Episode 29 – Language and Music

If you’re good at languages, does it follow that you’re good at music, and vice versa? In this episode I talk about links between languages and music. I explore similarities and differences between learning and using languages, and learning and playing music, based mainly on my own experiences.

Links

Languages and Music
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3338120/
https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/133/the-relationship-between-music-and-language

Edinburgh Language Event
https://edinburghlanguageevent.com/

Tunes features in this episode

Hedge Cats / Cathod y Gwyrch

See the score for this tune.

The Whistling Windows / Y Ffenstri Sïo – a tune I wrote on various instruments in 2017.

See the score for this tune.

Here’s a video I made at a music session in Y Glôb, a pub in Bangor. Musicians from Wales, England, Singapore and France were there that night.

Sesiwn Cymreig yn y Glôb

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

Epsiode 28 – Languages in Fiction

In this episode I talk about how languages are used in, and invented for works of fiction, such as books, films and TV programmes. I also look at the ways writers indicate that characters are speakers in foreign languages without actually writing in those languages, and how accents are used for a similar effect in films and tv shows.

Fictional scripts on Omniglot

Tunes features in this episode

Hedge Cats / Cathod y Gwyrch

See the score for this piece

Wet Socks / Sanau Gwlyb – a tune I wrote on the harp in 2017.

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

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.

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

Episode 22 – Numbers

In this episode I discuss numbers, counting, and some of the other ways to refer to numbers and amounts in English – there are a lot more than you probably realise.

Links

Information about numbers and numerals
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_numerals
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numeral_prefix
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indefinite_and_fictitious_numbers
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_large_numbers
https://www.omniglot.com/language/numbers/
https://www.omniglot.com/language/numerals.htm

Origins of hat-trick
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hat-trick

Numbers

Tunes features in this episode

Hedge Cats / Cathod y Gwyrch

See the score for this piece

Climbing the Stairs / Dringo’r Grisiau

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

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 featured in this episode

Hedge Cats / Cathod y Gwyrch

See the score for this piece

The Elephant Song / Cân yr Eliffant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 13 – The Story of Omniglot

Omniglot logo

When people ask me what I do, I usually tell them that I write and talk about languages for a living, mainly on my website. This leads to more questions about what exactly my website is about, how I make money from it, and what I spend my days doing.

In this episode I try to answer these questions, and explain how Omniglot came to be, what my work involves, and how it generates revenue. I also suggest some ways you could turn your interests into online business.

Read more about the history of Omniglot.

The tunes featured in the episode are:

Goosing Around / Gwyddio o Gwmpas

Spring at Last / Gwanwyn o’r Diwedd

The recording I use in the podcast was generated by MuseScore (See a PDF of the score). The recording below features me on all the instruments.

Blue Skies / Awyr Las

In Episode 12 I slipped in a couple of made-up facts and challenged you to spot them. They were:

  1. There is a version of Cornish called Kernewek Gwir (True/Real Cornish) that is a continuation of traditional Cornish.
  2. There are a few parrots and other birds who can speak a bit of Cornish.

Although I made these up, there are people who believe that Cornish never ceased to be spoken, and it’s possible that someone has trained their parrot to speak some Cornish.

If you like this site and find it useful, you can support it by making a donation, or by contributing in other ways.