Milestones

A Manx milestone

Yesterday I added details of a language called Akawaio (Ka’pon) to Omniglot. It’s a Cariban language spoken mainly in northern Guyana, and also in northern Brazil and eastern Venezuela, by about 6,380 people.

You may be wondering why I mention this. What’s so special about this language? Well, it just happens to be the 1,500th language I’ve written about on Omniglot, and it feels like a significant milestone to me. There are many more languages out there: 7,139, according to Ethnologue – so only another 5,639 to go! That should keep me busy for a while.

Of the languages on Omniglot, the majority (1,107) are written with the Latin alphabet. There are also 126 written with the Cyrillic alphabet, 75 written with the Arabic alphabet, 72 written with the Devanagari alphabet, and smaller numbers of languages written with other alphabets and writing systems. [More language and writing stats]

It’s becoming increasingly challenging to find information about languages that don’t yet appear on Omniglot. About 4,065 of the world’s languages have a written form, although many are rarely written, and the remaining 3,074 are probably unwritten [source]. There is little or no documentation for many languages, and what documentation there is can be difficult to find. Inspite of this, I will continue to add new language profiles to Omniglot, and appreciate any help you can offer.

An Omniglot minion

I’ve been working on Omniglot on my own since 1998 – there are no minions or other assistants to help me. However, many other people have contributed to Omniglot, by sending me corrections, new material, suggestions, donations and so on, and I am profoundly grateful to all of them.

This is the 3,414th post I’ve written on this blog since launching it in March 2006. At first I tried to write something every day, but soon realised that was too much. At the moment I aim to write two posts a week, plus the language quiz on Sundays.

In April 2007 I started uploading videos to YouTube. Some of the videos feature silly little conversations in languages I’m learning. Others involve music-related events I’ve taken part in, and tunes and songs I’ve written. In 2021 I started uploading videos more regularly, particularly videos about words and etymology, and some songs as well. As well as the Adventures in Etymology videos I upload on Sundays, I plan to make videos featuring alphabets, phrases, etc in a variety of languages. Here’s one I made of the Danish alphabet:

Since June 2018 I’ve made 42 episodes of the Radio Omniglot Podacast, and 5 episodes of Adventures in Etymology, a new series I started in March 2021. It started as a series of videos I made for Instagram and Facebook, then I posted them on Youtube as well, and decided to add them to the Radio Omniglot site. I have ideas for other series I could make for Radio Omniglot, and would welcome any suggestions you may have.

In September 2018 I launched the Celtiadur, a blog where I explore connections between Celtic languages. This is based the Celtic cognates part of Omniglot. So far I’ve written 227 posts, and add a new one every week.

Since 1998 I’ve become fluent in Welsh and Irish, regained my fluency in French, maintained my fluency in Mandarin Chinese, more or less, and have learned enough Esperanto, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch to have at least basic conversations. I’ve also learnt quite a bit of Russian and Czech, and some Romanian, Cantonese, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Icelandic, Faroese, British Sign Language, Breton and Cornish.

I’m currently concentrating on Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch, while trying to maintain my other languages, particularly French and Welsh. For the past 4 years or so I’ve studied languages every day on Duolingo – my current streak reached 1,369 today. I’ve also been using Mondly and Memrise. [More about my language learning adventures].

While not working on Omniglot or learning languages, I like to sing, play musical instruments and write songs and tunes. My musical adventures started long before Omniglot, but for many years after leaving school I only really listened to music. In 2005 I started going to Ireland every summer to learn Irish language, and also Irish songs, tunes and dances. This inspired me to take up music again. Since then I’ve learnt to play the guitar, mandolin, ukulele, cavaquinho and harp, and started playing the recorder, piano and tin whistle again. I’ve learnt songs in many different languages, and written quite a few songs and tunes.

Here’s a song I wrote in 33 different languages:

Enough of this shameless self-promotion. What about you? Have you reached any significant milestones recently?

Soul Deer

The Dutch word dier [diːr / diər] means animal and is cognate with the English word deer, which originally meant animal, but the meaning narrowed over time. They are also cognate with words for animal in other Germanic languages, such as Tier in German, dyr in Danish and Norwegian, dýr in Faroese and Icelandic, and djur in Swedish [source].

deer

Dier comes from the Middle Dutch dier (animal), from the Old Dutch dier (animal), from the Proto-West Germanic *deuʀ ((wild) animal, beast), from the Proto-Germanic *deuzą ((wild) animal, beast), from the Proto-Indo-European *dʰewsóm [source], from *dʰews- (to breathe, breath, spirit, soul, creature) [source].

Some related words include:

  • dierdicht = poem about anthropomorphised animals
  • dierenarts = vet (mainly one who treats pets)
  • dierenrijk = animal kingdom
  • dierentuin = zoo
  • dierkunde = zoology
  • dierlijk = animal, beastly, instinctive, primitive
  • huisdier = pet
  • landbouwhuisdier = farm animal
  • zoogdier = mammal

Deer comes from the same root, via the Middle English deere, dere, der, dier, deor (small animal, deer), from the Old English dēor (animal) [source].

From the PIE root *dʰews- we also get the Russian word душа [dʊˈʂa] (soul, spirit, darling), via the Old East Slavic доуша (duša – soul), and the Proto-Slavic *duša (soul, spirit), and related words in other slavic languages.

