A Little Alliteration

I like a little alliteration, don’t you?

A Little Allteration

Alliteration is “The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of two or more words immediately succeeding each other, or at short intervals.” [source]. As in the sentence above. It comes from Modern/New Latin alliterationem, from alliterare (to begin with the same letter), from Latin ad (to, near) and lītera (letter, script) [source].

Other names for this include consonance (the repetition of consonants sounds) [source] and head rhyme. If similar or indentical vowel sounds are being repeated, as in “How now, brown cow?”, it’s called assonance [source] or slant rhyme.

Other kinds of rhymes include:

  • syllabic rhyme: the last syllable of each word sounds the same but does not necessarily contain stressed vowels. E.g. cleaver, silver; pitter, patter.
  • imperfect (or near) rhyme: a rhyme between a stressed and an unstressed syllable. E.g. wing, caring
  • weak (or unaccented) rhyme: a rhyme between two sets of one or more unstressed syllables. E.g. hammer, carpenter
  • semirhyme: a rhyme with an extra syllable on one word. E.g. bend, ending
  • forced (or oblique) rhyme: a rhyme with an imperfect match in sound. E.g. green and fiend; one, thumb)
  • pararhyme: all consonants match. E.g. tick, tock; bing, bong

Other types of rhyme, and other ways of classifying rhymes are available [More details].

I use a variety of rhymes in the songs I write. For example, my latest song was inspired by a phrase from the Irish course in Duolingo “Léann na lachan na nuachtán.” (The ducks read the newspaper). I made a more alliterative version: “Tá lacha ag léamh leabhar sa leabhrlann le leon agus luch.” (A duck is reading a book in the library with a lion and a mouse). The English version is only slightly alliterative, and that’s what often happens with translations, and why songs and poems are difficult to translate.

Here are the words of the song. Parts are quite alliterative, in Irish at least.

Eachtraí na Lacha (The Duck’s Adventures)

Tá an lacha ag léamh sa leabharlann
The duck is reading in the library
Tá an lacha ag léamh sa leabharlann
le leon agus luch (with a lion and a mouse)

Tá an lacha ag siúl go Sligeach
The duck is walking to Sligo
Tá an lacha ag siúl go Sligeach
ag lorg lámhainní (looking for gloves)

Tá an lacha ag canadh amhrán
The duck is singing a song
Tá an lacha ag canadh amhrán
faoi sionach an-sionnachúil (about a very cunning fox)

Tá an lacha ag labhairt Laidin
The duck is speaking Latin
Tá an lacha ag labhairt Laidin
lena lucht leanúna (with its supporters)

Tá an lacha ina coladh ina leabaidh
The duck is sleeping in its bed
Tá an lacha ina coladh ina leabaidh
Agus sin deireadh an scéil
And that’s the end of the tale
Agus sin deireadh an scéil

Here’s a rough recording:

I’ve been thinking of making it trilingual in Irish, English and Welsh, but haven’t got round to it yet.

Here’s an alliterative phrase I came up with that seems to translate well into a variety of languages:

  • English: Singers sing songs
  • Albanian: Këngëtarët këndojnë këngë
  • Armenian: Երգիչները երգեր են երգում (Yergich’nery yerger yen yergum)
  • Aymara: Q’uchunakax q’uchunak q’uchupxi
  • Bengali: গায়কেরা গান গায় (Gāẏakērā gāna gāẏa)
  • Bulgarian: Певците пеят песни (Pevtsite peyat pesni)
  • Catalan: Els cantants canten cançons
  • Corsican: I cantanti cantanu canti
  • Croatian: Pjevači pjevaju pjesme
  • Danish: Sangere synger sange
  • Dhivehi (Maldivian): (lavakiyuntherin lavakiyaeve) ލަވަކިޔުންތެރިން ލަވަކިޔައެވެ
  • Esperanto: Kantistoj kantas kantojn
  • Estonian: Lauljad laulavad laule
  • Finnish: Laulajat laulavat lauluja
  • French: Les chanteurs chantent des chansons
  • Galician: Os cantantes cantan cancións
  • Greek: Οι τραγουδιστές τραγουδούν τραγούδια (Oi tragoudistés tragoudoún tragoúdia)
  • Haitian Creole: Chantè chante chante
  • Hindi: गायक गीत गाते हैं (gaayak geet gaate hain)
  • Lingala: Bayembi bayembaka banzembo
  • Mongolian: Дуучид дуу дуулдаг (Duuchid duu duuldag)
  • Romanian: Cântăreții cântă cântece
  • Russian: Певцы поют песни (Pevtsy poyut pesni)
  • Swedish: Sångare sjunger sånger
  • Turkish: Şarkıcılar şarkılar söylüyor
  • Welsh: Cantorion yn canu caneuon

Translations by Google Translate. More are available

It’s unusual to find a phrase like this that has alliterative translations into so many different languages.

