Calling all language lovers!

(243 Posts)
Gauchita Thu 25-Jul-13 21:25:02

I'll shamelessly plug a friend's blog here because it's great!

If you're interested in language, etymology, linguistics, etc, head this way.

She's an etymology addict (and doesn't mind me saying so grin) and is teaching the rest of us a lot, so thank you Alex wink

MmeLindor Germany Thu 25-Jul-13 22:11:22

Joining in the Alex love, cause she is absolutely bloody marvellous.

We've been discussing all sorts of stuff at home because of her blog. DH is German and I've started to notice the idioms he uses more.

Currently wondering about 'licht aus, Affe tot', which he says when the DC go to bed.

Gauchita Fri 26-Jul-13 07:25:22

Bumping it for the morning language-loving crowd...

I've loved the phrasal verbs posts; for non-natives phrasals can be a minefield. By explaining them in context, and in a sort of story, Alex managed to make them clear and not boring! Great material for EFL teachers too.

Niarfi Fri 26-Jul-13 07:33:48

I like the ladybird article, that was very interesting, especially the San Antonio ladybird cow!

ooh lovely, will bookmark to read later

word of mouth on R4 from this week is definitely worth a listen btw

cakesonatrain Fri 26-Jul-13 07:47:29

Bookmarked for later.

Gauchita Fri 26-Jul-13 07:52:25

Oh, great more language lovers smile

Niarfi, mysterious name that one, isn't it? We're trying to get more reliable sources on this still.

I'll have a look at word of mouth.

one of the most interesting things i studied for a while was quechua, and it is so true that through learning a language you understand how a culture views and structures their world

e.g. in quechua there are two different pronouns (they actually appear as suffixes) meaning 'we' - inclusive and exclusive. so one version means 'us including you' and the other means 'us but not including you' for the person at whom it is directed. it is an insight into what they feel is an important distinction

language is so so fascinating

Thanks for the link OP. Marking my place

Will have a nosy later, looking forward to it once DH has finally gone to play golf!

Question from ds this morning: why does German have two words for holiday (Urlaub and Ferien) and English only has one?

German distinguishes between holiday-from-work/school and going-on-holiday. Which is very logical IMHO.

i can't answer about the German, but English does have two in a sense, with different roots - 'holiday' (from holy day - old english / germanic) and 'vacation' (from the latin vacationem). because English has absorbed words from many other languages you often find two or more words meaning the same thing, one with a latin origin and one with an old english origin (or elsewhere).

chocoluvva Fri 26-Jul-13 08:38:30

Great blog.

ah that's interesting horry, so it's the distinction between 'day off' and 'going away'

Gauchita Fri 26-Jul-13 09:09:05

That's interesting.

MmeLindor will be able to discuss the German bit too (no German here, only SP, EN and PT).

I've also told Alex to join in the conversation so she should be here soon!

MmeLindor Germany Fri 26-Jul-13 09:10:28

Yes, 'Urlaub' is the trip you take during the 'Ferien'

Ferien denotes school holidays only, I think. You'd use Urlaub when talking about a work break.

I love the dandelion / dent de lion explanation. We realised the connection when we learned the French word, as it clearly connects to German Löwenzahn

MmeLindor Germany Fri 26-Jul-13 09:11:34

Ha. Gauchita. I'm impressed by your mind control powers.

Gauchita Fri 26-Jul-13 09:13:20

Willie, loved that bit about Quechua. Agree re. language structures saying a lot about cultures/peoples.

Gauchita Fri 26-Jul-13 09:14:45

grin MmeLindor, right on time!

Gauchita Fri 26-Jul-13 09:15:02

Right, off to the park with the DC but will be back for lunch and some more language chat.

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 09:15:32

Hello, sorry to come late to the party!

Fascinating about Quechua. I've read that some south Asian languages have a similar feature.

Greek also differentiates between holidays, incidentally

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 09:16:44

And I liked the San Antonio ladybird, too!

SmartiesMakeMeNaughty Fri 26-Jul-13 09:18:16

This blog is fantastic - thanks for posting the link.

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 09:27:13

although it does feel a bit cheeky coming on a thread that's promoting my own blog! Thankyou Gauchita and MmeLindor!

