Elephants & Camels

Elephants and camels

What do elephants and camels have in common?

Well, words for camel in Slavic languages like Czech and Russian possibly come from an Ancient Greek word meaning elephant.

In Czech the word for camel is velbloud [ˈvɛlblou̯t], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *velьb(l)ǫdъ / vъlьb(l)ǫdъ (camel), from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus – camel), from the Latin elephantus (elephant), from the Ancient Greek ἐλέφας (eléphas – elephant) [source].

Words from camel in other Slavic languages come from the same root: верблюд (verbljúd) in Russian and Ukrainian, вярблюд (vjarbljúd) in Belarusian, wielbłąd in Polish, and so on [source].

These all come from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus), but from there the etmological trial gets a bit hazy, as they quite often do. Traditionally this word is thought to derive from the Greek ἐλέφας, via the Latin elephantus.

Another theory is that the Gothic word comes from the Proto-Germanic *elpanduz (elephant, camel), which possibly comes from the Hittite word hu(wa)lpant (humpback), or from another ancient language of Anatolian such as Luwian [source].

The word for elephant in Czech (and also in Slovak, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian) is slon [slon], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *slonъ (elephant) [source], which comes either from the Turkish aslan (lion), or from *sloniti (to lean against), relating to the medieval story of an elephant sleeping leaning on a tree [source].

So now we know where the name of the lion in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe probably comes from.

Would you like a zarf with that?

Zarf / ظرف‎

If you bought a hot drink and were offered a zarf to go with it, would you know what that was?

According to the podcast Something Rhymes with Purple, a zarf is the cardboard sleeve that goes around a cup of hot drink so you don’t burn your fingers when holding it. Or it’s any holder for a cup without a handle.

According to Wiktionary, a zarf is “An ornamental container designed to hold a coffee cup and insulate it from the hand of the drinker.”

It comes from the Ottoman Turkish ظرف‎ (zarf), from the Arabic ظَرْف‎ (ẓarf), which has a variety of meanings, including vessel, container, receptacle, metal saucer, box, pasteboard box, purse, bag, egg cup, envelope, case or cover [source].

More information about zarfs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zarf

Modern zarfs are also known as coffee cup sleeves, coffee sleeves, coffee clutches, coffee cozies, hot cup jackets, paper zarfs, coffee collars, or cup holders. They were invented by Jay Sorensen in 1991, patented in 1995, have the trademarked name of Java Jacket and were first used in 1995 at the Seattle Coffeefest [source].

A useful word, and a great one for Scrabble.

Do you have any other names for zarfs?


People playing oină

I came across the oină in one of the Romanian lessons I did today. It’s translated as ‘oina’ without any explanation of what it means. As the lesson was about sport and oină is something you play, I guessed that it’s some kind of sport.

According to Wikpedia, oină [ˈoj.nə] is a traditional Romanian sport similar to baseball and lapta (a similar Russian sport).

The word oină was originally hoina, and is comes from the Cuman word oyn (game), which is cognate with the Turkish oyun). The game was first mention in writing in 1364. Cuman is an extinct Turkish language that was spoken in Hungary until the 18th century.

Bags, satchels and briefcases

In Romanian the word for a satchel, school bag or briefcase is ghiozdan [giˈozdan]. When I learnt this, I wondered where it might come from – it certainly doesn’t look Latin or Slavic.

Ghiozdan actually comes from the Turkish word cüzdăn (wallet, billfold, purse, pocket book).

A related word is servietă (briefcase), which comes from the French serviette (towel, napkin, serviette, briefcase).

There are in fact quite a few Romanian words borrowed from Turkish, including:

– bacșiș = tip, gratuity; baksheesh. From bahşiş (tip)
– basma = handkerchief. From the Turkish basma (printed cloth)
– degeaba = for nothing, for free; in vain. From the Turkish caba (effort)
– liliac = lilac; bat. From the Turkish leylak (lilac)
– murdar = dirty. From the Turkish murdar (uncleanly)

Sources: Wiktionary, Google Translate

Portugal oranges and Chinese apples

An orange

In Romanian the word for orange (the fruit) is portocală [portoˈkalə]. This comes from the Greek πορτοκάλι (portokáli – orange), from the Venetian portogallo (orange), from the Italian Portogallo (Portugal).

An number of other languages get their word for orange from the same root:

– Albanian: portokall
– Amharic: ብርቱካናማ (biritukanama)
– Arabic: برتقال (burtuqaal)
– Azerbaijani: portağal
– Bulgarian: портокал (portokal)
– Georgian: ფორთოხალი (p’ort’okhali)
– Macedonian: портокал (portokal)
– Persian (Farsi): پرتقال (porteghâl)
– Turkish: portakal

Portuguese merchants were probably the first to introduce oranges to Europe, hence the link between oranges and Portugal.

