Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Oban / An t-Òban
A sunny morning in Oban / Madainn ghrianach anns an Oban

The trip from Oban to Skye went smoothly, and I bumped into a couple on the bus who I met at SMO last year. There were several other SMO-bound people on the bus, but I didn’t know them at the time. We arrived safely at Broadford on Sunday afternoon, and got a lift to the college from there. Along the way, there was sunshine, lots of rain and some high winds, and the views from the bus were beautiful.

Tyndrum / Taigh an Droma
Changing buses in Tyndrum / Ag atharrachadh bhusaichean ann an Tyndrum

So far, the Gaelic song course has been a lot of fun. There are eleven of us in the class from Scotland, England, Ireland, Switzerland and Germany. Some are here for the first time, others have been here before. Most speak at least some Gaelic, and there’s one native speaker. For me, it’s my 10th time here doing Gaelic song courses, and the 7th course I’ve done with Christine Primrose – the other song courses were with Joy Dunlop, Margaret Stewart and Mary Ann Kennedy.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Àrainn Chaluim Chille – the newer part of the college / Am pàirt as ùire den cholaiste

We learnt five songs on Monday, eleven yesterday, and another four today. Some of them I already know, or have at least heard before, which makes it easier to pick them up. Others are a bit more challenging with lots of verses, and complex melodies that change with every verse to fit to the words. Everything is taught by ear, and Christine likes to tell stories about the songs, the people who wrote them, and how life was at the time they were written. A lot of the songs are relatively old – from the 17th or 18th centuries, and have been passed on orally since then.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Àrainn Ostaig – the older part of the college / am pàirt as sine den cholaiste

On Monday night there was a pub quiz, which was good fun. The team I was in didn’t win, but we were only one point behind the winning team.

The people who study here and work here come from many different places and speak a variety of languages. I try to speak as much Scottish Gaelic as I can while I’m here – that’s one of the reasons why I come here – and I’ve also had conversations in French, Irish and Mandarin Chinese, and spoken odd bits of Welsh, German, Portuguese, Japanese, and even a bit of English.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
The views from here are quite nice / Tha na seallaidhean às an seo gu math snog

Last night there was a concert featuring Eilidh Shaw and Ross Martin, a husband and wife duo – he plays the guitar, and she sings and plays the fiddle. They write interesting songs and lively tunes in a traditional Scottish style and sounded great. It was also a nice way to celebrate my birthday.

We have a bit of time off today, and there’s a music session in the bar tonight. I was planning to go for a walk, but it’s raining quite a lot, so I’m spending my free afternoon relaxing in my room, learning a bit more Gaelic, writing nonsense like this, and reading.

Turas Fada (Long Journey)

Well, I finally arrived in Oban about an hour ago. It’s dark, it’s raining, and I’m about 3.5 hours late. I was hoping to see a bit of the town while it was still light, but at least I made it here. My trip from Bangor to Glasgow went smoothly, with most of the trains being on time and not too crowded. Things went a bit off the rails after that.

Oban / An t-Òban
The view from my hotel room on Sunday morning

When I arrived at Glasgow Queen Street station, I discovered that the train I was supposed to take to Oban was cancelled. Fortunately there was another, although I had to wait 2 hours, and it was late arriving in Glasgow, so more like 2.5 hours. It was a nice sunny day, though a bit windy, so I had a wander, sat in a café for a bit, did some work, and then we were off.

George Square, Glasgow
George Square, Glasgow

While I was waiting, I heard that the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye that I was planning to take tomorrow will not be sailing due to bad weather. So I had to find an alternative route. Fortunately there is a bus from Oban to Broadford on Skye (two buses, actually), and I’ve arranged a lift from there. If everything works out, I should be at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig by tomorrow afternoon.

Tyndrum / Taigh an Droma
Tyndrum / Taigh an Droma, where I changed buses

I’ve applied for compensation for my cancelled train from Glasgow to Oban, so might get some money back from that.

While I have a driving licence and could have rented a car (I don’t own one and never have), I prefer to travel by train, even though there are often delays, cancellations and other shenanigans.

One thing I like about travelling by train, or other public transport, is that you often overhear conversations in a variety of languages. Today, for example, I heard conversations in English, Welsh, Thai, French, Cantonese, Mandarin and German. There may have been other languages that I didn’t recognise as well.

The Language Event

This weekend I’m off to Edinburgh for some polyglottery at The Language Event. There will be talks and discussions about language-related topics, and chances to talk about and in a variety of languages. It’s being held at the French Institute of Scotland on Saturday and Sunday. If you’re going, I’ll see you there.

Edinburgh Castle

I went to a simliar event four years ago in early 2020, just before lock-downs started. I haven’t been to any of the larger polyglot happenings since, such as the Polyglot Conference or the Polyglot Gathering, and have realised that I prefer smaller events.

