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.
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.
One of the things we talked about last night at the French conversation group was patois, specifically Jamaican (Jimiekn / Patwah).
In French patois means
“Système linguistique essentiellement oral, utilisé sur une aire réduite et dans une communauté déterminée (généralement rurale), et perçu par ses utilisateurs comme inférieur à la langue officielle.” [source]
“an essentially oral linguistic system, used in a small area and in a particular community (usually rural), and perceived by its users as inferior to the official language.”
In English patois means “an unwritten regional dialect of a language, esp. of French, usually considered substandard; the jargon of particular group.” [source].
1. A regional dialect of a language (especially French); usually considered substandard.
2. Any of various French or Occitan dialects spoken in France.
3. Creole French in the Caribbean (especially in Dominica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti).
4. Jamaican Patois, a Jamaican Creole language primarily based on English and African languages but also has influences from Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi.
5. Jargon or cant.
It comes from the Middle French patois (local dialect), from the Old French patois (incomprehensible speech, rude language), from the Old French patoier (to gesticulate, handle clumsily, paw), from pate (paw), from Vulgar Latin *patta (paw, foot), from the Frankish *patta (paw, sole of the foot), from the Proto-Germanic *pat-, *paþa- (to walk, tread, go, step), of uncertain origin [source].
Patois was first used in written French in 1643 to refer to non-standard varities of French, and to regional languages such as Picard, Occitan, Franco-Provençal and Catalan. Such varities and languages were assumed to be backward, countrified, and unlettered. Use of the word was banned by king Louis XIV in 1700.
There is no standard linguistic definition of patois, and to a linguist it can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, or vernaculars [source].
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?
Yesterday I learnt the Russian word for beef, говядина [ɡɐˈvʲædʲɪnə], and the promotely forgot it. So I thought I’d investigate its etymology to help me remember it.
говядина comes from говядо [ɡɐˈvʲadə] and old word for cattle. This comes from the Proto-Slavic *govędo (head of cattle, bull, ox), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷew-n̥d-, from *gʷṓws (cattle) [source].
The usual Russian word for cow is корова [source], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *kőrva (cow), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn) [source].
*gʷṓws is also the root of:
gak = boar (Albanian)
govs = cattle, cow (Latvian)
говядо = beef (Ukrainian)
говедо = cattle (Bulgarian, Macedonian & Serbian)
govedo = cattle (Croatian & Slovenian)
hovado = brute (Czech & Slovak)
gowjedo = cow (Lower Sorbian)
*kūz = cow (Proto-Germanic)
Kuh = cow (German)
koe = cow (Dutch)
ku = cow (Norwegian)
ko = cow (Swedish, Danish, North Frisian)
coo, kye = cow (Scots)
βοῦς = cow (Ancient Greek)
bōs = cow, bull, ox (Latin)
bou = ox (Catalan)
bue = ox, beef (Italian)
bife = steak (Portuguese)
bou= ox, idiot (Romanian)
buey= ox. steer (Spanish)
bœuf = cow, ox, beef, jam session (French)
*bāus = cow (Proto-Celtic)
*bōws = ox (Proto-Celtic)
bu, buw = cow, bullock, head of cattle (Middle Welsh)
buwch = cow (Welsh)
bugh = cow (Cornish)
bu, buoc’h = cow (Breton)
bó = cow (Irish)
booa = cow (Manx)
bò = cow (Scottish Gaelic)
The English words beef and bovine come ultimately from the same root. Beef comes from the Middle English beef, bef, beof, from the Anglo-Norman beof, from the Old French buef, boef (ox). from Latin bōs (“ox”)
The Proto-Indo-European word *gʷowkólos, from *gʷṓws (cow) & *kʷel- (to revolve, move around, sojourn) gives us the following words in the Celtic languages [Source].
When does the morning start for you? How about the afternoon, evening or night? Does it vary from day to day, perhaps depending on the sun, or do you stick to clock time?
