407 million pages. There have been visitors every single country and territory, even Antarctica and North Korea. The top ten countries vistors come from are USA, India, UK, Canada, Philippines, Australia, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa. The most spoken languages of visitors are: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Dutch, Russian, Chinese and Polish.

Over the past decade I’ve studied and dabbled with a few languages, including: Breton, BSL, Cornish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Manx, Romanian, Russian, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish and Toki Pona. I also started creating my own language: Laala, and made some con-scripts such as Crymeddau and Curvetic.

I joined a French conversation group back in 2009, and have been going almost every week since then. This has really helped to improve my French and I feel a lot more confident about using it now. When I can, I also go to a Welsh conversation group, and for a while I tried to run a polyglot conversation group.

Every summer I’ve been to Ireland to do courses in Irish language, traditional Irish songs, harp and/or bodhrán playing. I’ve also been to Scotland quite a few times to do courses in Scottish Gaelic songs.

In 2012 I started writing songs and tunes, and have written quite a few since then, especially in 2019, when I wrote a new song almost every month and several new tunes. I also started to write out the music for my tunes and songs, and to make new arrangements of them.

The first song I wrote was The Elephant Song, which came to me after going to a poetry writing workshop.

I haven’t made a good recording of my most recent song, but here’s one I wrote in November / December 2019:

Since 2014 I’ve been to a number of polyglot events, including the Polyglot Gathering and the Polyglot Conference. At most of these I’ve given talks or run workshops.

Polyglottery

In 2018 I started the Radio Omniglot Podcast, and have made 27 episodes so far. I try to make two episodes per month, but don’t always manage it.

In 2018 I also launched the Celtiadur, a collection of Celtic cognates, where I explore links between modern and ancient Celtic languages. This is an extension of the Celtic Cognates section on Omniglot.

Wow! Putting it together like this makes me realise that I haven’t been entirely idle.

Procastination

Procrastinate Now! (or tomorrow, or whenever you feel like it)

Procrastination – “the act of postponing, delaying or putting off, especially habitually or intentionally.” From the Middle French procrastination, from the Latin prōcrāstinātiō (a putting off until tomorrow), from prōcrāstinō (procrastinate), from prō (of) + crāstinus (tomorrow), from crās (tomorrow) [source].

Crās comes from the Proto-Italic *krās, and is probably from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (head, top), which is the root of words for head, horn, cow and others in various Indo-European languages
[source].

Crās became crai in Italian, crás in Portuguese and cras in Sardinian. These all mean tomorrow, but only the Sardinian one is still used. Tomorrow is domani in Italian – from the Late Latin dē māne (of the early morning), amanhã in Portuguese – from Vulgar Latin *ad maneana (at morning). The French demain (tomorrow), and the Romanian dimineață (morning), come from the same root as the Italian domani.

The antonym of procrastination is precrastination / pre-crastination, or “the completion of a task too quickly or too early, when taking more time would result in a better outcome” [source]. It was coined by David Rosenbaum in an article he wrote in 2014: Pre-crastination: hastening subgoal completion at the expense of extra physical effort. [More information].

I have a tendency to procrastinate, and often put off things that don’t seem important or urgent. For example, there’s a pile of papers on my desk that could do with filing, and I might just get round to it one of these days. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t though.

Sometimes, when I’m in a getting-things-done-mood, I go round doing all the things I’ve been putting off for days/week/months/years. Or at least as many of them as I can before I get distracted by something more interesting.

Some things I put off and do something easier instead – writing this blog post, for example, rather than recording the next episode of my podcast, or doing some language lessons rather than practising one of my instruments.

I precrastinate as well, but wasn’t aware of it. Or at least I didn’t have a word for this practice until now.

Are you a procrastinator, and/or a precrastinator?

What task / jobs / activities do you tend to put off?

What things to you prefer to do instead?

Language Learning Update

Just finished the Spanish course on Duolingo

This week I finally completed the Spanish course on Duolingo. I’ve been using it to improve and refresh my Spanish, as I have studied the language with various courses before. I can now understand, read, write and speak a lot more Spanish than before, though need to practise speaking and writing it more.

I first took a placement test on Duolingo to see how much Spanish I already knew, and didn’t start from the beginning. Then I skipped through each level using the tests, rather than working through each lesson individually. Had I done that, it would take a lot longer. For now, I’m not studying Spanish actively anymore, but will use it whenever I get the chance.