The Language Event, Edinburgh

Holidays

Armadale

Last week I was on holiday. I spent most of the time learning Scottish Gaelic songs at a college on the Isle of Skye, and stopped at my mum’s in Lancashire for a few days on the way back. I had a wonderful time, met some interesting people, and learnt some beautiful songs.

The winning quiz team

It was my 9th visit to the college since 2008 and certainly won’t be my last. When I first went there I used as much Scottish Gaelic as I knew, and filled in any gaps with Irish, which I speak more or less fluently. As the two languages are closely related, this sort of works, though differences in the pronunciation and meaning of words can lead to some misunderstandings.

A view from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Recently I’ve been learning a lot more Gaelic with Duolingo, and can now speak it fairly well. This makes understanding the songs easier, although they often use poetic and old-fashioned words that don’t usually appear in my lessons. As well as speaking Gaelic, I also spoke some Dutch, Japanese, Welsh and a bit of English.

Normally I try to add a certain number of pages to Omniglot each week, and to write blog posts, and make podcasts and videos. Last week I didn’t do any of that, apart from one Celtiadur post, and had a break from it all, which was great.

This got me thinking – do I really need to do so much every week? Did you miss the Adventure in Etymology last week, or the Celtic Pathways or Omniglot News podcast, or the new language and other pages that weren’t added to Omniglot? Were you aware of all of these?

Maybe I’ll start doing the Adventures in Etymology every other week, and alternating with the Celtic Pathways podcast.

Incidentally, here’s a little piece I wrote on the train from Glasgow to Mallaig. I was trying to write a train-related song, and came up with this. I haven’t thought of a tune for it yet.

The snake of steel
rattles and shakes
through steep glens
where eagles soar
past foaming fishpaths
where waterdogs play
through empty lands
where none do bide
to the ocean’s edge
where seals hide
and the water meets the sky

The threads of distraction
are loosened
and there’s time to see
beyond the wind’s eye
time to think and dream
to talk and rest
As the iron horse
clitters and clatters
Along the metal road

I’m also working on a song in Scottish Gaelic inspired by my lessons in Duolingo. It’s called Thoir an Aire (Watch out).

Thoir An Aire (Watch Out)
Seist (Chorus)
Thoir an aire, thoir an aire (Watch out, watch out)
Thoir an aire, tha Iain a’ tighinn (Watch out, Iain is coming)
Thoir an aire, thoir an aire (Watch out, watch out)
Tha Iain rùisgte is tha e a’ tighinn (Iain is naked and he’s coming)

Ghoid Màiri a drathais (Mairi stole his underpants)
Ghoid Màiri a briogais (Mairi stole his trousers)
Ghoid Màiri a geansaidh gorm is geal (Mairi stole his blue and white jersey)
Ghoid Màiri a lèine (Mairi stole his shirt)
Ghoid Màiri a brògan (Mairi stole his shoes)
Ghoid Màiri aodach Iain gu lèir (Mairi stole all his clothes)

Ruith air falbh, ruith air falbh (Run away, run away)
Ruith air falbh tha Iain a’ tighinn (Run away, Iain is coming)
Ruith air falbh, ruith air falbh (Run away, run away)
Tha guga aige is tha e a’ tighinn (He has salted gannet and he’s coming)

Càit bheil Calum? (Where is Calum?)
Càit a bheil Coinneach? (Where is Kenneth?)
Càit a bheil Ceiteag? (Where is Katie?)
Am faca tu iad? (Have you seen them?)
Càit a bheil Mairead? (Where is Margaret?)
Càit a bheil Mòrag? (Where is Morag?)
Ruith iad air falbh (They ran away)
oir tha Iain a’ tighinn (because Iain is coming)

All photos were taken by me. The videos are from the end-of-course cèilidh at SMO. I’m not sure who took them.

Skye

On Saturday (1st April), I’m going to Scotland for a week. I’m staying in Glasgow that night, then on Sunday I’ll travel by train to Mallaig along the West Highland Line – one of the most spectacular train journeys I know of. From Mallaig I’ll take a ferry over to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, then a bus to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO), the Gaelic college where I’ll be doing a course in Scottish Gaelic songs.

Glenfinnan / Gleann Fhionnain
Glenfinnan / Gleann Fhionnain – one of the places you pass by on the West Highland Line

I’ve been to SMO many times before to do simliar courses, and am looking forward to it very much. Although the course is taught in English, there will be plenty of opportunities to speak Scottish Gaelic, and probably other languages. So, for the past few months, I’ve been brushing up my Gaelic on Duolingo.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

I’ll be travelling from Glasgow with a Dutch friend I met back in 2019 when we both did a Gaelic song course at SMO. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and she, her husband and daughter came to visit me in 2022. When we met, I had only a basic knowledge of Dutch – now I can understand and read it quite well, and speak and write it to some extent. My Dutch friend has learnt Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, with a little help from me, and Duolingo.

On the way home I’ll stay with my mum for a few days, and we’ll be celebrating my birthday on 9th April.

