Episode 21 – Benefits of learning small languages

In this episode I talk about some of the benefits and advantages of learning minority and lesser-studied languages, focusing particularly on the Irish and other Celtic languages. I talk about my own experiences with these languages, and the benefits they have brought me.

Gleann Cholm Cille
Gleann Cholm Cille

There’s no point in learning small languages, is there? They’re spoken by relatively few people and maybe only in one country or region. So why bother? It would be better to learn a language that has many millions of speakers and that is spoken in many countries, like Spanish or French, wouldn’t it? Perhaps, but whatever language you learn can bring benefits and opportunities, even small, lesser-studied and minority languages.

Scoil Shamraidh 2017

Tunes features in this episode

Hedge Cats / Cathod y Gwyrch

See the score for this piece

The Elephant Song / Cân yr Eliffant

Episode 20 – Language Families

In this episode I talk about language families – what they are, and how they develop, and I introduce some major and minor language families.

According to Wikipedia, a language family is “a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family”.

According to Ethnologue there are currently 142 different language families and 7,111 living languages. The ten largest languages families account for about 88% of the world’s population, and 74% of the world’s languages.

Top Ten Language Families

Language FamilyNumber of languagesNumber of speakers
Total5,2386,143,981,545
Niger-Congo1,526 519,814,033
Austronesian1,223325,862,510
Trans-New Guinea4783,580,507
Sino-Tibetan4531,385,995,195
Indo-European4453,237,999,904
Afro-Asiatic365499,294,669
Australian20437,032
Nilo-Saharan20053,359,610
Otomanguean1771,715,045
Austro-Asiatic167116,323,040

Here’s an illustration a the family tree of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages:

Elvish language family

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvish_languages_(Middle-earth)

More information about language families
https://www.omniglot.com/writing/langfam.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_family
https://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/family
https://www.mustgo.com/worldlanguages/language-families/

The tune featured in this episode

Dancing Donkeys / Asynnod sy’n Dawnsio

See the score for this tune

Costa Pacifica

Don’t forget that you can US$50 off the Polyglot Cruise 2020 by using the code OMNIGLOT.

Episode 19 – Pidgins and Creoles

In this episode I talk about pidgins and creoles – what are they, how they develop, what they sound like, how they are structed, and so on.

Here’s how a pidgin or pidgin language is defined on Dictionary.com:

1. an auxiliary language that has come into existence through the attempts by the speakers of two different languages to communicate and that is primarily a simplified form of one of the languages, with a reduced vocabulary and grammatical structure and considerable variation in pronunciation.

2. (loosely) any simplified or broken form of a language, especially when used for communication between speakers of different languages.

The definition of pidgin in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is even simpler:

a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages

In the 19th century a form of pidgin, known as Chinese Pidgin English, developed between European and Chinese merchants in China. Pidgin was the way the Chinese pronounced business, and referred to this form of language. Later it was used to refer to all such contact languages. It was first used in writing in 1807 [source].

Dictionary.com defines a creole language:

a creolized language; a pidgin that has become the native language of a speech community

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a creole language as:

a language that has evolved from a pidgin but serves as the native language of a speech community

The word creole was first used in the 17th century, and comes from the Portuguese crioulo (a slave born in one’s household, person of European ancestry born in the colonies), probably from criar (to bring up), from the Latin creāre (to create) [source].

Examples of Creoles being spoken

Bislama

Tok Pisin

Haitian Creole

More information about Pidgin and Creole Languages

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pidgin
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_language
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/langfam.htm#creoles

Costa Pacifica

Details of the Polyglot Cruise 2020 – remember to use the code OMNIGLOT to get US$50 off!

Tunes featured in this episode

Time To Play / Amser i Chwarae

The Frog’s Excuse / Esgus y Llyffant

Episode 18 – Adventures in Polyglotland

In this episode I bring you news from the 2019 Polyglot Gathering, an annual get-together of polyglots and language lovers from all over the world. This year the Polyglot Gathering took place in Bratislava, Slovakia for the third time – it started in 2015 in Berlin, and was there for three years, then moved to Bratislava. The next Gathering will be in Teresin, near Warsaw in Poland from 26-30 May 2020.

I was planning to interview people at the Gathering, and to keep an audio diary, but was enjoying myself too much and decided to give you a flavour of the event after I got home. So this is the story of my Adventures in Polyglotland.

