Bread, loaves and circles

Language quiz image

In most Slavic languages the word for bread is chleb or something similar: Czech & Polish: chleb, Slovak: chlieb, Russian & Belarusian: хлеб, Ukrainian: хліб, Bulgarian: хляб, Macedonian: леб.

These words all comes from the Proto-Slavic *xlěbъ (bread), from the Proto-Germanic *hlaibaz (bread). [source]. *hlaibaz is also the root of the English word loaf, the German Laib (loaf), and words for loaf in other Germanic languages [source].

However, in Slovenian the word for bread is kruh, which means circle or ring in Czech, although the Czech word probably comes from a different root [source]. It comes from the Proto-Slavic *kruxъ (chunk, bread), which comes from *krews (crush, break) [source].

The bread in the photo is a type of Slovenian potato bread known as krompirjev kruh. You can find recipes here (in Slovenian) and here (in English).

Učenje slovenščine (Learning Slovenian)

Slovenia

Yesterday I started learning Slovenian (slovenščina) in preparation for the Polyglot Conference in Ljubljana in Slovenia in October. I always try to learn at least a little of any languages I’m likely to encounter on my travels – it’s only polite.

I’m using a Memrise course, and may use other resources – if you have any suggestions, do let me know.

A few years ago I went to a polyglot conference in Novi Sad in Serbia, and learnt some Serbian before going there. Slovenian seems to have a lot in common with Serbian, so far.

There was a lass from Ljubljana learning Irish in Ireland last week, and she taught me a few useful Slovenian phrases.

Polyglotting

My name tag for the 2018 Polyglot Gathering

Today is the second full day of the #PolyglotGathering. It’s been a lot of fun, with some very interesting talks, and I’ve met a lot of people I know from previous polyglot events, and many new people too.

So far I’ve had conversations in English, French, German, Spanish, Welsh, Irish, Mandarin, Swedish, Russian and Esperanto, and have spoken odd bits of Manx, Danish, Icelandic, Czech, Italian, Portuguese and Slovak. I’ve learnt about Warlpiri, Bengali and Ukrainian, and have sung songs in Spanish, Italian, Serbian and Maori.

This morning I’ll be giving my presentation on Deconstructing Language. My original plan was to talk mainly about how grammar works and how it develops, but What I’ll actually talk about is where words come from and how and why they change over time.

Cows, beef and shepherds

Cows among the heather in Cregneash, Isle of Man

Yesterday I learnt the Russian word for beef, говядина [ɡɐˈvʲædʲɪnə], and the promotely forgot it. So I thought I’d investigate its etymology to help me remember it.

говядина comes from говядо [ɡɐˈvʲadə] and old word for cattle. This comes from the Proto-Slavic *govędo (head of cattle, bull, ox), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷew-n̥d-, from *gʷṓws (cattle) [source].

The usual Russian word for cow is корова [source], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *kőrva (cow), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn) [source].

*gʷṓws is also the root of:

  • gak = boar (Albanian)
  • govs = cattle, cow (Latvian)
  • говядо = beef (Ukrainian)
  • говедо = cattle (Bulgarian, Macedonian & Serbian)
  • govedo = cattle (Croatian & Slovenian)
  • hovado = brute (Czech & Slovak)
  • gowjedo = cow (Lower Sorbian)
  • *kūz = cow (Proto-Germanic)
  • Kuh = cow (German)
  • koe = cow (Dutch)
  • ku = cow (Norwegian)
  • ko = cow (Swedish, Danish, North Frisian)
  • coo, kye = cow (Scots)
  • βοῦς = cow (Ancient Greek)
  • bōs = cow, bull, ox (Latin)
  • bou = ox (Catalan)
  • bue = ox, beef (Italian)
  • bife = steak (Portuguese)
  • bou= ox, idiot (Romanian)
  • buey= ox. steer (Spanish)
  • bœuf = cow, ox, beef, jam session (French)
  • *bāus = cow (Proto-Celtic)
  • *bōws = ox (Proto-Celtic)
  • bu, buw = cow, bullock, head of cattle (Middle Welsh)
  • buwch = cow (Welsh)
  • bugh = cow (Cornish)
  • bu, buoc’h = cow (Breton)
  • bó = cow (Irish)
  • booa = cow (Manx)
  • bò = cow (Scottish Gaelic)

The English words beef and bovine come ultimately from the same root. Beef comes from the Middle English beef, bef, beof, from the Anglo-Norman beof, from the Old French buef, boef (ox). from Latin bōs (“ox”)

The Proto-Indo-European word *gʷowkólos, from *gʷṓws (cow) & *kʷel- (to revolve, move around, sojourn) gives us the following words in the Celtic languages [Source].

