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.

Interlinguistic Conflicts

Is it a good idea to study two or more closely related languages at the same time?

dominance

Perhaps. If you can devote more or less the same time to each one, and are able to keep them separate in your head, then there are certainly advantages to doing so. However, if you spend more time with one of them, it might interfere with the other(s), and they could end up fighting for dominance.

Many years ago, I started learning Irish and Scottish Gaelic. At first, I listened to songs in them which I tried to sing, even though I didn’t understand most of the words. Later, I started studying the languages, on my own at first, then I took some classes.

From 2005 to 2019, I spent a week or two every summer studying, speaking and singing in Irish in Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. I’ve also taken part in short courses in Scottish Gaelic songs at a college on the Isle of Skye in Scotland quite a few times between 2008 and 2022.

Until recently, I felt more fluent and confident in Irish, and it was my default Gaelic language. When I spoke Scottish Gaelic, I tended to fill in any gaps in my vocabulary and knowledge with Irish, which often works, as the two languages are closely related.

Over the past year though, I’ve been learning more Scottish Gaelic, and now feel a lot more confident with it. When I started brushing up my Irish this month, I realised that Scottish Gaelic is now the dominant form of Gaelic in my head, and Irish feels like a slightly deviant relative.

This happens with my other languages as well. Especially with closely related languages like German and Dutch (Dutch is currently winning), Swedish and Danish (Swedish is dominating at the moment), and French and Spanish (they’re fairly evenly balanced, although I feel more confident with French).

I studied (Mandarin) Chinese and Japanese at university, and became fluent in Chinese during the 5+ years I spent studying and working in Taiwan. However, I only spent one semester studying Japanese in Japan, and didn’t become as fluent in Japanese.

When I tried to read Japanese texts, I could recognise many of the kanji (Chinese characters) and knew what they meant and how to pronounce them in Mandarin, but not necessarily in Japanese. Recently I’ve been learning more Japanese and am getting better at reading it and speaking it. When I see kanji know, the Japanese pronunciation often comes first rather than the Mandarin pronunciation. I haven’t forgotten my Mandarin, but it is not as dominant as it was.

Are there interlinguistic conflicts in your head?

Moon’s Ear

What do you call the symbol @?

at sign

I would call it at or at sign. Other names are available, and it’s used in various ways.

The oldest known appearence of @ in writing was in 1345 in a Bulgarian translation of a Greek chronicle by Constantinos Manasses. It was used as the first letter of the word Amen – @мин (@min) in the manuscript.

In Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese @ has long been used to refer to a unit of weight know as arroba, which is equal to 25 pounds. This name comes from the Arabic الربع (alrubue – quarter).

In Venitian @ was used to represent the word anfora (amphora), a unit of weight and volume equivalent to the standard amphora.

In accounting, @ means “at a rate of” or “at the price of”, for example, 5 widgets @ £5 = £25.

These days it most commonly appears in email addresses, a usage that dates back to 1971, when it was introduced by Ray Tomlinson of BBN Technologies. Online it may be omitted or replaced when listing email addresses to trip up spam programs trawling for email adresses. That’s why I give my email as feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com, or as an image. This practise is known as address munging. A better way to trip up the spam bots is apparently feedback@omniglot.com.

Some names for @ in English include: ampersat, asperand, at, atmark, at symbol, commercial at, amphora and strudel.

Ampersat comes from the phrase “and per se at”, which means “and by itself @”, and was how it was originally referred to in English.

Some interesting names for @ in other languages include:

  • Afrikaans: aapstert (monkey tail)
  • Armenian: շնիկ (shnik – puppy)
  • Belarusian: сьлімак (sʹlimak – helix, snail)
  • Chinese: 小老鼠 (xiǎo lǎoshǔ – little mouse)
  • Danish & Swedish: snabel-a (elephant’s trunk A)
  • Finnish: kissanhäntä (cat’s tail), miuku mauku (miaow-meow)
  • Greek: παπάκι (papáki – duckling)
  • Kazakh: айқұлақ (aıqulaq – moon’s ear)
  • Korean: 골뱅이 (golbaeng-i – whelk)
  • Polish: małpa (monkey, ape)
  • Welsh: malwoden (snail)

Do you know any other interesting names for this symbol?

Sources and further information:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_sign
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/at_sign
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Address_munging

Roses (薔薇)

The Japanese word 薔薇 (bara) means rose. If you asked random Japanese people to write these kanji (characters), many would struggle. However, they would be able to read them.

Rose, バラ,

The word for rose is normally written with katakana – バラ, and the kanji version 薔薇 is not in everyday use, so it’s not surprising if people cannot write it. These kanji can also be pronounced shōbi or sōbi.