Another Dutch word for animal is beest [beːst] which is cognate with the English word beast. Both come from the same PIE root as dier/deer (*dʰews-): beest via the Middle Dutch beeste (animal), from the Old French beste (beast, animal), from the Latin bēstia (beast) [source], and beast via the Middle English beeste, beste (animal, creature, beast, merciless person) [source].

Some related words include:

  • feestbeest = party animal
  • knuffelbeest = stuffed toy animal (“cuddle-beast”)
  • podiumbeest = someone who enjoys being on stage and is often on stage
  • wildebeest = wildebeest, gnu

The English word animal is also related to souls and spirits as it comes via Middle English and Old French, from the Latin anima (soul, spirit, life, air, breeze, breath) [source].

The Dutch word for deer is hert [ɦɛrt], which comes from the Old Dutch hirot, from the Proto-Germanic *herutaz (deer, stag), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn). The English word hart comes from the same root via the Old English heorot (stag), and means a male deer, especially a male red deer after his fifth year [source].

Here’s an audio version of this post.

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.

In the Same Boat

All in the same boat

Over the past year, and before, we’ve often been told that we’re all “in the same boat”, at least in the UK. The intention is to suggest that we are all in a similar situation or predicament, and the expression is often used by those in positions of power, wealth and privilege.

The idea of being in the same boat meaning ‘having the same fate’ first appeared in writing in 1584 in Thomas Hudson’s translation of Du Bartas’ Historie of Judith:

haue ye paine ? so likewise paine haue we :
For in one bote we both imbarked be.
Vpon one tide, one tempest doeth vs tosse,
Your common ill, it is our common losse.

It appeared more or less in the current form in writing by Thomas Taylor, a British cleryman in 1629. He said:

He is in the same boate which is tossed and threatned with the tempest, and is someway interessed in the common cause, and quarrell.

Source: phrases.org.uk

Equivalents of this phrase in French include:

  • être logés à la même enseigne = to be lodged at the same sign
  • être dans le même bateau = to be in the same boat
  • être dans la même galère = to be in the same galley
  • être dans la même barque = to be in the same rowing boat
  • être dans le même pétrin = to be in the same kneading trough
  • être dans le même bain = to be in the same bath

Source: Reverso.net

Which of these, if any, is most commonly used?

In other languages, such as Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese, you can talk about being in the same boat. Are there any languages in which this idea is referred to without mentioning boats?

Dapper

The word dapper means “neat and trim in appearance” or “very spruce and stylish”, or “alert and lively in movement and manners” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. According to Wiktionary it means “neat, trim, stylisly or neatly dressed, quick, or little and active”, and according to the Urban Dictionary it means “incredibly smart, sexy and stylish”.

Dapper Feet

Synonyms include: dashing, jaunty, natty, raffish, rakish, snappy, spiffy and spruce. Do you have any others?

Dapper comes from the Middle English daper (pretty, neat), from the Middle Dutch dapper (stalwart, nimble), from the Old Dutch *dapar, from the Proto-Germanic *dapraz (stout; solid; heavy; bold), from the Proto-Indo-European *dʰob-/*dʰeb- (thick, heavy) [source] – so it’s meaning has changed a bit over time.

In Dutch dapper [ˈdɑpər] means brave, bold, bravely, daring, fearless, gallant, valiant or courageous, and it’s also used in the same sense as the English word. The word goedgekleed is also used to mean dapper, well-dressed or sharp.

Here are some examples of how it’s used (from Reverso and bab.la):

  • Je bent zo’n dapper kleine jongen = You’re such a brave young man
  • Ze zijn net zo slim en dapper als u = They’re smart and courageous, just like you
  • We moeten dapper zijn en sterk = We need to be brave and strong
  • Maar ik weet ook dat ze dapper hebben gevochten = But I know that they fought courageously
  • Laten we dapper zijn! = Let’s be brave!

Related words include:

  • dapperheid = bravery, prowess, courage
  • verdapperen = to regain one’s strength, strengthen, become fiercer (used in Belgium)

Cognate words in other languages include:

  • Bulgarian: дебел [dɛˈbɛl] = thick, close-woven, heavy (material), fat, stout, podgy, deep (voice)
  • Danish: tapper = brave, valiant, courageous
  • Faroese: dapur = sad
  • German: tapfer = brave, dauntless, hardy, tough
  • Icelandic: dapur = sad, dejected
  • Norwegian: daper = brave, courageous
  • Russian: дебелый [dʲɪˈbʲeɫɨj] = plump
  • Swedish: tapper = courageous, doughty, fearless, gallant, hardy, valiant, brave

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.

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 such languages as Spanish (queso), Galician (queixo), Portuguese (queijo), Irish (cáis), Welsh (caws) and Breton (keuz) [More on Celtic words for cheese]. The Swedish word keso (cottage cheese) was borrowed from Spanish [source].

Another word for cheese in Late/Vulgar Latin was fōrmāticum, an abbreviation of cāseus fōrmāticus (form cheese), from fōrma (form, mold) and cāseus (cheese). From this we get words for cheese in French (fromage), Italian (formaggio), Breton (formaj), 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?