  • *boukolyos = herdsman (Proto-Celtic)
  • *bʉgöl = herdsman (Proto-Brythonic
  • bugail = shepherd, pastor (Welsh)
  • bugel = child, shepherd (Cornish)
  • bugel = child (Breton)
  • búachaill = cowherd (Old Irish)
  • buachaill = boy, herdsman, servant, boyfriend (Irish)
  • bochilley = shepherd, herdsman (Manx)
  • buachaill, buachaille = cowherd, herdsman, shepherd, youth (Scottish Gaelic)

Horses, chariots and cars

Horses at Newborough on Anglesey - photo by Simon Ager

Today I saw a post on Facebook asking why words for horse are so different in languages like English and German, so I thought I’d investigate.

In English horse-related words include horse, stallion (male horse), mare (female horse), foal (young horse), filly (young female horse), colt (young male horse), pony (a small breed of horse), palfrey (a small horse with a smooth, ambling gait) and equine (a horse or horse-like animal; related to horses).

Horse comes from the Middle English horse / hors, from the Old English hors (horse), from the Proto-Germanic *hrussą (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱr̥sos (horse), from Proto-Indo-European *ḱers- (to run) [source]. This is also the root of the Proto-Celtic word *karros (wagon), from which we get the Latin currus (chariot, wagon), and the English words car, cart and chariot, and related words in other languages.

Stallion comes from the Middle English stalion, from the Middle French estalon and is of Germanic origin [source].

Mare comes from the Middle English mare / mere, from the Old English mere / miere (female horse, mare), from the Proto-Germanic *marhijō (female horse) [source].

Foal comes from the Middle English fole, from the Old English fola, from the Proto-Germanic *fulô, from the Proto-Indo-European *pōlH- (animal young) [source]

Filly comes from the Old Norse fylja [source].

Colt comes from the Old English colt (young donkey, young camel), from the Proto-Germanic *kultaz (plump; stump; thick shape, bulb), from the Proto-Indo-European *gelt- (something round, pregnant belly, child in the womb), from *gel- (to ball up, amass) [source].

Pony comes from the Scots powny, from the Middle French poulenet (little foal), from the Late Latin pullanus (young of an animal), from pullus (foal) [source].

Palfrey comes from the Anglo-Norman palefrei (steed), from the Old French palefroi, from the Late Latin paraverēdus (post horse, spare horse) [source].

Equine comes from the Latin equīnus (of or pertaining to horses), from equus (horse) [source].

The equivalent words in other European languages include:

Germanic languages

  German Dutch Danish Norwegian Swedish Icelandic
horse Pferd Paard hest hest häst hestur
stallion Hengst hengst hingst hingst hingst graðhestur
mare Stute merrie hoppe hoppe sto
märr
hryssa
foal Fohlen veulen føl føll
fole
föl folald

The German word Pferd and the Dutch paard come from the Middle High German phert / pherit / pferift (riding horse), from the Old High German pherit / pfarifrit / parafred, from the Late Latin paraverēdus (substitute post horse) [source], from para-, from the Ancient Greek παρά (from, by, near) & verēdus (a fast or light breed of horse), from the Proto-Celtic *uɸorēdos (horse) [source], *uɸo- (under) & *rēdo- (to ride; riding, chariot), from the Proto-Indo-European *(H)reydʰ- (to ride) [source].

The words hengst and hingst come from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱanḱest- / *kankest- (horse), which is also the root of the Welsh, Cornish and Breton words for mare, and of the Old English word for horse or stallion, hengest.

Romance / Italic languages

  French Italian Romanian Spanish Portuguese Latin
horse cheval cavallo cal caballo cavalo equus
stallion étalon stalone armăsar padrillo garanhão celo
mare jument giumenta
cavalla
iapă yegua égua equa
foal poulain puldero mânz potro potro equuleus
equulus
pullus
vitulus

In Latin there was another word for horse – caballus, which was only used in poetry in Classical Latin, and was the normal word for horse in Late and Vulgar Latin. It possibly comes from the Gaulish caballos [source]. This is also the root of the English words cavalry, cavalier, cavalcade and chivalry,

The word equus comes from the Proto-Italic *ekwos, from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁éḱwos (horse) [source].

