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?

Polyglot Cruise

Costa Pacifica

On 18th April 2020 the good ship Costa Pacifica will set sail from Barcelona with 100 polyglots on board. They will be taking part in the first Polyglot Cruise, which is organized by Kris Broholm of the Actual Fluency Podcast.

The cruise is open to anybody interested in languages, whether you consider yourself a polyglot or not. During the week-long event there will be presentations, discussions and workshops every day, and plenty of time to enjoy the ameneties of the ship, and to explore the places it visits, including Palma (Mallorca), La Valetta (Malta), Catania and Genoa (Italy).

For a shared cabin it costs US$897 (about €788 / £704) for the week, which includes participation in the polyglot activities, accommodation, meals, entertainment, and use of other facilities on the ship. It’s more if you want a single cabin, or a travelling as a couple or family.

This may sound like a lot, but I think it’s worth it, and I signed up yesterday. I’ll giving a short presentation on the old Mediterranean Lingua Franca (Sabir), a pidgin that was used by sailors and others around the Mediterranean from about the 11th century to the 19th century. It was based particuarly on Venetian, Genoese, Catalan and Occitan, and also contained words from French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Berber.

If you book within the next 5 days, you can enjoy early bird prices, and if you use the offer code OMNIGLOT, you can get a further US$50 discount.

More details of the cruise.

If this doesn’t appeal, maybe you’ll be interested in other polyglot events.

Note: as an affiliate, I will get a small commission if you register via a link in this post, or on my events page.

Treading in Spinach

Language quiz image

A few posts ago I wrote about an interesting Swedish idiom – trampa i klaveret – to make a social mistake, put one’s foot in it, or literally “to step heavily on the accordion”.

Today I learnt the Danish equivalenttræde i spinaten (“to tread in the spinach”). For example, jeg har virkelig trådt i spinaten (“I have really trod in the spinach”) = I really put my foot in it.

Accoriding to Den Danske Ordbog, træde i spinaten means “utilsigtet sige eller gøre noget dumt” (to accidentally say or do something stupid).

Another version is træde/trampe i spinatbedet (“tread/tramp in the spinach bed”) [source].

Then there’s the spinatfugl or “spinach bird”, which is apparently a person who writes reviews or other cultural material in a newspaper without a journalistic background [source].

Does anybody know why such a person is known as a spinach bird?

The word spinach comes from the Middle English spinach, from Anglo-Norman spinache, from the Old French espinoche, from the Old Occitan espinarc, from the Arabic إِسْفَانَاخ‎ (ʾisfānāḵ), from the Persian اسپناخ‎ (ispanâx).

Apparently spinach cinema refers to “Movies that are not very exciting or interesting, but that one feels one must see because they are educational or otherwise uplifting.” [source]

Are there any interesting spinach or other vegetable-related idioms in other languages?

Back in Bangor / Yn nôl ym Mangor

Janko Kráľ Park

Yesterday morning I went for a wander around Bratislava, had lunch, then headed to the airport. I got there a bit early, and spent my time mainly listening to an audiobook. There were a couple of other polyglots (from Russian) there, so I had a little chat with them as well.

Bore ddoe mi wnes crwydro o gwmpas Bratislava, ges i ginio, ac yna es i i’r maes awyr. Mi wnes i gyrraedd yna tipyn bach yn gynnar, a mi wnes i gwario fy amser yn gwrando ar llyfr sain yn bennaf. Roedd dau amlieithogwyr (o Rwsia) yna, felly mi wnes i cael sgwrs bach â nhw hefyd.

When I was queueing for the flight, a mother with two daughters was in front of me speaking Slovak and English to each other. By coincidence, they were the same ones who were in the queue in front of me in Birmingham on the way to Bratislava.

Pan ro’n i’n ciwio am yr ehediad, roedd mam efo dwy ferch o’m blaen i yn siarad Slofaceg a Saesneg efo’i gilydd. Fel cyd-ddigwyddiad, roedden nhw yr un pwy oedd yn y res o’m blaen i yn Birmingham ar y ffordd i Bratislava.

On the train from the airport there was a man speak and singing loudly in a language that sounded like Arabic. He appeared to be talking and singing to someone on his phone, though may have just been doing it to himself – he was rather drunk, I think.

Ar y trên o’r maes awyr roedd dyn yn siarad ac yn canu mewn iaith sy’n swnio fel Arabeg. Roedd fel petai roedd o’n siarad ac yn canu efo rhywun ar ei ffôn, ond mae’n bosib roedd o’n gwneud hynny efo’i gilydd – roedd o wedi meddw, dw i’n meddwl.

I arrived back in Bangor last night, and today I’m catching up with things I couldn’t do while away

Mi wnes i gyrraedd yn ôl ym Mangor neithiwr, a heddiw dw i’n gwneud y pethau ro’n i ddim medru gwneud wrth i mi bod i ffwrd.

What a foofaraw!

Have you ever come across the word foofaraw? If not, can you guess what it means?

