The Road Runs

Today I learnt that one way to say goodbye or farewell in Romanian is drum bun. This came up in a Duolingo lesson, and I translated it as “good road”, which is what it means literally. However that’s not how it’s used.

Drum (road) comes from the Greek δρόμος (drómos – road, track), from the Ancient Greek δρόμος (drómos – roadway, road, street, way; journey), from the Proto-Indo-European *drem- (to run) + -ος (-os).

*Drem- is also the root of the English drome, as in hippodrome, aerodrome, velodrome, anadrome, syndrome and palindrome.

In case you’re wondering, an anadrome is a word which forms a different word when spelled backwards, such as desserts and stressed. They are also known as volvograms, reversgrams, heteropalindromes, backwords, semordnilap or emordnilaps, or semordnilaps [source].

Other anadromes in English include spar / raps, star / rats, bus / sub, nip / pin, and so on.

Can you think of others in English or other languages?

Snow falls

As there has been some snow here this week, and it’s snowing at bit as I write this, I thought I’d look at some words for snow.

Snow / Eira
A bit of snow in my garden yesterday morning

In Romanian snow is zăpadă [zəˈpadə], which comes from the Slavic word zapadati (to fall) [source]. To snow is a ninge, and snowfall is ninsoare, which both come from the Latin ningere (to snow), utimately from the Proto-Indo-European *sneygʷʰ- (to snow) [source].

The English word snow comes from Middle English snow/snaw, from the Old English snāw (snow), from the Proto-Germanic *snaiwaz (snow), from the Proto-Indo-European *snóygʷʰos (snow), from the root *sneygʷʰ- (to snow).

Many of the words for snow in other European languages come from the same Proto-Indo-European root. However, words for snow in Welsh (eira), Cornish (ergh) and Breton erc’h, come from the Proto-Celtic *argyos (white), via the Proto-Brythonic *ėrɣ (snow) [source].

International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day Poster

As you might know, today is International Mother Language Day. The theme this year is “Linguistic diversity and multilingualism: keystones of sustainability and peace”.

To do my bit for multilinguism, I’m currently learning Swedish, Russian, Romanian and Slovak, and practising other languages, especially French and Welsh. So far today I’ve learnt a bit more Romanian and Russian, listened to some Welsh language radio, and read a bit of Swedish.

Tonight I studied some Swedish and Slovak, spoke English and Laala, read in English, Latin and Scots, and sang in English, Welsh, French, Zulu and Church Slavonic.

What languages have you spoken, read, heard, written, sung and/or studied today?

Beards and chins

Illustration of a beard

One of the Romanian lessons I did today was about parts of the body. One word that came up was bărbie [bərˈbi.e], which I guessed meant beard, but actually means chin. I suppose beards usually grow on chins, so this isn’t too surprising.

Bărbie comes from the Vulgar Latin *barbilia, from the Latin barba (beard; wool; down on a plant). Or from the Romanian barbă (beard) +‎ -ie (a noun suffix) [source].

In Spanish chin is barbilla [barˈβiʎa] – barba (beard) with a diminutive suffix, so it could be translated as “little beard” [source].

The English word beard comes from the Middle English berd, bard, bærd, from the Old English beard, from Proto-Germanic *bardaz, from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰardʰeh₂, all of which mean beard. The PIE word *bʰardʰeh₂ is also the root of words for beard in Germanic, Slavic, Romance and Iranian languages [source], and in Welsh (barf) Cornish (barv) and Breton (barv) [source].

In the Gaelic / Goidelic languages however, the words for beard are different: féasóg in Irish, feusag in Scottish Gaelic, and faasaag in Manx. The come from the Old Irish fésóc, from fés (lip; body hair) [source].

Are words for beards and chins similar in other languages?

Bags, satchels and briefcases

In Romanian the word for a satchel, school bag or briefcase is ghiozdan [giˈozdan]. When I learnt this, I wondered where it might come from – it certainly doesn’t look Latin or Slavic.

Ghiozdan actually comes from the Turkish word cüzdăn (wallet, billfold, purse, pocket book).

A related word is servietă (briefcase), which comes from the French serviette (towel, napkin, serviette, briefcase).