薔 (mizutade) on its own means Persicaria hydropiper, water pepper or marshpepper knotweed (see below). It is also known as 柳蓼 (yanagitade) in Japan, and can be used as an ingredient in various dishes such as sashimi, tempura, sushi and wasabi.

2012.08.22_17.29.38_IMG_9439

薇 (zenmai) means Osmunda japonica, a.k.a. Japanese/Asian royal fern (see below). Parts of the plant are used as a vegetable in parts of China and Japan.

Osmunda japonica

Other words that Japanese people might struggle to write in kanji include 忍者 (ninja), 肘 (hiji = elbow), 挨拶 (aisatsu = greeting), 帽子 (bōshi = hat) 餅 (mochi = sticky rice cake), as you can see in this video:

This phenomena is common among Japanese (and Chinese) speakers who use computers, phones and other devices to type and input text rather than writing it by hand. You could call it character amnesia or kanji amnesia, or perhaps 漢字忘失 (kanji bōshitsu = “forgeting kanji”) in Japanese. I just made this up. Is there an official/standard term for it?

This doesn’t happen in languages with alphabetic or syllabic writing systems. Even if you do most of your writing on computers and other electronic gizmos, and your handwriting is poor, you don’t forget how to write any of the letters. You might forget or not know how to spell particular words, especially in languages like English with inconsistent and eccentic spelling systems, but you can at least have a go, and spell check and auto correct help.

People in Japan are apparently starting to realise that it is more important to be able to recognize kanji rather than learning to write them all by hand, at least according to this article on Tofugu. More kanji have been added to the everyday use list as they are easy to input on phones and other devices, even if they are hard to write by hand.

Perhaps the ability to write kanji by hand will become something that only calligraphers and other specialists do, while other people just input them on electronic gadgets.

When I was learning Chinese and Japanese, in the pre-interweb / smartphone age, I spent a lot of time writing the characters by hand, and found this helped me to remember them. I still write them down sometimes and enjoy doing so, but I mostly write them on my phone or computer, often using voice input.

By the way, here’s a rose-related song by Deai, a Russo-Japanese duo, called 百万本のバラ / Миллион алых роз (Million Scarlet Roses):

Rumbling Carts

The Japanese word 轟々 / ごうごう / ゴーゴー (gōgō) means thundering, roaring, rumbling or booming. The kanji 轟 (gō/kō/todoro) is made up of three carts (車), and is also used as a surname, which is pronounced Kuruma, Gō or Todoroki.

Rumbling Carts 轟轟 (gōgō) - thundering, roaring, rumbling, booming

This kanji also appears in words like:

  • 轟音 (gō’on) = thunderous roar, roaring sound
  • 轟く (todoroku) = to roar, reverberate, be well-known, be famous, palpitate, throb
  • 轟かす (todorosu) = to make a thundering sound, to make (one’s name, etc.) widely known, to make (one’s heart) pound
  • 轟然 (gōzen) = roaring, thundering, thunderous, deafening, ear-splitting
  • 轟き (todoroki) = roar, peal, rumble, booming, beating, pounding

In Mandarin Chinese the character 轰 [轟] is pronounced hōng and means explosion, bang, boom, rumble, to attack, shoo away, expel.

It appears in words like:

  • 轰动的成就 [轟動的成就] (hōngdòng de chéngjiù) = a howling success
  • 轰动全世界 [轟動全世界] (hōngdòng quánshìjiè) = to set the world on fire
  • 轰隆 [轟隆] (hōnglōng ) = to rumble
  • 轰轰烈烈 [轟轟烈烈] (hōnghōnglièliè) = vigorously, grand and spectacular, fiery
  • 轰赶 [轟趕] (hōnggǎn) = to drive off, shoo away

I like these compound characters that are made up of several duplicated characters. Other examples include

  • 林 (hayashi – wood, forest), and 森 (mori – forest) which are made up of several 木 (ki – tree, shrub, bush, wood, timber). Put them together and we get 森林 (shinrin – forest, woods).
  • 炎 (honō – flame, blaze, passion), which are made up of two 火 (hi – fire)
  • 品 (hin – elegance, grace, article, item), which are made up of several 口 (kuchi – mouth)
  • 龖 (tà – flight of a dragon), 龘 (tà – the appearance of a dragon walking) and 𪚥 (zhé – verbose) which are made up of several 龍 [龙] (lóng – dragon).

The dragon examples are rare and in Mandarin, the rest are in Japanese.

Sources: jisho.org, mdbg.net, Line Dict CHINESE-ENGLISH

Musical Fun

The Japanese word (kyoku) means a composition, piece of music, song, track (on a record), a tune, melody or air, or enjoyment, fun, interest or pleasure. Which is quite appropriate as music is enjoyable and fun for many people. It also often appears in the comments of the videos I watch that feature Japanese bands [source].

