Episode 25 – Fishing for Words

In this episode I talk to a friend of mine, Ruth Fischer, about her experiences of learning and using languages. Ruth grew up in Wales speaking English at home, and learnt Welsh, French and German at school. She spent a year in Switzerland as an au-pair, which was good for her German and French, and has learnt bits and pieces of a few other languages, including Swedish, Danish and Icelandic.

I’ve known Ruth for quite a few years – we met at a singing class we used to go to, and have sung and played recorders together in various groups since then.

Here’s a photo of Ruth (in red), our friend Femke (in yellow), and me (in blue) taken in Llandudno. We were taking part in a game devised by Femke for LLAWN – Llandudno Arts Weekend.

The Kaliphones / Y Califfôns

Since January 2019 we have met regularly to talk about songs we’re writing, and to sing and play recorders together. In September 2019 we recorded some of our songs and put them on a CD for a member of our group, Rosie, who was too ill to attend at the time. Sadly she died in October 2019.

More information about SaySomethinginWelsh – courses also available in Spanish, Dutch, Latin, Cornish and Manx.

Tunes features in this episode

Hedge Cats / Cathod y Gwyrch

See the score for this piece

The Bells of Hirael / Clychau Hirael – this tune has featured in a previous episode, but this version is for recorders.

See the score for this piece

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 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:

Episode 8 – Polyglottery

This epsiode is about polyglottery and was partly recorded at the 2018 Polyglot Conference in Ljubljana in Slovenia.

I talk about what is a polyglot, how many languages you have to speak to call yourself a polyglot, and discuss what polyglots get up to, including the Polyglot Conference and other polyglot events, such as the Polyglot Gathering and LangFest. There are also some sound bites from participants in the conference in a variety of languages.

Definitions of polyglot:

Definitions of polyglottery:

Other takes on polyglottery

Websites of some of the people who took part in the episode

If you took part in this podcast and have a website, blog, YouTube channel, etc that you’d like to see included here, let me know in the comments.

Videos from Polylgot events

More videos from the Polyglot Conference

More videos from the Polyglot Gathering

My photos and videos from polyglot events

Polyglottery

Tunes featured in this episode