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.

Cheesy Juice

Today’s etymological adventure starts with the word ost, which means cheese in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. In Danish it’s pronounced [ɔsd̥], in Swedish and Norwegian it’s pronounced [ust] [source]. It also means east, but we’re focusing on the cheesy meaning today.

Ost

Ost comes from the Old Norse ostr (cheese), from Proto-Germanic *justaz (cheese), from Proto-Indo-European *yaus-/*yūs- (sap, juice, broth), from *yewH- (to blend, mix (food), knead).

The Old Norse ostr is also the root of words for cheese in Icelandic and Faroese (ostur), in the Sylt dialect of North Frisian (Aast), in Finnish (juusto), in Estonian (juust), in Northern Sami (vuostá), in Skolt Sami (vuâstt), and in other Finnic and Sami languages [source].

From the PIE root *yaus-/*yūs- we get the Latin: iūs (gravy, broth, soup, sauce, juice), from which we get the English word juice, which was borrowed into Faroese and Icelandic (djús), Swedish and Danish (juice), and other languages [source].

The Welsh word for porridge, uwd [ɨ̞u̯d/ɪu̯d], comes from the PIE root *yaus-/*yūs-, via the Proto-Celtic *yut-/*yot- [source]. The Russian word уха (ukha – a kind of fish soup) comes from the same PIE root [source].

From the Latin iūs, we also get (via French) the English word jus (the juices given off as meat is cooked). The Dutch word jus (gravy) comes from the same French root [source].

The English word cheese comes from the Middle English chese (cheese), from Old English ċīese (cheese), from the Proto-West Germanic *kāsī (cheese), from the Latin cāseus (cheese), from Proto-Indo-European *kwh₂et- (to ferment, become sour) [source].

Words for cheese in other West Germanic language come from the same Germanic root, including: kaas in Dutch and Afrikaans, Käse in German, Kjees in Low German and tsiis in West Frisian [source].

From the Latin cāseus we also get words for cheese in Spanish (queso), Galician (queixo), Portuguese (queijo), Welsh (caws), Irish (cáis), Manx (caashey), and other Celtic languages. The Swedish word keso (cottage cheese) was borrowed from Spanish [source].

Another word for cheese in Late/Vulgar Latin was fōrmāticum, from fōrma (form, mold). From this we get words for cheese in French (fromage), Italian (formaggio), and similarly cheesy words in various other languages [source].

Dune Town Gardens

In Dutch a garden or yard is a tuin [tœy̯n]. When I learnt this yesterday I wondered whether it was related to the English word town.

Tuin comes from the Middle Dutch tuun (hedge), from the Old Dutch tūn (an enclosed piece of ground), from the Proto-Germanic *tūną (fence, enclosure), from the Proto-Celtic *dūnom (stronghold, rampart) [source].

Related words include:

  • achtertuin = backyard, back garden
  • betuinen = to enclose, fence, hedge
  • dierentuin = zoo
  • kindertuin = kindergarten
  • kruidentuin = herb garden
  • moestuin = vegetable / kitchen garden
  • speeltuin = children’s playground
  • tuinen = to practice agriculture or horticulture
  • tuinier = gardener
  • tuinieren = gardening
  • tuincentrum = garden centre
  • tuinslang = garden hose (“garden snake”)
  • voortuin = front yard

From the Proto-Germanic word *tūną we also get such words as town, the German Zaun (fence), the Icelandic tún (hayfield), the Faroese tún (forecourt, way between houses, street in a Faroese village), and the Norwegian tun (courtyard, front yard, farmstead) [source].

The Russian word тын (fence, especially one made of twigs) comes from the same root [source].

Words for dune in Germanic language possibly come from the same root as well [source].

Directly from the Proto-Celtic word *dūnom we get such words as the Irish dún (fort, fortress, haven), the Scottish Gaelic dùn (fortress, heap, hill), the Manx doon (fort, fortress, stronghold), the Welsh dyn (hill, height, fortification) and dinas (city, town), and the Cornish din (fort) [source]. More about this on Celtiadur

Botanische Tuinen, Utrecht, Netherlands - 4253

Double Dutch

This week I finally finished the Russian course I’ve been working through on Memrise, and am giving Russian a break for now. I may go back to it at some point, and try to get a better grip on the grammar, which I still find hard, even after three years of studying a little every day.

I promised myself that I’d start learning a different language once I’d finished the Russian lessons, and have decided to learn some more Dutch. I know a little already, and can understand it to some extent thanks to my knowledge of English, German and related languages. So it’s easier for me than Russian. I’m just learning it on Duolingo at the moment, and may try other apps as well.

I like the weird and wonderful phrases that come up on Duolingo, and expect there’ll be plenty in Dutch. A couple of very useful phrases that came up today were:

Pardon, ik ben een appel
Excuse me, I am an apple

Nee, je bent geen appel
No, you are not an apple

Perhaps a good way to start a conversation.

I’m collecting these on Omniglot, of course.

Street Festivals at Dawn

будет и на моей улице праздник

An interesting idiom that came up in my Russian lessons this week is будет и на моей улице праздник (budet i na moey ulitse prazdnik), which is translated as “it’s always darkest just before the dawn”, and means literally “There will be a festival / celebration even on my street”.

The origins of this idiom are apparently related to the fact that many streets in Russia used to have their own churches, and they would hold celebrations in the street for the local saint. So no matter how bad things might get or seem, you could look forward to such fesitivities [source].

