Episode 11 – Fewer than Less

In this episode I discuss the distinction between between less and fewer, and commonly-held beliefs about English grammar and usage. I investigate where these ‘rules’ and practises originated and find out who is responsible.

Less & Fewer

Less was used to mean fewer, i.e. a smaller number of from the 9th century. From the 11th century it was being used to mean smaller or lesser – a comparative form of little. By the 14th century it was being used to mean a smaller amount (of) or not as much.

It comes from the Old English lǣs (less), from the Proto-Germanic *laisiz [source].

Fewer is used to mean a smaller number of something, and is generally used before plural countable things. For example, fewer words, fewer letters.

It comes from few, from the Middle English fewe (few, little, not many; small, little), from the Old English fēaw (few), from the Proto-Germanic *fawaz (few), from Proto-Indo-European *peh₂w- (few, small). [source].

In his 1770 book REFLECTIONS ON THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: In The Nature of VAUGELAS’s REFLECTIONS ON THE FRENCH; Being a Detection of many improper Expreſſions uſed in Converſation, and of many others to be found in AUTHORS. (p 55), Robert Baker wrote:

“LESS. This word is moſt commonly uſed in ſpeaking of a number; where I ſhould think Fewer would do better. No fewer than a Hundred, appears to me not only more elegant than No leſs than a Hundred, but more ſtrictly proper.”

This is a reproduction of the original text:

Robert Baker on Less and Fewer

Splitting Infinitives

In his 1866 book, A PLEA FOR THE QUEEN’S ENGLISH: Stray Notes on Speaking and Spelling (p 188), Henry Alford, Dean of Canterbury, wrote:

A correspondent states as his own usage, and defends, the insertion of an adverb between the sign of the infinitive mood and the verb. He gives as an instance, “to scientifically illustrate.” But surely this is a practice unknown to English speakers and writers. It seems to me, that we ever regard the to of the infinitive as inseparable from its verb. And when we have already a choice between two forms of expression, “scientifically to illustrate,” and “to illustrate scientifically,” there seems no good reason for flying in the face of common usage.

This is a reproduction of the original text:

Henry Alford on infinitives

Ending sentences with prepositions

In his 1763 book, A Short Introduction to English Grammer: With Critical Notes (p 141), the Right Rev. Robert Lowth, D.D. Lord Bishop of Oxford, wrote:

The Prepoſition is often ſeparated from the Relative which it governs, and joined to the Verb at the end of the Sentence, or of ſome member of it: as, “Horace is an author, whom I am much delighted with.” “The world is too well bred to ſhock authors with a truth, which generally their bookſellers are the firſt that inform them of.” This is an Idiom which our language is ſtrongly inclined to; it prevails in common converſation, and ſuits very well with the familiar ſtyle in writing; but the placing of the Prepoſition before the Relative is more graceful as well as more perſpicuous; and agrees much better with the ſolemn and elevated Style.

This is a reproduction of the original text:

Robert Lowth on prepositions

Double negatives

In his 1711 book, An Essay Towards a Practical Engliſh Grammar, Describing the Genius and Nature of the English Tounge; Giving Likewiſe A Rational and Plain Account of Grammar in General, with a familiar Explanation of its Terms. (p 182), James Greenwood, Sur-Master of St. Paul’s School, wrote:

Two Negatives, or two Adverbs of Denying, do in Engliſh affirm.

This is a reproduction of the original text:

James Greenwood on double negatives

In the 1794 edition of Robert Lowth’s A Short Introduction to English Grammer: With Critical Notes (p 132), he wrote that:

Two Negatives in Engliſh deſtroy one another, or are equivalent to an Affirmative.

This is a reproduction of the original text:

Robert Lowth on double negatives

Tunes played in this epsiode

The Salmon’s Leap / Naid yr Eog

The Kettle / Y Tecell

The Swellies / Pwll Ceris

These and other myths about English are discussed on The Grammarphobia Blog.

More information and sources

Wikipedia, Visual Thesaurus, Corpus of Global Web-Based English, Google Books Corpus, Inky Fool

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 9 – Welsh (Cymraeg)

In this episode I talk about Welsh (Cymraeg), a Celtic language spoken mainly in Wales, a part of the UK. I delve into the history of the language, its current status, the language itself, and how I learnt it and use it. I also talk to a Welsh learner from Michigan in the USA who is doing a degree in Welsh at Bangor University.

