Gatekeeping / Geatóireacht

I’ve noticed that in discussion about minority and endangered languages, there is often some degree of gatekeeping. That is to say, there are people who believe that there is one true version of a language, and that anything else is a corrupt abomination that doesn’t deserve to be called X language. Or something along those lines.

The Gatekeeper

Acquiring a language as you grow up from your family or other people around you usually ensures that you speak it fluently and with a native accent. However, to become literate, and to be competent in using advanced vocabulary and grammar, you usually need to study the language in some kind of formal way. It also helps if you use it in a variety of situations. Such opportunities are not available to all.

People may use one language at home, and another at school, work or in other contexts. This is especially true with minority and endangered languages. So while they can speak the home language fluently, they may not have the vocabulary to talk about things that aren’t usually discussed at home.

For example, my Linguistics tutor at Bangor University grew up in a Welsh speaking family and speaks Welsh fluently. However, all his education was through English, and he does not use Welsh in his work. He told me that he speaks “Kitchen Welsh”, and just doesn’t have the vocabulary to talk about linguistics.

If you learn a language in school, or as an adult, it’s unlikely that you’ll learn it perfectly. You’ll probably speak it with a non-native accent, and you may not have as much vocabulary, or be able to use the grammar as well or as instinctively as a native speaker. This is one reason why languages change, especially when large numbers of people learn them as a second or foreign language.

People who really dedicate themselves to learning a language, can acquire native-like pronunciation, a comprehensive vocabulary and a high level knowledge and understanding of the grammar. They may even become more proficient in at least some aspects of the language than native speakers.

In the case of Irish, far more people learn it as a second or foreign language than speak it as a native language. There is a standard version of the language that is taught in schools and used in the media and official written material. However, there are variations within that standard that take into account dialect differences, and native speakers don’t necessarily use the standard.

There are people who complain that ‘school Irish’ has poor grammar, a relatively small vocabulary and non-native pronunciation, it’s influenced too much by English, and isn’t ‘proper Irish’. They might say the same about the Irish spoken by people who have learnt it as adults. While this may be true, it is not very encouraging for people trying to learn Irish. They might conclude that there’s no point, as they’ll never learn ‘real’ Irish.

Instead, it might be better to celebrate that fact that people are learning and using Irish, even if their Irish isn’t perfect. If they’re able to communicate effectively even with their imperfect Irish, then they are helping to keep the language alive.

Fortunately, such complainers are relatively rare, and the majority of Irish speakers I’ve met are very supportive of and welcoming to learners like me.

As they say in Irish: Is fearr Gaeilge briste, ná Béarla cliste – Broken Irish is better than clever English. The writer of this article agrees with this, and would add ach is í an Ghaeilge chliste is fearr (but intelligent Irish is the best) to this saying.

There’s a simliar saying in Scottish Gaelic: Is fheàrr Gàidhlig bhriste na Gàidhlig sa chiste. – Broken Gaelic is better than Gaelic in the coffin.

What is your take on gatekeeping?

Are there similar sayings in other languages?

In April I’ll be going to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye to do a course in (Scottish) Gaelic Song, and in June I’ll be going to Oideas Gael in Gleann Cholm Cille in the northwest of Ireland to do a course in Irish Language and Landscape. I was planning to go to the Irish language and culture summer school at the end of July, as I have many times before, but it’s fully booked already.

Interlinguistic Conflicts

Is it a good idea to study two or more closely related languages at the same time?

dominance

Perhaps. If you can devote more or less the same time to each one, and are able to keep them separate in your head, then there are certainly advantages to doing so. However, if you spend more time with one of them, it might interfere with the other(s), and they could end up fighting for dominance.

Many years ago, I started learning Irish and Scottish Gaelic. At first, I listened to songs in them which I tried to sing, even though I didn’t understand most of the words. Later, I started studying the languages, on my own at first, then I took some classes.

From 2005 to 2019, I spent a week or two every summer studying, speaking and singing in Irish in Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. I’ve also taken part in short courses in Scottish Gaelic songs at a college on the Isle of Skye in Scotland quite a few times between 2008 and 2022.