While I’m away, I probably won’t have much time to update Omniglot, or to write blog posts or make podcasts.

Feverish

Last weekend I went to Aberystwyth to see a friend. I had a nice time, even though it was cloudy and rained a lot. This is one reason why I didn’t get round to making new episodes of the Celtic Pathways or Adventures in Etymology podcasts.

Aberystwyth

Unfortunately one souvenir I brought back was a dose of Covid. My friend wasn’t very well when I saw her, and later found out that she had the dreaded virus. I did a test today and found I have it too. It feels like a bad cold or maybe flu. I’ve been at times feverish, coughing, sneezing and lacking in energy and appetite. I hope I haven’t spread it to anyone else.

I hope you all are keeping well.

Grockles and Emmets

In Devon, and other parts of the UK, visitors, holidaymakers and recent migrants are sometimes referred to as grockles, and in Cornwall they’re known as emmets. These words tend to be mildly derogatory, and partly affectionate.

A friend asked me about the origins of these words, and whether there are equivalents in French, so I thought I’d look into it.

Grockle apparently comes from a cartoon strip about a boy called Jimmy and his pet grockle (a dragon-like creature), which first appeared as Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle in The Rover comic in the 1932, then as Jimmy and his Grockle in the The Dandy in 1937 then as My Grockle and Me in Sparky in 1966.

Jimmy and his Grockle

One story is that Arthur Rivers, who ran the boating-lake at Goodrington in the 1950s, started using the term, which he got from The Dandy. His assistant, Freddie Fly, told Peter Draper, the scriptwriter for The System about it while working at a bar in Torquay.

Another story is that a local man started using grockle to refer to an elderly lady who regularly swan at the swimming pool where he was working one summer. Then other summer workers began to refer to visitors as grockles.

It was popularised by its use in the 1964 film The System, which is set in Torquay in Devon. This is an example of how the word is used in the film:

Most holidaymakers are grockles. But the real ones you can spot a mile off. Usually they wear shorts, woollen socks and black leather shoes, with their shirt undone all the way down the front so you can see the full extent of their manly chests.

Related words include:

  • grockle art = pictures for selling to grockles
  • grockle bait = cheap arcades or souvenirs
  • grockle box / grockle shell = caravan
  • grockle coop = hotel
  • grockle can = a tourist bus
  • grockle catcher = an easy to reach beach or beauty spot which acts to stop tourists finding other local spots
  • grockle fodder = fish and chips
  • grockle nest = a holiday home, second home or campsite
  • grockle-ridden = full of grockles

In Cornwall the equivalent is emmet (tourist, ant), from the Middle English emete / ampte (ant), from the Old English word æmette (ant), from the Proto-Germanic ēmaitijǭ (ant), from *maitijǭ (cutter, slicer, biter) [source].

A favourite destination in Cornwall for emmets is apparently Porthemmet (which may or may not exist).

Possible equivalents in French include:

  • excursionniste = (day) tripper
  • estivant = summer visitor
  • Juillettiste = July visiter
  • aoûtien = August visiter
  • villégiateur = vacationer

Are any of these derogatory?

Are there similar words in other languages?

Weymouth Beach

Sources: Wiktionary, Lexico, Wiktionary, UK Comics Wiki, We Are South Devon

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

Myrtle Corner

Yesterday I went to Liverpool for an MRI scan, which was a rather noisy and uncomfortable experience that seemed to go on forvever. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic, as there’s not much space in the scanner. I amused myself by imagining that the sounds of the scanner were music, and tried to work how many beats each one had and its pitch.

The scan was looking at my hemangioma, the benign tumour that makes my lower lip and tongue rather misshapen and swollen, and extends elsewhere – the scan will show where exactly. Perhaps I’ll write / talk more about that at another time.

Anyway, part of my journey on the train took me along the Wirral Line, which runs between Chester and Liverpool, and there are some interesting placenames along there that I thought I’d investigate.

The Wirral is a peninsula between the River Dee and the River Mersey. The name wirral [ˈwɪɹəl], which was first recorded as Wirhealum / Wirheale in early 10th century, means “(Place at) the nook(s) where bog-myrtle grows” or “myrtle corner”. It comes from the Old English wīr (myrtle) + halh (corner) [source], and the area was apparently once overgrown with bog myrtle (myrica gale).

The name Mersey apparently means “boundary river”, and comes from the Old English mære(s) (boundary) and ea (river) [source]. While Dee, as in the River Dee, comes from the old Brythonic word dēvā (River of the Goddess / Holy River), which was also what the Romans called Chester. The River Mersey was possibly once the boundary between the Kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria, and the River Dee marked the border of the Kingdom of Gwynedd.

Dazzle Ferry

Another place along the way is Wallasey, a name that comes from the Old English walha (stranger, foreigner) and -ey (island, area of dry land). The word Wales also comes from walha, so Wallasey could mean ‘the island of strangers / foreigners / Welsh people’.

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.