Elephants & Camels

Elephants and camels

What do elephants and camels have in common?

Well, words for camel in Slavic languages like Czech and Russian possibly come from an Ancient Greek word meaning elephant.

In Czech the word for camel is velbloud [ˈvɛlblou̯t], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *velьb(l)ǫdъ / vъlьb(l)ǫdъ (camel), from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus – camel), from the Latin elephantus (elephant), from the Ancient Greek ἐλέφας (eléphas – elephant) [source].

Words from camel in other Slavic languages come from the same root: верблюд (verbljúd) in Russian and Ukrainian, вярблюд (vjarbljúd) in Belarusian, wielbłąd in Polish, and so on [source].

These all come from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus), but from there the etmological trial gets a bit hazy, as they quite often do. Traditionally this word is thought to derive from the Greek ἐλέφας, via the Latin elephantus.

Another theory is that the Gothic word comes from the Proto-Germanic *elpanduz (elephant, camel), which possibly comes from the Hittite word hu(wa)lpant (humpback), or from another ancient language of Anatolian such as Luwian [source].

The word for elephant in Czech (and also in Slovak, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian) is slon [slon], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *slonъ (elephant) [source], which comes either from the Turkish aslan (lion), or from *sloniti (to lean against), relating to the medieval story of an elephant sleeping leaning on a tree [source].

So now we know where the name of the lion in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe probably comes from.

Bilingual Kids

Many families raise their children to be bilingual. This might involve one parent speaking one language, and the other parent speaking a different one. Or maybe the family will speak one language at home, and the children will pick up another at school. The hope is that the children will end up speaking both languages fluently.

Recently I got talking to a Czech woman, who told me that she spoke Czech to her sons for the first year or so, while her husband spoke English to them – he doesn’t know much Czech. After that however, she switched to English, as she found it too hard to speak Czech to them all the time. This surprised me, as you’d think that speaking your mother tongue would be easier than speaking another language, but not in this case, it seems.

As they currently live in Wales, the main languages her boys encounter are English and Welsh. Maybe their mother is the only Czech speaker around – I certainly haven’t come across any others. Maybe she feels more comfortable speaking English than Czech after living here for many years.

She told me that they’re soon moving to Czechia, so her sons will have to learn Czech. They’re young (4 and 2), so will probably soon pick it up. Whether her husband learns it is another matter – it is quite a challenging language to learn as an adult.

Are any of you raising your children bilingually?

What challenges do you face, and how do you deal with them?

Have you become more comfortable speaking a foreign language than your mother tongue?

Soft mitigation

The Russian word милый means dear, sweet (having a pleasing disposition); beloved, dear or darling. I learnt this while putting together a page of terms of endearment in Russian today.

It comes from the Proto-Slavic word *milъ (sweet, dear), from the Proto-Indo-European word *meh₁y- (mild, soft).

The Czech word milý (nice, kind, good, dear, pleasant, sweet; boyfriend) comes from the same root, as do similar words in other Slavic languages, such as the Belarusian мілы (sweet, nice), the Bulgarian мил (dear), and the Polish miły (nice, pleasant).

The Latin mītis (gentle, mild, ripe) comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root, as does the Italian word mite (mild, moderate, balmy), the Portuguese word mitigar (to mitigate), the Spanish word mitigar (to mitigate, alleviate, allay, assuage, quench, soothe), and the English word mitigate.

I’m would like to put together pages of terms of endearment / affection in other languages. Can you help with this?

Cats and Porridge

att gå som katten kring het gröt

What connection is there between cats and porridge?

Well in Swedish, att gå som katten kring het gröt (“to walk like the cat around hot porridge”) means that you are not getting to the point, beating around the bush, stalling, avoiding talking directly about something sensitive or unpleasant, approaching something indirectly and cautiously, walking on egg shells, pussyfooting around, or wasting time.

Some examples of how this phrase is used:

  • Låt oss inte gå som katten kring het gröt
    Let us not beat around the bush
  • Vi går som katten kring het gröt, både politiskt och diplomatiskt sett.
    We tread on eggshells, both politically and diplomatically.
  • Vi har tassat likt katten kring het gröt i den frågan alltför länge.
    We have pussyfooted on that issue for far too long.
  • Vi här har varit rädda och gått som katten kring het gröt.
    We here have been fearful and have beaten around the bush.

Source: bab.la

Similar idioms involving cats and porridge are found in a number of other languages:

  • Czech: chodit kolem horké kaše = to walk around hot porridge
  • German: wie die Katze um den heißen Brei herumschleichen = as the cat sneaks around the hot porridge
  • Finnish: kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa = to pace around hot porridge like a cat
  • Norwegian: å gå som katta rundt den varme grauten = to walk like a cat around hot porridge

These are all equivalents of to beat around the bush.

The English idiom to beat around the bush was first used in writing in 1572, and referred to the practise of beating bushes in order to flush out game animals [source].

Some other cat-related idioms

  • It’s rain cats and dogs = It’s raining heavily
  • To let the cat out of the bag = to reveal a secret
  • Curiosity killed the cat
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play
  • French: Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter = To have other cats to whip = To have other fish to fry / other things to do.
  • French: Avoir un chat dans la gorge = To have a cat in the throat = To have a frog in one’s throat
  • French: appeler un chat un chat = to call a cat a cat = to call a spade a spade = say it like it is
  • French: Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide = Scalded cat fears cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • Spanish: El gato escaldado del agua fria huye = The cat that has been scalded runs away from cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • German: meine Arbeit war für die Katz = my work was for the cat = my work was a waste of time
  • German: das hat die Katze gefressen = the cat ate it = the fairies took it
  • German: wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse (auf dem Tisch) = when the cat is out of the house, the mice dance (on the table) = when the cat’s away the mice will play

Sources: Idioms of the world, Reverso

Do you know other cat- or porridge-related idioms?