Are there other kinds of rhymes that you like / use / know?

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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 Taigh an Droma

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.

Giving Up

I have some news – I’ve had enough of learning languages and am giving up, throwing in the towel, putting the fiddle in the roof, throwing a spoon, and throwing the axe in the lake.

Giving up

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I like speaking other languages, at least sometimes, but the process of learning them can be a bit tedious. I already speak some languages reasonably well and don’t currently need to learn any more, so maybe my time would be better spent doing other things.

My other main passion is music – I like to sing, to play instruments, and to write songs and tunes. I’ll be spending more time doing this, and will maybe even focus on one instrument, at least for a while, and learn to play it better.

The question is, which instrument? I have a house full of them, including a piano, harps, guitars, ukuleles, recorders, whistles, ocarinas, harmonicas, melodicas, a mandolin, a bodhrán and a cavaquinho.

The instrument I play most often at the moment is the mandolin, so maybe I should focus on that.

If you’ve noticed the date, you may realise that this post is in fact an April Fool. I’m not giving up on learning languages, and actually do enjoy the process, most of the time, and while I do want to improve my mandolin playing, I also want to improve my playing of other instruments.

Incidentally, let’s look at some ways to say that you’re giving up.

In English you might say you quit, you’re calling it a day, you’re calling it quits you’re throwing in the towel or the sponge or the cards, or you’re throwing up your hands.

Equivalent phrases in other languages include:

  • hodit flintu do žita = to throw a flint into the rye (Czech)
  • jeter le manche après la cognée = to throw the handle after the axe (French)
  • leggja árar í bát = to put oars in a boat (Icelandic)
  • do hata a chaitheamh leis = to throw your hat in (Irish)
  • gettare le armi = to throw away your weapons (Italian)
  • 匙を投げる (saji o nageru) = to throw a spoon (Japanese)
  • подня́ть бе́лый флаг (podnjat’ belyj flag) = to raise the white flag (Russian)
  • leig an saoghal leis an t-sruth = to let the world flow (Scottish Gaelic)
  • baciti pušku u šaš = to throw a gun into the sedge (Serbian)
  • kasta yxan i sjön = to throw the axe into the lake (Swedish)
  • rhoi’r ffidl yn y to = to put the fiddle in the roof (Welsh)

More details of these phrases can be found on Wiktionary.

Do you have any others?

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Whimperatives

When you ask someone to do something for you, but in an indirect kind of way, or in other words, you phrase an order or imperative obliquely as a question, this is apparently called a whimperative. For example, you might say “Would you mind closing the window?”, rather than the more direct “Please, close the window” or “Close the window!”. Or you might say “Why don’t you be quiet?” instead of “Be quiet” [source].

Do Not Discard It In The Void

This word was coined by Jerrold Sadock, a professor of Linguistics at the University of Chicago, in an essay he wrote in 1970. It’s a blend of whimper and imperative. Another term for a whimperative is interrogative directive [source].

A whimper is a low intermittent sob, and to whimper means to cry or sob softly and intermittently, to cry with a low, whining, broken voice, to whine, to complain, or to say something in a whimpering manner [source].

It is probably of imitative origin, or may by related to wimmern (to whimper, moan) in German. The words wimp and wimpy possibly come from whimper, and were likely influenced by the charcter J. Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye comics [source].

Always Tuesday - Bijou Planks 81/365

The word imperative (essential, crucial, expressing a command) comes from the Latin word imperātīvus (of or proceeding from a command, commanded), from imperō (to comand, give orders to, demand, rule, govern), from in- (in) and parō (to arrange, order, resolve) [source].

