I’m currently in Bratislava in Slovakia for the 2019 Polyglot Gathering, which starts tomorrow, although there was an opening ceremony this evening.
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.
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.
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).
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.
One of the Czech words I learnt this week is knihkupectví [ˈkɲɪxkupɛt͡stviː], which means bookstore / bookshop.
It’s one of a number of words that come from kniha (book), including :
knihkupec – book seller
knihovna – library, bookcase
knihovník – librarian
knihomol – bibliophile, book lover, bookworm
knížka / knížečka – diminutives of book
knižní záložka – bookmark
The word kniha comes from the Proto-Slavic *kъniga (book), but beyond that its origins are shrouded in the mists of time. More details.
In Czech it’s easy to see the connection between these words, which makes learning them easier. In English there are book-related words derived from Old English (book), Latin (library) and Greek (bibliophile).
In Welsh most book-related words share a common root:
Recently I have been learning some more Czech. I work through a few lessons on Duolingo and Mondly every day. Even though it’s many years since I last studied any Czech, I find I can understand quite a lot, and guess unknown words from context. One thing I struggle with though is all the noun declensions, and the many different forms of pronouns.
Czech has seven noun cases, so nouns and pronouns can come in up to fourteen different forms (6 or 7 in the singular and 6 or 7 in the plural), depending on the role they play in a sentence. In fact the plural forms are the same for some cases, but singular pronouns have long and short forms, and different forms after prepositions.
For example, I is já in the nominative, which is mainly used for emphasis and is generally dropped – (Já) vidím tě = I see you. The nominative singular of you is ty: tě is the accusative (and genitive) short form – the long form is tebe. Word order is flexible, so you could also say Tě vidím or Já tě vidím. Is there any difference in emphasis between the different word orders?
Some more examples:
Vidíš mě = You see me
Mluvíš se mnou = You are talking to me
Dáváš mi peníze = You are giving me money
Nemluv o mně = Don’t look at me
Vidíš můj dům = You see my house (dům [house] is masculine)
Vidíš moje domy = You see my houses
Vidíš mou kočku = You see my cat (kočka [cat] is feminine)
Vidíš moje kočky = You see my cats
Vidíš moje auto = You see my car (auto [car] is neuter)
Vidíš moje auta = You see my cars
k mému překvapení = to my surprise
Odpovězte, prosím, na mou otázku = Please answer my question
Váš dům je blízko mého = Your house is near mine
This are some forms of the first person singular pronoun (I, me, my, mine). There are as many, it not more, for other pronouns. Maybe one day I’ll be able to recognize and use them all.
When putting together a post on my Celtiadur today, I discovered that the English word slew (a large amount) is related to words in Celtic languages for troop, army, host or throng, and to words for servant in Slavic languages.
Slew was in fact borrowed from Irish – from the word slua (host, force, army; crowd, multitude, throng), from the Old Irish slúag / slóg (army, host; throng, crowd, company, assembly), from Proto-Celtic *slougos (troop, army), from the Proto-Indo-European *slowgʰos / *slowgos (entourage).
There are similar words in the other Celtic languages, including llu in Welsh, which means host, multitude, throng, crowd, flock, army, or regiment, and appears in the Welsh word for police: heddlu (hedd = peace).
In Manx the equivalent is sleih, which is the general word for people, and also means public, family, relations, inhabitants, crowd or populace.
Words for servant in Slavic languages, such as sluha in Czech and Slovak, sługa in Polish, and слуга (sluga) in Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Macedonian, all come from the same root, via the the Proto-Slavic word sluga (servant).
Another English word that comes from the same root is slogan, from the Scottish Gaelic sluagh-ghairm (battle cry), from the Old Irish slúag / slóg (army) and gairm (a call, cry) [source].
The words card and chart both come from the Ancient Greek word χάρτης (khártēs – papyrus), via the Old French carte / charte / chautre (charter, record, letter), from Latin charta (see below) [source].
χάρτης comes from χαράσσω (kharássō – I scratch, inscribe), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰer- (to scratch) [source].
χάρτης is also the root of the Latin word charta (papyrus, paper, poem, a writing, map, the papyrus plant), from which we get words in many languages, including the Italian carta (paper, map, menu), the Spanish carta (letter, map, menu, playing card), the German Charta (charter), the Irish cárta (card), the Icelandic kort (map, card, credit card), and the Czech charta (charter).
I discovered this when looking into the origins of the Spanish word cartera (wallet, handbag), which comes from the same root, as do the English words cartel, cartography and charter.
Recently I was approached by the people behind Mondly, a newish language-learning app, who wanted to advertise on Omniglot.
Before agreeing to advertise such apps, I usually try them out for myself to see if I can recommend them. So I’m currently learning Czech on Mondly. It’s a language I’ve studied on and off for years, so I have a basic knowledge of it. Mondly lets you start at beginning, or at an intermediate or advanced level – I chose the intermediate level.
The app presents you with a daily lesson, and you can choose to study other lessons as well. These have various themes such as family, travel, food & drink, and so on. There is also a chatbot, with which you can have conversations using the words and phrases you’ve learnt, and at the end of each week there’s a quiz.
It looks good, the interface works well for me, the lessons teach you a manageable number of words and phrases, and show you how to put them into sentences, and the audio is clear.
33 different languages are available on Mondly, including major European languages, and Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Hindi, Indonesian and Thai.