Niarfi Fri 26-Jul-13 10:36:37

If you do find out more about the San Antonio cow, I would be very interested! Come back and start another thread!

Caitycat Fri 26-Jul-13 10:42:07

Thanks for this, it will help me increase my supply of anecdotes that my classes love so much (or so I tell myself!)

NellVarnish Fri 26-Jul-13 10:58:29

Great blog, thanks for posting the link. smile

Fantastic blog!

There are also languages which distinguish between you-and-me, you-and-me-and-someone-else, me-and-someone-else ... and all of the above in various permutations and combinations of plurals! Which presumably significantly reduces the instances of someone saying "Who's we?" for clarification grin

My favourite "language is cultural" example is that what we think of as basic concepts such as "left" and "right" are very European. Some languages of small tribes instead distinguish by proximity to a river, or upstream/downstream, or north/south, etc.

But what makes that interesting is how it affects memory. Imagine being shown a picture of a man standing next to a tree. Half an hour later you're shown a picture of a man next to a tree. You and I probably wouldn't notice that the tree is different, but we would notice that he'd gone from the left of the picture to the right, and your tribesman would not notice the position change because he doesn't know where the river is...

Great blog!

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 13:34:32

That's so interesting, Horry!

I was just thinking this morning how locational prepositions affect our spatial awareness. For example, did you know that Modern Greek does not distinguish between by/at/to/in/on in many many situations in ordinary speech, and they really can't see the need for it. So "at the table" would be "sto trapezi", but "on the table" would also be "sto trapezi". Of course, there are ways you can stress the difference, but it's not normal to in ordinary speech.

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 13:35:10

And thank you all for your kind comments about my blog!

MrsTwgtwf Fri 26-Jul-13 13:37:18

Marking my place....

Isn't it, Alex! Unfortunately, the lecturer who taught that paper died at the end of my second year, so I didn't get to do any more about it. But the example that really blows people's minds is that obviously we count cows and measure milk ... but some languages count milk, and others measure cows grin

JacqueslePeacock Fri 26-Jul-13 13:41:27

>> e.g. in quechua there are two different pronouns (they actually appear as suffixes) meaning 'we' - inclusive and exclusive. so one version means 'us including you' and the other means 'us but not including you' for the person at whom it is directed. it is an insight into what they feel is an important distinction

That's interesting - Chinese has exactly the same thing.

MardyBra Fri 26-Jul-13 13:45:11

Marking my place too to come back and read properly when I have more time. I sometimes dip into David Crystal's blog too

ProudNeathGirl Fri 26-Jul-13 13:46:21

Doh! It's blocked on work pc sad

Will have to check it out when I get home.

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 13:47:22

Horry I know exactly what you mean about the countable/ uncountable nouns! I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked by Greeks why we don't say "one bread, two breads" in English. But equally, it's amazing to English speakers how common it is to use "water" in the plural in Greek...

Sconset Fri 26-Jul-13 13:53:43

japanese has different words for number of objects, dependent on the shape of the object, e.g. the word for 3 tub-shaped items is different from the word for 3 pencil-shped objects.

Gauchita Fri 26-Jul-13 13:55:43

Alex, Horry, yes! Those are concepts that also cause confusion for EFL learners. In Spanish we have loads of things we can count, and in English you measure. Also, there are some in SP that can be both countable and uncountable, e.g. water.

Joining this thread for later! (just off to work)

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 14:03:02

That's interesting, Sconset, could you give us some of the words so we can see the difference?

PetiteRaleuse Fri 26-Jul-13 14:12:29

Brilliant blog smile

cakesonatrain Fri 26-Jul-13 14:20:05

Oh god yes Sconset, that confused the crap out of me when I tried to learn Japanese!

cakesonatrain Fri 26-Jul-13 14:22:14

Very interested in the counting/measuring water thing, too.

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 14:26:52

I can't speak for Spanish, but in Greek you use water in the singular when you want to drink it, for example, but you might say "the waters from the heavy rainfall" or "I had to clean up the waters"

GrimmaTheNome Fri 26-Jul-13 14:30:13

Americans make more of a distinction between 'holiday' and 'vacation' than us brits.