Words from the same roots include pare (to cut away the outer layer from something, especially a fruit or a vegetable) in English, parer (to adorn, bedeck, fend off) in French, parer (to stop, halt, put up, lift, stand up) in Spanish and paratoi (to prepare) in Welsh [source].

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Overflowing Vases

The French equivalent of the saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back” or “the last / final straw” is la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase (the drop of water that makes the vase overflow). Which makes as much a sense, and no animals are harmed.

La goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase. it's the straw that breaks the camel's back

These sayings mean “The final additional small burden that makes the entirety of one’s difficulties unbearable.” The earliest known version in English appears in a debate between Thomas Hobbes and John Bramhall in 1677: ‘the last Feather may be said to break a Horses Back’.

It is thought to be based on the Arabic proverb: اَلْقَشَّة اَلَّتِي قَصَمَت ظَهْر اَلْبِعِير⁩ (al-qašša allatī qaṣamat ẓahr al-biʕīr), or “The straw that broke the camel’s back”.

Other versions in English include:

  • It is the last straw that overloads the camel (1799)
  • It was the last ounce that broke the back of the camel (1832)
  • The last straw will break the camel’s back (1836)
  • As the last straw breaks the laden camel’s back (1848)
  • This final feather broke the camel’s back (1876)
  • The straw that broke the donkey’s back
  • The last peppercorn breaks the camel’s back
  • The melon that broke the monkey’s back
  • The feather that broke the camel’s back
  • The straw that broke the horse’s back
  • The hair that broke the camel’s back
  • The last ounce broke the camel’s back

There is also “the last drop makes the cup run over”, and variations on that theme in English.

Versions in quite a few other languages also refer to overflowing cups or other vessels, for example:

  • German: der Tropfen, der das Fass zum Überlaufen bringt.
    the drop that makes the barrel overflow
  • Italian: la goccia che fa traboccare il vaso
    the drop of water that makes the glass overflow
  • Russian: ка́пля, перепо́лнившая ча́шу (káplja, perepólnivšaja čášu)
    the drop that made the bowl overflow
  • Turkish: bardağı taşıran son damla
    the last drop that makes the glass overflow

There are, however, quite different versions in some languages:

  • Scottish Gaelic: théid capall don choille ach brisidh aon uallach a chridhe
    the colt will go to the forest, but one burden will break his heart
  • Welsh: pennog gyda phwn dyrr asgwrn cefn ceffyl
    adding a herring to a load break’s a horse’s backbone (not sure of this translation)

Are there interesting equivalents of this saying in other languages?

Sources: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/the_straw_that_broke_the_camel%27s_back#English
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_that_broke_the_camel%27s_back
https://geiriaduracademi.org/
https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-last-straw.html

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Fictile Dairymaids

I came across an interesting word yesterday that I hadn’t seen before: fictile. It means capable of being moulded into the shape of an artifact or art work; moulded clay or earth; relating to earthenware, or capable of being led or directed. Synonyms include pliable and moldable.

Hopi Tewa Pot

Fictile comes from Latin fictilus, from fictus (feigned, fictitious, false), from fingō (to shape, fashion, form, deceive, pretend), from Proto-Italic *fingō (to knead, form), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰeyǵʰ- (to knead, form, shape) [source].

Words for the same roots include: dairy, dough, feign, feint, fiction, figment and figure in English [source].

The word dairy comes from Middle English daierie (dairy, pantry, dairy farm), from daie/dey (dairymaid), from Old English dǣġe (maker of bread, baker, dairy-maid), from Proto-Germanic *daigijǭ (kneader of bread, maid), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰeyǵʰ- (to knead, form) [source].

The word lady has similar roots: from Middle English ladie (the mistress of servants; female head of a household, manor, etc), from Old English hlǣfdīġe (mistress of a household, wife of a lord, lady), from hlāf (bread, loaf) and dīġe (kneader), which is related to dǣġe (maker of dough/bread). So a lady was originally a “bread-kneader” [source].

Incidentally, dough is used as a slang term for money, as is bread . This is thought to have started during the 19th century. Bread was a traditional everyday necessity of life, and to earn one’s living was to earn one’s bread, or crust, so bread, and the dough it’s made from, became synonymous with money [source].

The use of bread as slang for money may also be linked to Cockney Rhyming Slang – bread and honey = money. This should not be confused with bread and butter = gutter, or bread and cheese = sneeze [source].

