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].

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.

Hands and pockets

In English when you know something or somewhere well, you can say that you “know it like the back of your hand” or that you “know it inside out / back to front / upside down”. If you’re talking about people, you might say “I know him/her/them like I know myself.”

Yesterday I learnt that the equivalent idiom in French is “Je le connais comme ma poche” (I know it like my pocket) or “Je le connais comme le fond de ma poche” (I know it like the bottom of my pocket).

In Spanish the equivalent is “Lo/la conozco como la palma de mi mano” (I know it like the palm of my hand), and in Turkish it also the palm of the hand that is best known: “Avcumun içi gibi biliyorum” (I know it like the palm of my hand).

The German equivalent is “Ich kenne es wie meine Westentasche” (I know it like my waistcoat pocket).

What about in other languages?

Turkish language in Germany

According to an article I came across today in Today’s Zaman, the number of Germans learning Turkish has been increasing recently. A Turkish graduate of a German university who was interviewed for the article mentions that he has been teaching Turkish in German schools for nine years, but that an ad he posted online seven years ago looking for people interested in learning Turkish received no response. He now receives around ten enquiries a month from a similar ad.

At the same time, according to an article in the Spiegel Online, Turkey has criticized a German draft immigration law which stipulates that if spouses wish to join their partners in Germany they have to possess a basic proficiency in the German language.