This podcast is mainly in English, with a few bits in Welsh. The Welsh bits are translated into English, just in case you don’t understand them.

Some tips on learning Welsh

Gwenno Saunders, singer, song-writer and broadcaster, talking about singing in Welsh.

Elin Fflur and Eden singing Harbwr Diogel (Safe Harbour) – I was at this concert.

A lullaby in Old Welsh found in the margins of a 7th century poem.

Statistics about Welsh speakers come mainly from the National Survey for Wales, 2013-14: Welsh Language Use Survey (PDF)

Tunes featured in this episode

More details of Si Hei Lwli Mabi, the song featured at the end of this epsiode.

More information about Welsh

http://www.omniglot.com/writing/welsh.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_language
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Welsh_language
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Welsh
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_Welsh
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_medium_education

Myths and misconceptions about Welsh

https://dreamsanddialects.weebly.com/dreams–dialects/4-welsh-language-myths-that-need-busting
https://www.businesslanguageservices.co.uk/general/language-news/8-myths-about-the-welsh-language/

Online Welsh lessons

http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/learning/learnwelsh/
https://www.saysomethingin.com/welsh
https://www.learn-welsh.net/
https://learnwelsh.cymru/

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

Episode 7 – Manx (Gaelg)

In this episode I talk about Manx (Gaelg), or Manx Gaelic (Gaelg Vanninagh), a Celtic language spoken in the Isle of Man. I look at the history of the language, its decline and revival, and its current situation. I also talk about my own experiences with the language, and play a few Manx tunes, and a song I wrote in Manx and English.

Here are some of the bits of Manx featured:

Failt dys yn çhiaghtoo cur magh jeh’n podcreeley Radio Omniglot.
Welcome to episode 7 of the the Radio Omniglot podcast.

Mish Simon Ager, as bee’m laoyrt mychione y Ghaelg, ny’n Ghaelg Vanniagh, çhengey Cheltiagh ta goll er loayrt ayns Mannin.
I’m Simon Ager, and I will be speaking about Manx, or Manx Gaelic, the Celtic language spoken in the Isle of Man.=

Tra haink ny skibbyltee boghtey stiagh hie yn Ghaelg magh.
When the tourists came in, the Manx language went out.

Cha jean oo cosney ping lesh y Ghailck
You will not earn a penny from Manx

Gura mie mooar ayd son eaishtaght, as slane lhiat
Thank you very much for listening, and good bye

I mention that the Manx Tynwald (parliament), which is Tinvaal in Manx, comes from the Old Norse word Þingvǫllr (meeting place of the assembly), and that the modern Icelandic parliament has a similar name: Þingvellir (Thingvellir). The Icelandic parliament is in fact called the Alþingi (Althingi), and Þingvellir is the place south of Reykjavik where the parliament was held from 930-1798.

This is a photo I took of Þingvellir in Icelandic in October 2017.

Þingvellir

Information about Manx
http://www.learnmanx.com/
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/manx.htm
http://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/languagerevival.php
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_language
https://gv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaelg (in Manx)
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/k-david-harrison/manxs-surprising-revival_b_6725490.html

Information about the Isle of Man
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isle_of_Man
https://www.visitisleofman.com/<
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Isle_of_Man

A day in the life of the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh (Manx-medium primary school)

Brian Stowell and Adrian Cain talking about the revival of Manx

Cuchulainn – an animation telling Cuchulainn’s story in Manx

Brian Stowell and Adrian Cain talking about the native speakers of Manx

Manannan – an animation about Mannan beg mac y Leir, the Celtic sea god who is said to protect the Isle of Man with his mists

A conversation in Manx between Ned Maddrell and Tommy Lecce

Ruth Keggin – Irree ny greiney (Sunrise), a song in Manx written by Bob Carswell

Tunes featured in this episode

Episode 6 – Accents

This episode is about accents. What are they? Where do they come from? Does it matter if you have a foreign accent when speaking a foreign language? Can you acquire a native-like accent in another language as an adult? If so, how do you do so?