Something else I came across recently was about how some languages have more words for some shades of colour and that alters perception of them.

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 14:37:01

I love comparing British and American English, there are so many interesting differences. From things like ladybird/ ladybug to grammatical differences, to preferred slang terms.

Grimma you mean frinstance how Russian doesn't distinguish between red/pink but does between light blue/dark blue?

There is a fascinating hierarchy of colours.

If a language has two colours, they are white and black (dark/light).
If they have three, the third is red.
Then green or blue, then the other.
Then yellow.

And so on. Most Europeans named the colour orange after the fruit orange, because until then we weren't too bothered about distinguishing it. It was just kind of brown or kind of yellow or kind of red, as needed.

I really want to link here to the excellent xkcd color (sic) survey results.

MousyMouse Fri 26-Jul-13 14:46:05

language are fascinating.
esp smilarities/differences that suddenly occur to you.

mme: we say 'klappe zu, affe tot' when closing the lid/door of something overstuffed (like the carboot before going on holiday). but have no idea where it comes from.

horry that's fascinating about colours. almost all my male relatives are colourblind so we have to word descriptions of objects carefully. 'the brown one' is met with a hmm face!

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 15:03:46

Wow, I enjoyed looking at that colour article - I have bookmarked it for another look later. Thanks for that.

When did "turquoise" become "teal"??

MousyMouse Fri 26-Jul-13 15:17:58

also funny, if you ask people of other language backgrounds what sounds animals make.


cockadoodle doo
cockodi cockoda

german frogs say quack apparently.

Dunno if the point was followed up on, only got skim time, but I wouldn't consider holiday and vacation to be the same.

I don't think an English person would use vacation. They would understand it but not use it. Wherease, I think, an American person would use vacation for eg a 2 week holiday, and holiday is a bank holiday ie the odd day everyone has off for national day celebrations . Does that make sense?

Hello! Ooh this reminds me of my little thread from a few years back. We never did continue the quiche!

Linguistics bod here. Main interest in history of the English language, Old Norse, Old English, Scots and a little Icelandic. Also in onomastics. German speaker too. <waves to Lindor and Mardy>

Marking my place for when I get time to read the thread.

Turquoise is paler than teal grin

GrimmaTheNome Fri 26-Jul-13 15:57:06

Horry - yes, that sort of thing wrt colours. I find colour very interesting - not just the linguistics - OT but did you know that in addition to more males being colour blind, there is some suggestion that whereas most people have trichromatic vision, some women (along with various birds!) may be tetrachromatic ie some of us really can distinguish shades others can't. I write software( so I can tell you some of the RGB values in that link are wrong grin) and sometimes need to come up with a set of distinct colours, and find that sometimes non-colour blind colleagues can't tell apart shades which look clearly different to me.

Ernest - yes, exactly that with 'holiday' and 'vacation'. I have to use both to avoid confusing my colleagues over the pond.

Grimma - I believe you there. I often cannot tell about blue and purple shades. I do not believe it is just linguistics. I'll be asking about a purple top and be told it's dark blue, for example. It happens all the time with a particular shade.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 26-Jul-13 16:07:47

>Turquoise is paler than teal
If you think in terms of hue, saturation and intensity, they are pretty much the same hue; fully saturated (for bright turquoise); but teal is less intense. 'Paler' and 'darker' are slightly ambiguous terms for colours.

Tell a Russian that about blue and blue... grin

Besides, RGB saturation is about production, not perception. And the study was about perception.

Oohhhhh SUCH an interesting thread.

First of all I'm wondering why all the Germans are so intent on killing all those poor monkeys grin

Different idioms between different languages are also interesting. I've been fortunate to work in a bunch of different countries and have picked up some of the various languages. I was talking to a Dutch colleague once and he mentioned he was embarrassed in some situation and had "butter on his hat" - by which of course he meant egg on his face.

Ernest, grimma - when I was working in Budapest about 15 years ago we had almost every English speaking nationality in our office. American, Canadian (me), English, Aussie, NZ, South African, Irish, I don't think we had any Scots or Welsh though - anyways I started a little dictionary of unique phrases with translations or equivalents. I wish I still had it. It all started because I didn't know what it meant when someone said something was money for jam, until I guessed it was the same thing as money for old rope. Or selling someone a bill of goods. Can you tell we were a bunch of accountants!

