Pronunciation is fun

The other day I realised that one reason I like languages is because I enjoy just saying foreign words and phrases, especially ones that contain sounds and combinations of sounds not used in English. I imitate native speakers as best I can – not just the sounds of the words, but the intonation, and even pitch of their voices as well.

At the moment I’m learning Swedish, Danish, Russian and Slovenian. I started learning Swedish out of interest in the language, and because I like the sound of it, and have fun pronouncing it. I started learning Danish and Slovenian in preparation for trips to Denmark and Slovenia, but also enjoy pronouncing them. I’ve been learning Russian on and off for years for various reasons, and enjoy pronouncing it.

Maybe I’ll learn some other languages just to have fun pronouncing them. Languages with clicks, like Zulu and Xhosa, or with ejectives, like Georgian. I already know some songs in these languages, so it would be quite useful to know a bit more about them. It would also be interesting to visit places where they’re spoken, and to use them, but that would not be a priority.

If I do this, I would search for the most interesting-sounding words and phrases, and also tongue twisters, rather than focusing on the most common words and grammatical patterns. I probably wouldn’t learn to speak and understand the languages, but would have fun anyway.

Here are some tongue twisters to play with:

And here’s a tongue twister in Xhosa:

Have you learnt, or are you learning, any languages because you like the sound of them and enjoy pronouncing them?

Mr Gospod

The Slovenian gospod [ɡɔˈspóːt] came up in my Slovenian lesson today. It means mister, sir, gentleman or lord. It comes from the Proto-Slavic *gospodь (lord, master).

Some examples of how it’s used include:

  • gospod župnik = Reverend
  • spoštovani gospod = Dear Sir
  • grajski gospod = Lord of the castle
  • biti sam svoj gospod = to be one’s own master
  • Gospod Bog = the Lord God

The last example appears in a song we sing in the Bangor Community Choir, Vsy Tya Hori (Вси Тя хори) (All your choirs), which is in Church Slavonic, I think.

You can see and hear us sing it in Penrhyn castle, near Bangor, here:

Related words include:

  • gospoda = lords, gentlemen
  • gospodar = landowner, master
  • gospodar posestva = lord of the manor
  • gospodarica = mistress
  • gospodična = miss
  • gaspa = mrs, lady
  • gospe in gospodje = ladies and gentlemen

Other Slavic languages have a similar words:

  • Russian & Ukrainian: господь = the Lord, God
  • Bulgarian, Macedonian & Serbian: господ = Lord, Jesus
  • Croatian: gospod = Mr, Lord, Jesus

Source: PONS, Wiktionary

Famous outside words

beseda (word in Slovenian)

In Slovenian beseda [bɛˈséːda] is the word for word or term.

Some expressions featuring beseda include:

– besedna igra = wordplay, pun, play on words
– brez besed = speechless (with shock etc.)
– častna beseda = word of honour
– dati častno besedo = to give one’s word
– držal te bom za besedo = I am going to take you at your word
– mož beseda = man of hono(u)r
– z besedo na dan! = spit it out! let the cat out (of the bag)!

This comes from the Proto-Slavic *besěda, which originally meant sitting outdoors (at night), then an outdoor gathering, or a conversation or speech at such a gathering.

*besěda comes from *bez (outside) and *sěděti (to sit).

In other Slavic languages the same root became:

– Belarusian: бяседа (bjasjeda) = banquet
– Russian: беседа (beséda) = conversation, talk, discussion
– Ukrainian: бесіда (besida) = talk, conversation, discussion
– Bulgarian: беседа (beséda) = talk, conversation
– Macedonian: беседа (beseda) = speech, oration, sermon
– Serbo-Croatian: бесједа / besjeda = speech, word (archaic)
– Czech: beseda = discussion
– Slovak: beseda = discussion
– Polish: biesiada = feast, banquet

Words for word in other Slavic languages include:

– Belarusian: слова (slova)
– Russian: слово (slovo)
– Ukrainian: слово (slovo)
– Bulgarian: дума (duma); слово (slovo)
– Macedonian: збор (zbor)
– Serbian: реч (reč)
– Croatian: rije
– Czech: slovo
– Slovak: slovo
– Polish: słowo

Slovo, and variations, comes from the Proto-Slavic *slovo (word), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱléwos (fame), which is also the root of the Welsh clyw (hearing), the Irish clú (honour, praise, fame), the Latvian slava (rumor, reputation, fame), and the Greek κλέος (kléos – renown, fame, honour).

Sources: Wiktionary, PONS, dict.com

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.

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)

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’.

Portugal oranges and Chinese apples

An orange

In Romanian the word for orange (the fruit) is portocală [portoˈkalə]. This comes from the Greek πορτοκάλι (portokáli – orange), from the Venetian portogallo (orange), from the Italian Portogallo (Portugal).