In some languages oranges are known as “Chinese apples”: Apfelsine (German), appelsien / sinaasappel (Dutch), apelsin (Swedish), etc. This makes sense as oranges were first cultivated in China in about 2,500 BC.

Words for oranges in some Slavic languages come from the Old French pomme d’orenge: pomeranč (Czech), pomaranča (Slovene), pomarańcza (Polish).

The word orange derives from नारङ्ग (nāraṅga) – “orange tree” in Sanskrit, which is probably of Dravidian origin. The word for orange in Portuguese, laranja, comes from this root.

The colour orange was named after the fruit. In Old English the colour orange was referred to as ġeolurēad (yellow-red), or ġeolucrog (yellow-saffron) [source].

Souces: Wiktionary, WordReference.com, Google Translate, Wikipedia, Flickr

Reflections on the Polyglot Gathering

Polyglots dancing at the Slaughterhouse in Berlin

I got back from the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin late on Monday night. I travelled by train the whole way, which is a bit more expensive than the plane, and takes a few hours longer, but I prefer to travel this way, and you see more. The journey went smoothly, apart from the train from London, which was an hour late getting into Bangor. Fortunately I got a partial refund on my ticket. On the Eurostar I talked to a interesting lady from Vancouver, and on the train to Bangor I talked, mainly in Welsh, to a doctor from Felinheli.

This year’s Gathering was as much fun as previous years – it was my third. I arrived in Berlin quite late on Wednesday evening the day before it officially started, and missed out on most of the polyglot games that were going on in the afternoon and evening. Next year I might arrive a day or two before the start to give me a chance to explore more of Berlin – this year I spent most of my time in the venue and didn’t go exploring.

Over the next four days I learnt about many things, including Portuguese-based creoles, Greek, minimalism, Sardinian languages and dialects, why many language learners don’t acquire native-like accents, metaphors in native Canadian languages, language mentoring, how musical techniques can be applied to language learning, the stagecraft of multilingualism, and much more. I got to know old friends better, met lots of new ones, and I spoke lots of different languages. My talk on Manx went well, as did the introduction to Welsh that I helped with.

The talks were mainly in English, with some in French, Italian, German, Esperanto, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Indonesian, and in various combinations of these.

Between us we polyglots speak quite a few different languages. The most common (i.e. those with quite a few speakers / learners) include English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Romanian, Esperanto, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Serbian, Greek, Finnish, Hungarian, Welsh, Irish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malay, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Swahili. There were also speakers and learners of Wolof, Punjabi, Hindi, Marathi, Romani, Tamil, Latin, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Cornish, Breton, Sardinian, Luxembourgish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, Albanian, Basque, Tagalog, Turkish, Navajo, Toki Pona, Klingon, and probably other languages.

I’m looking forward to the next polyglot event – the North American Polyglot Symposium in Montreal in July. I’ll be doing a talk on the origins of language there, so should get working on it.

Some things I learnt from the Gathering

There are many ways to learn languages, and no single way will work for everyone. Some like to focus on one language at a time until they have reached a level they are happy with, then move on to the next language; others like to study many different languages at the same time. Some learn grammar and vocabulary first, then learn to speak; others start using their languages straight away, or soon after they start studying. Some like to study on their own; others like to study in a class and/or with a private tutor. Some combine many of the above and more, to varying degrees – I certainly do.

From Malachi Rempen’s talk on cartooning, minimalism and language learning (Less is More: What Silly Doodles Can Teach Us About Fluency), I learnt that you can do a lot with a little. He showed how he can make his Itchy Feet character express a wide variety of emotions with just a few lines, and suggested that the same can be applied to languages – you can communicate even if you know only a little of a language. He also argued that fluency means different things to different people, and might not be the best thing to aim for.

Tim Keeley, professor of Cross-Cultural Management at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka, explained that the idea that only children can acquire native-like accents in foreign languages is wrong – the brain is flexible throughout live and you can learn to perceive and produce foreign sounds. However there are emotional barriers which stop many people from sounding ‘native’. When learning another language you can also take on or create a new identity, and those who are willing and able to do this are most likely to sound more like native speakers. You also shouldn’t worry about mimicking people. In fact that is a good way to acquire native-like pronunciation.

Michael Levi Harris, an actor and polyglot from New York, talked about parallels between learning a part and learning a language. He explained that actors tend to exaggerate speech and physical mannerisms when learning a part, then make them more subtle, and that language learners can try the same things – exaggerate the pronunciation, gestures, etc. until they become second nature, then tone them down. He also talked about taking on different identities when speaking different languages and with different accents. If you can find a native speaker of a language whose voice and mannerisms appeal to you, then you can create your character in that language based on them.

