Rush Reeds

The French word for daffodil is jonquille [ʒɔ̃.kij], which comes from the Spanish word junquillo (jonquil, rattan, strip of light wood, gold necklace), from junco [ˈxunko] (rush, reed, junk), from the Latin iuncus (rush, reed) [source].

Jonquilles

The English word jonquil [ˈdʒɑŋkwəl/ˈdʒɒŋkwəl] refers to a fragrant bulb flower (Narcissus jonquilla), a species of daffodil, or a shade of yellow, and comes from the same Latin root, via French and Spanish [source].

The English word junk also comes from the same Latin root, via the Middle English junke (old cable, rope) and the Old French jonc (rush) [source].

In Danish and Norwegian a daffodil is a påskelilje, which means literally “Easter lily” [source]. In German they are called Osterglocke (“Easter bell”) or Narzisse (narcissus) [source].

By the way, I wrote a post about words for daffodil in English, Welsh and other Celtic languages a while ago.

Stellar Stars

Stars

Here’s an interesting question that I was sent to me by email:
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I am curious as to why some of the languages that developed from Latin had to put an extra ‘e’ at the start of some of their words.

Here are some examples:

Latin Italian French Spanish English
stēlla stella étoile estrella star
status stato état estado state
spero speranza espère esperanza hope
spōnsa sposa épouse esposa wife

It looks as if the Gauls, and the people living in the Iberian peninsula, couldn’t cope with the st- and sp- beginnings, and had to stick an ‘e’ on the front. Is this because words in the Celtic languages they spoke didn’t have such beginnings? I can’t find any similar words in modern Welsh.
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Incidentally, the words for hope have a cognate in English – esperance, which is a old word for hope or expectation [source], and the ones for wife have a cognate in spouse (husband, wife).

Let’s look at the origins of some of these words to see how they have changed over time.

The Latin word stēlla (star), comes from the Proto-Italic *stērolā (star), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂stḗr (star). This became estoile/esteile/estelle in Old French, and estoile in Middle French. It was (e)strela in Old Portuguese and estrella in Old Spanish So the extra e has been there for a while [source].

In Proto-Celtic the word for star was *sterā, from the same PIE root as the Latin stēlla. This became *ster in Proto-Brythonic, Old Breton and Old Cornish, and ster in modern Breton and Cornish. So at least some speakers of Celtic languages could cope with the initial st-. In Old Welsh it was *ser, in Middle Welsh it was ser / syr, and in modern Welsh it’s sêr. It was also borrowed into Old Irish as ser [source].

The Latin word status means state, status, condition, position, place or rank. It became estat in Old French, from which we get the English word estate. Meanwhile in Old Spanish it was (e)strela, and in Old Portuguese it was estado [source].

It was borrowed into Old Irish as stad (stop, stay, delay), which is the same in modern Irish [source]. Proto-Brythonic borrowed it as *ɨstad from the Vulgar Latin *istatus, this became (y)stad / (y)stât in Middle Welsh and ystad (state, condition, situation) in modern Welsh [source].

Do any of you have any thoughts on this question?

Lillilu

This week I wrote a new song – a lullaby inspired by learning that a Scots word for lullaby is lillilu. This is also written lilly-loo or lilli-lu, and an extended version is lillila-baloo [source].

baby sleep

Here’s a recording of the song:

This got me wondering about whether there are interesting words meaning lullaby in other languages. Here are some I found:

  • French: berceuse – from bercer (to craddle, rock), from the Old French bercier (to rock), from Vulgar Latin *bertiāre, from Gaulish, from Proto-Celtic *berta- (to shake)
  • Irish: suantraí – from suan (sleep) and -traí (type of music)
  • Italian: ninnananna (onomatopoetic)
  • Portuguese: canção de ninar (sleep song) – ninar = to sing to sleep, canção de embalar (rocking song)
  • Spanish: canción de cuna (cradle song), nana (lullaby, wet nurse, nursemaid), arrurrú – from arrullo (cooing, murmur, lullaby)
  • Welsh: hun-gân (sleep song), (si-)lwli (onomatopoetic), su(o)-gân (lulling song), hwian-gân (murmur song)

Do you know of any other interesting ones?

Language Politics

Part of the process of learning a new language involves learning about the people who speak it, and about their culture(s), history and so on. You might also find yourself involved in the politics of when and how the language is used, especially if you’re learning a minority / endangered / revived language, or a non-standard version of a major language. This is certainly the case for the Celtic languages I’ve studied.

Sign on the walls of Conwy

You might be told that there’s no point in learning a Celtic language as everybody who speaks them also speaks English, or in the case of Breton, French. This is not in fact true – there are people in Patagonia in Argentina who speak Welsh and Spanish, but not English, and there are some people who have learnt a Celtic language who don’t speak English or French.