An number of other languages get their word for orange from the same root:

– Albanian: portokall
– Amharic: ብርቱካናማ (biritukanama)
– Arabic: برتقال (burtuqaal)
– Azerbaijani: portağal
– Bulgarian: портокал (portokal)
– Georgian: ფორთოხალი (p’ort’okhali)
– Macedonian: портокал (portokal)
– Persian (Farsi): پرتقال (porteghâl)
– Turkish: portakal

Portuguese merchants were probably the first to introduce oranges to Europe, hence the link between oranges and Portugal.

In some languages oranges are known as “Chinese apples”: Apfelsine (German), appelsien / sinaasappel (Dutch), apelsin (Swedish), etc. This makes sense as oranges were first cultivated in China in about 2,500 BC.

Words for oranges in some Slavic languages come from the Old French pomme d’orenge: pomeranč (Czech), pomaranča (Slovene), pomarańcza (Polish).

The word orange derives from नारङ्ग (nāraṅga) – “orange tree” in Sanskrit, which is probably of Dravidian origin. The word for orange in Portuguese, laranja, comes from this root.

The colour orange was named after the fruit. In Old English the colour orange was referred to as ġeolurēad (yellow-red), or ġeolucrog (yellow-saffron) [source].

Souces: Wiktionary, WordReference.com, Google Translate, Wikipedia, Flickr

Heim aftur / Home again

The Polyglot Conference is over now for another year, and I arrived back to Bangor yesterday. Although the conference only lasted two days, a lot was packed into that time.

On the Friday I went on a Golden Circle tour with two coach loads of other polyglots. Unfortunately it was a wet, cloudy and cold day, so the views were not great, but the landscape we could see was rather fine.

The first stop was Þingvellir (Thingvellir), a World Heritage Site where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It is also where the Iceland parliament (Alþingi) met from AD 930 until 1798.

Þingvellir / Thingvellir

Next we went to Geysir, and area of volcanic activity with a number of sprouting hot springs, including the famous Great Geysir, which is currently inactive, and Stokkur, which erupts every few minutes (see photo below). We also had lunch here – there are a number of eating places and souvenir shops in the complex near the hot springs. I was expecting the whole place to stink of sulphur, but it didn’t really.

Þingvellir / Thingvellir

Our final stop was Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”), waterfalls in the canyon of Ölfusá river. They were spectacular, and well worth seeing.

Gullfoss

In the evening, after we arrived back in Reykajvik, I went for dinner at an Indian restaurant with a few other polyglots.

The conference started on Saturday morning with interesting speeches by Dr Sebastian Drude, the director of the Vigdís International Centre for Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding, and Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the former President of Iceland and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for languages.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir opening the 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

Then there were talks on a variety of topics, with themes including Icelandic language and culture, bilingualism and autism, and maintaining ‘small’ languages. Some of the speakers were lecturers or researchers in universities, others were language enthusiasts. The talks I found most interesting were the one by Daniel Tammet and Sigriður Kristinsdóttir about how he learnt Icelandic in a week with her help; one about bilingualism and autism, one about the cognitive effects of language learning, and one about Mongolian.

The 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

There was plenty of time between the talks and at lunch to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and practise languages. During my time in Iceland, I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese and Irish, and spoke bits of Czech, Scottish Gaelic, Breton, Manx, Swedish and Icelandic.

Lunch was provided – small sandwiches and wraps, though didn’t appeal to me, so I bought something else in a supermarket.

A panel discussuion at the 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

There weren’t any organised activities in the evenings, as there are at the Polyglot Gatherings. Instead babbles of polyglots went off to do their own thing. I went for dinner with some polyglot friends and had very interesting discussions about all sorts of things, not all of which were related to languages – we do have other interests.

The annoucement of where the Polyglot Conference will be in 2018

The next Polyglot Conference will be in Ljubljana in Slovenia from 5-7 October 2018 (as you might have guessed from this photo). So next year I will learn some Slovenian before the conference in Ljubljana, and some Slovak before the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava in Slovakia.

On Monday I did some work on Omniglot in the morning, explored Reykjavik a bit, had lunch in a restaurant in the old harbour area of Reykjavik, did some more work, then explored a bit more with the two Russian teachers who were staying in the same place as me.

Iceland is a very expensive place, which I expected. Meals in restaurants cost at least twice as much as in the UK, as do most other things. It wasn’t as cold as I expected – about 7-10°C during the day and 2-5°C at night. All the locals I met speak very good English, but if you speak Icelandic, they’re happy to speak it with you. There are apparently quite a few people who have moved to Iceland recently for work, most don’t speak Icelandic. On a clear, dry day, the scenery is spectacular. Even on grey, wet days, it’s still impressive and dramatic.

There are some more photos on Flickr:

Iceland / Ísland