Some definitions of the word acccent:

  • “a distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class” [source]
  • “a way of speaking typical of a particular group of people and especially of the natives or residents of a region” [source]
  • “the characteristic mode of pronunciation of a person or group, especially one that betrays social or geographical origin” [source]
  • “a manner of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual, location, or nation” [source]

Information about accents
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accent_(sociolinguistics)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_accents_of_English

Information about Multicultural London English
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multicultural_London_English
http://dialectblog.com/2011/11/03/multicultural-london-oo/

Here are some examples of people who speak languages with native-like accents, and some advice on how to acquire such an accent.

The song I play and sing at the end of the podcast is called La Plume de ma Tante, and can also be heard here:

Episode 5 – Solresol – The Musical Language

In this episode I talk about Solresol, a musical language invented by François Sudre in the early 19th century. It is designed to be a simple language for international communication with just seven basic syllables based on the Western major musical scale (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si).

Solresol was the first constructed language to be taken seriously as an international auxiliary language (IAL), and the only musical language that gained much of a following.

I look at the history of the language, and its structure, and will play with it to see how it works.

Here are the Solresol words and phrases I use during this episode:

Simi re domi dosolfala misol fa lalaresi refafa lasi la lamisolsi solresol lasolfado.
Hello and welcome to episode five of the Omniglot podcast.

The appears to be no word for welcome in Solresol so I used domi dosolfala misol (you come well), and for Omniglot podcast I used lamisolsi solresol lasolfado (all language show).

There is no word for radio either, but maybe you could use resolrefa solfasimi fasidola resisido (“send sound far device”). I came up with lasirela sifamire lasi dofadofa (“international network of knowledge”) for internet. So another way of translating Radio Omniglot Podcast might be lamisolsi solresol lasolfado lare la lasirela sifamire lasi dofadofa (“All language show on the international network of knowledge”).

  • doredomi = body, physical
  • domilafa = rationality, reason, sense, reasonable
  • sofamisol = wisdom, wise, sage, wisely
  • dolasoldo = meat, steak, beef
  • redoredo = clothes, outfit, effects
  • remifala = home, house, hut, cottage, hotel
  • remisolla = room, lounge, dining room
  • residoso = family, kinship, relative
  • solremifa = to sing
  • sôlremifa = song
  • solrêmifa = singer
  • solremîfa = songlike
  • solremifâ = singingly
  • sôlremifa’ / sôlremifaa = songs
  • sôlremifa’a = female singer
  • dolmîfado = man; dolmîfadô = woman
  • sisol = Mr; sisôl = Mrs
  • dore = I, me, myself; dorê = we, us, ourselves
  • misol = well, good
  • solmi = wrong, evil
  • fala = good, tasty, delectable, exquisite, delicious
  • lafa= bad
  • solla = always, perpetuate, perpetuately, constantly
  • lasol = never
  • simi = good morning/afternon, hello
  • misi = good evening/night
  • dore = I, me, myself
  • redo = my, mine
  • dofa = you, yourself
  • fado = your, yours
  • dore domilado = I speak
  • dore lala domilado = I am speaking
  • dore sisi domilado = I was speaking
  • dore dodo domilado = I have spoken
  • dore rere domilado = I spoke
  • dore mimi domilado = I will speak, I will have spoken
  • dore fafa domilado = I will speak, I will have spoken
  • solsol domilado = Speak!

Sire misolredo doredore famido re misolla, re famisol dosila re refasi. Dofa midomido midodosi dofasifa re domilafa, re falado fasolfa miladomi midodosi simisila.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Dore lala domilado solresol re solremisol lasisol. Domi mifare?
I am speaking Solresol with vocal punctuation. Do you like it?

Solsi mido dosollado re simi.
Thanks for listening and good afternoon.

There appears to be no word for goodbye in Solresol so I used simi, which is a general greeting meaning hello, good morning, good afternoon.

Information about Solresol

http://www.omniglot.com/writing/solresol.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solresol
https://www.sidosi.org/
https://i.sidosi.org/resources/grammar-of-solresol/grammar-of-solresol.html
https://www.sidosi.org/translator

About muscial constructed languages

Other musical languages
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_language
http://www.kunstsprachen.de/s21/
http://eaiea.com/
http://brackenwood.wikia.com/wiki/Sarus
http://www.thelanguageofmoss.com/

You can hear a longer version of The Clockwork Octopus / Yr Wythdroed Clocwaith at:

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





Episode 4 – The Language of Music

In this episode I talk about Italian, and specifically about the Italian words used in Western classical music. I investigate why Italian is used, look at some of the words, and find out what they mean and how they are used in Italian.