People may object to children being ‘forced’ to learn such ‘useless’ languages in school, or they may complain that they had to learn them in school. Well, education usually involves learning things that you might have little or no interest in, but you never know, maybe it will be useful to know them one day.

Critics of minority languages might come from the country or region where they are spoken, but not feel part of the local culture as they don’t speak the local language. In Wales, for example, non-Welsh-speaking people are sometimes told by Welsh speakers that they are less Welsh or basically English. Fortunately this is not a common view among Welsh speakers. Also, people who don’t speak such languages could learn them, and will find that most native speakers will be support their efforts.

Also, why are they spending our taxes to support those useless languages? That’s a comment that often crops up whenever there’s discussion of bilingual or minority language education, bilingual signage and other material, and any other initiatives to support minority languages. Speakers of minority languages also pay taxes, you know.

Have you encountered any such linguistic politics?

Here’s an example of an article that discusses some of these issues.

Greener Grass

According to The Phrase Finder, the phrase the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence:

expresses the idea that other people’s situations always seem better than one’s own. The proverb carries an implied warning that, in reality, the grass is equally green on one’s own side and that you should be satisfied with what you have.

Sheep in Gleann Cholm Cille

It’s earliest known appearance in print was apparently on 24th February 1917 in the Kansas Farmer – The Farm Paper of Kansas:

First example of the phrase the grass is always greener from the Kanas Farmer

A song written in 1924 by Raymond B. Egan and Richard A. Whiting was titled The Grass is Alway Greener (In The Other Fellow’s Yard).

Other versions of the phrase appeared before then. For example, in The New York Times in June 1853:

It bewitched your correspondent with a desire to see greener grass and set foot on fresher fields.

However, according the English Language & Usage, the ideas expressed by the phrase are a lot older than that. For example, in Ovid’s poem Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) Book I Part IX, which was written in 2 AD, he says:

Fertilior seges est alienis semper in agris,
Vicinumque pecus grandius uber habet.

Translations of this include:

  • The crop of corn is always more fertile in the fields of other people;
    and the herds of our neighbours have their udders more distended. [source]
  • The seed’s often more fertile in foreign fields,
    and a neighbour’s herd always has richer milk. [source]
  • A larger crop adorns our neighbour’s field,
    More milk his kine from swelling udders yield. [source]

Here are versions of the expression in other languages [source].

French:

  • l’herbe est plus verte ailleurs
    the grass is greener elsewhere
  • l’herbe est (toujours) plus verte de l’autre côté de la montagne
    the grass is (always) greener on the other side of the mountain
  • l’herbe est toujours plus verte dans le pré du voisin
    the grass is always greener in a neighbour’s field
  • l’herbe est toujours plus verte chez le voisin
    the grass is always greener at the neighbour’s

Spanish:

  • el pasto siempre es más verde del otro lado
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • la hierba parece más verde al otro lado de la valla
    the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence
  • la gallina de mi vecina más huevos pone que la mía
    my neighbor’s hen lays more eggs than mine
  • la gallina de mi vecina siempre es más gorda que la mía
    my neighbor’s hen is always fatter than mine

Portuguese:

  • a grama é sempre mais verde do outro lado
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • a galinha da minha vizinha põe mais ovos que a minha
    my neighbor’s chicken lays more eggs than mine
  • a cabra da minha vizinha dá mais leite que a minha
    my neighbor’s goat gives more milk than mine

Welsh:

  • mae’r glaswellt yn lasach ar yr ochr arall bob tro
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • man gwyn man draw
    white spot over there

Irish:

  • Is glas iad na cnoic i bhfad uainn
    The far away hills are green
  • Is milse gcónaí arian na gcomharsan
    The neighbour’s money is always sweet

Scottish Gaelic:

  • ‘S e miann na lacha an loch air nach bi i
    The duck prefers the loch where it isn’t

Korean:

  • 남의 떡이 더 커 보인다 (nam-ui tteog-i deo keo boinda)
    someone else’s cake looks bigger

Are there interesting equivalents of this phrase in other languages?

Concerts and Beer

The Irish word ceolchoirm [ˈcʲolˠ.xorʲəmʲ] means concert. It is made up of ceol (music) and coirm [korʲəmʲ] (feast, banquet, ale, beer). There are similar words in Scottish Gaelic (cuirm-chiùil), and Manx (cuirrey kiaull) [source].

Ánuna

The word coirm comes from the Old Irish word coirm (ale, beer), from the Proto-Celtic *kurmi (beer). Words for beer in the Brythonic Celtic languages come from the same root: cwrw in Welsh, and korev in Cornish and Breton [source].

The Latin word cervēs(i)a [kerˈu̯eː.si.a], which means beer made of wheat, especially of higher quality, comes from the same Proto-Celtic root, as do words for beer in some Romance languages, including cervexa in Galician, cervesa in Catalan and Occitan, cerveza in Spanish and cerveja in Portuguese [source].