Language Learning Update

Just finished the Spanish course on Duolingo

This week I finally completed the Spanish course on Duolingo. I’ve been using it to improve and refresh my Spanish, as I have studied the language with various courses before. I can now understand, read, write and speak a lot more Spanish than before, though need to practise speaking and writing it more.

I first took a placement test on Duolingo to see how much Spanish I already knew, and didn’t start from the beginning. Then I skipped through each level using the tests, rather than working through each lesson individually. Had I done that, it would take a lot longer. For now, I’m not studying Spanish actively anymore, but will use it whenever I get the chance.

Over the past two and a half years or so, I’ve studied languages every day with Duolingo (current streak = 767 days). I’ve completed courses in Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Esperanto. I also completed the Romanian course, then they added lots of extra levels, and I haven’t gone back to work on those. At the moment I’m focussing on Czech, and will continue to do so, working through every lesson, so it’s going to take quite a while. I don’t plan to start any other languages until I’ve finished the Czech course.

In the meantime, I’ve also been studying Czech, and Russian, on Mondly – Czech for 226 days and Russian for 153 days. I really like their courses and am learning a lot from them.

On Memrise I’m studying Russian, Danish and Swedish. When I started using Memrise nearly two years ago, I already knew some Russian and Swedish. and started Swedish from level 2. I started Danish last year from scratch, although my knowledge of Swedish, and German and English, certainly helps. I’m currently doing level 6 courses in Swedish and Danish, and level 5 in Russian.

By the way, if you sign up to Memrise by 16th September, you will get a 50% discount, and I’ll get a small commission.

I find these apps with the streak counters really encourage me to study every day. It has become a habit to do so, and one I plan to continue for as long as possible.

Apart from these studies, I keep my French and Welsh ticking over by speaking them regularly, and other languages by using them occasionally.

How are your language studies going?

Do you prefer to focus on one language at a time, or to learn two or more simultaneously?

What courses, apps and other resources do you use?

Gleann Cholm Cille

I arrived safely in Glencolmbcille (Gleann Cholm Cille) on Saturday night. As we went further west the skies got darker, and when we arrived in Donegal the heavens opened, and it rained almost non-stop until this morning. I don’t come here for the fine weather, but this was a bit extreme, even for this part of the world. Today the sky cleared for a while, and the sun even put in a welcome appearance.

Irish language classes started yesterday afternoon, and the cultural workshops started this afternoon. I’m doing the sean-nós singing, as usual, and am enjoying it, and the Irish classes very much.

There are plenty of people here who I know from previous visits, and quite a few new faces as well. So far I spoken a lot of Irish, and bits of French, Breton, Swedish, German and Czech – people come here from all over the world, so it’s a great place to practise languages.

Last night we were treated to some excellent music and poetry from Bríd Harper and Diarmuid Johnson. Here they are playing some Welsh tunes. Tonight there is some more poetry, this time from Áine Ni Ghlinn.

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.

Blesk a hrom

Lightning

Two interesting words that came up in my Czech lessons recently are blesk (lightning) and hrom (thunder).

Blesk also means a flash, thunderbolt or flashlight / torch, and sounds like a flash of lightning to me. Hrom could be to a clap of thunder.

I’m not sure which of them usually comes first – is it blesk a hrom or hrom a blesk?

In English it’s always thunder and lightning, even though the lightning comes first. Lightning and thunder just sounds wrong.

In Welsh it’s mellt a tharanau (lightning and thunder).

Is thunder and lightning or lightning and thunder in other languages?

Cheeky faces

Face

In my Czech lessons this week I learnt two words that can mean face – obličej [ˈoblɪt͡ʃɛj] and tvář [tvaːr̝̊], which also means cheek. I couldn’t work out why one was used to mean face in some contexts, and the other in other contexts. Can any of you enlighten me?

Obličej comes from the Proto-Slavic ob + lice (face, cheek), which is also the root of the Czech líc (front, face, right side, face side) and líce (cheeks).

Cognates in other Slavic languages include: Polish oblicze (face, character), Russian обличье (image, character, look), and Ukrainian обли́ччя (face, character) [source].

Tvář comes from the Proto-Slavic *tvarь (creation, creature) [source]. Cognates in other Slavic languages include: Polish twarz (face), Russian тварь (creature, being, animal, beast, monster; mean, vile, worthless), and Croatian tvar (substance, material) [source].

Another Czech word for face is ksicht, from the German Gesicht (face).

Context Matters

Context
matters / Контекст имеет значение

When learning new words in foreign tongues I find that I can remember some words more easily than others, especially if they are similar to words I already know in English or other languages. Other words don’t seem to stick in my memory so easily, even if I try to connect their unfamiliar sounds to familiar words.

In Russian and Czech, for example, there are quite a few words that I can understand when I see them in a sentence, but may not be so sure what they mean when I encounter them on their own – having some context makes all the difference.

Another challange with Russian, at least for me, is recognising words at a glance. Words written in the Cyrillic alphabet don’t seem to have such distinctive shapes as those written in the Latin alphabet, which makes them more difficult to distinguish. This is probably because I haven’t spent enough time reading Russian texts.

Words in Swedish, Danish and Spanish, the other languages I’m working on at the moment, tend to be much easier for me to remember. Many of them are simliar to English, or to other languages I know. The ones that aren’t similiar tend to be short, especially in Swedish and Danish, and I find them easier to remember than longer Russian or Czech words.

Learning lists of words without any context can work with a lot of repetition, and maybe some mnemonic techniques, but it seems to be better to learn words in context.

How do you learn vocabulary?