There are tons of books and websites dedicated to the differences between American and English English but I've never seen one that also covers the other Englishes of the world.

Annunziata Italy Fri 26-Jul-13 16:22:42

Alex's blog is so interesting- I really liked the St Anthony ladybirds.

alexpolistigers Fri 26-Jul-13 19:05:53

Try as I might, I can't see any difference between teal and turquoise, it looks the same to me. And I have the same problem as Psammead when it comes to purple/ dark blue, and I have been told that what I described as "orange" was actually "dark yellow", and other things like this.

Hearts I love that sort of thing! I'm always collecting idoms, expressions, even proverbs, from other language, I have written hundreds of notes on them, and different varieties of English too!

MousyMouse Fri 26-Jul-13 19:24:14

what some english people describe to me as 'orange' looks rather 'red' to me.
and don't get me started on things like 'mauve' and 'magnolia'...

cakesonatrain Fri 26-Jul-13 19:27:52

Ha. My mum and I were arguing about DS's bib just now. She said it was orange, when it is clearly red to me!

Oh dear. Poor forrin DH has just proved how hard English can be. E were playing cards and I was in the lead, so he jokingly said I should 'four-FEET' and let him win. I laughed and said 'I think you mean FOR-fit'. So he got the hump and said 'Stop re-DIC-you-ling foreigners'.

Died laughing.

Gauchita Fri 26-Jul-13 22:02:07

Psammead grin

Here we always have our differences regarding colours. DH isn't colourblind but he's very bad at distinguishing shades. For him anything very dark is black, whereas I see dark blue or dark green or dark purple.

I love idioms and their comparison among languages. I used to have a little book where I used to write new ones I learnt. No idea where that book is now though...

I also thought holiday was British English and vacation was American English. I don't think I've ever heard 'vacation' here though? In which context would you use it in British EN?

I wouldn't use vacation at all, except in a very specific university context, where the June-Sept holiday is known as "Long Vac".

The Meaning of Tingo is a good book for people interested in foreign idioms.

CoteDAzur Fri 26-Jul-13 22:23:51

Great blog.

alexpolistigers Sat 27-Jul-13 13:52:41

Psammead - My DH often says things like that too - he always puts the stress on the last syllable, eg "communiCATE" or "check-UP". I love it, I think it gives his speech a lovely musical quality in English.

Gauchita I never really use the word "vacation" either. I would say "holiday", even during university breaks. This does not mean that "vacation" is wrong or would not be understood, just that it doesn't tend to be used by British English speakers. I have heard Australians use both "holiday" and "vacation", however.

alexpolistigers Sat 27-Jul-13 13:55:28

Horry that book looks great! Just added it to my expanding list on Amazon...

hevak Sat 27-Jul-13 14:26:50

Marking my place so I can open the links when I'm on the laptop and not on the phone! I love this kind of stuff, always have - and now I'm with forrin DP I am going to start learning his first language, which will include a new alphabet/script (I'm sure there's a technical linguistic term!)

Thanks for starting the thread smile

alexpolistigers Sat 27-Jul-13 14:35:20

Which language is it, hevak? "alphabet" tends to be used for writing systems like ours, where a letter represents a phoneme. Mind you, that's not strictly true in English! Japanese, so I am told, uses "syllabenes", where each character represents a syllable.

"orthography" grin

nobeer Sat 27-Jul-13 15:05:36

Such an interesting blog! Thank you for sharing Guachita, and thank you to Alex for writing!

Gauchita Sat 27-Jul-13 20:41:10

Horry, thanks for that link, added to wish list!

I liked today's post, Alex re 'book' and its origin. Interesting how it was on beech trees and not others.

alexpolistigers Sat 27-Jul-13 21:14:00

Yes, I've been wondering about that myself, Gauchita. There were plenty of oak trees growing in Europe, and other trees, too, obviously, but for some reason, beech was used for writing purposes. Perhaps it held some kind of religious significance?