Dictionary definitions of these words are as follows:
morning – the time from sunrise to noon; the time from midnight to noon [source].
afternoon – the part of day between noon and sunset [source].
evening – the latter part and close of the day and early part of the night; the period from sunset or the evening meal to bedtime [source].
night – the time from dusk to dawn when no sunlight is visible [source].
For me mornings start when the sun rises. That can vary a lot here from just before 5am in the summer to 8:30am in the winter. I often wake up when the sun comes up, but don’t usually get up until later.
Afternoon starts just after midday (12pm) – that doesn’t vary, though my lunchtime may be between 12pm and 3pm. Here the sun sets between 4pm in the winter and nearly 10pm in summer. So my afternoons would be very long in the summer if they lasted until sunset. Instead I think of them as going until I have my evening meal, which is usually between 6pm and 7pm.
Evenings for me start after my evening meal and last until bedtime. Nights overlap somewhat, usually from when it gets dark until sunrise.
Not all languages distinguish between afternoon and evening – there is one word for both. In Spanish and Portuguese it’s tarde, in Catalan it’s tarda, in Greek it’s απόγευμα, in Irish it’s tráthnóna and in Scottish Gaelic it’s feasgar.
If you’re a native speaker of one of these languges, do you think of the time between noon and night as a one period?
Are there other ways of dividing the day in other languages?
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.
I discovered an interesting word in Irish yesterday – súilíní [ˈsˠuːl̪ʲiːn̪ʲiː] – which is a diminutive form of súil [sˠuːl̪ʲ] (eye) and means literally “small eyes”, and actually means eyelets, an aperture-sight, or bubbles. For example, uisce gan súilíní is still water (“water without bubbles”) [source].
More common Irish words for bubbles are bolgán and boilgeog.
The word súilíní is also used in Hiberno-English to mean “bubbles of fat floating on top of a stew or clear soup”, and is also written sooleens [source].
The word súil (eye) comes from *sūli, an alteration of the Proto-Celtic *sūle (suns), the dual of *sūlos, which is the genitive of *sāwol (sun), from the Proto-Indo-European *sóh₂wl̥ (sun). Apparently in Irish mythology the sun was seen as the “eye of the sky”, and the word for sun came to mean eye [source].
The words for sun in other European languages come from the same root, and most start with s, e.g. saũle (Latvian), sol (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese), Sonne (German), etc. There are some exceptions though, including haul (Welsh) heol (Breton), howl (Cornish) and ήλιος (ḗlios – Greek) [source].
I received a email today asking when the Spanish word perro (dog) replaced can, a word for dog derived from the Latin canis, which appears in the name Canary Islands, (Islas Canarias in Spanish).
The Spanish word perro first appeared in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española in 1737 [source]; was originally pejorative [source] and is possibly of onomatopoeic origin from the growling sounds made by dogs, perr perr (sounds more like a cat’s purr to me). Shepherds also used that sound to call their dogs. Another possibility is that perro comes from a pre-Roman language [source].
In Spanish the word can was used for dog until about the 14th century, after which it was gradually replaced by perro. The words for dog in most other Romance languages come from the Latin word canis: cane (Italian), chien (French), câine (Romanian), cão (Portuguese), can (Galician). One exception is Catalan, in which the word for dog is gos. [source].
The root of the Latin word canis, which appears in biological name for the subspecies of dogs: canis lupus familiaris, comes from the Proto-Indo-European base *kwon- (dog). This is also the root of the English hound (via the Proto-Germanic *khundas and the Old English hund), the English canine, the Greek κυων (kuōn), the German hund, the Irish cu and the Welsh ci [source].
The English word dog comes from the Old English docga, a word of unknown origin which was probably the name of a particular breed of dog, and had largely replaced the word hound as the general term for dog by the 16th century [source]. Hound started to be used to mean “a dog used for hunting” from the 12th century [source].
The name Islas Canarias probably comes from the Latin Insula Canaria (Island of the Dogs), which was originally just the name of Gran Canaria. It is possible that the dogs referred to were seals [source].