Until recently, I felt more fluent and confident in Irish, and it was my default Gaelic language. When I spoke Scottish Gaelic, I tended to fill in any gaps in my vocabulary and knowledge with Irish, which often works, as the two languages are closely related.

Over the past year though, I’ve been learning more Scottish Gaelic, and now feel a lot more confident with it. When I started brushing up my Irish this month, I realised that Scottish Gaelic is now the dominant form of Gaelic in my head, and Irish feels like a slightly deviant relative.

This happens with my other languages as well. Especially with closely related languages like German and Dutch (Dutch is currently winning), Swedish and Danish (Swedish is dominating at the moment), and French and Spanish (they’re fairly evenly balanced, although I feel more confident with French).

I studied (Mandarin) Chinese and Japanese at university, and became fluent in Chinese during the 5+ years I spent studying and working in Taiwan. However, I only spent one semester studying Japanese in Japan, and didn’t become as fluent in Japanese.

When I tried to read Japanese texts, I could recognise many of the kanji (Chinese characters) and knew what they meant and how to pronounce them in Mandarin, but not necessarily in Japanese. Recently I’ve been learning more Japanese and am getting better at reading it and speaking it. When I see kanji know, the Japanese pronunciation often comes first rather than the Mandarin pronunciation. I haven’t forgotten my Mandarin, but it is not as dominant as it was.

Are there interlinguistic conflicts in your head?

Goosnargh

What does the word goosnargh suggest to you?

Gertie and Bertie
A couple of geese that I encountered unexpectedly when walking around Bangor.

When I first came across this word the other day, I guessed it might be an exclamation you make when encountering an unexpected goose. Goosnargh!

The Village, Goosnargh.

Somewhat disappointingly, Goosnargh [ˈɡuːznər] is in fact a village between Broughton and Longridge in the City of Preston district of Lancashire in the northwest of England, not far from where I grew up. It’s apparently famous for its Goosnargh cakes, a type of caraway seed shortcake biscuit traditionally sold at Whitsun (the seventh Sunday after Easter).

Here’s a recipe: https://bakingforbritain.blogspot.com/2005/09/goosnargh-cakes-from-lancashire.html

The name comes the Old Irish name Gosan or Gusan and the Old Norse word erg (hill pasture), which is thought to come from the Old Irish áirge (a place for milking cows). Alternatively, it might come from the Old Norse gudhsins hörgi (“at the idol’s (god’s) temple”). Goosnargh appears in the Domesday Book as Gusansarghe, and by 1212 it had changed to Gosenargh.

Áirge became áirí (milking-place, herd (of cows), ground manured in previous year; ground from which potatoes have been cropped) in Irish, àirigh [aːrʲɪ] (hill pasture, bothy, sheiling, pastoral summer residence, sheiling (knitting pattern)) in Scottish Gaelic, and eairee (hill pasture, shieling) in Manx. The Faorese word ærgi [ˈaɹt͡ʃɪ] (a pasture for cattle to graze over the summer with a hut where the people tending them live meanwhile; a shieling, saeter) also come from the same roots.

According to Douglas Adams in his novel In So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, goosnargh is a Betelgeusian word used by Ford Prefect “when he knew he should say something but didn’t know what it should be.”

However, in The Meaning of Liff, in which Douglas Adams’ gives comic meanings to British place names, goosnargh is defined as “Something left over from preparing or eating a meal, which you store in the fridge despite the fact that you know full well you will never ever use it.”

I certainly have a few goosnarghs (leftovers) in my fridge. How about you?

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goosnargh
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Goosnargh
https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/áirí
https://www.faclair.com/

Snudging & Snuggling

Do you like to snudge?

Snuggling

To snudge is an old word that means to lie snug or quiet, to save in a miserly manner, or to hoard, and a snudge is a miser or sneaking fellow.

