Edinburgh

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.

The Language Event, Edinburgh

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.

More photos from Edinburgh:

Edinburgh / Dùn Èideann

New Year

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:

… and much more.

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.

I haven’t made a good recording of my most recent song, but here’s one I wrote in November / December 2019:

Since 2014 I’ve been to a number of polyglot events, including the Polyglot Gathering and the Polyglot Conference. At most of these I’ve given talks or run workshops.

Polyglottery

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.

Random Flowing Slumps

One of the random Swedish words I learnt recently that I rather like is slumpmässig, which means random, arbitary or haphazard, and isn’t just en slumpmässig radda bokstäver (a random jumble of letters).

Some other examples of how it’s used include:

  • Jag skall nämna några saker i slumpmässig ordningsföljd
    I would like to list a few issues in no particular order
  • Denna utveckling är inte slumpmässig
    This has not happened by chance

Related words include:

  • slump = accident, chance, coincidence, happenstance, hazard
  • slumpa = to randomize
  • slumpartad = casual, coincidental, fortuitous, serendipitous
  • slumpartat möte = chance encounter
  • slumpmässigt = random, haphazardly

Source: bab.la dictionary

The English word slump is possibly related to the Danish and Norwegian word slumpe (to happen on by chance), which comes from the Middle Low German slumpen, and may be onomatopoeic in origin [source].

Incidentally, the English word random comes from the Middle English randoun / raundon (force, magnitude, haste, intensity), from the Old French randon, from randir (to run, gallop), from the Frankish *rant / *rand (run), from the Proto-Germanic *randijō, from *rinnaną (to run), from the Proto-Indo-European *(H)r ̊-nw- (to flow, move, run) [source].

Which is all a bit random, is it not?

Cheese, Juice and Porridge

In North Germanic languages such as Swedish, the word for cheese is ost, or something similar. Since I learnt this, I’ve been wondering where it comes from, so I decided to investige.

Ost comes from the Old Norse ostr (cheese), from the Proto-Germanic *justaz (cheese), from the Proto-Indo-European *yewH-s- (sap, juice, broth), from *yewH- (to blend, mix (food), knead).

From the same root we get the Latin word iūs (gravy, broth, soup, sauce, juice), from which we get the English juice, the French jus (juice), and the Welsh uwd [ɨ̞u̯d / ɪu̯d] (porridge, oatmeal).

Words for cheese in Finnic and Samic languages are also related: juusto in Finnish, juust in Estonian, and vuostá in Northern Sami.

Brunost

Tender fondness

A Swedish word I learnt this week is öm [œm], which sounds a bit like errm in English, or however you write it, and means gentle, tender, sore, sensitive or fond. I just like the sound of it, and it’s compactness.

Related words and expressions include:

  • öm punkt = a sore point or a raw nerve, as in Detta är en öm punkt för mig (That is a sore point for me).
  • ömhet = affection, gentleness, soreness or tenderness
  • ömhetsbetygelse = endearment, showing of endearment
  • ömka = to feel sorry for sb
  • ömkan = a pity party
  • ömkansvärd = pitiful
  • ömma = to ache
  • ömma för = to feel compassion for

Of course, öm should not be confused with om [ɔm], which means if, that, whether, about, for, on, by and a few other things. Accents are important.

Sources: bab.la and Wiktionary

Cats and Porridge

att gå som katten kring het gröt

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.

Source: bab.la

Similar idioms involving cats and porridge are found in a number of other languages:

  • Czech: chodit kolem horké kaše = to walk around hot porridge
  • German: wie die Katze um den heißen Brei herumschleichen = as the cat sneaks around the hot porridge
  • Finnish: kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa = to pace around hot porridge like a cat
  • Norwegian: å gå som katta rundt den varme grauten = to walk like a cat around hot porridge

These are all equivalents of to beat around the bush.

The English idiom to beat around the bush was first used in writing in 1572, and referred to the practise of beating bushes in order to flush out game animals [source].