Lovebites 2019

The same kanji when pronounced kuse means wrong, improper or indecent, or a long segment of a noh play forming its musical highlight​. In the verb 曲がる (magaru) it means to bend, curve, warp, wind, twist, turn, be crooked and various other things, and as 曲げる (mageru) it means to bend, crook, bow, curve, curl, lean, tilt, yield and various other things.

also appears in words like:

  • 曲線 (kyokusen) = curve
  • 曲がり角 (magarikado) = street corner, bend in the road, turning point, watershed
  • 曲目 (kyokumoku) = name of a piece of music, (musical) number, (musical) program(me), list of songs
  • 曲がりくねる (magrikuneru) = to bend many times, twist and turn, zigzag
  • 曲芸 (kyokugei) = acrobatics
  • 曲がりなりにも (magari nimo) = though imperfect, somehow (or other)
  • 曲面 (kyokumen) = curved surface

曲目 (kyokumoku) sounds really nice to me, and something I struggle with is remembering the names of pieces of music. I can play quite a lot of tunes, but only know the names of some of them. I even forget the names of tunes I have written myself.

Here’s a little tune I wrote the other day called The Tower of Cats / Tŵr y Cathod.

In Chinese the character has several meanings: when pronounced it means bent, bend, crooked or wrong, and can also be a surname. When pronounced it means tune or song [source].

It appears in such words as:

  • 曲子 (qǔzi) = tune
  • 曲调 [曲调] (qǔdiào) = melody
  • 曲折 (qūzhé) = winding, complicated
  • 曲直 (qūzhí) = right and wrong
  • 曲线 [曲線] (qūxiàn) = curve, curved line, indirect
  • 曲解 (qūjiě) = to distort
  • 曲别针 [曲別針] (qūbiézhēn) = paper clip

Sources: Line Dict CHINESE-ENGLISH, mdbg.com

By the way, the band featured in the photo is Lovebites, a Japanese metal band who I really like.

This is their most recent video:

Myriads

The word myriad [ˈmɪɹi.æd/ˈmɪɹi.əd] means a countless number or multitude, and in the past it meant 10,000. It comes from the French myriade (myriad, 10,000), from the Latin Latin myrias (10,000), from the Ancient Greek μυριάς (muriás – countless, 10,000), from μῡρῐ́ος (mūríos – numberless, countless, infinite) [source].

Peering through the dust
A myriad of stars

The use of 10,000 to mean countless or infinite happens in other languages as well. For example in Chinese 万 [萬] (wàn) means 10,000 or a great number [source]. The same character (man) in Japanese means 10,000, a myriad, everything, all or various. When pronounced ban it means completely, absolutely or totally [source].

Do other languages do something similar?

Other English words that refer to a large but unspecified number include um(p)teen or umpty, which come from umpty (a colloquial name for a dash in Morse Code used as World War I army slang) and -teen [source].

Also zillion, gazillion, bazillion, jillion, bajillion and squillion [source].

Do you have any others?

Wanderwörter

A Wanderwort is term used in linguistics to refer to a word that has spread to many different languages, often via trade. It was borrowed from German and comes from wandern (to wander) and Wort (word), so it’s a “wandering word”. The plural is Wanderwörter, Wanderworte or Wanderworts [source]. The origins of some such words goes back to ancient trade routes from the Bronze Age, and it can be difficult to trace which language they ultimately came from. Examples include copper, silver, mint and wine [source].

Wanderwörter

Another example of a Wanderwort is:

tea, which comes from the Dutch thee (tea), from (tê – tea) in the Amoy dialect of Southern Min (Min Nan), from the Old Chinese *l’aː (bitter plant), from the Proto-Sino-Tibetan *s-la (leaf, tea) [source].

There are similar words for tea in many other languages, including ᑎᕀ (tiy) in Cree, tae in Irish, in Maori and టీ (ṭī) in Telugu. These words arrived in Europe and elsewhere thanks to the Dutch East India Company, who brought tea by sea from Amoy [source].

The word chai which in English is short for masala chai, refers to a beverage made with black teas, steamed milk and sweet spices, based loosely on Indian recipes. It comes from from the Hindi-Urdu चाय / چائے‎ (cāy – tea), from the Persian چای‎ (čây – tea), from the Chinese (chá – tea) [source].

Languages that got their tea overland generally have a word for tea like chai or cha, including цай / ᠴᠠᠢ (tsay – tea) in Mongolian, चाय (cāy – tea) in Hindi, чай (čaj – tea) in Russian, ชา (chaa – tea) in Thai, and ca (tea) in Malay [source].