GoodtoBetter Sat 27-Jul-13 21:34:16

Fascinating blog. I find it fascinating how many Spanish (and Portuguese) words come from Arabic as a result of the Moors being in the Iberian peninsular for so long....some have even come through into English, like pantalones/pantaloons, alcove (and pretty much all al...words in Spanish).

alexpolistigers Sat 27-Jul-13 21:41:42

I agree with your point about Spanish and Portuguese having Arabic words, but I'm fairly sure that "pantaloons" is not Arabic at all, but comes from Italian and possibly went to there from Greek

GoodtoBetter Sat 27-Jul-13 21:56:13

Oh, maybe. It's just that I have a friend who's first language is Iraqi arabic (IYSWIM) and she studied a little bit of basic Spanish and said there's a very similar word in Arabic.

alexpolistigers Sun 28-Jul-13 11:00:20

The Arabic word probably came from the Italian too in that case. Other words, like "algebra" are from Arabic, however

sarahlundssweater Sun 28-Jul-13 11:44:49

&#1499;&#1503; &#1488;&#1504;&#1497; &#1497;&#1499;&#1493;&#1500;&#1492; &#1488;&#1489;&#1500; &#1502;&#1497; &#1502;&#1489;&#1497;&#1503; &#1488;&#1514; &#1494;&#1492;?

sarahlundssweater Sun 28-Jul-13 11:47:02

Oh dear
Lets try it in english letters.
ken, ani y'chola, aval mi mevine et ze?

Gauchita Sun 28-Jul-13 15:17:13

Sara grin What language is that? (Second post btw)

I think Alex mentioned the other day not being able to post in Greek as it came up as gobbledygook, but saw other posts in Greek here?

Interesting re. SP PT & Arabic, I didn't know that.

GoodtoBetter Sun 28-Jul-13 16:06:42

I didn't realise there were quite so many....

We then get some too in English like alchemy, alcohol, algebra, alcove etc..

GoodtoBetter Sun 28-Jul-13 16:06:59
Niarfi Sun 28-Jul-13 16:45:53

That's quite a list on the Wiki link GoodtoBetter, but I wonder at the accuracy. I saw it had "atacar" listed as being from Arabic, but surely it's linked to "attach" in English? and according to Google it is "attaccare" in Italian too.

Also, "rabida". I remember this as meaning "angry" - wouldn't it be related to "rabid"?

I'm not an expert, though, these are just my thoughts!

GoodtoBetter Sun 28-Jul-13 16:56:41

No idea to how accurate it is but it is true that there are a lot of words in SP and PT that are Arabic in origin and I find that interesting. DH is Spanish and has an interesting surname, which is possibly a corruption of something Arabic and certainly when we were in Morocco, the Moroccans were amazed he wasn't one of them grin

Niarfi Sun 28-Jul-13 17:03:01

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that there weren't lots of Spanish words that derive from Arabic, just that a couple on that list didn't seem to me like they were of Arabic origin!

Perhaps there's someone more knowledgeable on the thread who can clear it up? Alex?

Must be funny for your DH, though! grin

GoodtoBetter Sun 28-Jul-13 17:09:58

His name sounds like a corruption of Bin something or other and then in Morocco, people thought he looked very Moroccan. smile
I expect some of the words are inaccurate, but still fascinating all the same. I had always heard that ojalá was from Arabic and naranja (and laranja in Portuguese). But I also have a vague memory about reading about orange being the same route and originally being a norange from the Arabic/Spanish naranja and then eventually becoming AN orange in English. Might be bollocks though.....

I think norange is right. Words that were new shortly before publishing began to take off (so late 1400s to mid 1500s) were brutalised by early editors' guesses. Nadre to adder is another example.

alexpolistigers Sun 28-Jul-13 18:48:03

I don't mind admitting that Spanish etymology is not my area of expertise, I'm afraid!

However, I know that English "attach" is from a Germanic root (perhaps via French), and that "rabid" is from Latin "rabidus". I would expect the Spanish "rabida" to come from there too.

I would have to investigate a bit more for "atacar"

alexpolistigers Sun 28-Jul-13 18:49:06

and yes, that's right, re a norange

GoodtoBetter Sun 28-Jul-13 19:30:57

Very pleased with myself that I wasn't misremembering nonsense about a norange then grin Love languages (only speak Eng and Sp), endlessly fascinating. Would love to know a bit more about Basque as it's quite different altogether.