I stumbled on it in a book I’m reading at the moment, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper. It is used in the following context:

“Dictionaries, he explained, were records of the language as it is used, and so we must set aside our disdain for the adverb “good” [..] and record its long use in our dictionaries in spite of the rather pointless foofaraw around its existence.”

The reference to the use of good as an adverb is illustrated by the phrase “I’m doing good”, which pedants would tell you should be “I’m doing well”.

Foofaraw - definition

Merriam-Webster defines it as “frills and flashy finery; a disturbance or to-do over a trifle.”

Dictionary.com defines it as “a great fuss or disturbance about something very insignificant; an excessive amount of decoration or ornamentation, as on a piece of clothing, a building, etc.”

According to Wiktionary it means “Overly excessive or flashy ornamentation or decoration; Fuss over something of little importance.” It’s pronounced [ˈfu.fəˌɹɔ], was first used in writing in the 1930s, and is of uncertain origin.

Dictionary.com suggests that it may be related to the French word fanfaron (boasting, boaster), which is either imitative, or could come from Arabic فَرْفَار‎ (farfār), which is possibly the origin of fanfare in French and English. The word fanfaron is an obsolete English word for a bully, boaster or braggart [source].

I might use the word hoo-ha instead of foofaraw. It means “a fuss, uproar, commotion or stir; hype; brouhaha, hullabaloo”, and is also written hoohaa, hoohar, hoo-haa, hoo-har or hoo-hah. It possibly comes from the Yiddish הו־האַ‎ (hu-ha – a hullabaloo) [source].

Do you know other words with a similar mean to foofaraw or hoo-ha?

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

Multilingual hospital

The staff and patients in the hospital are from many different places and speak a variety of languages.

Yesterday I overheard a consultation involving a man from Afghanistan who spoke no English, so his relatives were interpreting. I couldn’t tell if he was speaking Dari or Pashto or another language, as I’m not familiar with languages from that region.

When I was chatting with the ambulance crew, who were all from Australia, and mentioned that I speak a variety of languages, one of them joked that she barely speaks English. This seems to be quite a common reaction when monolinguals encouter polyglots.

One of the doctors I saw yesterday told me that they often need interpreters in the hospital and frequently use phone-based ones. The languages most in demand at the moment are Arabic and Farsi.

I’m going home in a little while, which will be an adventure and challenge, and will get my ankle fixed properly tomorrow in Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, hopefully.

Change of plan – I will have the operation in Lancaster, then stay with my Mum, who lives nearby, while recovering.

Languages of London

Last night I went to the first Languages of London meetup – it’s the same group I’ve been going to for a few months (the Polyglot Pub), but with a new name and venue, and more participants.

Some happy polyglots at the Languages of London meet-up in the Wellcome Collection café

The meetup was supposed to take place in the Institute of Education in UCL, which is a good location in central London near Russell Square and Euston. Unfortunately they were closed for the Easter holidays, even though they had confirmed in advance that the venue would be available. So we had to find somewhere else in a hurry. Fortunately we found a good alternative in the café in the nearby Wellcome Collection.

There were more people there last night than have been at any of the Polyglot Pub meetups I’ve been to, from various countries. We chatted about languages, and other things, in a variety of languages, and generally had a good time. I had conversations in English, Welsh, French and Japanese, and spoke odd bits of Spanish and Portuguese. There were also conversations in Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Thai and a few other languages.

These meetups happen once a month and if you’re in London for the next one. Do come along. They’re for anybody who is learning a language or two, who speaks a few languages, and/or is interested in languages.

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.

Which are the most learned languages?

When up-dating the Which language should I learn? page on Omniglot this week I decided to try and find out not only which languages have the most speakers, and also which ones have the most learners.

The top ten languages in terms of overall number of native (L1) and second language (L2) speakers are:

Language L1 speakers L2 speakers Total speakers
Mandarin Chinese 850 million 180 million 1,030 million
English 340 million 510 million 840 million
Arabic 240 million 250 million 490 million
Spanish 400 million 90 million 490 million
Hindi 260 million 120 million 380 million
Russian 150 million 110 million 260 million
Portuguese 215 million 35 million 250 million
French 80 million 140 million 220 million
Bengali 190 million 20 million 210 million
Indonesian/Malay 60 million 140 million 200 million

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_total_number_of_speakers

If you count Hindi and Urdu speakers together, as I’ve done with Indonesian and Malay, the number of L1 speakers is 324 million, L2 speakers number 214 million, and the total number of speakers is 438 million. This doesn’t change the rankings of other languages.

The languages with the most learners are English (600 million), French (100 million), and Spanish (21 million). If you add these figures to the above totals, English moves into first place, French into seventh place, and Spanish into fourth place.

The most popular languages to study in the USA are Spanish, French, American Sign Language (ASL), German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Latin and Russian [source].

In Europe the most studied foreign languages are English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian [source].

I couldn’t find any figures for the number of Chinese learners, but there were 234,275 takers of the Chinese Proficiency Tests in 2012 [source]. I suspect that the total number of people learning Chinese isn’t huge, but it has increased over the past few years.

Do you have details of which languages have most learners in other countries?