My badge from the Polyglot Gathering showing the languages I speak fluently, or at least fairly well:

My badge from the 2019 Polyglot Gathering

N = native language, C = advanced level, B = intermediate level, A = basic / elementary level, en = English, cy = Cymraeg (Welsh), zh = 中文 [zhōngwén] – (Mandarin Chinese), ga = Gaeilge (Irish), es = español (Spanish), de = Deutsch (German), eo = Esperanto, gd = Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic), ja = Japanese, gv = Gaelg Vanninagh (Manx Gaelic), ru = Русский [Russkij] (Russian), cs = český (Czech), sv = Svenska (Swedish), da = Dansk (Danish).

Information about polyglot events: http://www.omniglot.com/events/

Music featured in this episode

Bear With Me / Aros am yr Arth

See the score for this tune

Echoes on the Tongue / Atseiniau ar y Tafod

See the score for this tune

Episode 17 – Slang

Slang argot jargon patter cant patois lingo

In this episode we have a little natter about slang – what it is, where it comes from, and how it’s used.

Here are a few definitions of slang:

  1. language peculiar to a particular group: such as argot or jargon.
  2. an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech.

Source: Merriam-Webster

  1. A kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms for added raciness, humor, irreverence, or other effect.
  2. Language peculiar to a group; argot or jargon.

Source: wordnik (from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition)

  • colloquial words and phrases which have originated in the cant or rude speech of the vagabond or unlettered classes, or, belonging in form to standard speech, have acquired or have had given them restricted, capricious, or extravagantly metaphorical meanings, and are regarded as vulgar or inelegant.

Source: wordnik (from The Century Dictionary)

  1. very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language, as Hit the road.
  2. speech and writing characterized by the use of vulgar and socially taboo vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
  3. the jargon of a particular class, profession, etc.
  4. the special vocabulary of thieves, vagabonds, etc.; argot.

Source: Dictionary.com

  • language (words, phrases, and usages) of an informal register that members of particular in-groups favor (over the common vocabulary of a standard language) in order to establish group identity, exclude outsiders, or both.

Source: Wikipedia

The origins of the word slang are not known. It was first used in writing in 1756 to refer to the language of “low” or “disreputable” people, or the “special vocabulary of tramps or thieves”. It possibly comes from the same root as sling, from the Old Norse slyngva (to hurl) [source]

Links

Information about slang
https://www.britannica.com/topic/slang
https://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/what_is_slang.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_slang
https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-back-slang-1689156M
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verlan

Details of specific words: natter, chat, gob (English), gob (Irish), mush, fika

Slang dictionaries
Green’s Dictionary of Slang
A Dictionary of Slang (British English)
Cockney Rhyming Slang
The Online Slang Dictionary (American, English, and Urban slang)

Music featured in this episode

The Scampering Squirrels / Y Gwiwerod sy’n Prancio

See the score for this tune

The Unexpected Badger / Y Mochyn Daear Annisgwyl

See the score for this tune

Episode 16 – Grammar

In this episode I talk about grammar – what it is, where it comes from, how it develops, and how knowledge of grammar can help you to learn languages. This post was partly inspired by this post on the Polyglots (Community) group on Facebook.

What is grammar?

It is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as follows:

The whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology (including inflections) and sometimes also phonology and semantics.

A set of actual or presumed prescriptive notions about correct use of a language.

The Free Dictionary defines grammar as:

1a. The study of how words and their component parts combine to form sentences.

1b. The study of structural relationships in language or in a language, sometimes including pronunciation, meaning, and linguistic history.

2a. The system of inflections, syntax, and word formation of a language.

2b. The system of rules implicit in a language, viewed as a mechanism for generating all sentences possible in that language.

3a. A normative or prescriptive set of rules setting forth the current standard of usage for pedagogical or reference purposes.

3b. Writing or speech judged with regard to such a set of rules.

According to Wikipedia, grammar in linguistics is:

The set of structural rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes phonology, morphology, and syntax, often complemented by phonetics, semantics, and pragmatics.

To non-linguistics grammar might be:

rules of spelling and punctuation.

or

a generic way of referring to any aspect of English that people object to.

(Jeremy Butterfield)

I also invited members of the Omniglot Fan Club on Facebook to provide their definitions of grammar.

Music featured in this episode

The Bells of Hirael / Clychau Hirael

See the score for this tune

The Curious Pigeon / Y Colomen Chwilfrydig

Episode 15 – Esperanto

In this episode I talk about the international language, or la lingva internacia, otherwise known as Esperanto. I look into it’s history and development, and discuss the language itself.