CoteDAzur Sun 28-Jul-13 20:16:25

DH speaks 5 languages, including Spanish and Portuguese. He was most surprised to see that the only two words of Turkish he understood in Turkey were:

Zeytin ~ Azeitona (Portuguese) ~ Zaytoon (Arabic)
... which all mean "olive"


Sharap ~ Xerope (Portuguese) ~ Sharab (Arabic)
... which are pronounced the same but means "wine" in Turkish & Arabic while it means "medicine" in Portuguese. This caused a fair bit of hilarity at dinner table when DH first met my parents grin

This might have something to do something to do with shurup ("shouroup") meaning "liquid medicine" which has entered Portuguese from Arabic but was maybe mispronounced.

GoodtoBetter Sun 28-Jul-13 20:58:12

sirope in Spanish and syrup in English?

CoteDAzur Sun 28-Jul-13 21:21:23

My point was that sharap (wine) has become the word for medicine in Portuguese, although it is not pronounced the same as syrup.

GoodtoBetter Sun 28-Jul-13 21:23:33

yy, was just pondering about if sirope and syrup were of the same root.

MmeLindor Germany Mon 29-Jul-13 15:11:55

That colour blog is quite fascinating.

I can recall discussing the precise shade of green wool that my mother had bought to make a cardigan for the baby. 'It is a light green, but not as bright as grass green or apple green, more of a sage green. Actually, I think I would call it moss green...'

After 10 mins of this, DH roared across the room, 'FFS, it is GREEN'.

Not sure if that is his German green-blindness or male blindness, or even a bit of colour blindness.

Poor DH also has to endure me laughing at him when he asked if I wanted more a-spar-agus

TVTonight Mon 29-Jul-13 15:42:22

I also like the way the gender of words alters perception (not English). Apparently in languages where key is masculine it is associated with mastery/penetration/power but when it is feminine it is associated with petite/discretion/etc.

I'd love to know more about this properly.

alexpolistigers Mon 29-Jul-13 20:06:23

I've never really thought about "key" as such. But my first thought was that it is neuter in Greek (to kleidi), so I wonder what that would mean!

Fem in Italian - la chiave
Fem in French - la clé (or clef)
Fem in Spanish - la clave, la llave
Neuter in Greek - to kleidi
Masc in German der Schlüssel

I'm not sure this is really telling us anything, other than that gender can be totally arbitrary! I can't say I've noticed any deeper meaning attached to key in any of those languages! But I do admit I have never considered it before.

MmeLindor Germany Mon 29-Jul-13 21:14:06

Gender makes me crazy. Especially when learning French, as it was so different to German. Utter nightmare.

alexpolistigers Mon 29-Jul-13 21:18:03

I actually like gender in Greek, as with a lot of words it's obvious from the suffix, you can see what gender it is. Obviously, there are exceptions, but I do find it fascinating to see how one language can have something as eg a feminine noun, whereas another sees it as neuter. You wonder how it all developed!

SantanaLopez Mon 29-Jul-13 21:24:38

Oh this is fascinating! I remember studying a bit of language at university, the key is the famous example- I think bridge as well? It's a bit vague!

Can I ask how you find out all those little tidbits of dialect from all over the world?! It's a crazy collection!

Beechwood, by the way, is very easy to split, is very smooth, and is very light coloured, meaning inscriptions show up nicely. Also, abundant.

Oh and the liney bits inside -where the rings are, you know what I mean. Grain? Anyway. They are not very highly contrasted in beech. So no confusing little lines to contend with when you're trying to scrawl 'Ethelstan woz 'ere' or whatever.

CoteDAzur Mon 29-Jul-13 21:38:32

I memorised the gender of French nouns at the beginning but now can figure out the gender of new words on my own with surprising accuracy. It has to do with how a word sounds rather than what it means, imho.

Here I am as the resident recommender again.