You might also snudge along, which means to walk looking down, with an abstracted appearance. Many people do this while staring at their phones. Or on a cold day, you might snudge over the fire, that is, keep close to the fire.

Snudge is related to snug, which apparently means tight or handsome in some English dialects, and possibly comes from Old Norse snoggr (short-haired), from Proto-Germanic *snawwuz (short, quick, fast).

Related words in other languages include snöggur (short, swift, fast) in Icelandic, snög (neat) in Danish, and snygg (handsome, good-looking, proper, nice) in Swedish.

Snug originally meant compact or trim (of a ship), and especially protected from the weather. Later it came to mean in a state of ease or comfort, then to fit closely, as in snug as a bug in a rug or as in snug as a bee in a box. It also means warm and comfortable, cosy, safisfactory, and can be a small, comfortable back room in a pub (in the UK).

Then there’s snuggle, which means an affectionate hug, or the final remnant left in a liquor bottle, and as a verb, it means to lie close to another person or thing, hugging or being cozy/cosy, or to move or arrange oneself in a comfortable and cosy position.

Instead of snuggling, you might prefer snerdling, croozling, snoodling, snuzzling or even neezling, which all mean more or less the same thing – being cozy and snug.

Do you know any other interesting words for snudging or snuggling?

How about versions of the phrase as in snug as a bug in a rug in other languages?

In Scottish Gaelic there’s cho seasgair ri luchag ann an cruach (“as snug as a mouse in a haystack”), and cho blàth ‘s cofhurtail ri ugh ann an tòn na circe (“as warm and comfortable as an egg in the backside of a hen”),

Sources:
https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/columnists/scots-has-more-than-400-words-for-snow-and-we-may-need-them-if-snowmageddon-descends-susie-dent-3959696
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/snudge#English
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/snug#English
https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=snug
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/snuggle#English
https://westcountryvoices.co.uk/weird-and-wonderful-words-week-3/

Sailing Away

While putting together a post on my Celtiadur blog about words for ships and boats in Celtic languages, I realised that words for boats, ships and other nautical things in English come from many different languages. So I thought I’d write a blog post about them.

Laxey / Laksaa

The word boat comes from Middle English bot (boat, the path or course of one’s life), from Old English bāt (boat), from Proto-West Germanic *bait, from Proto-Germanic *baitaz (boat, small ship), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰeyd- (to break, split) [source].

The French word bateau (ship, boat), the Dutch word boot (boat), and the German word Boot (boat) were all borrowed from Middle or Old English.

Words for boat in North Germanic languages, such as Swedish (båt), Danish (båd) and Icelandic (bátur), were borrowed from Old Norse bátr, which was borrowed from Old English bāt (boat) [source].

Some words for boat in Irish (bád), Scottish Gaelic (bàta), Manx (baatey) and Welsh (bad) were also borrowed from Old English or Old Norse [source].

ship-13

The word ship comes from Middle English schip (ship, boat), from Old English scip (ship), from Proto-West Germanic *ship (ship), from Proto-Germanic *skipą (ship), from unknown origins [source].

Ship can be used to refer to a water-borne vessel generally larger than a boat, while boat usually refers to vessels smaller than a ship but larger than a dinghy. Boat also refers to submarines of any size, and lakers (ships used in the Great Lakes trade in North America).

Sunday Sailing.

A dinghy is a small open boat, propelled by oars or paddles, carried as a tender, lifeboat, or pleasure craft on a ship; a sailing dinghy, or an inflatable rubber life raft. It comes from Bengali ডিঙি (ḍiṅi – canoe), probably from Sanskrit द्रोण (droṇa – wooden vessel, bucket, trough), Proto-Indo-Iranian *dráwnam (wooden object), from Proto-Indo-European *dréw-no-m, from *dóru (tree, wood) [source].

A yacht is a sailing boat larger than a dinghy but smaller than a sailing ship, often with a cabin. It can also be a motor-powered private boat. It comes from yeaghe (light, fast sailing ship) from Dutch jacht (yacht, hunt), from jaghtschip (light sailing vessel, fast pirate ship: lit. “pursuit ship”).

