On today’s adventure we are looking at the origins of the word session, because this afternoon I took part in a music session in a friend’s garden, and I thought I’d find out where the word comes from.
Session comes from the Old French session (sitting, (court) session), from the Latin sessiō (a sitting, a seat, loitering), from sedeō (I sit), from the Proto-Indo-European *sed- (to sit) [source].
Words for to sit in Romance languages, such as sentar in Spanish and Portuguese, asseoir in French, come from the same Latin root [source], and from same the Proto-Indo-European root we get English like assess, dissident, insidious, obsess, possess, reside, seat, sedentary, sedate, sit and siege [source].
Adventures in Etymology is a new series on Radio Omniglot that I started in March 2021. Each week I explore the origins of a word and find out which other words it’s related to. I make a short video each Sunday, and thought I’d post the audio and the script here.
On today’s adventure we are following the word shanty down the etymological rabbit hole. Sea shanties seem to be quite popular at the moment, and the word shanty, as in a rhythmical work song original sung by sailors, comes from the French word chantez (sing), the imperative form of the verb chanter (to sing), from the Old French chanter (to pray, sing, retell or recount), from the Latin cantāre (to enchant, bewitch, forwarn, play (music, roles), recite, sing), from canō (I crow, foretell, play, sing, celebrate, chant), from the Proto-Italic *kanō (to sing), from the Proto-Indo-European *keh₂n- (to sing).
Words in many European languages for to sing come from the same root, including cantar (to sing) in Spanish and Portuguese, cantare (to sing) in Italian, canu (to sing) in Welsh and canadh (to sing) in Irish, and such English words as accent, chant, enchant, incantation, recant.
In this episode I discuss which languages are easiest to learn for native speakers of English, and what factors make languages easy or difficult to learn, including grammar, spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, the availablity of resources, and so on.
In this episode I talk about Volapük, an international auxilliary language created in the late 19th century by Johann Martin Schleyer, a German priest. I look at the history of the language and its structure and vocabulary, and also talk a bit about Schleyer himself.
Volapük was the first international auxillary language, or indeed constructed language, to attract a significant number of adherents. At its peak there were an estimated 283 clubs, 25 periodicals in or about Volapük, and 316 textbooks in 25 languages.
Not long after that, however, the Volapük movement began collapse and by the early 20th century few people were interested in Volapük. Many former Volapükists switched their attentions to Esperanto, which was published in 1887. Or tried to improve the language, and create new versions, none of which had much success.
The photo above is of Johann Martin Schleyer and comes from: Wikipedia
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.
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Here’s an illustration a the family tree of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages:
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:
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).
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].
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’.
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.
Syllabary – a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words [source].
Logograph – a single written symbol that represents an entire word or phrase without indicating its pronunciation [source].
Ideograph – a graphic character that indicates the meaning of a thing without indicating the sounds used to say it [source].
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