I am currently in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Language Event, brought to you by the people behind the Polyglot Conference. It’s a smaller than other polyglot events I’ve been to, with only 100 or participants, and the main focus is languages of the Isles, or the British Isles and Ireland, if you prefer.
I arrived earlier this evening, and eventually found the AirBnB I’m staying in after a few wrong turns. Then I discovered that my phone charger was no longer in my bag – it must have dropped out somewhere, probably on the train. So by the time I found my accommodation, it had only 3% charge. I hope to borrow someone’s charger tomorrow, or I might have to buy a new one.
I met up with some of the other participants at a large bar in the centre of Edinburgh. Some I know already from previous such events, and others I didn’t know before. Most of the conversations were in English, but I also spoke some Welsh, Russian, Swedish, Mandarin and Japanese.
The event starts tomorrow morning, and I’ll be giving a talk about connections between Celtic languages tomorrow afternoon. I know there are speakers of Welsh, Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic here, and there may even be some Cornish and Breton speakers.
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:
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.
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.
Imagine you’re with a group of people who all share a common language, and some of the group may also speak another language. Is it rude for them to speak that language, knowing that some members of the group won’t understand them, and might feel excluded?
Let’s say the common language is English, and some of the group speak Spanish. If you were a monoglot English speaker, you might feel excluded / annoyed if some members of the group speak Spanish, a language you don’t understand.
Imagine if you worked in an office where everyone speaks Mandarin and English, but you only speak English. Would you tell them to speak exclusively in English all the time, or at least when you’re around?
If you were the boss, you might do so. This was in fact the situation where I worked in Taipei – the boss only spoke English, so we all spoke English with him, while we spoke a mixture of Mandarin, English and Taiwanese among ourselves.
How about if everybody in the group but you speaks a language like Catalan, Basque, Welsh or Irish, would you expect them all to switch to a more-widely spoken language, such as Spanish or English, so you can understand and/or feel included?
There have been cases of monoglot English-speaking managers in businesses in Wales and Ireland insisting that their staff speak to each other in English rather than Welsh or Irish. The managers want to understand what their staff are saying, and don’t want any non-Welsh or Irish-speaking customers to feel excluded.
At the Welsh music session I go to, we speak mainly Welsh and bits of English. For the native speakers of Welsh, it’s normal to speak their mother tongue, and for the fluent learners like me, it’s a great opportunity to practise the language. Some of the people who come to the session don’t speak Welsh, or are just starting to learn it. However, they don’t complain that they can’t understand, and don’t insist that we speak English.
When I hear someone speaking in a language I don’t know, my ears prick up and I try to guess what language it is and what they’re talking about. Sometimes I might even ask them what language they’re speaking. Other people might not react in this way, and may even feel intimidated / irritated if everyone around is speaking in foreign.
It comes from the Proto-Slavic word *milъ (sweet, dear), from the Proto-Indo-European word *meh₁y- (mild, soft).
The Czech word milý (nice, kind, good, dear, pleasant, sweet; boyfriend) comes from the same root, as do similar words in other Slavic languages, such as the Belarusian мілы (sweet, nice), the Bulgarian мил (dear), and the Polish miły (nice, pleasant).
The Latin mītis (gentle, mild, ripe) comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root, as does the Italian word mite (mild, moderate, balmy), the Portuguese word mitigar (to mitigate), the Spanish word mitigar (to mitigate, alleviate, allay, assuage, quench, soothe), and the English word mitigate.
What connection is there between cats and porridge?
Well in Swedish, att gå som katten kring het gröt (“to walk like the cat around hot porridge”) means that you are not getting to the point, beating around the bush, stalling, avoiding talking directly about something sensitive or unpleasant, approaching something indirectly and cautiously, walking on egg shells, pussyfooting around, or wasting time.
Some examples of how this phrase is used:
Låt oss inte gå som katten kring het gröt Let us not beat around the bush
Vi går som katten kring het gröt, både politiskt och diplomatiskt sett. We tread on eggshells, both politically and diplomatically.