Here are some native speakers of Esperanto (they do exist) talking in Esperanto:

How Esperanto can help you to learn other languages:

This is an original song in Esperanto:

Music featured in this episode

The Esperanto anthem, La Espero, written by L.L. Zamenhof:

Mwmpwy Porthaethwy / Menai Bridge Fancy

More information about Esperanto:
http://esperanto.net/en/
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/esperanto.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto
https://lernu.net/en/esperanto
http://mylanguages.org/learn_esperanto.php

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.





Episode 14 – Alphabets and Writing Systems

Most people know, or at least have some idea what an alphabet is, but many people might not be so familiar with abjads, abugidas, syllabaries and other writing systems. In this episode I explain what these words mean, and how these writing systems work. I also talk a bit about the history of writing.

Here are some definitions:

Alphabet – a set of letters or other signs, usually arranged in a fixed order, used to represent the phonemes (sounds) of a language [source].

Some alphabets

Abjad – a type of writing system where each symbol stands for a consonant, leaving the reader to supply the appropriate vowel [source]. Also known as a consonant alphabet. Long vowels can be indicated by consonants, and short vowels can be indicated by lines, dots and other squiggles added to the consonants letters. When written with the short vowel symbols, they are said to be ‘vocalised’. Normally they are written ‘unvocalised’.

Some abjads

Abugida – a segmental writing system in which consonant–vowel sequences are written as a unit: each unit is based on a consonant letter, and vowel notation is secondary [source]. Also known as a syllabic alphabet or alphasyllabary.

Some abugidas

Syllabary – a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words [source].

Some syllabaries

Logograph – a single written symbol that represents an entire word or phrase without indicating its pronunciation [source].

Some Mayan logograms

Ideograph – a graphic character that indicates the meaning of a thing without indicating the sounds used to say it [source].

Ideographs

Pictograph – a picture representing a word, phrase, or idea, especially one used in early writing systems. A picture or symbol standing for a word or group of words [source].

The development of the Chinese character for horse

Evolution of the character for horse

The tunes featured in the episode are:

The Blackbird’s Tail / Cynffon yr Aderyn Du

The Dragon’s Fancy / Mwmpwy y Ddraig

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.





Episode 12 – Cornish (Kernewek)

In this episode I talk about Cornish, the Celtic language spoken in the southwest of Britain. I look at the history of the language, its decline and revival, and current status, and talk a bit about the language itself, and how I learnt it.

This is an example of An Mis, a monthly news programme in Cornish:

This is a song in Cornish, Tir Ha Mor (Land and Sea) by Gwenno Saunders, who grow up speaking Cornish, Welsh and English. It comes from her Album, Le Kov, which is entirely in Cornish.

More information about Cornish

http://www.omniglot.com/writing/cornish.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornish_language
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornish_language_revival
Kevas an taves Kernewek – The Cornish Language Board
Kowerthas an Yeth Kernewek – Cornish Language Fellowship
Cussel an Tavas Kernôwek – The Cornish Language Council
Agan Tavas
A Handbook of the Cornish Language by Henry Jenner
Cornish For All by Robert Morton Nance
Cornish Dictionary / Gerlyver Kernewek
Radyo An Gernewegva (Cornish language radio)
Pellwolok (Cornish language TV)

The tunes featured in this episode are tradtional Cornish tunes called An Awhesyth / The Lark and An Kulyek Hos / The Mallard, from An Daras The Cornish Folk Arts Project. They are played and recorded by me.

Episode 10 – Languages & Dialects

In this episode I look into the differences between languages and dialects, and talk a bit about where they come from and how they develop.

Max Weinreich (1894-1969), a Russian linguist who specialised in sociolinguistics and Yiddish, popularised the saying,

אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט
(a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot)
A language is a dialect with an army and navy

Apparently he wasn’t the first person to say this, but heard it from an audience member at one of his lectures, and liked it [source] and used it in an article published in 1945 [source].

There are various definitions of language. This is one from the Free Dictionary:

  • Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols.
  • Such a system including its rules for combining its components, such as words.
  • Such a system as used by a nation, people, or other distinct community; often contrasted with dialect.

Merriam-Webster defines language as:

  • the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community
  • a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings

There are also different definitions of dialect. The Free Dictionary define it as:

  • A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety of speech differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern of the culture in which it exists.

Merriam-Webster defines dialect as:

  • a regional variety of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting together with them a single language

Tunes featured in this episode hear

More details of German and Latin
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_language
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_dialects
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Latin

There is more discussion about this topic on: Quora, The Atlantic, Aeon, and in these videos: