Polyglot Conference – Day 1

The Polyglot Conference officially started today. There were talks and workshops all day on all sorts of interesting topics. I went to talks on Slovenian, linguistic relavtivity, Romani, the Cathars, and audiolinguistics. They were all interesting, especially the linguistic ones.

There was plenty of time between the talks to talk to other participants, and I managed to make some recordings in quite a variety of languages for the next episode of my podcast. I hope to make more recordings tomorrow.

I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, Irish, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and tried to speak a few other languages.

They are preparing Ljubljana for the Ljubljana Marathon tomorrow, and quite a few streets are being lined with barriers. I hope I’ll be able to get to the conference venue tomorrow.

Sounds good to me

Have you ever learnt a language just because you like the way it sounds?

This is one of the reasons for learning a language discussed by John McWhorter is this TED talk:

He talks about the joys of getting your tongue round the sounds of other languages, and mentions Khmer, with its large inventory of vowels.

Which languages sound good to you?

Are there any particular sounds or combinations of sounds that really appeal to you (in any language)?

I like listening to languages with clicks, such as Xhosa and Zulu, and also to ones with ejectives, such as Georgian. I also like listening to and speaking tonal languages, like Mandarin and Cantonese.

At the moment, my favourite language in terms of sounds, is Swedish.

Other sound favourites include Japanese, Finnish, Italian, Icelandic and Swahili.

Star sailors and children of the sky

A sailing ship in space

Did you know that the word astronaut means “star sailor”?

This is something I learnt from an interesting Allusionist podcast on Technobabble.

Astronaut comes from the Ancient Greek ἄστρον (ástron – star) and ναύτης (naútēs – sailor). It first appeared as the name of a space craft in Across the Zodiac, a story written by Percy Greg in the 1880. It was used in the 1920s in writing about the possiblity of space travel, and in the U.S. space program from the 1960s [source].

Some other space-related words have a nautical roots as well, including (space)ship, mast, batton and sail.

Other words for star sailors include:

cosmonaut, from the Russian космона́вт (kosmonávt), from the Ancient Greek κόσμος (kósmos – universe) &+ -naut [source]
taikonaut, from the Chinese 太空 (tàikōng – space) +‎ -naut [source]
spationaut, from spatio (space) + -naut [source]

Many other languages use one or other of these words. Here are some exceptions:

– In Chinese an astronaut is either 太空人 (tài​kōng​rén – “space person”), 航天員 (háng​tiān​yuán – “boat sky personnel”), or 宇航员 [宇航員] (yǔhángyuán – “universe boat personnel”) [source].

– In Icelandic an astronaut is a geimfari, from geimur (space) + -fari (traveler) [source].

– In Welsh an astronaut is a gofodwr, from gofod (space) + gŵr (man).

– In Swahili an astronaut is a mwanaanga, from mwana (child) +‎ anga (sky) [source]

Are there interesting words for astronauts in other languages?


In the Bangor Community Choir last night we started learning a new song entitled Jenga by Juliet Russell. We were told that the song uses made-up words that don’t mean anything in particular, and it has no connection to the game of Jenga.

One of my friends thought the word jenga might mean something like ‘to build’ in Swahili, so I thought I’d investigate.

Jenga does indeed mean to construct or build in Swahili [source], and the as the inventor of the game, Leslie Scott, grew up in East Africa speaking English and Swahili, it is likely that the name of the game comes from that Swahili word.

Related words include:

– jengo = building
– mjenzi = builder
– ujenzi = architecture; construction, installation

Source: Online Swahili – English Dictionary