Over the past two and a half years or so, I’ve studied languages every day with Duolingo (current streak = 767 days). I’ve completed courses in Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Esperanto. I also completed the Romanian course, then they added lots of extra levels, and I haven’t gone back to work on those. At the moment I’m focussing on Czech, and will continue to do so, working through every lesson, so it’s going to take quite a while. I don’t plan to start any other languages until I’ve finished the Czech course.

In the meantime, I’ve also been studying Czech, and Russian, on Mondly – Czech for 226 days and Russian for 153 days. I really like their courses and am learning a lot from them.

On Memrise I’m studying Russian, Danish and Swedish. When I started using Memrise nearly two years ago, I already knew some Russian and Swedish. and started Swedish from level 2. I started Danish last year from scratch, although my knowledge of Swedish, and German and English, certainly helps. I’m currently doing level 6 courses in Swedish and Danish, and level 5 in Russian.

By the way, if you sign up to Memrise by 16th September, you will get a 50% discount, and I’ll get a small commission.

I find these apps with the streak counters really encourage me to study every day. It has become a habit to do so, and one I plan to continue for as long as possible.

Apart from these studies, I keep my French and Welsh ticking over by speaking them regularly, and other languages by using them occasionally.

How are your language studies going?

Do you prefer to focus on one language at a time, or to learn two or more simultaneously?

What courses, apps and other resources do you use?

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?

Can you learn a language just with Duolingo?

A screen shot of my Duolingo Romanian course

For the past year I’ve been learning Romanian with Duolingo. I wanted to see if I could learn a language entirely with that course, and chose Romanian because it was the only major Romance language I haven’t studied, and I have some Romanian-speaking friends.

Although I can understand Romanian to some extent now, especially when it’s written, I can’t speak it very well as I haven’t used it with real people much yet.

Compared with the other Romance languages, the grammar of Romanian is more complex, with four noun cases, like Latin. If you just use the Duolingo app, you have to try to work out the grammar for yourself, which isn’t easy. The online version includes some notes on grammar, but I’ve been mainly using the app. So my knowledge of the grammar is somewhat limited.

I do have a Colloquial Romanian course, which should help me to learn the language more thoroughly, but I’ll probably have a break before learning more.

I’ve also been learning Swedish and Russian on Duolingo for just over a year, and started learning Danish a few months ago. I had dabbled with Swedish a bit before, mainly with Babbel, and have studied Russian on and off for quite a while using various courses.

I can have conversations in Swedish, and Russian, though still have quite a way to go before I consider myself fluent in either language. I can read and understand quite a bit of Danish, though can’t say a lot yet. I find Swedish and Danish relatively easy as they have quite a lot in common with English, German and each other, and relatively simple grammar. Russian is more of a challenge – the grammar is more complex and there are a lot of unfamiliar words to learn.

For the past few months I’ve also been using Memrise to learn Swedish, Danish and Russian. In some ways I prefer it to Duolingo as Memrise focuses more of phrases you’re likely to use in everyday life, and the recordings are made by real people rather than robots.

I do like some of the ridiculous phrases that pop up on Duolingo though, such as:

– Sköldpaddan har en gul hatt = The turtle has a yellow hat
– Han går som en älg = He walks like a moose
– Jag hör inte dig eftersom jag har kanelbullar i öronen = I don’t hear you because I have cinnamon rolls in my ears
– Skildpadden drikker te = The turtle is drinking tea
– Anden læser avisen = The duck is reading the newspaper
– Ca caută ursul în șifonier? What is the bear doing in the wardrobe?
– Am un cuptor plin cu pui = I have an oven filled with chickens
– Eu am văzut o bufniță răzând = I saw an owl laughing
– Моя лошадь не художник а архитектор = My horse is not an artist but an architect
– Этот человек говорит, что он волшебник, но я ему не верю = This person says he’s a wizard, but I don’t believe him
– У меня есть говорящая лошадь = I have a talking horse

So, is it possible to learn a language just with Duolingo?

You can learn a lot, but it’s unlikely you’ll be speaking the language well by the end of the course. For me it works best for languages related to ones I know with grammar you can pick up as you go along (Swedish & Danish), and not quite so well for more distant and grammatically complex languages (Russian & Romanian).