Ways to “to earn a living” or “to earn a crust” in Welsh include ennill eich bara menyn (to earn one’s bread and butter) and ennill eich bara a chaws (to earn one’s bread and cheese).

Are there interesting ways to say “to earn a living” in other languages?

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Mud Glorious Mud

If you live in a muddy place, or want to describe such a place, you could use the old word lutarious.

cute and muddy

It means “of, pertaining to, or like, mud; living in mud”, and comes from the Latin word lutarius (of or belonging to the mud, living in mud), from lutum (mud, soil, dirt, mire, loam, clay), from Proto-Indo-European *lew- (dirt, mud) [source].

A related word is lutulent [ˈlʌtjʊlənt], which means pertaining to mud, or muddy.

Words for the same roots include:

  • Albanian: llucë = thin or shallow mud, muddy place
  • Portuguese: lodoso = muddy
  • Romanian: lut = clay, loam, mud, dirt, lutos = clayey
  • Spanish: lodo = mud, muck, mire, lodoso = muddy, boddy

Lutetia, the Gallo-Roman town founded in 52 BC that became Paris, gets it’s name from the Gaulish word *lutos (swamp), from Proto-Celtic *lutā (dirt, mud), from PIE *lew- (dirt, mud). It was known as Lutetia Parisiorum by the Romans. The Parisiorum part comes from Parīsiī, the Latin name for the Gaulish tribe who lived in the area. The name Paris comes from the same roots.

You can find more details on Radio Omniglot.

Incidentally, the French word boue [bu] (mud, dirt), also has Celtic roots: it comes from the Gaulish *bawā (mud, dirt), from Proto-Celtic *bowā (dirt, filth, excrement), from Proto-Indo-European *gʷewh₁- (excrement, dung) [source].

The Galician word bosta (dung, manure) comes from the same Celtic roots, as do the Welsh words baw (mud) and budr (dirty, filthy, vile, foul) [source].

Gwineas buoy

The French word boue shouldn’t be confused with the Breton word boue [ˈbuː.e], which means buoy. It comes from Middle English boi(e) (buoy), from Middle Dutch boeye, from Old Dutch *bōcan, from Frankish *baukn (symbol, sign) from Proto-Germanic *baukną (sign, symbol), from PIE *bʰeh₂- (to glow, light, shine) [source].

By the way, do you pronounce buoy [bɔɪ] (boy) or [ˈbu.i] (boo-ee), or some other way?

Gatekeeping / Geatóireacht

I’ve noticed that in discussion about minority and endangered languages, there is often some degree of gatekeeping. That is to say, there are people who believe that there is one true version of a language, and that anything else is a corrupt abomination that doesn’t deserve to be called X language. Or something along those lines.

The Gatekeeper

Acquiring a language as you grow up from your family or other people around you usually ensures that you speak it fluently and with a native accent. However, to become literate, and to be competent in using advanced vocabulary and grammar, you usually need to study the language in some kind of formal way. It also helps if you use it in a variety of situations. Such opportunities are not available to all.

People may use one language at home, and another at school, work or in other contexts. This is especially true with minority and endangered languages. So while they can speak the home language fluently, they may not have the vocabulary to talk about things that aren’t usually discussed at home.

For example, my Linguistics tutor at Bangor University grew up in a Welsh speaking family and speaks Welsh fluently. However, all his education was through English, and he does not use Welsh in his work. He told me that he speaks “Kitchen Welsh”, and just doesn’t have the vocabulary to talk about linguistics.

If you learn a language in school, or as an adult, it’s unlikely that you’ll learn it perfectly. You’ll probably speak it with a non-native accent, and you may not have as much vocabulary, or be able to use the grammar as well or as instinctively as a native speaker. This is one reason why languages change, especially when large numbers of people learn them as a second or foreign language.

People who really dedicate themselves to learning a language, can acquire native-like pronunciation, a comprehensive vocabulary and a high level knowledge and understanding of the grammar. They may even become more proficient in at least some aspects of the language than native speakers.

In the case of Irish, far more people learn it as a second or foreign language than speak it as a native language. There is a standard version of the language that is taught in schools and used in the media and official written material. However, there are variations within that standard that take into account dialect differences, and native speakers don’t necessarily use the standard.