The extend to which you take on a new identity in a new language depends on how much you want to integrate into a new culture. If you want to be taken for a native, then you need to sound and act like them. Alternatively you could try sounding like a native, perhaps with a bit of a foreign accent, but not worry so much about acting like them. If you spend a lot of time in a different county interacting and observing the natives, you’re likely to pick up at least some of their behaviour anyway.

Fiel Sahir, an Indonesian-American musician and polyglot who currently lives in Germany, talked about applying musical techniques to language learning. He explained how practice is the key to music and language, but it has to be intelligent practice that focuses on areas that you find difficult. This might be particular passages in a piece of music, or particular tenses or noun declensions in a language. By focusing like this, you can make a lot of progress.

Focus is something that I find difficult sometimes. I can and do focus, but often get distracted. I was thinking about how I’ve been dabbling with a variety of languages recently and not making a lot of progress in any of them. So my plan is to focus on one, or two, languages for the next year – Russian and Czech – and learn as much as I can in them. I will keep my other languages ticking over, but not spend much time on them.

Found poetry

I went to a poetry recital last night featuring Nia Davies, a Welsh/English poet who lives in Wales, and Hu Dong, a Chinese poet who lives in England. It was part of the North Wales International Poetry Festival. Nia’s poems were all in English, and Hu Dong’s were in Sichuanese, with English and Welsh translations.

Nia read a series of interesting poems based on really long words in various languages, or at least on their English definitions. She was inspired to write the first of these after discovering the Turkish word Çekoslavakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdansınız? (Are you one we couldn’t Czechoslavakianize?) while learning Turkish. She then looked for similarly long words in other languages, and wrote poems about some of them.

While listening to the long word-based poems I was trying to think up with a suitably long word to describe such activity. I came up with sesquipedalogology, which combines sesquipedalian ([of a word] polysyllabic; long; characterized by long words; long-winded), and logology (originally the science of word studies, but now the field of recreational linguistics, particularly word games).

Another interesting word that came up was metrophobia, the fear of poetry, which was the theme of one of the poems.

The English translations of long words in other languages can be quite poetic – a kind of found poetry. In fact you can take definitions from any monolingual dictionary and find poetry in them. Here are few from my English dicitonary:

elevenses, pl. n. Brit. informal
a light snack
usually tea or coffee
taken in mid-morning

elflock, n.
a lock of hair
fancifully regarded as having been
tangled by the elves

If you have a monolingual dictionary to hand, why not open it at random and see if you can find any interesting words and definitions.

Extreme Polyglottery

The Polyglot Gathering in Berlin last week was fantastic and I enjoyed everything about it. The organizers did an excellent job and everything went well, with only minor hitches. Many other people helped things to run smoothly, and gave talks and/or arranged discussions and language practise sessions.

The A&O Hauptbahnhof hostel/hotel where the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin took place in June 2014

The venue was a huge hostel/hotel near Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (main station), and not far from famous places like the Reichstag (home of the German parliament) and the Brandenburg Gate. It was equipped with hotel and hostel-style rooms, a dining hall in the basement, a reception area with seating and a games section on the ground floor, and a roof-top bar on the 5th floor. The gathering itself took place mainly in function rooms on the 5th floor, with a large room for the talks and activities and two smaller rooms for discussions and talks. One of the smaller rooms also served as a tea room – Gufujo (owl room in Esperanto) – in the evenings for those looking for somewhere quieter than the bar for a chat. There were also spontaneous outbreaks of polyglottery in other parts of the venue, and outside as well.

The program for the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in June 2014

The program included lectures, talks, discussions, games, and plenty opportunities to practise languages and to talk about language learning, language and languages – or polyglottery as I like to call it. The talks and discussions ran from 9am to 1pm, with two hours for lunch, and from 3-6pm. In most time spots there were two or three things going on at the same time, so you couldn’t go to everything. Fortunately the talks were all videoed and the videos will appear online when they have been edited, so I can watch the ones I missed, and those who weren’t there can watch all the ones that interest them. The program booklet was printed several months before the gathering, so there were some changes, and people filled in empty spots with talks on a variety of language-related topics, and other activities.

The talks I went to include ones on Proto-Indo-European, careers for polyglots, neuroscience and language learning, practising languages in virtual words, Scots and Scottish English, Welsh; and discussions on passive v active learning, and synesthesia; and introductions to Indonesian, Toki Pona and Macedonian. Some talks were quite academic, others were more informal. All were interesting.

On the first evening there was an international culinary festival with food and drink from many different countries. There were polyglot games on the subsequent two evenings, and an international culture evening with songs and poems in many different languages on the final evening. I started it off with a song in Welsh – Lisa Lân, and my Manx/English song about seagulls and chips – Spollagyn son tey / Chips for tea, and finished it with my song Everyday Adventures, which all went down well.

