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:
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.
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.
Imagine you’re with a group of people who all share a common language, and some of the group may also speak another language. Is it rude for them to speak that language, knowing that some members of the group won’t understand them, and might feel excluded?
Let’s say the common language is English, and some of the group speak Spanish. If you were a monoglot English speaker, you might feel excluded / annoyed if some members of the group speak Spanish, a language you don’t understand.
Imagine if you worked in an office where everyone speaks Mandarin and English, but you only speak English. Would you tell them to speak exclusively in English all the time, or at least when you’re around?
If you were the boss, you might do so. This was in fact the situation where I worked in Taipei – the boss only spoke English, so we all spoke English with him, while we spoke a mixture of Mandarin, English and Taiwanese among ourselves.
How about if everybody in the group but you speaks a language like Catalan, Basque, Welsh or Irish, would you expect them all to switch to a more-widely spoken language, such as Spanish or English, so you can understand and/or feel included?
There have been cases of monoglot English-speaking managers in businesses in Wales and Ireland insisting that their staff speak to each other in English rather than Welsh or Irish. The managers want to understand what their staff are saying, and don’t want any non-Welsh or Irish-speaking customers to feel excluded.
At the Welsh music session I go to, we speak mainly Welsh and bits of English. For the native speakers of Welsh, it’s normal to speak their mother tongue, and for the fluent learners like me, it’s a great opportunity to practise the language. Some of the people who come to the session don’t speak Welsh, or are just starting to learn it. However, they don’t complain that they can’t understand, and don’t insist that we speak English.
When I hear someone speaking in a language I don’t know, my ears prick up and I try to guess what language it is and what they’re talking about. Sometimes I might even ask them what language they’re speaking. Other people might not react in this way, and may even feel intimidated / irritated if everyone around is speaking in foreign.
The word for garden in Russian, and also in Belarusian, Ukrainian and Serbian, is сад [sat], which also means orchard. It comes from the Proto-Slavic word *sadъ (plant, garden).
The word for garden in most other Slavic languages is the same: sad in Croatian, Slovenian, Polish, Slovak and Sorbian. There are also similar words in Latvian (sads) and Lithuanian (sõdas) [source].
The word sad also exists in Czech, but just means orchard. The Czech word for garden is zahrada [ˈzaɦrada], which comes from za (for, in, behind), and hrad (castle), from the Proto-Slavic *gȏrdъ* (settlement, enclosed place). So zahrada could be translated as “in/behind the castle” [source].
*The Proto-Slavic *gȏrdъ comes ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰórtos (enclosure), which is also the root of the Irish gort (wheatfield), the Welsh garth (hill, enclosure), the Latin hortus (garden), and the English horticulture, yard and garden, and related words in other languages.
In the BBC adapatation of The Iron Hand of Mars, a novel by Lindsey Davis, one of the babarian Celtic tribes over the Rhine in Germania Libera (Free Germany) speak Welsh. While I do know quite a few Welsh-speaking Germans now, back then they certainly didn’t speak Welsh in that area.
The story is set in 71 AD and involves the chief protagonist, Marcus Didius Falco, being sent on a mission by the Emperor Vespasian to investigate various things along the Rhine, which was then the frontier between the Roman Empire and Free Germany. Various tribe lived in that area, including Celts, Balts, Scythians, Sarmatians and Alans, and some of them probably spoke Celtic languages distantly related to Welsh.
In the radio play it sort makes sense to have the actors playing the Ancient Celts speaking a modern Celtic language – very little is known about the language they spoke back then, so that couldn’t be used. To most listeners, the language would sound foreign and maybe a bit Celtic. As a Welsh speaker though, it was funny to hear Welsh used in this way, but good to be able to understand everything, and nice to hear Welsh being used.
Have you come across other examples of modern languages standing in for ancient languages, or even for alien languages, in this way?
Yesterday I discovered that the French word for penknife is canif [ka.nif], which was borrowed from the Middle English knif / knyf [kniːf] (knife, dagger) [source]. The English word knife comes from the same root.
Knif comes from the Old English cnīf [kniːf] (knife), which was possibly borrowed or influenced by the Old Norse knífr (knife), which comes from the Proto-Germanic *knībaz [ˈkniː.βɑz] (pincers, shears, knife), from the Proto-Indo-European *gneybʰ- (to pinch, nip), from *gen- (to pinch, squeeze, bend, press) [source].