I am now on a 328 day streak on Duolingo, and before that I was on a 96 day streak, but didn’t get enough points one day last summer to maintain it. So that’s 14 months of studying every day. When I’ve studied languages before, I would sometimes miss a few days, or even weeks. Now I don’t want to miss a single day.

Have you learnt any languages entirely or mainly with Duolingo?

Cows, beef and shepherds

Cows among the heather in Cregneash, Isle of Man

Yesterday I learnt the Russian word for beef, говядина [ɡɐˈvʲædʲɪnə], and the promotely forgot it. So I thought I’d investigate its etymology to help me remember it.

говядина comes from говядо [ɡɐˈvʲadə] and old word for cattle. This comes from the Proto-Slavic *govędo (head of cattle, bull, ox), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷew-n̥d-, from *gʷṓws (cattle) [source].

The usual Russian word for cow is корова [source], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *kőrva (cow), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn) [source].

*gʷṓws is also the root of:

  • gak = boar (Albanian)
  • govs = cattle, cow (Latvian)
  • говядо = beef (Ukrainian)
  • говедо = cattle (Bulgarian, Macedonian & Serbian)
  • govedo = cattle (Croatian & Slovenian)
  • hovado = brute (Czech & Slovak)
  • gowjedo = cow (Lower Sorbian)
  • *kūz = cow (Proto-Germanic)
  • Kuh = cow (German)
  • koe = cow (Dutch)
  • ku = cow (Norwegian)
  • ko = cow (Swedish, Danish, North Frisian)
  • coo, kye = cow (Scots)
  • βοῦς = cow (Ancient Greek)
  • bōs = cow, bull, ox (Latin)
  • bou = ox (Catalan)
  • bue = ox, beef (Italian)
  • bife = steak (Portuguese)
  • bou= ox, idiot (Romanian)
  • buey= ox. steer (Spanish)
  • bœuf = cow, ox, beef, jam session (French)
  • *bāus = cow (Proto-Celtic)
  • *bōws = ox (Proto-Celtic)
  • bu, buw = cow, bullock, head of cattle (Middle Welsh)
  • buwch = cow (Welsh)
  • bugh = cow (Cornish)
  • bu, buoc’h = cow (Breton)
  • bó = cow (Irish)
  • booa = cow (Manx)
  • bò = cow (Scottish Gaelic)

The English words beef and bovine come ultimately from the same root. Beef comes from the Middle English beef, bef, beof, from the Anglo-Norman beof, from the Old French buef, boef (ox). from Latin bōs (“ox”)

The Proto-Indo-European word *gʷowkólos, from *gʷṓws (cow) & *kʷel- (to revolve, move around, sojourn) gives us the following words in the Celtic languages [Source].

  • *boukolyos = herdsman (Proto-Celtic)
  • *bʉgöl = herdsman (Proto-Brythonic
  • bugail = shepherd, pastor (Welsh)
  • bugel = child, shepherd (Cornish)
  • bugel = child (Breton)
  • búachaill = cowherd (Old Irish)
  • buachaill = boy, herdsman, servant, boyfriend (Irish)
  • bochilley = shepherd, herdsman (Manx)
  • buachaill, buachaille = cowherd, herdsman, shepherd, youth (Scottish Gaelic)

Oină

People playing oină

I came across the oină in one of the Romanian lessons I did today. It’s translated as ‘oina’ without any explanation of what it means. As the lesson was about sport and oină is something you play, I guessed that it’s some kind of sport.

According to Wikpedia, oină [ˈoj.nə] is a traditional Romanian sport similar to baseball and lapta (a similar Russian sport).

The word oină was originally hoina, and is comes from the Cuman word oyn (game), which is cognate with the Turkish oyun). The game was first mention in writing in 1364. Cuman is an extinct Turkish language that was spoken in Hungary until the 18th century.

Library mice and reading rats

Illustration of a bookworm

I discovered today that in Romanian a bookworm (a keen reader) is un şoarece de bibliotecă (a library mouse), which I rather like, being a bit of a bookworm / library mouse myself.

In French there is a simliar term for a bookworm – rat de bibliothèque (library rat), and in German voracious reader or bookworm is known as a Leseratte (reading rat), and in Spanish the equivalent is ratón de biblioteca (library mouse).

Are there interesting words for bookworm in other languages?