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.

Mutual intelligibility

This week I heard an interesting conversation about the mutual intelligibility between Czech and Slovak friends. They were talking in English, but said that when they can talk to each other in their own languages they’re able to understand everything. The Slovak lass said that she finds it strange for Czechs to speak Slovak to her as if they speak Czech she understand them without difficulty, though if people from other countries speak Slovak, that’s fine. I use what little Slovak I know with her, for example. The Czech lass said more or less the same thing about Slovaks – she doesn’t expect them to speak Czech, though if they do, that’s fine by her.

If you are a native speaker of Czech or Slovak, what’s your take on this?

What about other languages that as mutually intelligible as Czech and Slovak?

I understand that Swedes and Norwegians can talk to one another in their own languages, for example. Would it be strange for a Norwegian to speak Swedish or vice versa?

Polyglottery

Novi Sad Catholic Cathedral

Yesterday morning I met up with other conference participants and after a bit of a wander around the city, we had lunch then went to the opening ceremony a reception. In the after we had a little guided tour of Novi Sad seeing some interesting buildings, including the Catholic or Orthodox Cathedrals, and the fortress. There are some rather attractive buildings here, wide, pedestrianised café-lined streets, some nice parks and generally a relaxed kind of atmosphere.

In the evening we all went to a restaurant about 4 or 5km from the city centre for dinner. I walked there with a few others, and the rest went by bus or taxi. We had a nice dinner with lots of polyglot chat, then some people started dancing, and others carried on chatting.

Novi Sad town hall

Today there were lectures and talks on a variety of topics including sound symbolism, the magic of metaphors, language coaching, and acting and humour in a foreign language.

So far I’ve had conversations in about 10 languages and spoken bits and pieces of maybe 10 others. In some cases this was only a few words (all I know), in others it was a bit more. There are even two guys here who are learning Scottish Gaelic, one of whom also speaks a bit of Manx, and another who is learning Irish.

Voices and calls

After writing yesterday’s post I was thinking about the Czech word hlas [ɦɫas] (voice, vote) and realised that it is quite similar to the Welsh word for voice, llais [ɬais]. I wondered it they share the same root.

Hlas comes from the Proto-Slavic *golsъ (voice), from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *galsas (voice), from the Proto-Indo-European *golHsos, from *gels- (to call)

The words for voice in other Slavic languages come from the same root: Old East Slavic: голосъ (golosŭ); Belarusian: голас (hólas); Russian: голос (gólos) and глас (glas – archaic/poetic); Ukrainian: голос (hólos); Old Church Slavonic: гласъ (glasŭ); Bulgarian: глас (glas); Macedonian: глас (glas); Serbo-Croatian: гла̑с; Slovene: glas; Kashubian: głos; Polish: głos; Slovak: hlas; Lower Sorbian: głos; Upper Sorban: hłós.

Also from the same root are the Latin gallas (cockrel); Romani glaso (voice); Romanian glas (voice, vote); Old Norse kalla (to call); English call, Dutch kallen (to chat, talk); German kallen (to scream, talk loudly, talk too much); Lithuanian galsas (sound, echo); Welsh galw (to call) and llais (voice); and possibly the Irish and Scottish Gaelic glaodh (to cry, shout).

Sources: Wiktionary

Thumbs and inches

I discovered today that the French word for thumb, pouce, also means inch, which makes sense as the length of the inch is apparently based on the width of a man’s thumb.

Related expressions include:

– se tourner les pouces, se rouler les pouces = to twiddle one’s thumbs
– manger sur le pouce = to grab a quick bite to eat (“to eat on the thumb”)
– déjeuner/dîner sur le pouce = to have a quick lunch/dinner (“to lunch/dine on the thumb”)
– donner un coup de pouce à quelqu’un = to help someone out (“to give a blow of the thumb to sb”)
– mettre les pouces = to throw in the towel; to give in; to give up (“to put the thumbs”)

The word inch comes from the Latin word uncia (a twelfth; ouce; inch), as does the word ounce, which is a twelfth of a troy pound [source]

The word for inch is the same as the word for thumb in Italian (pollice), Dutch and Afrikaans (duim), and Czech and Slovak (palec). How about in other languages?