Cnīf was first used in writing in the 11th century. Before then, seax [sæɑ̯ks] was the word for a knife or dagger, which is related to the word Saxon [source].
The French word for knife is couteau [ku.to], which comes from the Old French coutel, from the Latin cultellus (small knife, dagger), a diminutive of culter [ˈkul.ter] (knife, razor) [source], which is also the root of words for knife in Romance languages, the English words cutlass and cutlery, and the Welsh word cyllell [ˈkəɬɛɬ].
One of the songs we started to learn last night at Bangor Community Choir is a version of the Christmas carol Deck the Halls (With Boughs of Holly). It contains the line “Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol”, which got me thinking that maybe the word troll had a different meaning when this carol was written.
The melody of Deck the Halls comes from a 16th century Welsh tune, Nos Galan (New Year’s Eve). The English words were written by Thomas Oliphant, and were first published in 1862 in Welsh Melodies (Volume 2) by John Thomas. The line in question was “Troul the ancient Christmas carol” in the original version.
a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills
to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content
to cause to move round and round
to sing the parts of (something, such as a round or catch) in succession; to sing loudly; to celebrate in song
to fish by trailing a lure or baited hook from a moving boat
According to Wiktionary, other meanings of troll include:
an ugly person
optical ejections from the top of the electrically active core regions of thunderstorms that are red in color that seem to occur after tendrils of vigorous sprites extend downward toward the cloud tops.
to trundle, to roll from side to side
to draw someone or something out, to entice, to lure as if with trailing bait.
I think troll in the carol most likely refers to singing, rather any of the other definitions.
The noun troll comes from the Old Norse trǫll (witch, mage, conjurer), from the Proto-Germanic *truzlą (a supernatural being, demon, fiend, giant, monster), which is also the root of the English word droll (oddly humorous, whimsical), and the French drôle (funny, amusing, strange, wierd, bizarre), as well as words for troll in Germanic languages.
The verb troll comes from the Middle English troll (to go about, stroll, roll from side to side), from the Old French troller (to quest, to wander), from the Proto-Germanic *truzlōną (to lumber).
At the Welsh conversation group I went to tonight we had a quiz, part of which involved matching Welsh names for places in England to their English equivalents. I knew quite a few of them, but some were new to me.
My favourite was Twmpyn y Glori (“Little Hillock / Knoll of Glory”), which is apparently what you call Dewsbury in Welsh. I haven’t yet discovered why. Twmpyn is a diminutive of twmp, which means hillock, knoll, mound, pile or lump.
Dewsbury is a town in West Yorkshire in the north of England. The English name is thought to come from the Welsh name Dewi, an equivalent of David, and the Old English word burh (fort). The name was recorded as Deusberie, Deusberia, Deusbereia or Deubire in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Perhaps a better Welsh name for it would be Caerddewi (Dewi’s fort).
Another interesting name that came up was Tre’r Ogof (“Town of the Cave”), which is the Welsh for Nottingham. Apparently an old Brythonic name for that area was Tig Guocobauc, (Place of Caves). The name Nottingham comes from Snotingaham – Snot’s people’s (inga) homestead (ham). Snot was a Saxon chieftain.
Last night I wrote a song called Two Left Feet, about someone who believes he can’t dance because he has two left feet – not literally, but in the idiomatic sense of being clumsy and awkward, especally when trying to dance.
I used to feel like this, and still do a bit when I try to learn new dances, or different styles of dancing. I don’t let this stop me though, and dance anyway, which is what the song is all about. I’ll add a link to the song here when I’ve recorded it.
I like to translate the titles of my songs and tunes into Welsh, so I looked for Welsh equivalents of this idiom. These include:
bod â dwy droed chwith = to be with two left feet
bod yn drwstan eich traed = to be clumsy of foot
bod yn drwstan ar eich traed = to be clumsy on one’s feet
bod yn lloglog = to be clumsy / awkward
Drwstan [ˈtrʊstan] is a mutated form of trwstan which means clumsy, awkward, unsteady, bungling, unpolished, shoddy, unfortunate, unlucky, unhappy, sad or wretched.
Lloglog [ˈɬɔɡlɔɡ] means clumsy, awkward, untidy or baggy.
Trwstan and Lloglog might be good names for characters in a story or song – maybe I’ll use them in my next song.
Incidentally, trwstan is not related to the name Tristan, which comes, via Old French, from the Celtic name Drystan, from drest (riot, tumult).