Apparently the original Dutch jaghtschip were built to chase pirates and smugglers from the coast. In 1660 the Dutch East India Company presented one to King Charles II, who used it as a pleasure boat. It was then copied by British shipbuilders as a pleasure craft for wealthy gentlemen [source].

Tall Ships 015 Gloriaa_C

Another type of boat is a barque, which is a sailing vessel with three or more masts, with all masts but the sternmost square-rigged. It comes from Middle English barke (boat), from Middle French barque, from Latin barca (baris – a type of flat-bottomed freighter used on the Nile in Ancient Egypt), from Ancient Greek βᾶρις (bâris – Egyptian boat), from Coptic ⲃⲁⲁⲣⲉ (baare – small boat), from Demotic br, from Ancient Egyptian bꜣjr (transport ship, type of fish) [source].

Barge

The word barge (A large flat-bottomed towed or self-propelled boat used mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods or bulk cargo), comes from the same roots, as does the Spanish barco (boat), the Galician barco (ship, boat, barge) and the Portuguese barco (boat) [source].

Green Canoe

The word canoe (a small long and narrow boat, propelled by one or more people) comes from Spanish canoa (canoe), probably from Taino *kanowa (canoe), from Proto-Arawak *kanawa (caone) [source].

Inuit kayak

Canoes are generally open on top, while kayaks are covered over except for the cockpit where the paddler sits. Kayak comes from Inuktitut ᖃᔭᖅ (qayaq – kayak, man’s boat), from Proto-Eskimo *qayaʁ (kayak) [source].

Umiak

If kayaks are men’s boats, are there women’s boats as well? There are – they are the umiak (a large, open boat made of skins stretched over a wooden frame that is propelled by paddles), from Inuvialuktun ᐅᒥᐊᖅ (umiaq – women’s boat) [source].

Incidentally, navy (a country’s entire sea force, including ships and personnel) comes from Middle English nave (navy), navye, from Old French navie (navy), from Latin nāvigia, from nāvigium (vessel, ship boat, from nāvis (ship, boat, vessel), from Proto-Indo-European *néh₂us (boat). In Old English navy was sciphere (“ship army”) [source].

English words from the same roots include navigate, nave, nautical and astronaut (lit. “star sailor”) [source].

Tarn

In the north of England, particularly in Cumbria, the word tarn is used to refer to a small mountain lake. It is also apparently used in the USA, mainly in Montana, to refer to small mountain lakes or ponds.

Little Langdale Tarn
Little Langdale Tarn

According to Wikipedia, “a tarn or corrie loch is a mountain lake, pond or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier. A moraine may form a natural dam below a tarn.”

Tarn comes from the Middle English terne/tarne (lake, pond, pool), from the Old Norse tjǫrn (small lake, pond, pool), from the Proto-Germanic *ternō (a mountain lake without tributaries, watering hole, small pool), from the Proto-Indo-European *der (to split, separate, tear, crack, shatter) [source].

Words from the same Old Norse root include tjörn (pond) in Icelandic, tjørn (pond) in Faroese, tjärn (small forest lake) in Swedish, and tjern (a small forest or mountain lake) in Danish and Norwegian [source].

English words from the same PIE root include (to) tear, derma (the inner layer of the skin), and dermic (of or relating to the dermis or skin) [source].

Other words from the same PIE root, via Proto-Celtic, include: darn (piece, fragment, patch, part) in Welsh, darn (fragment, part) in Breton, and possibly dréacht (part, portion, draft) in Irish and dreuchd (job, occupation, role, function) in Scottish Gaelic [source].

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Holidays

Armadale

Last week I was on holiday. I spent most of the time learning Scottish Gaelic songs at a college on the Isle of Skye, and stopped at my mum’s in Lancashire for a few days on the way back. I had a wonderful time, met some interesting people, and learnt some beautiful songs.