Celtic languages

  Breton Cornish Welsh Irish Manx Scottish Gaelic
horse marc’h margh ceffyl capall cabbyl each
stallion marc’h margh march
stalwyn
stail collagh
grihder
greadhair
mare kazeg kasek caseg láir laair làir
foal ebeul ebel ebol searrach sharragh searrach

The Scottish Gaelic word for horse, each, comes from the
Old Irish ech (horse), from Proto-Celtic *ekʷos (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁éḱwos (horse), which is also the root of the Breton, Cornish and Welsh words for foal.

The Breton marc’h (horse), the Cornish margh (horse) and the Welsh march (stallion) come from the Proto-Brythonic *marx (horse), from Proto-Celtic *markos (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *márkos (horse). [source]. This is also the root of the Irish marcaigh (to ride), the Scottish Gaelic marcaich (to ride), and the Manx markiagh (to ride).

You can find more about Celtic words for horse on my Celtiadur blog

Slavic languages

  Bulgarian Czech Polish Russian Serbian Slovak
horse кон kůň kón
konno
лошадь коњ kôň
stallion жребец hřebec ogier
rumak
конь
жеребец
жребец žrebec
mare кобила klisna klacz
kobyła
кобыла кобила kobyla
foal жребец hříbě źrebak жеребёнок фоал žriebä

The Russian word for horse, лошадь, is a borrowing from a Turkic language, probably Tatar [source].

The other Slavic words for horse come from the Proto-Slavic konjь (horse), of unceratin origin [source].

Other European languages

  Latvian Lithuanian Albanian Greek
horse zirgs arklys kalë άλογο
ίππος
stallion ērze erelis hamshor επιβήτορα
mare ķēve kumelė merak φοράδα
foal kumeļi kumeliukas pjellë πουλάρι

Sources: Reverso, Linguee, bab.la, Google Translate

Newborough beach

Gloopy!

An interesting Russian word I learnt this week is глупый (glupyj) [ˈɡlupɨj], which means silly, stupid, foolish or inane, but sounds like one of the seven dwarfs.

The Russian name for the dwarf dopey is actually Простак (Prostak), which means simpleton.

Глупый comes from the Proto-Slavic *glupъ (stupid, foolish), which possibly comes from a Germanic source. Cognates in Germanic languages include glópr (idiot) in Old Norse, and glópur (fool, idiot) in Icelandic.

Cognates in Slavic languages include:

– Bulgarian глупав (glupav) = stupid, silly, foolish, fool, unwise, sappy
– Croatian glup = stupid, dumb, silly, dull, brainless, dense
– Serbian глуп = stupid, dumb, silly, dull, dense, obtuse
– Slovene glúp = dumb, stupid, moronic
– Slovak hlúpy = stupid, silly, foolish
– Czech hloupý = stupid, silly, foolish

A related word in Russian is тупой (typoj) [tʊˈpoj], which means ‘dull, blunt; obtuse; dull, stupid’. It comes from the Old East Slavic тупъ (tupŭ), from Proto-Slavic *tǫpъ, and sounds like the Welsh word twp [tʊp], which means stupid. Is there any connection?

The word stupid comes from the Middle French stupide (stupid), from the Latin stupidus (struck senseless, amazed), from stupeō (to be amazed or confounded, to be struck senseless), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)tup- / *(s)tewp- (to wonder), from *(s)tu- (to stand, stay).

I thought I’d made up the word gloopy, but it does exist, and means ‘Having a glutinous, sloppy consistency’.

Reflections on the Polyglot Gathering

Polyglots dancing at the Slaughterhouse in Berlin

I got back from the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin late on Monday night. I travelled by train the whole way, which is a bit more expensive than the plane, and takes a few hours longer, but I prefer to travel this way, and you see more. The journey went smoothly, apart from the train from London, which was an hour late getting into Bangor. Fortunately I got a partial refund on my ticket. On the Eurostar I talked to a interesting lady from Vancouver, and on the train to Bangor I talked, mainly in Welsh, to a doctor from Felinheli.

