Flowing Pencils

Today while looking into the origins of the Dutch word for pencil – potlood [pɔt.loːt] – I found some interesting connections to words other languages.

Potlood also means crayon, and comes from pot (jar, pot) & lood (lead, plumb bob). Apparently it was originally a name for graphite, and was used for glazing pots, but was misidentified as a form of lead [source].

Other words featuring pot include:

  • potloodetui = pencil case
  • potloodslijper = pencil sharpener
  • bloempot = flower pot, planter
  • doofpot = cover-up (“deaf pot”)
  • potdoof = stone deaf, completely deaf
  • fooienpot = tip jar, stock pot
  • kookpot = cooking pot, saucepan, cauldron
  • stamppot= stew, mash, stamppot (a traditional Dutch dish made of potatoes mashed with one or several vegetables)

Lood comes from the Middle Dutch lôot (lead), from Old Dutch *lōt, from Proto-Germanic *laudą (lead), from the Proto-Celtic *loudom (lead), ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *plewd- (to fly, flow, run) [source].

For the same Proto-Celtic root we get luaidhe, which is lead in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, leoaie (lead) in Manx, the English word lead, and related words in other Germanic languages [source].

Words for lead in Welsh (plwm), Cornish (plomm / plobm) and Breton (plom), come from the Latin plumbum (lead (metal), lead pipe, pencil), which is also the root of the English words plumb, plumber and plumbing [source].

A plumber in Dutch is a loodgieter [ˈloːtˌxi.tər] and plumbing is loodgieterswerk – a gieter [ˈɣi.tər] is a person who pours, e.g. a caster, or a watering can, so a loodgieter is someone who pours lead or a lead caster [source].

potlood

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

Good Calves

Yesterday while looking into Celtic words bear, I found some interesting ones in the Goidelic languages: mathúin [ˈmˠahuːnʲ] in Irish, mathan [ˈmahan] in Scottish Gaelic and maghouin in Manx. These come from the Old Irish mathgamain [ˈmaθɣəṽənʲ], from math (good) and gamuin (calf).

So bears were called “good calves” – this is possibly an example of taboo naming, that is using an alternative name for a dangerous animal rather than naming it directly, in the belief that this might it less likely to attack you.

In the Brythonic languages words for bear are arth (Welsh & Cornish) and arzh (Breton), which come from the Proto-Celtic *artos (bear), from the Proto-Indo-European h₂ŕ̥tḱos (bear). This is also the root of English word Arctic, and words for bear in Romance and other European languages.

There are no bears in the Anglo-Celtic Isles these days, except in zoos, but there were bears in Britain and Ireland until about 3,000 years ago. The Celtic languages were spoken back then.

I’ve written about words for bears in other European languages before here. In Slavic languages, for example, bears are “honey eaters” – медведь in Russian.

European Brown Bears

The Isles

The main theme of the Language Event I went to last weekend in Edinburgh was the languages of the Isles. The Isles in question include the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and about 6,000 other islands. The Isles are also known as the British Isles, but at the event the term ‘The Isles’ was used to be more inclusive.

British Isles, Like a Map 1

The term “British Isles” is controversial in Ireland, where some object to its usage. The Government of Ireland does not officially recognise the term, and its embassy in London discourages its use. Britain and Ireland is used as an alternative description, and Atlantic Archipelago is also used to some extent by academics [source].

Other suggested names for these isles include the Anglo-Celtic Isles, the British-Irish Isles, the Islands of the North Atlantic, the West European Isles, the Pretanic Isles, or these islands [source].

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, is one of the countries on these isles. The Republic of Ireland takes up most of the island of Ireland and some small offshore islands. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are self-governing British Crown dependencies, and not part of the UK.

The earliest mentions of the isles are found the writings of Diodorus Siculus (c.90-30 BC), a Greek historian living in Sicily. He referred to the isles as Prettanikē nēsos (the British Island), and to the inhabitants as Prettanoi (the Britons). Strabo (c.64 BC-24 AD), a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor, referred to the isles as Βρεττανική (Brettanike), and Marcian of Heraclea called them αἱ Πρεττανικαί νῆσοι (the Prettanic Isles).

It is thought that the names used by Greek and Latin writers for these isles were based on the Celtic names for them

In Welsh these isles are known as Ynysoedd Prydain, or yr Ynysoedd Prydeinig (the British Isles). The name Prydain [ˈprədai̯n] (Britain) comes from the Middle Welsh Prydein, from early Proto-Brythonic *Pritanī, from the Old Irish Cruthin (Picts), perhaps from the Proto-Celtic *Kʷritanī / *Kʷritenī, from the Proto-Indo-European *kʷer- (to do).

The Welsh word Prydyn / Pryden, meaning (people of) Scotland, or (land of the) Picts, is related [source].

In Cornish these isles are knowns an Enesow Bretennek (the British Isles). In Scottish Gaelic they’re known as Eileanan Bhreatainn (British Isles). In Scots they’re known as Breetish Isles, and in Manx they’re known as Ellanyn Goaldagh (British Isles) [source].

In Irish these isles are known as Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór (Ireland and Great Britain), Oileáin Iarthair na hEorpa (Islands of Western Europe) or Oileáin Bhriotanacha (British Isles), although the latter is not much used (see above) [source].