Here’s me singing Lisa Lân and Spollagyn son tey / Chips for tea (videoed by David J. James):

The most impressive contribution was Richard Simcott singing Let it Go from Frozen in some 20 different languages from memory:

There were some 230 participants there from all over the world ranging in age from teenagers to pensioners. All spoke at least two languages, and many spoke quite a few more – I think the average number of languages spoken there was around four or five, with a number of people who speak ten or more languages. There were plenty of students there who are studying languages, and many other subjects, as well as people who run language-related businesses, or work as translators, writers, journalists, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and many other professions. Whatever our background, we all shared a passion for languages, and were interested in finding out about other peoples, countries and cultures.

A group photo of most of the participants in the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in June 2014

Meeting so many other polyglots and being able to talk in many different languages and about languages and language learning was wonderful. I don’t often get to do this as I only know a few other polyglots where I live, so the gathering was fantastic for me. I didn’t need to suppress or hold back any of my enthusiasm for languages, as I usually do to varying degrees when talking to people who don’t share my passion. Everyone was friendly, interesting, and had different stories to tell, and I now feel like a part of the polyglot community. Before the gathering I had watched videos and read blogs and forum posts, and even commented from time to time, so I was familiar with a number of polyglots with an online presence, but felt that I was kind of on the periphery of the community. Few people recognised me, but many were familiar with Omniglot, and were happy to meet the guy behind it.

I found the talks, discussions and other activities interesting and fun, especially the discussions on synesthesia, and on raising bi/multilingual children – I don’t have any kids, but my niece is being raised bilingually in English and Russian, and quite a few of my friends are raising their kids with two or more languages, especially English and Welsh.

I would recommend this kind of event to anybody interested in languages, and I’m looking forward to the Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad in Serbia in October.

Gilets et camisoles

Last night at the French Conversation Group we were discussing various words for clothing in French. One word the seems to cover quite a few different types of clothing is gilet /ʒi.lɛ/, which on its own means a sleeveless jacket similar to a waistcoat (vest in American English), and apparently comes from the Maghrebi Arabic word jalikah (a type of jacket worn by Christian slaves in galleys) which comes from the Turkish word yelek (sleeveless jacket; wing feather) [from: Wikitionnaire, Wikitionary and turkishdictionary.net].

Gilet also appears in:
– gilet pareballes = bulletproof jacket/vest; flak jacket (AmEng)
– gilet de sauvetage = life jacket (BrEng) / life preserver / Mae West (AmEng)
– gilet de peau / gilet de corps = vest (BrEng), undershirt (AmEng)
– gilet matelassé = body warmer
– aller pleurer dans le gilet de qqn = to cry on someone’s shoulder

Gilet /ʒile/ is also used in English to mean “a bodice shaped like, or in imitation of, a man’s waistcoat” [source].

In British English the word vest usually refers to a garment, usually sleeveless, worn under one’s shirt, or undershirt in American English. While in American English a vest is a sleeveless piece of clothing with buttons down the front worn over a shirt and under a suit jacket, or waistcoat in British English. So in British English a three-piece suit consists of a jacket, waistcoat and trousers, while in American English these garments are a jacket, vest and pants. I’m sure there are regional variations in these names, as well as in the types of garments they refer to.

Another word that came up was camisole /ka.mi.zɔl/, which in French means “une sorte de vêtement du matin, court, à manches, qui se porte sur la chemise” (a type of morning clothing, short, with sleeves, that is worn on the shirt), and comes from the Provencal word camisola, which comes from the Italian camisciola, a diminutive of camisa (shirt) [from: Wikitionnaire].

In English camisole /ˈkæmɪsəʊl/ can refer to:
– a type of jacket or jersey with sleeves;
– a loose jacket worn by women when dressed in negligée*;
– an underbodice, often embroidered and trimmed with lace;
– a strait-jacket**

* ‘in negligée‘ = dressed in informal or unceremonious attire. In French négligé (adj) means ‘slovenly, scruffy, untidy, unkempt, slipshod, frowzy, floppy’; and en tenue négligée means ‘in casual clothing’ [source].

** strait-jacket = camisole de force in French.

Lyrics Translate

The other day I came across a useful site called Lyrics Translate, where you can find, submit and request translations of songs. It currently contains translations between a wide range of languages, including English, German, Russian, Turkish, Spanish, Polish and so on, and the site itself can be viewed in a variety of languages. There is also a forum for translators, as well as articles and videos.

So it look like a good place to practise languages you’re learning – you can find songs in those languages, either originals, or translated from other languages, and you could even have a go at translating songs yourself.

I have submitted translations of Cockles and Mussels (Molly Malone) in Irish and Manx – not my own translations admittedly, and just found a song in Breton with a translations in English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, and a video. There are quite a few other songs in Breton too.