The winning quiz team

It was my 9th visit to the college since 2008 and certainly won’t be my last. When I first went there I used as much Scottish Gaelic as I knew, and filled in any gaps with Irish, which I speak more or less fluently. As the two languages are closely related, this sort of works, though differences in the pronunciation and meaning of words can lead to some misunderstandings.

A view from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Recently I’ve been learning a lot more Gaelic with Duolingo, and can now speak it fairly well. This makes understanding the songs easier, although they often use poetic and old-fashioned words that don’t usually appear in my lessons. As well as speaking Gaelic, I also spoke some Dutch, Japanese, Welsh and a bit of English.

Normally I try to add a certain number of pages to Omniglot each week, and to write blog posts, and make podcasts and videos. Last week I didn’t do any of that, apart from one Celtiadur post, and had a break from it all, which was great.

This got me thinking – do I really need to do so much every week? Did you miss the Adventure in Etymology last week, or the Celtic Pathways or Omniglot News podcast, or the new language and other pages that weren’t added to Omniglot? Were you aware of all of these?

Maybe I’ll start doing the Adventures in Etymology every other week, and alternating with the Celtic Pathways podcast.

Incidentally, here’s a little piece I wrote on the train from Glasgow to Mallaig. I was trying to write a train-related song, and came up with this. I haven’t thought of a tune for it yet.

The snake of steel
rattles and shakes
through steep glens
where eagles soar
past foaming fishpaths
where waterdogs play
through empty lands
where none do bide
to the ocean’s edge
where seals hide
and the water meets the sky

The threads of distraction
are loosened
and there’s time to see
beyond the wind’s eye
time to think and dream
to talk and rest
As the iron horse
clitters and clatters
Along the metal road

I’m also working on a song in Scottish Gaelic inspired by my lessons in Duolingo. It’s called Thoir an Aire (Watch out).

Thoir An Aire (Watch Out)
Seist (Chorus)
Thoir an aire, thoir an aire (Watch out, watch out)
Thoir an aire, tha Iain a’ tighinn (Watch out, Iain is coming)
Thoir an aire, thoir an aire (Watch out, watch out)
Tha Iain rùisgte is tha e a’ tighinn (Iain is naked and he’s coming)

Ghoid Màiri a drathais (Mairi stole his underpants)
Ghoid Màiri a briogais (Mairi stole his trousers)
Ghoid Màiri a geansaidh gorm is geal (Mairi stole his blue and white jersey)
Ghoid Màiri a lèine (Mairi stole his shirt)
Ghoid Màiri a brògan (Mairi stole his shoes)
Ghoid Màiri aodach Iain gu lèir (Mairi stole all his clothes)

Ruith air falbh, ruith air falbh (Run away, run away)
Ruith air falbh tha Iain a’ tighinn (Run away, Iain is coming)
Ruith air falbh, ruith air falbh (Run away, run away)
Tha guga aige is tha e a’ tighinn (He has salted gannet and he’s coming)

Càit bheil Calum? (Where is Calum?)
Càit a bheil Coinneach? (Where is Kenneth?)
Càit a bheil Ceiteag? (Where is Katie?)
Am faca tu iad? (Have you seen them?)
Càit a bheil Mairead? (Where is Margaret?)
Càit a bheil Mòrag? (Where is Morag?)
Ruith iad air falbh (They ran away)
oir tha Iain a’ tighinn (because Iain is coming)

All photos were taken by me. The videos are from the end-of-course cèilidh at SMO. I’m not sure who took them.

Skye

On Saturday (1st April), I’m going to Scotland for a week. I’m staying in Glasgow that night, then on Sunday I’ll travel by train to Mallaig along the West Highland Line – one of the most spectacular train journeys I know of. From Mallaig I’ll take a ferry over to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, then a bus to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO), the Gaelic college where I’ll be doing a course in Scottish Gaelic songs.