From the same Proto-Celtic root we get the French word cervoise [sɛʁ.vwaz], which was a kind of ale or beer made from barley or wheat and without hops during the Middle Ages [source]. The archaic Italian word cervogia [t͡ʃerˈvɔ.d͡ʒa] (beer, ale made from barley or oats) was borrowed from the Old French cervoise [source].

The usual French word for beer is bière [bjɛʁ], which was borrowed from the Middle Dutch bier/bēr (beer), from the Old Dutch *bier, from Frankish *bior (beer), from the Proto-Germanic *beuzą (beer) [source].

Beer samples

Words for beer is some Germanic languages come from the same root, including Bier in German, bier in Dutch, and beer in English [source].

The Italian word for beer, birra, was borrowed from the German Bier, and the Greek word μπίρα (bíra – beer, ale) was borrowed from Italian, as were words for beer in Arabic, بِيرَا‎ (bīrā), Maltese, birra, and Turkish, bira [source].

The Irish word beoir (beer) comes from the Middle Irish beóir (beer), from Old Norse bjórr (beer), which also has descendents in Scottish Gaelic (beòir), Manx (beer), Icelandic (bjór) and Faroese (bjór) [source].

Another word for beer or ale in North Germanic languages is øl (in Danish, Faroese, Norwegian) / öl (in Swedish and Icelandic). This comes from the Old Norse word ǫl (ale, beer), possibly from the Proto-Norse ᚨᛚᚢ (alu – ale), from the Proto-Germanic *alu (beer, ale), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂elut- (beer) [source].

Words for beer in Finnic languages possibly come from the same Proto-Germanic root, including õlu in Estonian, olut in Finnish, Igrian, Karelian and Veps, and oluq in Võro [source].

In Slavic languages words for beer come from the Proto-Slavic *pȋvo (drink, beer, beverage), including пиво (pivo) in Russian, Rusyn, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian, pivo in Slovenian, Czech and Slovak, and piwo in Polish and Sorbian [source].

Here’s a map of words for beer in European languages:

A map of Europe showing words for beer

Source: https://ukdataexplorer.com/european-translator/?word=beer

Iron Ferrets

What would you buy in a ferretería?

Trama

When I first saw this (Spanish) word, I thought it was a shop that sells ferrets. I was slightly disappointed to discover that it actually means hardware, or hardware store or ironmongers. Or in other words, a place selling things made of ferrous metal (iron).

ferreteria

It comes from ferrete (branding iron), from the Old French ferret (branding iron), a diminutive of fer (iron), from the Latin ferrum (iron); and -ería (a suffix that turns a noun into a store or restaurant that sells such an item; characteristic of) [source].

A shop selling ferrets (hurones) would be a huronería, and the Spanish word for ferret, hurón, comes from the Latin fūr (thief), which is also the root of the English word ferret [source]. More about ferrets.

Other words for hardware store in Spanish include:

  • quincallería – from quincalla (low-value hardware, junk)
  • tlapalería – from the Classical Nahuatl tlapalli (dye, ink, paint) – used in Mexico

Other words ending in -ería include [source]:

  • joyería = jewellers, jewelery store (not a shop selling joy)
  • ostrería = oyster bar
  • piratería = piracy, theft, booklegging (not a shop selling pirates)
  • sombrerería = hat shop
  • whiskería = whisky bar (not a seller of whiskers)

The Most Popular Languages to Learn

Today we have a guest post by Taylor Tomita

Every year millions of people decide to learn a new language. Some do it as a hobby, while others brush up on their language skills before setting off on a travel adventure. And for many, learning a second tongue is the first step toward a brighter economic future.

So what are the most popular languages to learn? WordTips decided to find out. Its researchers created a map of the languages people are learning in every country across the globe. Here’s a closer look at their findings.

The most popular languages to learn around the world

You can find a large version of this map, and maps for each continent at: https://word.tips/multilingual-world/

North America
English and Spanish are among the most popular choices for second language learners in the USA. This is due to the USA’s large migrant population and its proximity to South America, where Spanish is widely spoken. But Japanese is the top choice for US and Canadian language learners. Japan has long-standing economic and cultural ties with both countries. North Americans account for 2.5% of all foreigners currently living in Japan.

South America
English is the top language to learn for people in six South American countries, including Brazil, Ecuador, and Columbia. People in Peru are more interested in learning Korean. It’s a strange choice, given the geographical distance and cultural disparities. But young Peruvians are crazy for K-Pop! Concert tours sell out within hours, and Korea’s biggest pop stars are welcomed by huge crowds whenever they step foot in the country.