I had a great time at the Language Event, meeting old friends and making news ones, listening to some interesting talks, practising my languages, and exploring bits of Edinburgh. Similar events will be held in Auckland and Melbourne soon, but the next polyglot / language-related event I’m planning to go to is the Polyglot Gathering in Tersin in Poland at the end of May.

New Year

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:

… and much more.

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.

I haven’t made a good recording of my most recent song, but here’s one I wrote in November / December 2019:

Since 2014 I’ve been to a number of polyglot events, including the Polyglot Gathering and the Polyglot Conference. At most of these I’ve given talks or run workshops.

Polyglottery

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.

Mulling Mills

Mulled beverages, such as wine, seem to be quite popular at this time of year, at least in the UK. To mull wine, or other beverages, you add spices and maybe fruit, and heat it up. Is this a thing in other countries?

Navidad Irlanda - Mulled wine

According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, mull in the sense of mulled drinks was first used in writing in English in about 1600, and possibly comes from Dutch word mol – a kind of white, sweet beer, or from the Flemish molle – a kind of beer, and related to words for “to soften”.

The word mull, as is in to mull something over, is probably a version of mill (to grind), from the Old English mylen (a mill), from the Proto-Germanic *mulīnō / *mulīnaz (mill), from Late Latin molīnum / molīnus (mill), from molō (to grind, mill) [source].

A mull, as in the Mull of Kintyre, comes from the Scottish Gaelic word maol (bare, bald, rounded promontary), from the Old Irish máel (bald, hornless, blunt), from the Proto-Celtic *mailos (bald, bare) [source].

Mull of Kintyre

Gaelic Song / Òrain Gàidhlig

My course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig finished today, and I’ll be leaving tomorrow. I’ll stay at my Mum’s for a few days on the way home, and should be back in Bangor next Monday.

The course has been a lot of fun, and Joy Dunlop is a really good teacher. She’s strict about getting the pronunciation right, which is important, and uses interesting ways to describe the particular sounds of Scottish Gaelic. If we all knew phonetics and the IPA, it would be much easier.

We learnt 16 songs altogether in 5 days, which is plenty – in previous years here we’ve learnt over 30 songs in a week, which was maybe slightly too many. I like all the songs we did this time, and plan to continue singing at least some of them.

There were 16 of us in the class, although not everyone was there every day. I already knew some of the people from other courses I’ve done here, and it was nice to see them again, and to meet new people. Most were from Scotland, and other parts of the UK, plus two from Ireland, one from France and one from the Netherlands. We got on well together, and I think singing together is a great way to bond.

The class was taught mainly in English, with some bits of Scottish Gaelic now and then, and only a few of us speak much Gaelic. Outside the class I got to speak quite a bit of Gaelic with people who were studying and working here. I also spoke some French, Irish and Dutch.

Here are a few photos and videos from this year and previous years at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig:

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This coming week I will be at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, doing a course in Argyll Gaelic Song / Òrain Earra-Ghàidheal with Joy Dunlop. I think this is the eighth time I’ve been to the college, and I’m looking forward to it very much.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Tonight I’m staying in Glasgow, and tomorrow I’ll get the train along the West Highland Line to Mallaig, a very scenic journey, the ferry to Armadale, and then hopefully there’ll be a bus to the college.

Glasgow / Glaschu

On the train from Glasgow to Crookston, the suburb of Glasgow where I’m staying, I heard some Italian tourists talking to the guard. They didn’t seem to speak much English, and they had the wrong tickets, or they’d got on the wrong train. They asked the guard in Italian if he spoke Italian, and fortunately for them he did. It sounded to me like his Italian was very fluent, and everything was quickly sorted out. You never know when language skills might come in handy.

I haven’t heard any Scottish Gaelic yet, though I have seen it on some signs.

Polyglotting

Yesterday was the first full day of the Polyglot Gathering, and it went well. I went to some interesting talks and workshops, met lots of people, caught up with old friends, and spoke many languages.

Quite a few people came to my workshop on Scottish Gaelic songs, and they seemed to enjoy it. I chose relatively simple songs with choruses that people could sing, even if they couldn’t manage the verses. There were even a few people there who speak Gaelic, or who are learning it.

In the evening there was some polyglot karaoke, which was fun, and some people who took part were quite good singers.

Polylgot karaoke

Today was similar with some interesting talks and workshops. Fortunately the sun came out after several days of almost non-stop rain. The Scottish and Welsh dance workshop I ran with a Scottish friend went well. Not many people came, but enough for the dances we did, and there wouldn’t have been space for many more.

Polyglot dance workshop

There was a spontaneous juggling workshop this evening involving me and a juggler from Montreal. We learnt from each other, and tried to teach a few others to juggle. As we’re polyglots, we did this in English, French and German.

Echoes on the Tongue

Many years ago I went to a fascinating talk by David Crystal in Bangor University about endangered languages. One of the things he said was that a good way to spread the word about the plight of such languages might be for creative people to make art, or to write songs, stories, poems, etc about them.

Since then I’ve been thinking about writing a song about this topic, and finally got round to it a few weeks ago. Today I made a recording of it, with harp accompaniment. It’s called Echoes on the Tongue, and is written from the perspective of the words of an endangered language that has never been written down, and has only a few elderly speakers.

At the end of the recording I’ve added the phrase “we are still here” spoken in endangered languages – currently Welsh, Breton, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. If you can translate this phrase into other endangered languages, and ideally make a recording of it, please do. Recordings can be sent to feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com.