Logainmneacha

One of the things we discussed last week in Ireland was placenames, or in Irish, logainmneacha [ˈl̪ˠʌɡanʲəmʲəxə]. Most places in Ireland have Irish names and English names, which are either Anglicized versions of the Irish names, or in a few cases, completely different names.

For example, the capital of Ireland is known as Dublin in English, and as Baile Átha Cliatha [bʲlʲɑː ˈclʲiə / ˌbʲlʲæː ˈclʲiə] in Irish. Other places with very different Irish and English forms include Loch Garman / Wexford, Cill Mhantáin / Wicklow, Port Láirge / Waterford and Binn Éadair / Howth.

Dublin comes from the Irish Dubhlinn (black/dark pool), and refers to a dark tidal pool where the River Poddle enters the River Liffy. There are other placenames in Ireland that come from the same root, including Devlin, Divlin and Difflin.

Baile Átha Cliatha means “town of the ford of the hurdles”, and referred to a fording point of the River Liffey. Apparently the viking settlement in the Dublin area, founded in about 841 AD, was known as Dyflin, and the Gaelic town up the river was known as Átha Cliatha [source].

In some cases the English placenames are bad translations of the Irish originals. Examples include a suburb of Dublin known as Swords in English, but Sord (water source) in Irish – nothing to do with swords.

Vinegar Hill in County Wexford is Cnoc Fiodh na gCaor (Hill of the wood of the berries) in Irish – nothing to do with vinegar, but Fiodh na gCaor sounds like vinegar.

The word cnoc [kn̪ˠɔk / kɾˠʊk] (hill) appears in many placeanmes in Ireland, and is usually Anglicized as Knock. Examples include Knock (An Cnoc – ‘The Hill’), Knockaderry (Cnoc an Doire – ‘Hill of the Oak’), and Knockmealdown (Cnoc Mhaoldomhnaigh – ‘Hill of Maoldomhnach’).

Roundstone in Connemara is Cloch na Ron (Stone of the Seals) in Irish. Cloch does mean stone and ron does sound like round.

Many of the Anglicized forms of the names were coined by map makers who knew little or no Irish, and who wrote down names as they heard them.

More information about Irish placenames
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_names_in_Ireland
https://www.logainm.ie/
https://www.dochara.com/the-irish/place-names/irish-place-names/


Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll Station sign

In Wales / Cymru, most placenames are in Welsh. Some have Anglicized versions, including Caerdydd / Cardiff, Caerfyrddyn / Carmarthen and Dinbych / Denbigh.

Some have different English and Welsh versions, including Abertawe / Swansea, Abergwaun / Fishguard and Ynys Môn / Anglesey. In all these examples, the English name actually comes from Old Norse:

  • Swansea from Sveinsey (Sveinn’s island) [source]
  • Anglesey from Ongullsey (Hook island) or Onglisey (Ongli’s Island) [source]
  • Fishguard from Fiskigarðr (fish catching enclosure) [source].

More information about Irish placenames
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_toponymy
http://www.thefullwiki.org/Welsh_placenames

Winning One’s Steak

An interesting French expression I learnt last night was gagner son bifteck, which means literally “to win/earn one’s steak”, and is the equivalent of “to bring home the bacon” [source].

The French word bifteck [bif.tɛk] comes from the English beefsteak, and means steak.

Related expressions in French include:

  • gagner sa vie = to earn one’s living
  • gagner de quoi vivre = to earn one’s keep
  • gagner sa croûte = to earn one’s crust
  • gagner une misère = to earn a pittance

Similar phrases in English include:

  • to keep the wolf from the door
  • to put food on the table
  • to keep clothes on your back
  • to keep a roof over your head

Do you know any others?

In Welsh equivalent expressions include:

  • ennill eich tamaid = to earn one’s living (“to achieve/win/earn one’s bite”)
  • ennill eich bara (menyn) = to earn one’s bread (and butter)

What about in other languages?