Glenfinnan / Gleann Fhionnain
Glenfinnan / Gleann Fhionnain – one of the places you pass by on the West Highland Line

I’ve been to SMO many times before to do simliar courses, and am looking forward to it very much. Although the course is taught in English, there will be plenty of opportunities to speak Scottish Gaelic, and probably other languages. So, for the past few months, I’ve been brushing up my Gaelic on Duolingo.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

I’ll be travelling from Glasgow with a Dutch friend I met back in 2019 when we both did a Gaelic song course at SMO. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and she, her husband and daughter came to visit me in 2022. When we met, I had only a basic knowledge of Dutch – now I can understand and read it quite well, and speak and write it to some extent. My Dutch friend has learnt Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, with a little help from me, and Duolingo.

On the way home I’ll stay with my mum for a few days, and we’ll be celebrating my birthday on 9th April.

While I’m away, I probably won’t have much time to update Omniglot, or to write blog posts or make podcasts.

Kissing Day

The 14th February is a special day for some – Valentine’s Day, or in Scottish Gaelic Là nam Pòg (“Kissing Day”), which I think is a fun name for the day. Do any other languages have interesting names for Valentine’s Day?

Act Like You're my Valentine

Apparently the practise of sending loved ones cards on Valentine’s Day became popular in the late 18th / early 19th century, in the UK at least, and really took off after 1840, when postage stamps were invented. In 1868 the chocolate company Cadbury started making heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, and the giving of chocolates quickly became popular on this day [source].

By the way, a nice term of affection I learnt recently in Scots is ma wee scone (my little scone). Have you ever heard or used this or something similar? Have you compared your loved ones to other types of food?

Other Scottish Gaelic terms I’ve learnt recently for special days include Là na Gogaireachd (April Fools’ Day – 1st April) and Oidhche na Taigeise (Burns Night – 25th January), or literally “Night of the Haggis”.

The word gogaireachd means a fool’s errand or the act of making a fool of someone. Là na Gogaireachd is also translated as All Fools ‘Day, Gowk’s Day or Hunt-the-Gowk Day. A gowk is a cuckoo or fool in Scots and northern dialects of English. It also means to make foolish or stupefy, and comes from the Old Norse gaukr (cuckoo), from the Proto-Germanic *gaukaz (cuckoo), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʰegʰuǵʰ- (cuckoo) [source]. April Fools’ Day is also Là nan Amadan (Idiots’ Day) in Scottish Gaelic.

The word taigeis (haggis) was borrowed from the English haggis, which comes from the Late Middle English hagis (haggis), from hag(gen) (to chop, cut, hack), from the Old Norse hǫggva (to hew), or from hakken (to chop, hack dice, mince), from the Old English hēawan (to chop, hew; to dice, mince), both ultimately come from the Proto-Indo-European *kewh₂- (to hew; to beat, strike; to forge) [source].

Half a Story

A way to say excuse me in Irish is gabh mo leithscéal, which is pronounced [ˌɡɔ mə ˈlʲɪʃceːl̪ˠ] or something like that. If you’re talking to two or more people, you would say gabhaigí mo leithscéal. There are similar phrases in Scottish Gaelic – gabh mo leisgeul, and Manx – gow my leshtal. These mean literally “take my excuse”.

Gabh mo leithscéal (take my half story

The first word in these phrases comes from the Old Irish gaibid [ˈɡavʲiðʲ] (to grasp or receive), from the Proto-Celtic *gabyeti (to grab, seize, take or hold), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰeh₁bʰ- (to grab or take) [source].

Related words in other languages include gafael (to hold, grasp, grip) in Welsh, gavel (capacity, grasp) in Cornish, gable in English, and words for to have in Romance languages, such as avere in Italian and avoir in French [source].

The second word in these phrases means my, and the third one means excuse. The words for excuse come from the Old Irish leithscél / leithsgéal / leithsgéul (excuse), from leth (half, side, direction) and scél (story), so an excuse is a “half story” [source].

A related word in Irish is leithscéalach (fond of excuses, apologetic). There’s a similar word in Scottish Gaelic: leisgeulach (excusing, apologetic) and in Manx: leshtallagh (apologetic, apologist, excuser, extenuating).