Apologetic Thanks

The word 謝る (ayamaru – to apologise) has been popping up in my Japanese lessons on Duolingo recently, and I thought it would be interesting to look into the ways the character 謝 is used in Chinese and Japanese.

In Mandarin Chinese the usual way to say thank you is 谢谢 [謝謝] (xièxiè). If you want to say many thanks or thanks a lot you might say 多谢 [多謝] (duōxiè) or 感谢 [感謝] (gănxiè), or even 太感谢了 (tài gănxiè le). Other ways to express your thanks are available.

Apologetic Thanks

The character 谢 (xiè), in combination with other characters, can mean various other things:

  • 谢绝 (xièjué) = to decline
  • 谢客 (xièkè) = to decline to receive visitors
  • 谢幕 (xièmù) = to take a curtain call*
  • 谢罪 (xièzuì) = to offer an apology
  • 谢恩祈祷 (xiè’ēn qídǎo) = to say grace
  • 谢世 (xièshì) = to pass away, go to a better world, die

*the appearance of the performers at the conclusion of a theatrical or other performance in response to the applause of the audience [source].

The same character in Japanese means to apologise, and various other things. Here are some examples of how it’s used.

  • 謝る (ayamaru) = to apologise
  • 謝り (ayamari) = excuse, apology
  • 謝す / 謝する (shasu / shasuru) = to thank, apologise, say farewell, retreat, retire, refuse, pay back, settle old scores
  • 謝罪 (shazai) = apology
  • 謝礼 (sharei) = reward, remuneration
  • 謝意 (shai) = gratitude, thanks
  • 謝恩 (sha’on) = (expression of) gratitude
  • 謝恩会 (sha’onkai) = thank you party

In Cantonese there are several ways to say thank you, including:

  • 多謝 (do¹ ze⁶) = many thanks, thanks a lot (for something given)
  • 唔該 (m⁴ goi¹) = please, thanks (for services rendered), excuse me
  • 謝候 (ze⁶ hau⁶) = to thank sb for a favour or hospitality

Sources; LINE Dict Chinese-English, jisho, CC-Canto

Mountain Wind

嵐 (arashi) - storm, tempest, uproar or hullabaloo

An interesting Japanese word I learnt recently is 嵐 (arashi), which means storm, tempest, uproar or hullabaloo [source].

It is made up of the kanji 山 (yama), which means mountain, hill, and various other things, and 風 (kaze), which means wind, breeze, manner, and various other things. So if when I first saw the kanji 嵐, I guessed that it was referred to some kind of wind from the mountains, or a wind that lives among the mountains.

嵐 appears in the following phrases:

  • 大嵐 (ō arashi) = raging storm
  • 砂塵嵐 (sajin arashi) = dust storm, sand storm
  • 嵐の前の静けさ (arashi no mae no shizukesa) = calm before the storm
  • 荒潮 (arashi o) = violent tide, fierce tidal current
  • 嵐を呼ぶ (arashi o yobu) = to cause a commotion, to create a big stir, to invoke a storm

Other stormy words in Japanese include:

  • 暴風 (bōfū) = storm, windstorm or gale, or literally “outburst (of) wind”.
  • 暴風雨 (bōfū’u), = rainstorm or storm, or literally “outburst (of) wind (and) rain”.
  • 吹雪 (fubuki) = snow torm or blizzard, or literally “blow snow”.
  • 颶 (gu) = storm – normally appears in the word 颶風 (gufū) = tornado, hurricane, typhoon
  • 猋 (hyū) = wind, storm, gale, dog moving (made up of three dog kanji – 犬 (inu))

暴風 and 暴風雨 can also be pronounced arashi [source].

The character 岚 [嵐] also exists in Chinese and is pronounced lán in Mandarin. It means mountain mist or haze, and is used mainly in place names, such as 岚山区 (Lanshan District), a part of Rizhao City (日照市) in Shandong Province in the northeast of China, and 岚皋县 (Langao County) in Shaanxi Province in central China.

There is also a district of Kyoto in Japan called 嵐山 (Arashiyama), and a nearby mountain with the same name. That area is famous for its bamboo forests.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

A good spot for a bit of 森林浴 (senrinyoku), that is forest bathing / therapy, or in other words, a peaceful walk through the woods for health benefits. This word was apparently coined in 1982 by Tomohide Akiyama (秋山智英), the head of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to encourage more visitors to forests​. Although it was a new word, the idea that spending time among trees in a forest is good for your health has been around for a long time in Japan [source]

While writing this, I realised that Omniglot doesn’t have a page about weather-related words in Japanese yet – I will put one together soon. If you know any interesting weather-related words and/or idioms in Japanese, do let me know.