Some examples of how this Russian idiom is used:

  • Ну ничего, будет и на моей улице праздник
    Well I would see the feast at an end
  • Будет и на моей улице праздник
    I’ll have my day in the sun
  • Будет и на моей улице праздник
    The question is, will you?
  • Ничего, будет и на моей улице праздник!
    One of these days

Source: Reverso

The English version means “there is hope, even in the worst of circumstances”, and first appeared in writing in 1650 as “It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth”, in A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, a book by the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller. It is not known if Fuller coined it, or if he was recording a piece of folk wisdom.

In 1859 Samuel Lover wrote in his book Songs and Ballads that this idiom was popular among the Irish peasantry, who said “Remember that the darkest hour of all. is the hour before day” [source]

Are there equivalents of this idiom in other languages?

Mind and Memory

In Russian the word for memory is память [ˈpamʲɪtʲ], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *pamętь (memory), from the prefix *pōˀ and *mintis (though, mind), from the Proto-Indo-European *méntis (thought) [source].

Related words include:

  • памятник [ˈpamʲɪtʲnʲɪk] = memorial, monument
  • памятный [ˈpamʲɪtnɨj] = commemorative, memorable, memorial
  • памятливый [ˈpamʲɪtlʲɪvɨj] = having a retentive memory, retentive
  • памятка [ˈpamʲɪtkə] = memo, memorandum
  • запамятовать [zɐˈpamʲɪtəvətʲ] = to forget (dated / colloquial)
  • злопамятный [zlɐˈpamʲɪtnɨj] = vindictive, rancorous, unforgiving, likely to hold a grudge
  • помнить [ˈpomnʲɪtʲ] = to remember

*méntis is also the root of such English words as dementia, mendacious, mental, mind, monitor and premonition.

Memory

Life Writing

In Russian, a painting or picture is a живопись [ʐɨvəpʲɪsʲ]. This comes from живой [ʐɨˈvoj] (alive, living, live, lively) and писать [pʲɪˈsatʲ] (to write). So you could say that a Russian painter is “writing life” and that their paintings are “life writing” [source].

An English word with a similar literal meaning, but a different actual meaning, is biography.

Another Russian word for picture, and also image or scene, is a картина [kɐrˈtʲinə], which comes from the Italian cartina (fine paper, map), from carta (paper, map, menu, card), from the Latin charta (papyrus, paper, poem), from the Ancient Greek χάρτης (khártēs – papyrus, paper), from χαράσσω (kharássō – I scratch, inscribe), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰer- (to scratch) [source].

If languages were logical and consistant, you might expect that Russian words for art, artist, painter, picture and to paint might be related to живопись. Most of them aren’t:

Art is искусство [ɪˈskustvə], which also means skill, craftsmanship, craft. It comes from the Old Church Slavonic искусьство (iskusĭstvo), from искоусъ (iskusŭ – test, experiment), probably from the Proto-Germanic *kustiz (choice, trail), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵews- (to taste, try), which is also the root of the English words choice, cost and gusto [source].

An artist or painter is a художник [xʊˈdoʐnʲɪk]. It comes from the Old East Slavic художьникъ (xudožĭnikŭ – artist, painter, master), from худогъ (xudogŭ – skillful, experienced, lucky), from the Proto-Slavic *xǫdogъ, from the Proto-Germanic *handugaz (handy, skilful, dextrous), which is also the root of the English word handy [source].

There are several Russian words for to paint:

  • рисовать [rʲɪsɐˈvatʲ] means to draw, paint, depict, and comes from the Polish rysować (to draw, sketch), from the Middle High German rīzen, from the Old High German rīzan (to scratch) [source].
  • красить [ˈkrasʲɪtʲ] means to paint, dye or adorn. It is related to the word краска (paint, dye, ink, colours), which comes from the Old Church Slavoic краса (krasa – decoration) [source].
  • писать [pʲɪˈsatʲ] means to write or paint (a painting). It comes from the Old East Slavic писати (pisati – to write, paint), from the Proto-Slavic *pisati (to draw depict, write), from the Proto-Indo-European *peyḱ- (to hew, cut out; stitch, embroider, sting; paint, mark, colour), which is also the root of the English words paint and picture [source].

mouse cat

An example of calligraphic art by Margaret Shepherd. More examples

Holding Up

When faced with long words in languages like Russian, one thing that helps me remember them is to break them down into their constistuent parts and find out what each part means.

For example, a Russian word that came up in my lessons recently was поддерживать (podderživát’) [pɐˈdʲːerʐɨvətʲ], which means to support, keep up or maintain [source].

It comes from поддержать (podderžát’) – to support, help up, & -ивать (-ivat’) – a verb suffix.

поддержать comes from под- (pod-) – under, by, near, & держать (deržát’) – to keep, to hold. So you could see that you’re ‘underholding’ something or someone when you support them in Russian [source].

Related words include:

  • поддержка = support (financial, etc)
  • поддержание = maintenance, sustenance
  • поддерживаться = to be supported / maintained
  • поддерживающий = backer, supporting, supportive

There are many more words that have the prefix под-.

How do you remember words in languages you’re learning?

Edinburgh

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.

The Language Event, Edinburgh

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.

More photos from Edinburgh:

Edinburgh / Dùn Èideann

Working like a …

The Russian idiom, работать как лошадь, means to work hard, or literally ‘to work like a horse’. Another idiom with the same meaning is работать как проклятый (‘to work like the damned’) [source].

Horse Ploughing (18)

In English you might say that you’re working like a dog. Other variations on this phrase include wokring like a beaver and working like a trojan [source]. Do you know of any others?

hard working

In Welsh you might say that you’re working ‘to the marrow of your bones’ – gweithio hyd fêr dy esgyrn, which means to work for hard, or to overwork.

One equvialent in French is travailler comme un acharné (‘working like a relentless person’).

What about in other languages?