Edinburgh

I am currently in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Language Event, brought to you by the people behind the Polyglot Conference. It’s a smaller than other polyglot events I’ve been to, with only 100 or participants, and the main focus is languages of the Isles, or the British Isles and Ireland, if you prefer.

The Language Event, Edinburgh

I arrived earlier this evening, and eventually found the AirBnB I’m staying in after a few wrong turns. Then I discovered that my phone charger was no longer in my bag – it must have dropped out somewhere, probably on the train. So by the time I found my accommodation, it had only 3% charge. I hope to borrow someone’s charger tomorrow, or I might have to buy a new one.

I met up with some of the other participants at a large bar in the centre of Edinburgh. Some I know already from previous such events, and others I didn’t know before. Most of the conversations were in English, but I also spoke some Welsh, Russian, Swedish, Mandarin and Japanese.

The event starts tomorrow morning, and I’ll be giving a talk about connections between Celtic languages tomorrow afternoon. I know there are speakers of Welsh, Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic here, and there may even be some Cornish and Breton speakers.

More photos from Edinburgh:

Edinburgh / Dùn Èideann

Bratislava

I’m currently in Bratislava in Slovakia for the 2019 Polyglot Gathering, which starts tomorrow, although there was an opening ceremony this evening.

The Polyglot Gathering 2019 begins

Today I went on a tour taking in three countries – Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. I had conversations in English, French, German, Mandarin, Spanish and Irish, and spoke odd bits of Czech, Slovak, Russian, Scots, Hungarian, Portuguese, Welsh, Esperanto and Swedish.

Hainburg Castle

I probably won’t have much time for blogging with all the intensive polylgotting that’s going on. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Flying Deer and Kites

Cerf-volant / Kite

Last night I learnt that the French word for kite is cerf-volant [sɛʁ.vɔ.lɑ̃], or “flying deer/stag”. Cerf-volant also means stag beetle.

Cerf (stag, hart) comes from the Old French cerf (deer), from Latin cervus (deer, stag), from Proto-Indo-European *ḱr̥h₂wós, from *ḱerh₂- (horn) [source].

Actually the cerf in cerf-volant comes from a different root to the cerf meaning stag – from the Occitan sèrp-volanta (flying serpent) [source].

Kites were possibly invented in China in the 6th century BC. They in first appeared in Europe during the 15th century and were in the form of serpents or dragons, which is perhaps why there were called sèrp-volanta [source].

In Chinese a kite is 风筝 [風箏] (fēngzheng): 风 [風] (fēng) = wind, and 箏 (zhēng) is a kind of musical instrument similar to a zither [source], so you could translate that word as “wind zither”.

Do kites have interesting names in other languages?

Christmas

Christmas tree / Coeden nadolig

Did you get any language-related goodies for Christmas?

Are you planning to start learning any new languages next year?

I got a British Sign Language (BSL) course, The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony, and a t-shirt with hello on it in many languages.

I plan to concentrate on improving my knowledge of the languages I already know, rather than starting any new ones. Whether I stick to this remains to be seen.

Oh and Merry Christmas
Nadolig Llawen
Joyeux Noël
Nedeleg Laouen
Frohe Weihnachten
Nadelik Lowen
聖誕快樂
Nollaig shona
メリークリスマス
Nollick Ghennal
¡Feliz Navidad!
Nollaig Chridheil
С Рождеством
God jul
Veselé vánoce
Glædelig jul
Ĝojan Kristnaskon

Polyglot Conference – Day 1

The Polyglot Conference officially started today. There were talks and workshops all day on all sorts of interesting topics. I went to talks on Slovenian, linguistic relavtivity, Romani, the Cathars, and audiolinguistics. They were all interesting, especially the linguistic ones.

There was plenty of time between the talks to talk to other participants, and I managed to make some recordings in quite a variety of languages for the next episode of my podcast. I hope to make more recordings tomorrow.

I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, Irish, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and tried to speak a few other languages.

They are preparing Ljubljana for the Ljubljana Marathon tomorrow, and quite a few streets are being lined with barriers. I hope I’ll be able to get to the conference venue tomorrow.

Buying and Selling

買賣 - Buy and sell in Chinese

The words for to buy and to sell are very similar in Mandarin: 買 [买] (mǎi) [maɪ˦˩˧] = buy and 賣 [卖] (mài) [maɪ˥˩] = to sell. In Cantonese the characters are the same, but are pronounced maai5 [maːi˩˧] (buy) and maai6 [maːi˨] (sell) [source]. The only difference between them is in the tones, and they are easily confused by learners. Do native speakers ever mix them up?

The character 買 combines 网 (wǎng – net) and 貝 (bèi – shell, cowrie) [source], and 賣 combines those elements plus 出 (chū – go out), which became reduced to 士 (shì – soldier) over time [source].

If you put these two characters together: 買賣 [买卖] (mǎimài) it means business, shop, store or deal [source].

Do any other languages have words for buy and sell that are so similar?

Buying and selling both involve an exchange of goods or services. The only difference is in the direction of the exchange. I might sell something to you, or buy something from you, while you might sell something to me, or buy something from me.