Some other cat-related idioms

  • It’s rain cats and dogs = It’s raining heavily
  • To let the cat out of the bag = to reveal a secret
  • Curiosity killed the cat
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play
  • French: Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter = To have other cats to whip = To have other fish to fry / other things to do.
  • French: Avoir un chat dans la gorge = To have a cat in the throat = To have a frog in one’s throat
  • French: appeler un chat un chat = to call a cat a cat = to call a spade a spade = say it like it is
  • French: Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide = Scalded cat fears cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • Spanish: El gato escaldado del agua fria huye = The cat that has been scalded runs away from cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • German: meine Arbeit war für die Katz = my work was for the cat = my work was a waste of time
  • German: das hat die Katze gefressen = the cat ate it = the fairies took it
  • German: wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse (auf dem Tisch) = when the cat is out of the house, the mice dance (on the table) = when the cat’s away the mice will play

Sources: Idioms of the world, Reverso

Do you know other cat- or porridge-related idioms?

Language Learning Update

Just finished the Spanish course on Duolingo

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?

Between Four Eyes

Illustration of the Swedish phrases mellan fyra ögon (between four eyes)

I learnt this week that in Swedish if you say that something is “between four eyes” – mellan fyra ögon – it means that it is known just to you and the person you’re speaking to, and should be kept secret.

Equivalent expressions in English include:

  • This is (just) between you and me/I
  • Keep it under your hat
  • This is between you, me and the post / gatepost / fencepost / bed-post / lampost / wall
  • Mum’s the word

The phrase “keep it under your hat” with the sense of keeping something a secret apparently first appeared in writing in the early 20th century, and referred to keeping something in your head, i.e. the thing you keep under your hat [source].

The phrase “between you, me and the bed-post” possibly first appeared in writing in 1832 in Eugene Aram, a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton [source].

The phrase “Mum’s the word” has nothing to do with mothers or Egyptian mummies. Instead it refers to the medieval tradition of mumming, a kind of performance involving acting and dancing that was at first done in silence [source].

Do you know any other similar phrases in English or other languages?

Gleann Cholm Cille

I arrived safely in Glencolmbcille (Gleann Cholm Cille) on Saturday night. As we went further west the skies got darker, and when we arrived in Donegal the heavens opened, and it rained almost non-stop until this morning. I don’t come here for the fine weather, but this was a bit extreme, even for this part of the world. Today the sky cleared for a while, and the sun even put in a welcome appearance.

Irish language classes started yesterday afternoon, and the cultural workshops started this afternoon. I’m doing the sean-nós singing, as usual, and am enjoying it, and the Irish classes very much.

There are plenty of people here who I know from previous visits, and quite a few new faces as well. So far I spoken a lot of Irish, and bits of French, Breton, Swedish, German and Czech – people come here from all over the world, so it’s a great place to practise languages.

Last night we were treated to some excellent music and poetry from Bríd Harper and Diarmuid Johnson. Here they are playing some Welsh tunes. Tonight there is some more poetry, this time from Áine Ni Ghlinn.

Lagom är bäst

Lagom

One of the Swedish idioms I learnt recently is lagom är bäst, which is translated as “less is more”, “enough is as good as a feast” or “there is virtue in moderation”, and literally means something like “the right amount is best”.

Lagom [lɑːɡɔm] is a word that is supposedly untranslatable. It is variously defined as meaning “in moderation, in balance, perfect-simple, suitable, enough, sufficient, adequate, just right”.

The Svesnska Akademiens Ordbok defines lagom as:

som är som sig bör (för att passa för ett visst ändamål), lämplig, passande; medelmåttig, medelstor, medelbred, medelgod osv., av normal storlek, styrka osv., normal.

which is as it should (to suit a particular purpose), appropriate, appropriate; mediocre, medium, medium-width, average good, etc., of normal size,. strength, etc., normal

Lagom is apparently the basis of the Swedish national psyche, which emphasises consensus, equality, modesty and avoidance of extremes.

According to Mattias Persson, the word lagom itself actually means “for the law”, or “within the boundaries of the law”, that is, what is normal or according to normal customs. It is a dative case (indirect object) form from lag (law).

Is less more? Are you a minimalist?

Are there words in other languages that have similar meanings to lagom?