Here are the words featured:

Words for musical compositions and parts of them

Word Musical meaning Other meanings
opera a drama set to music with singing and orchestral accompaniment work, action, deed, piece of work
concerto a work for one or more solo instruments accompanied by an orchestra concert, performance, gig, show
cadenza a florid solo at the end of a performance cadence, rhythm, intonation, frequency
aria an accompanied, elaborate melody sung by a single voice air, look, manner

Words for tempo (time)

Word Musical meaning Other meanings
adagio slow slowly, with care, gently; adage, saying; easy does it
largo slow and dignified wide, broad, loose, big, large, open sea
andante moderately slow, flowing along current, cheap, second-rate
allegro moderately fast cheerful, bright, lively; merry, tipsy
presto very fast soon, quickly, fast, early

Words for dynamics (volume)

Word Musical meaning Other meanings
piano soft flat, level, smooth; straightforward, simple, clear, plain; slowly, carefully, softly, quietly; plane, top, surface
forte loud strong, bright, heavy, hard, large, big, considerable; amazing, great; fast
crescendo becoming louder growing up, raising
diminuendo becoming softer decreasing, falling

Modifiers

Word Musical meaning Other meanings
mezzo moderately means, way, half, middle
molto very a lot, much, many, a great deal, very
meno less less, least, minus, except
più more more, plus, several
ma non troppo but not too much but not too much

More details of Italian musical terms

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Italian_musical_terms_used_in_English
https://www.quora.com/Why-are-all-the-composers-using-Italian-terminology-in-music

The other meanings come from Reverso.

Information about Italian
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/italian.htm

A discussion on why opera singers tend to be quite stout:
https://www.quora.com/Why-are-so-many-opera-singers-stout-or-heavy-set-Does-it-provide-some-sort-of-competitive-advantage

Tunes featured in this episode

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





Episode 3 – Irish (Gaeilge)

This episode of the Radio Omniglot Podcast is about the Irish language, or Gaeilge, as it’s known in Irish. I talk about my own Irish learning journey and adventures. Then look at the history of the language and its current state, and talk a bit about the language itself, with examples to illustrate its structure. It features some Irish tunes, played by me, on the tin whistle, mandolin, low whistle and harp, and one of my own compositions, played on the melodica. It is mostly in English, with some bits of Irish.

You can find music for Sackow’s / Tripping Up The Stairs, the jig I play on the whistle at the beginning of this episode, here.

The slow air I play on the low whistle, Amhrán na Leabhar (The Song of the Books), was written by Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháín (1785-1848), a school teacher and poet who lost all his possessions, including his books, in a storm when they were being ferried between Derrynane Bay to Valentia Harbour. He wasn’t in the boat at the time, and wrote this song afterwards. It is also known as Cuan Bhéil Inse [source]. You can hear it, with words, at:

The tune I play on the harp is John O’Conner / Seán ó Conchubhair, which was written by Turlough O’Carolan. It is also known as the Belfast Almanac or Plaxty O’Conner.

There is another, rather faster, version here:

You can music for it here.

The tune I play on the melodica is at end of the podcast, The Saturday Hornpipe / Cornbib Ddydd Sadwrn, is one I wrote a few years ago. You can hear a longer version at:

Information about Irish
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/irish.htm
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/ogham.htm
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/clogaelach.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_language
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Irish_language
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primitive_Irish
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Irish
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_Irish

Here are some videos in and about Irish:

This is a silly little video I made in Irish based on songs:

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





Episode 2 – Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)

This episode of the Radio Omniglot Podcast is about Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig). I talk about the current state of the language, its history, how it is used, about my experiences of learning it, and share some observations I’ve collected from other Gaelic speakers and learners.

Last week I was at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, a college on the Isle of Skye where you can do courses in Scottish Gaelic languages, songs, traditional music, dance, drama, and other subjects. I have done quite a few courses in Scottish Gaelic songs since 2008.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

You can hear some examples of spoken Gaelic here:

Here is a silly little video I made to practise my Scottish Gaelic:

More information about Scottish Gaelic
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/gaelic.htm

The music in this podcast is a piece I wrote After The Rain / Ar Ôl Y Glaw:

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