There are people who complain that ‘school Irish’ has poor grammar, a relatively small vocabulary and non-native pronunciation, it’s influenced too much by English, and isn’t ‘proper Irish’. They might say the same about the Irish spoken by people who have learnt it as adults. While this may be true, it is not very encouraging for people trying to learn Irish. They might conclude that there’s no point, as they’ll never learn ‘real’ Irish.

Instead, it might be better to celebrate that fact that people are learning and using Irish, even if their Irish isn’t perfect. If they’re able to communicate effectively even with their imperfect Irish, then they are helping to keep the language alive.

Fortunately, such complainers are relatively rare, and the majority of Irish speakers I’ve met are very supportive of and welcoming to learners like me.

As they say in Irish: Is fearr Gaeilge briste, ná Béarla cliste – Broken Irish is better than clever English. The writer of this article agrees with this, and would add ach is í an Ghaeilge chliste is fearr (but intelligent Irish is the best) to this saying.

There’s a simliar saying in Scottish Gaelic: Is fheàrr Gàidhlig bhriste na Gàidhlig sa chiste. – Broken Gaelic is better than Gaelic in the coffin.

What is your take on gatekeeping?

Are there similar sayings in other languages?

In April I’ll be going to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye to do a course in (Scottish) Gaelic Song, and in June I’ll be going to Oideas Gael in Gleann Cholm Cille in the northwest of Ireland to do a course in Irish Language and Landscape. I was planning to go to the Irish language and culture summer school at the end of July, as I have many times before, but it’s fully booked already.

Lost in the Geese

The French word oie means goose, but how do you pronounce it?

Geese

Last night at the French Conversation Group, we were talking about geese, as you do, and while I could remember how to write the word for goose in French, I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it. Then one of my friends suggested it was foie as in foie gras [fwa ɡʁa]. I knew this means “fat liver”, so foie must mean liver, and that oie probably sounds similar to foie.

My guess was right, oie is pronounced [wa] and rhymes with foie [fwa]. It comes from the Old French oie (goose), from Vulgar Latin auca (goose), a contraction of *avica, from Latin avis (bird), from Proto-Italic *awis (bird), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂éwis (bird). The Old French word was originally written oe or oue. The i was added by the end of the 12th century as analogy to oisel/oiseau (bird) [source].

Words from the same roots include հավ [hɑv] (hen, chicken) in Armenian, ave (bird) in Galician, Spanish and Portuguese, vista (chicken, hen) in Latvian, hwyad (duck) in Welsh, οἰωνός [i.oˈnos] (large bird, bird of prey, omen) in Greek [source].

The French word oiseau (bird) also comes from the same roots, via the Late Latin aucellus (little bird), as do uccello (bird) in Italian, and ocell (bird) in Catalan [source].

Incidentally, goose comes from Middle English go(o)s (goose, fool, idiot), from Old English gōs (goose), from Proto-West Germanic *gans (goose), from Proto-Germanic *gans (goose), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰh₂éns (goose), which is likely of imitative origin [source].

A French equivalent of to loose one’s marble (become crazy, loose one’s mind) is se perdre les oies (“to get lost in the geese”) [source].

Are there any interesting goose-related expressions in other languages?

Laxness

During the days between Christmas and New Year things may seem a bit more lax than usual, so I thought I’d look into the origins of the word.

lazy

Lax means lenient and allowing for deviation, not strict, loose, not tight or taut, lacking care, neglectful or negligent. It comes from the Latin laxus (wide, roomy, loose), from Proto-Indo-European *slǵ-so (weak, faint) [source].

The English word leash comes from the same roots, via the Middle English lesse (a leash for holding a coursing hound or watchdog) [source], the Old French lesse (leash, lead), and the Latin laxā (thong, a loose cord), from laxus [source].

The English word lease also comes from the same roots, at least partly: from Middle English *lesen, the Anglo-Norman lesser/lasier (to let, let go), from Latin laxō (to loose) from laxus, and partly from Old High German lāzan (to let, let go, release) [source].

Related words in other languages include laks (lax, slack) in Dutch, lâche (loose, slack, coward(ly), low, lazy) in French, lax (lax, easy, loose) in Geman, and llaes (loose, slack, free, trailing, flowing, low) in Welsh [source].