By the way, if you’ve been unable to access this blog, or other parts of Omniglot recently, this is because of my inept attempts to make it secure with SSL, etc. Fortunately the good people at Kualo, where this site is hosted, were able to sort things out quickly, and normal service has now been resumed, hopefully.

If you’re looking for somewhere to host your website, I would definitely recommend Kualo. Their service and technical support are excellent, and their prices are reasonable. They also use renewable energy as much as possible.

Oxbows and Fossils

On an episode of the Talk the Talk podcast that I listened to today, they discuss fossil words or, as presenter Daniel Midgely calls them, oxbows, which is a rather poetic and fitting name from them.

An oxbow lake is a part of a river that has got cut off from the main stream due to the changing course of the river, and a fossil word or oxbow is one that’s only used in one or two expressions, and is no longer part of the main stream language.

Oxbows

Some examples they gave include kith and kin, to and fro, and akimbo, as in arms/legs akimbo.

Other examples of fossil words / oxbows include:

  • by dint of = because of, by means of – dint is an old word for a blow or stroke, force, power, or the mark left by a blow
  • in high dudgeon = indignant and enraged – dudgeon possibly comes from the Welsh dygen (anger, sad, grievous, painful, serious). A related words is the old Scots word humdudgeon, meaning an unnecessary outcry of complaint, or an imaginary illness
  • in fine fettle = in good condition, energetic – fettle is nothern English dialect word meaning one’s physical condition or mental state.
  • the whole shebang = everything, the entire thing – shebang might come from the French chabane (hut, cabin), or from the Hiberno-English shebeen (a cabin where unlicensed liquor is sold and drunk), from the Irish síbín (illicit whiskey).

Do you know others in English or other languages?

Polyglotting

Yesterday was the first full day of the Polyglot Gathering, and it went well. I went to some interesting talks and workshops, met lots of people, caught up with old friends, and spoke many languages.

Quite a few people came to my workshop on Scottish Gaelic songs, and they seemed to enjoy it. I chose relatively simple songs with choruses that people could sing, even if they couldn’t manage the verses. There were even a few people there who speak Gaelic, or who are learning it.

In the evening there was some polyglot karaoke, which was fun, and some people who took part were quite good singers.

Polylgot karaoke

Today was similar with some interesting talks and workshops. Fortunately the sun came out after several days of almost non-stop rain. The Scottish and Welsh dance workshop I ran with a Scottish friend went well. Not many people came, but enough for the dances we did, and there wouldn’t have been space for many more.

Polyglot dance workshop

There was a spontaneous juggling workshop this evening involving me and a juggler from Montreal. We learnt from each other, and tried to teach a few others to juggle. As we’re polyglots, we did this in English, French and German.

Bratislava

I’m currently in Bratislava in Slovakia for the 2019 Polyglot Gathering, which starts tomorrow, although there was an opening ceremony this evening.

The Polyglot Gathering 2019 begins

Today I went on a tour taking in three countries – Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. I had conversations in English, French, German, Mandarin, Spanish and Irish, and spoke odd bits of Czech, Slovak, Russian, Scots, Hungarian, Portuguese, Welsh, Esperanto and Swedish.

Hainburg Castle

I probably won’t have much time for blogging with all the intensive polylgotting that’s going on. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Blesk a hrom

Lightning

Two interesting words that came up in my Czech lessons recently are blesk (lightning) and hrom (thunder).

Blesk also means a flash, thunderbolt or flashlight / torch, and sounds like a flash of lightning to me. Hrom could be to a clap of thunder.

I’m not sure which of them usually comes first – is it blesk a hrom or hrom a blesk?

In English it’s always thunder and lightning, even though the lightning comes first. Lightning and thunder just sounds wrong.

In Welsh it’s mellt a tharanau (lightning and thunder).

Is thunder and lightning or lightning and thunder in other languages?