This year’s Gathering was as much fun as previous years – it was my third. I arrived in Berlin quite late on Wednesday evening the day before it officially started, and missed out on most of the polyglot games that were going on in the afternoon and evening. Next year I might arrive a day or two before the start to give me a chance to explore more of Berlin – this year I spent most of my time in the venue and didn’t go exploring.

Over the next four days I learnt about many things, including Portuguese-based creoles, Greek, minimalism, Sardinian languages and dialects, why many language learners don’t acquire native-like accents, metaphors in native Canadian languages, language mentoring, how musical techniques can be applied to language learning, the stagecraft of multilingualism, and much more. I got to know old friends better, met lots of new ones, and I spoke lots of different languages. My talk on Manx went well, as did the introduction to Welsh that I helped with.

The talks were mainly in English, with some in French, Italian, German, Esperanto, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Indonesian, and in various combinations of these.

Between us we polyglots speak quite a few different languages. The most common (i.e. those with quite a few speakers / learners) include English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Romanian, Esperanto, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Serbian, Greek, Finnish, Hungarian, Welsh, Irish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malay, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Swahili. There were also speakers and learners of Wolof, Punjabi, Hindi, Marathi, Romani, Tamil, Latin, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Cornish, Breton, Sardinian, Luxembourgish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, Albanian, Basque, Tagalog, Turkish, Navajo, Toki Pona, Klingon, and probably other languages.

I’m looking forward to the next polyglot event – the North American Polyglot Symposium in Montreal in July. I’ll be doing a talk on the origins of language there, so should get working on it.

Some things I learnt from the Gathering

There are many ways to learn languages, and no single way will work for everyone. Some like to focus on one language at a time until they have reached a level they are happy with, then move on to the next language; others like to study many different languages at the same time. Some learn grammar and vocabulary first, then learn to speak; others start using their languages straight away, or soon after they start studying. Some like to study on their own; others like to study in a class and/or with a private tutor. Some combine many of the above and more, to varying degrees – I certainly do.

From Malachi Rempen’s talk on cartooning, minimalism and language learning (Less is More: What Silly Doodles Can Teach Us About Fluency), I learnt that you can do a lot with a little. He showed how he can make his Itchy Feet character express a wide variety of emotions with just a few lines, and suggested that the same can be applied to languages – you can communicate even if you know only a little of a language. He also argued that fluency means different things to different people, and might not be the best thing to aim for.

Tim Keeley, professor of Cross-Cultural Management at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka, explained that the idea that only children can acquire native-like accents in foreign languages is wrong – the brain is flexible throughout live and you can learn to perceive and produce foreign sounds. However there are emotional barriers which stop many people from sounding ‘native’. When learning another language you can also take on or create a new identity, and those who are willing and able to do this are most likely to sound more like native speakers. You also shouldn’t worry about mimicking people. In fact that is a good way to acquire native-like pronunciation.

Michael Levi Harris, an actor and polyglot from New York, talked about parallels between learning a part and learning a language. He explained that actors tend to exaggerate speech and physical mannerisms when learning a part, then make them more subtle, and that language learners can try the same things – exaggerate the pronunciation, gestures, etc. until they become second nature, then tone them down. He also talked about taking on different identities when speaking different languages and with different accents. If you can find a native speaker of a language whose voice and mannerisms appeal to you, then you can create your character in that language based on them.

The extend to which you take on a new identity in a new language depends on how much you want to integrate into a new culture. If you want to be taken for a native, then you need to sound and act like them. Alternatively you could try sounding like a native, perhaps with a bit of a foreign accent, but not worry so much about acting like them. If you spend a lot of time in a different county interacting and observing the natives, you’re likely to pick up at least some of their behaviour anyway.

Fiel Sahir, an Indonesian-American musician and polyglot who currently lives in Germany, talked about applying musical techniques to language learning. He explained how practice is the key to music and language, but it has to be intelligent practice that focuses on areas that you find difficult. This might be particular passages in a piece of music, or particular tenses or noun declensions in a language. By focusing like this, you can make a lot of progress.

Focus is something that I find difficult sometimes. I can and do focus, but often get distracted. I was thinking about how I’ve been dabbling with a variety of languages recently and not making a lot of progress in any of them. So my plan is to focus on one, or two, languages for the next year – Russian and Czech – and learn as much as I can in them. I will keep my other languages ticking over, but not spend much time on them.

