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:
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.
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.
Imagine you’re with a group of people who all share a common language, and some of the group may also speak another language. Is it rude for them to speak that language, knowing that some members of the group won’t understand them, and might feel excluded?
Let’s say the common language is English, and some of the group speak Spanish. If you were a monoglot English speaker, you might feel excluded / annoyed if some members of the group speak Spanish, a language you don’t understand.
Imagine if you worked in an office where everyone speaks Mandarin and English, but you only speak English. Would you tell them to speak exclusively in English all the time, or at least when you’re around?
If you were the boss, you might do so. This was in fact the situation where I worked in Taipei – the boss only spoke English, so we all spoke English with him, while we spoke a mixture of Mandarin, English and Taiwanese among ourselves.
How about if everybody in the group but you speaks a language like Catalan, Basque, Welsh or Irish, would you expect them all to switch to a more-widely spoken language, such as Spanish or English, so you can understand and/or feel included?
There have been cases of monoglot English-speaking managers in businesses in Wales and Ireland insisting that their staff speak to each other in English rather than Welsh or Irish. The managers want to understand what their staff are saying, and don’t want any non-Welsh or Irish-speaking customers to feel excluded.
At the Welsh music session I go to, we speak mainly Welsh and bits of English. For the native speakers of Welsh, it’s normal to speak their mother tongue, and for the fluent learners like me, it’s a great opportunity to practise the language. Some of the people who come to the session don’t speak Welsh, or are just starting to learn it. However, they don’t complain that they can’t understand, and don’t insist that we speak English.
When I hear someone speaking in a language I don’t know, my ears prick up and I try to guess what language it is and what they’re talking about. Sometimes I might even ask them what language they’re speaking. Other people might not react in this way, and may even feel intimidated / irritated if everyone around is speaking in foreign.
I learnt this week that there are two words in Russian for dream – сон [son] and мечта (mɛtʃˈt̪a). The former refers to the dreams you have when asleep, while the latter refers to dreams as in hopes, wishes or visions.
If you’re asleep and dreaming, in Russian you ‘see dreams’, or видеть сны [ˈvʲidʲɪtʲ snɨ]. If you’re dreaming of becoming rich or famous, then you use the verb мечтать [mʲɪt͡ɕˈtatʲ]. If you have a bad dream or nightmare though, it’s a кошмар [koʃˈmar], from the French cauchemar (nightmare)
Сон means sleep or dream, and comes from the Proto-Slavic *sъnъ (sleep, dream), from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *supnas (sleep), from Proto-Indo-European *súpnos (dream). This is also the root of words for sleep in North Germanic languages such as Danish (søvn), Icelandic (svefn) and Swedish (sömn), and the archaic English word sweven (a dream, vision) [source].
Мечта comes from the Proto-Slavic *mьčьta (dream), possibly from Proto-Indo-European *meyk- (to shimmer), [source].
Some examples of how they’re used:
День и ночь меня преследует один и тот же сон = The same dream haunts me day and night
С тех пор, как ты уехал, мне снится один и тот же сон = I keep having this dream since you left
У меня есть мечта = I have a dream
Быть художником – это последняя мечта, которая у Джимми осталась = Being an artist is the last dream Jimmy has
Даже находиться в этом офисе – это та мечта, ставшая реальностью = Just being in this office is a dream come true
The expression “it takes two to tango” means that two people are needed for certain activities, or that both people involved in a particular activity or situation share equal responsiblity for it.
It apparently comes from the 1952 song Takes Two to Tango by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning [source].
In Russian an equivalent idiom is один в поле не воин (odin v pole ne boin), or “one in the field is not a warrior”. Perhaps this comes from the idea that a warrior with nobody to fight againt on a battle field is not really a warrior. Does anybody know the origins of this phrase?
This idiom is also translated as “one man is an island”, “safety in numbers”, “you don’t have to do this alone” or “you never get far on your own”. Some examples of how it’s used include:
Один в поле не воин, как бы кому-то этого не хотелось. No man is an island however much they want to be.
Мне они тоже не нравятся, но один в поле не воин. I don’t like them either, but this war is bigger than us.
Но ты же прекрасно понимаешь, что один в поле не воин. But right about now, my army-of-one situation is not cutting it.
An interesting Russian expression I learnt recently is меньше знаешь – лучше спишь (men’she znayesh’ – luchshe spish’), which means “the less you know, the better you sleep”, and is equivalent to the English expression ignorance is bliss.
Well, words for camel in Slavic languages like Czech and Russian possibly come from an Ancient Greek word meaning elephant.
In Czech the word for camel is velbloud [ˈvɛlblou̯t], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *velьb(l)ǫdъ / vъlьb(l)ǫdъ (camel), from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus – camel), from the Latin elephantus (elephant), from the Ancient Greek ἐλέφας (eléphas – elephant) [source].
Words from camel in other Slavic languages come from the same root: верблюд (verbljúd) in Russian and Ukrainian, вярблюд (vjarbljúd) in Belarusian, wielbłąd in Polish, and so on [source].
These all come from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus), but from there the etmological trial gets a bit hazy, as they quite often do. Traditionally this word is thought to derive from the Greek ἐλέφας, via the Latin elephantus.
Another theory is that the Gothic word comes from the Proto-Germanic *elpanduz (elephant, camel), which possibly comes from the Hittite word hu(wa)lpant (humpback), or from another ancient language of Anatolian such as Luwian [source].
The word for elephant in Czech (and also in Slovak, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian) is slon [slon], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *slonъ (elephant) [source], which comes either from the Turkish aslan (lion), or from *sloniti (to lean against), relating to the medieval story of an elephant sleeping leaning on a tree [source].
One of the Russian words I learnt this week is грабить [ˈɡrabʲɪtʲ], which sounds like ‘grab it’ and means to rob, burgle or pillage.
An example of how it’s used is: Нельзя же грабить банк в платье (You can’t rob a bank in a dress) – is this something that often comes up in Russian conversation? [source].
I wondered if this word is related to the English word grab, so decided to find out.
According to Wiktionary, грабить comes from the Proto-Slavic *gràbiti (to grab, seize). This comes either from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *grāˀb-, from Proto-Indo-European *gʰreb (to rake). Or from the Proto-Indo-European *gʰrebʰ- (to seize).
Grab comes from the Middle Dutch grabben (to grab), or from the Middle Low German grabben (to snap), from the Proto-Germanic *grab-, from Proto-Indo-European *gʰrebʰ-, which is one possible root of грабить, so they might be related [source].
Even if the two words are not related, their similar sound will help me remember the Russian one.
In a Russian lesson I did yesterday, I learnt that a word for gate is ворота (vorota). Then it gave me a phrase using a different word for gate – Где гейт? (Gde gejt?), which means “Where is the gate?”, and refers to the kind of gate you get at an airport. Slightly confusing. So I wondered what kind of gate is a ворота.
Apparently a ворота is a (double) gate, gateway, portal, goal or sluicegate.
Other Russian words for gate include:
выход (vychod) = egress, exit, gate, orifice, outcome
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?