Instrumental Idioms

trampa i klaveret

The other day I learnt an interesting Swedish idiom – nu trampade jag verkligen i klaveret, which means “I really put my foot in it” or literally “now I really stepped (heavily) on the accordion / piano / keyboard”.

According to the Svenska Akademiens Ordböcker, trampa i klaveret means “göra en social tabbe” (to make a social mistake). Apparently it comes from the phrase “Det låter, sa bonden/klockaren, trampade i klavere” (It sounds, said the farmer / watchman, like trampling on the keyboard” [source].

To put one’s foot in it means “to say or do something tactless or embarrassing; commit a blunder or indiscretion.” [source]. The origins of this phrase are not known.

Other idioms involves musical instruments, or instrumental idioms, include:

  • rhoi’r ffidl yn y to = to give up / throw in the towel (“to put the fiddle in the roof)
  • to play second fiddle = to take a subordinate position to someone was is more important
  • to blow one’s own trumpet = to boast about your own sucesses
  • to blow the whistle (on sth/sb) = to report illegal / unacceptable activities

Do you know any more?

Echoes on the Tongue

Many years ago I went to a fascinating talk by David Crystal in Bangor University about endangered languages. One of the things he said was that a good way to spread the word about the plight of such languages might be for creative people to make art, or to write songs, stories, poems, etc about them.

Since then I’ve been thinking about writing a song about this topic, and finally got round to it a few weeks ago. Today I made a recording of it, with harp accompaniment. It’s called Echoes on the Tongue, and is written from the perspective of the words of an endangered language that has never been written down, and has only a few elderly speakers.

At the end of the recording I’ve added the phrase “we are still here” spoken in endangered languages – currently Welsh, Breton, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. If you can translate this phrase into other endangered languages, and ideally make a recording of it, please do. Recordings can be sent to feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com.

Thatched Stegosauruses!

What do togas, stegosauruses and thatch have in common?

Stegasaurus

These words all come from the Proto-Indo-European root *(s)teg- (cover, roof) [source].

Toga comes from the Latin togategō (I clothe) , from the Proto-Indo-European *togéh₂ (cover), from *(s)teg- (to cover) [source].

Stegosaurus comes from the Ancient Greek words στέγος (stégos – roof) and σαῦρος (saûros – lizard) [source], and στέγος comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *(s)teg- (cover, roof) [source]. The origins of σαῦρος are uncertain. So a stegosaurus is a “roof lizard”.

Thatch comes from the Old English þæc (roof-covering), from the Proto-Germanic *þaką (covering), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)teg- (to cover) [source].

Words for house in the Celtic languages also come ultimately from the same root – (Welsh) chi (Cornish), ti (Breton), teach (Irish), taigh (Scottish Gaelic) and thie (Manx). More details.

Mixing Languages

Mixing languages

In bilingual communities it is common to switch between languages regularly. This certainly happens a lot among the Welsh speakers I know and hear every day.

Some conversations are mostly in Welsh with occasionally bits of English every so often, some are mainly in English with some bits of Welsh, and some regularly weave between Welsh and English.

According to a friend, it might not be so common for Catalan speakers to mix Catalan and Spanish. He is learning Spanish, and also knows a bit Catalan, and plans to learn more. He believes that Catalan speakers either speak one or the other, and don’t usually mix them in one conversation. So if he went to Barcelona and spoke the little Catalan he knows mixed with Spanish, people might find this strange. Is he correct?

According to the Urban Dictionary, Catañol is the mixture of Catalán and Español that people in Catalán-speaking areas of Spain often use to converse.

According to the Wikipedia, Catañol is spoken in Barcelona, especially by young people, and is a form of Spanish with Catalan influences. It emergered during the 20th century as a result of migration to Catalonia from other parts of Spain. It is apparently considered ‘vulgar’.

Are there any bilingual or multilingual communities where language mixing is rare or even stigmatised?