As pretty as a truck

Un beau camion

An interesting French expression I learnt last week is beau comme un camion, which literally means “pretty as a truck/lorry”, and actually means pretty, cute or beautiful.

Apparently this idiom appeared around the middle of the 20th century and was at first ironic, as few people find trucks pretty. However it came to mean graceful and beautiful, and the use of the word camion (truck/lorry) emphasizes the importance of the word beau (pretty, beautiful) [source].

Here are some equivalents of this phrase in other languages:

English
– pretty as a picture
– easy on the eye(s)
– cute as a button

Spanish
– estar como un tren = to be like a train

Flemish
– een lust voor het oog = a pleasure for the eye

Dutch
– een ‘stoot’ zijn = a punch in the gob
– zo mooi als een madonna / plaatje = pretty like a madona/picture
– als een vlag op een modderschuit = like a flag on a barge filled with mud
– beeldschoon = pretty as a picture
– een plaatje = a photo

Romanian
– a fi rupt din soare = to be detached from the sun

Serbian
– lep k’o slika = pretty as a picture

Swedish
– vacker som en dag = pretty as a day

From: http://www.expressio.fr/expressions/beau-comme-un-camion.php

What about in your language(s)?

Polyglot Gathering Berlin 2015

I got back from the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin about an hour ago. I took the train all the way from Berlin to Bangor, via Cologne, Brussels, London, Crewe and Chester, leaving Berlin just before 7am this morning, and arriving in Bangor just after 9pm this evening. On the way there I also travelled by train, though I had to stay in Brussels for one night, and continued the next day. It cost slightly more than flying (only about £20 more) and took a bit longer (about 2 hours – more on the way there), but I saw so much more, and went through parts of France and Germany I hadn’t been before, and visited Belgium for the first time. The engineers on German railways started a 5-day strike today, and I was worried that my trains might not be running. Fortunately they did run, and were more or less on time.

The gathering was bigger than last year with about 350 participants from many countries. There were many people there I knew from last year’s gathering, and from the Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad, and I met lots of new people. I had conversations in all the languages I know well, and most of the ones I know less well. There was a Breton speaker there, though I didn’t get to talk to him, as well as speakers of Welsh, Irish, Cornish and Scottish Gaelic. Like last year, there were plenty of Esperanto speakers, and I had quite a few conversations in Esperanto, which I brushed up a bit beforehand. There were a number of people who had studied sign languages there, including BSL, ASL, Dutch Sign Language (Nederlandse Gebarentaal / NGT) and Slovak Sign Language (Slovenský posunkový jazyk / SPJ), and the Slovak signer demonstrated how she interprets songs in SPJ, which was fascinating to watch.

The talks and lectures were really interesting, and I went to quite a few introductions to languages, including Northern Sami, Navajo, Arabic, Hebrew, Milanese, Gottlandic, Finnish, Greek and Basque. I don’t intend to learn any of these languages just yet, but it was fascinating to find out more about them. My own presentation, on the History of Writing, was well received, and I got lots of positive comments.

Some of the polyglots at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in May 2015
Some of the polyglots at the Polyglot Gathering – from right to left: Richard Simcott, Alex Rawlings, Christopher Huff, Jimmy Melo, and me – between us we speak at least 20 or 30 languages, to varying degrees.

The evening activities included a polyglot games evening, an international culinary festival – I took some Welsh cakes and bara brith, which were popular – a book fair, a polyglot game show, a concert with the multilingual French singer JoMo, who sang in 25 different languages, and an international cultural evening, at which I sang a Scottish Gaelic waulking song (Ceud soiridh soiridh bhuam) and one of my own songs – A Hen in My Hat (in 5 languages). After the cultural evening there was a little Irish and Scottish music session – I had a couple of tin whistles with me, and a few other people had instruments.

So now I’m back in Bangor and will start to catch up with the work I couldn’t do while away due to time constraints and internet connection issues.

Blwyddyn newydd dda!

Bloavezh mat / Šťastný nový rok / Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi i gyd / Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr / Happy New Year to you all / Bonne année / Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh / Blein Vie Noa / Bliadhna mhath ùr / Blydhen Nowydh Da / С Новым Годом / Срећна Нова Година!