Europe
English is the number one language to learn in over 30 European countries. In fact, it’s the top choice in all but seven European countries. The nations bucking the trend include Denmark and Slovenia, where German comes out on top. Portugal is a popular retirement destination for wealthy Scandinavians, explaining why so many Swedish people are learning to speak Portuguese.

Middle East and Central Asia
Learning English is especially popular among unemployed or poorly paid workers living in Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Speaking English proficiently is often a ticket to higher-paid jobs in the tourism industry. It’s also a vital skill for those who want to work in education, finance, or government. A recent survey found that English speakers from Iraq earn up to 200% more than those with no English language skills.

Asia and Oceania
English is the second language of choice for people living in Asian countries that attract a large number of western tourists, including Thailand and Vietnam. Oceania’s English-speaking countries (New Zealand and Australia) are interested in learning the native tongue of their closest neighbor, Japan.

Africa
Millions of Africans are increasing their economic opportunities by learning two of the world’s most important lingua francas, English and French. These languages are important for Africans who want to work in travel, tourism, or the booming tech sectors driving economic growth across the continent. The widespread adoption of European languages is a sign of Africa’s troubled colonial past. Thankfully, many Africans are ensuring their native languages are never forgotten. Zulu is the most popular language to learn in Malawi, while Swahili is the number choice for those living in Tanzania.

Learning a new language is fun and empowering. It also helps create a greater sense of global community. And that only can lead to better things for everyone.

¡Guácala!

One of the Spanish words I learnt today was ¡guácala! [ˈɡwa.ka.la], which means yuck! ew! gross! it’s disgusting! and similar exclamations of disgust. It’s used in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic to indicate dislike, disgust, or rejection [source].

*****GUACALA**** golosina visual ***nutritiva y saladita

It comes from guacal (wooden crate, tub, calabash tree), from the Classical Nahuatl huacalli [kwaˈkalːi] (wooden crate) [source]. Why a word for a wooden crate became an exclamation of disgust is not clear.

Here are some examples of how it’s used (from ReversoContext and Duolingo):

  • ¡Guácala! ¡Sabe horrible! = Yuck! It tastes horrible!
  • ¡Guácala, casi lo pisé! = Ew, I almost stepped in it.
  • ¡No, guácala! = No, it’s disgusting!
  • ¡Guácala, mal postre = Euhhh… bad pie

Related words include:

  • guácara = vomit
  • guacarear = to vomit

Both of which are used in Mexico.

Other Spanish words with a similar meaning include:

  • ¡Qué asco! = Yuck! How revolting! How disgusting!
  • ¡Puaj! = Ew! Yeech! Blecchh! Yuk! Phooey! Gross!
  • ¡Uf! = Phew! Ugh!
  • ¡Puf! = Yuck!

Are there other words in Spanish with a similar meaning?

What about equivalent words in other languages?

One of my favourite expressions in Welsh is ych a fi! [əx ə viː], which means yuck! [source].

The word ych, pronounced [ɨːχ/iːχ], also means ox.

Flaming Llamas!

In Spanish the word llama has several different meanings. As well as being a domesticated South American camelid of the genus Lama glama, it also a flame, and means “he/she/it calls”, or in other words the third person singular present tense form of the verb llamar (to summon, call, knock, ring). Each version of llama comes from a different root [source].

The animal llama [ˈʎama] comes from the the Quechua word llama. Other members of the genus lama include:

  • alpaca [alˈpaka] (Vicugna pacos) comes from the Aymara word allpaqa
  • guanaco [ɡwaˈnako] (Lama guanicoe) comes from the Quechua word wanaku
  • vicuña [biˈkuɲa] (Lama vicugna / Vicugna vicugna) comes from wik’uña

llama_1

The flaming version of llama, which is pronounced [ˈʝama/ˈɟ͡ʝa.ma], is an alternative version of flama (flame), and comes from the Latin flamma (flame, fire), from the Proto-Italic *flagmā, from Proto-Indo-European *bʰlē- (to shimmer, gleam, shine) [source].

Junior Jarl squad

Some English words from the same root include flame, flambé and flagrant.

Llamar [ʝaˈmaɾ/ɟ͡ʝaˈmaɾ] (to summon, call, etc) comes from the Old Spanish lamar, from the Latin clāmāre, from clamō (cry out, clamer, yell, shout), from the Proto-Indo-European *kelh₁- (to shout) [source].

Words from the same root include acclaim, claim, clamour, council and haul [source].

When I see words beginning with a double l, which are quite common in Spanish, I have to stop myself giving them a Welsh pronounciation [ɬ]. There is in fact a Welsh word which resembles llamallamu, which means to jump, leap, bound, spring. It comes from the Proto-Celtic word *lanxsman (jump), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁lengʷʰ- (light; move lightly) [source]. The Welsh for llama is lama, by the way.