The same is true of other pairs of words such as borrow and lend. The one you use depends on the direction of the exchange: I borrow from you, and you lend to me. Teach and learn are also similar: You teach me, and I learn from you, or I teach you, and you learn from me. Although in some varieties of English learn is used to mean learn and teach.

In Welsh the word dysgu means to learn and to teach, and benthyca means to borrow and to lend. The word addysgu, means to teach, but it isn’t used much in colloquial Welsh [source].

Are there any other languages that don’t make a distinctions like this?

Is there a linguistic term for word pairs like this?

Cake on Cake and Gilded Lilies

A gilded lily

When you have to much of a good thing, or are repeating things superfluously, you’re putting cake on cake – tårta på tårta or kaka på kaka, at least in Swedish [source].

For example:

– Det är tårta på tårta = That would be too much [source]
– Det är lite tårta på tårta att tala om ”ISBN-nummer” = It is a bit superfluous to talk about “ISBN number”

The English phrase “too much of a good thing” first appeared in writing in Shakespeare’s play As You Like It in 1600 [source].

A similar idiom is “to gild the lily“, meaning to embellish or improve something unnecessarily. Or to add superfluous attributes to something. It is apparently a misquote from Shakespeare’s play King John (1595):

“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

Other related idioms include “to go overboard” and “to over-egg the pudding” [source].

In Chinese an equivalent idiom is 畫蛇添足 [画蛇添足] (huàshétiānzú) = “to draw a snake and add legs” [source].

Are there other idioms in English or other languages with a similar meaning?

Photo from: http://www.janneyscollection.com/product/arthur-court-gilded-lily-side-table/

Exploring Copenhagen / Udforskning af København

Today I am in Copenhagen on the way to see a friend in Aarhus. I left Bangor at way-too-early o’clock this morning, and arrived in Copenhagen early this afternoon. I’m staying in an AirBnB in Sydhavn, not far from the centre of the city. One of my hosts is from Moldova, and the other is a Dane, who I haven’t met yet. I spoke a bit of Russian and Romanian with my Moldovan host, which she seemed pleased to hear.

This afternoon I explored the touristy part of Copenhagen, and saw some nice parks, a castle, lots of boats, including a tall ship, a little mermaid, and some interesting buildings. I heard quite a few different languages being spoken, including Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese and other flavours of Chinese, English, French and even a bit of Danish. My knowledge of Danish is limited – I can read Danish quite well, and speak and understand it a little.

Cycling seems to be a popular way to get around here, perhaps because Copenhagen is so flat. There are plenty of cycle paths, and even traffic lights for cyclists. There are also many cargo bikes – three-wheeled contraptions with a large container on the front for shopping, children, pets or other things. Some cyclists indicate they’re stopping by raising their arm, as if asking a question, which is practical, but looks quite funny to me.

Here are a few photos:

Copenhagen / København

Tomorrow I’m off to Aarhus to see a Czech friend who teaches Linguistics at the university there. We usually speak a mixture of Czech, English and Welsh, and now we can add some Danish to the mix.

Later addition – I’ve met both my hosts now – the guy is actually from the Faroe Islands, and we’ve just had a very interesting conversation about Faroese and other languages. He told me that they used to borrow a lot of words into Faroese, especially from Danish, but now tend to create new words from Faroese roots. He finds it hard to understand some of the new words, as he’s not used to using them. They speak English to each other, by the way, as he doesn’t speak Russian or Romanian, and she speaks only a little Danish, and no Faroese.

It’s not just about languages

Dance workshop at the Polyglot Gathering

As well as talks about language learning, languages and related topics, this year’s #PoylgotGathering includes workshops in singing songs in various languages, calligraphy, knitting and dancing. Yesterday I caught the end of a dancing workshop, and learnt a bit of belly dancing, and a folk dance from Brittany. It was a lot of fun.

I also did a bit of juggling and poi spinning with a few other polyglots yesterday, and there was a musical jam session with a few people who had instruments with them. I don’t have any instruments with me this year as I’m travelling light with only one small bag.

Tonight there’s an international cultural evening, and I plan to sing a Welsh folk song (Gwcw Fach), and maybe a Scottish Gaelic song (Illean Bithibh Sunndach). Some of us who took part in the singing workshop on Thursday with be singing songs in Maori and Spanish.

Languages I spoke yesteday – English, French, German, Spanish, Welsh, Irish, Swedish, Slovak, Mandarin, Dutch, Esperanto, Portuguese.

Polyglotting

My name tag for the 2018 Polyglot Gathering

Today is the second full day of the #PolyglotGathering. It’s been a lot of fun, with some very interesting talks, and I’ve met a lot of people I know from previous polyglot events, and many new people too.

So far I’ve had conversations in English, French, German, Spanish, Welsh, Irish, Mandarin, Swedish, Russian and Esperanto, and have spoken odd bits of Manx, Danish, Icelandic, Czech, Italian, Portuguese and Slovak. I’ve learnt about Warlpiri, Bengali and Ukrainian, and have sung songs in Spanish, Italian, Serbian and Maori.

This morning I’ll be giving my presentation on Deconstructing Language. My original plan was to talk mainly about how grammar works and how it develops, but What I’ll actually talk about is where words come from and how and why they change over time.