Vi har tassat likt katten kring het gröt i den frågan alltför länge. We have pussyfooted on that issue for far too long.
Vi här har varit rädda och gått som katten kring het gröt. We here have been fearful and have beaten around the bush.
This week I finally completed the Spanish course on Duolingo. I’ve been using it to improve and refresh my Spanish, as I have studied the language with various courses before. I can now understand, read, write and speak a lot more Spanish than before, though need to practise speaking and writing it more.
I first took a placement test on Duolingo to see how much Spanish I already knew, and didn’t start from the beginning. Then I skipped through each level using the tests, rather than working through each lesson individually. Had I done that, it would take a lot longer. For now, I’m not studying Spanish actively anymore, but will use it whenever I get the chance.
Over the past two and a half years or so, I’ve studied languages every day with Duolingo (current streak = 767 days). I’ve completed courses in Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Esperanto. I also completed the Romanian course, then they added lots of extra levels, and I haven’t gone back to work on those. At the moment I’m focussing on Czech, and will continue to do so, working through every lesson, so it’s going to take quite a while. I don’t plan to start any other languages until I’ve finished the Czech course.
In the meantime, I’ve also been studying Czech, and Russian, on Mondly – Czech for 226 days and Russian for 153 days. I really like their courses and am learning a lot from them.
On Memrise I’m studying Russian, Danish and Swedish. When I started using Memrise nearly two years ago, I already knew some Russian and Swedish. and started Swedish from level 2. I started Danish last year from scratch, although my knowledge of Swedish, and German and English, certainly helps. I’m currently doing level 6 courses in Swedish and Danish, and level 5 in Russian.
By the way, if you sign up to Memrise by 16th September, you will get a 50% discount, and I’ll get a small commission.
I find these apps with the streak counters really encourage me to study every day. It has become a habit to do so, and one I plan to continue for as long as possible.
Apart from these studies, I keep my French and Welsh ticking over by speaking them regularly, and other languages by using them occasionally.
How are your language studies going?
Do you prefer to focus on one language at a time, or to learn two or more simultaneously?
What courses, apps and other resources do you use?
On 18th April 2020 the good ship Costa Pacifica will set sail from Barcelona with 100 polyglots on board. They will be taking part in the first Polyglot Cruise, which is organized by Kris Broholm of the Actual Fluency Podcast.
The cruise is open to anybody interested in languages, whether you consider yourself a polyglot or not. During the week-long event there will be presentations, discussions and workshops every day, and plenty of time to enjoy the ameneties of the ship, and to explore the places it visits, including Palma (Mallorca), La Valetta (Malta), Catania and Genoa (Italy).
For a shared cabin it costs US$897 (about €788 / £704) for the week, which includes participation in the polyglot activities, accommodation, meals, entertainment, and use of other facilities on the ship. It’s more if you want a single cabin, or a travelling as a couple or family.
This may sound like a lot, but I think it’s worth it, and I signed up yesterday. I’ll giving a short presentation on the old Mediterranean Lingua Franca (Sabir), a pidgin that was used by sailors and others around the Mediterranean from about the 11th century to the 19th century. It was based particuarly on Venetian, Genoese, Catalan and Occitan, and also contained words from French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Berber.
If you book within the next 5 days, you can enjoy early bird prices, and if you use the offer code OMNIGLOT, you can get a further US$50 discount.
I’m currently in Bratislava in Slovakia for the 2019 Polyglot Gathering, which starts tomorrow, although there was an opening ceremony this evening.
Today I went on a tour taking in three countries – Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. I had conversations in English, French, German, Mandarin, Spanish and Irish, and spoke odd bits of Czech, Slovak, Russian, Scots, Hungarian, Portuguese, Welsh, Esperanto and Swedish.
I probably won’t have much time for blogging with all the intensive polylgotting that’s going on. Normal service will be resumed next week.