There are in fact quite a few Romanian words borrowed from Turkish, including:

– bacșiș = tip, gratuity; baksheesh. From bahşiş (tip)
– basma = handkerchief. From the Turkish basma (printed cloth)
– degeaba = for nothing, for free; in vain. From the Turkish caba (effort)
– liliac = lilac; bat. From the Turkish leylak (lilac)
– murdar = dirty. From the Turkish murdar (uncleanly)

Sources: Wiktionary, Google Translate

Heim aftur / Home again

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.

Þingvellir / Thingvellir

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.

Þingvellir / Thingvellir

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.

The conference started on Saturday morning with interesting speeches by Dr Sebastian Drude, the director of the Vigdís International Centre for Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding, and Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the former President of Iceland and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for languages.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir opening the 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

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.

The 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

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.

A panel discussuion at the 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

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 annoucement of where the Polyglot Conference will be in 2018

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.

There are some more photos on Flickr:

Iceland / Ísland

Duolingo online

Duolingo logo

I’ve been studying Russian, Swedish and Romanian with Duolingo for the past four months using the app on my phone. I knew you could also study online, but have only just discovered that the online version includes notes on grammar. These are very helpful, and I’ll be going through them all.

The notes don’t appear to be included in the app, as far as I can see, unless I’ve missed something. Sometimes it can be tricky to work out grammatical patterns from the examples. It will be easier now with the notes.

I’m doing an experiment to see how much of these languages I can learn just from Duolingo. I have learnt some Russian and Swedish from other courses, but so far Duolingo is the only course I’ve used for Romanian. If I continue studying every day, at my current rate of progress I should complete the courses in another year or so.

Have you learned any languages just from Duolingo?

Turrys foddey / Turas fada / A Long Journey

Last night I arrived safely in Glencolmcille in Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. I left Peel at 8am, went by bus to Ronaldsway airport, flew to Dublin, then took buses all the way to Glencolmcille, arriving just before 8pm, so it took nearly 12 hours.

Sunset in Gleann Cholm Cille

I met people I know from previous visits to Ireland along the way – at Dublin airport, in Donegal town, and in Killybegs – so the journey didn’t seem quite so long as I had people to talk to. As they say in Irish, bíonn siúlach scéalach (travellers have tales to tell), and giorraíonn beirt bóthar (two people shorten a road).

On the road and after I arrived in Glencolmcille I had conversations in English, Irish, German, Welsh, and spoke odd bits of Russian, French, Romanian, Swedish and Manx.

Today the courses start – there are courses in Irish language, translation, flute and whistle player, and harp playing (that’s the one I’m doing), and also a group going hill walking every day.

There are people here from many countries, including Ireland, the UK, the USA, Australia, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Belarus, Brazil and Slovakia. So I will have plenty of opportunities to practise my languages.

An Clachán, Gleann Cholm Cille

Nature service

Yesterday I went to see the ankle specialist at the local hospital,. He said that my ankle has healed well and just needs a bit of physiotherapy. I can start to wean myself off the orthopedic boot, using it less and less each day, and crutches as well. I didn’t wear the boot yesterday afternoon, and tried to get around a bit without the crutches. This worked okay, but when I went out last night to a gig, I wore the boot and took the crutches.

Today I went back to the hospital for some physiotherapy, without the boot, but with the crutches. The physiotherapist gave me some exercises to do, and said that I should try to move my ankle as much as possible. Within a few weeks I probably won’t need to crutches anymore, and in a few months my ankle should be back to normal. I’ll do all the exercises dilligently, and devise others as well, as I want to be fully mobile as soon as possible.

The physiotherapist suggested that I sit with my ankle raised for 20 minutes each hour. I plan to use this time to study languages, practise music, or read. At the moment I’m studying Russian, Swedish and Romanian, mainly on Duolinguo, while keeping my other languages, especially the Celtic ones, ticking over.

The word physiotherapy comes from physio, from Ancient Greek φύσις (phúsis – nature) and therapy, from New Latin therapia (therapy), from Ancient Greek θεραπεία (therapeía – service, medical treatment), from θεραπεύω (therapeúō – I serve, treat medically).

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:

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:

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)

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)