Women, Fire and Dangerous Things is named for a "gender" in a particular language. From memory, tools are masculine but weapons are feminine grin

MmeLindor Germany Mon 29-Jul-13 21:51:17

I made the mistake of not learning gender when I learned German nouns. My German is almost native speaker level, but I still get muddled with der/die/das

MousyMouse Mon 29-Jul-13 22:23:56

my dc struggle with the gender. even though they speak reasonaby well.
I have written many an angry letter to publishers of children's picture books which leave out the gender.

CoteDAzur Mon 29-Jul-13 22:30:08

I added that book to my Kindle wish list, thanks.


Un util = a tool (masculine)
Un marteau = a hammer (masculine)


Un fusil = a rifle (masculine)
Un pistolet = a gun (masculine)

... whereas

Un arc = a bow (masculine)
Une flèche = an arrow (feminine)

... so I can't really agree about weapons being feminine.

MousyMouse Mon 29-Jul-13 22:37:49

die rakete (the rocket)
die waffe (the weapon)
die pistole (the handgun)

= feminine, weapons of war

das gewehr
das messer der bogen
der speer

=masculine and neutrum, weapons traditionally used for hunting

Sorry, gender in that language is M (tools) / F (weapons) and / N. Which stayed with me because obviously funny.

alexpolistigers Tue 30-Jul-13 12:41:03

Santana I actually speak some of the languages I have put in, so some of the expressions, etc in other languages are from my own general knowledge. Others I research, and I ask friends, other people who know the language.

Re weapons/ war/ tools (just to add to the mix)

o polemos - masc (war)
i sygkrousi - fem (conflict)
i machi - fem (battle)

to spathi - neuter (sword)
to velos - neuter (arrow)
to toxo - neuter (bow)
to oplo - neuter (weapon)

Hmm, lots of actual weapons in Greek seem to be neuter. Don't know why, particularly!

alexpolistigers Tue 30-Jul-13 12:41:50

Horry You must have a fantastic library, I will turn up at your house to read them all, one day! grin

It's not bad... but tbh what I have is a good Linguistics degree and a very good memory. I'm recommending books I haven't laid eyes or hands on for years.

MardyBra Wed 31-Jul-13 13:01:52

For those who are native speakers of a language which has genders, do you really attach masculine or feminine qualities in your mind to the noun in question. I remember reading in a book once that a francophone person would see "une rivière" as a feminine gentle flowy thing, whereas a German speaker would see a "Fluss" as a more masculine thing.

MardyBra Wed 31-Jul-13 13:09:21

I love that colour link earlier. This book also looks at the whole colour thing.

Absy Wed 31-Jul-13 13:12:20

Very interesting blog!

For the one about the lady bugs and religious connotations of the name, the name in Hebrew is name is "parat Moishe Rabbeinu" which would be transated as "Moses' cow" (as in the famous, Ten Commandments Moses).

MmeLindor Germany Wed 31-Jul-13 14:40:40

That is interesting, Mardy. Maybe that is why I have trouble learning genders.

MardyBra Wed 31-Jul-13 15:04:57

Me too MmeL. I've just never seen the point of them.

I know people find some elements of language learning tedious, but generally I like finding out the nuances and the exceptions. For example, the differences between "ser" (to be - permanently) and "estar" (to be - impermanently) in Spanish. I love the way just a little difference in the choice of word can make a big difference on the meaning of a sentence. For example, "estoy cansada" (I'm tired) and "soy cansada" (I'm tiresome).

But as a non-native speaker of a language with genders, I just don't get why? Why didn't they just get eroded, like they did in English? Mind you everything gets eroded in English.

MardyBra Wed 31-Jul-13 15:09:19

I love a good subjunctive too. We've mostly lost the art of subjuncting in English.

Some of us use the subjunctive deliberately. And gerunds wink

English has been able to abandon most morphology (that is, word endings and agreement) by keeping word order pretty rigid. Other languages might despair at the inflexibility of our construction.

cakesonatrain Wed 31-Jul-13 19:24:19

Oh, I do like a gerund!

Gauchita Thu 01-Aug-13 20:01:03

Catchin up! Crazy days with work here.

Mardy, IKWYM re. some differences in meaning between ser and estar but in that particular example you wouldn't say 'soy cansada' but 'soy cansadora' so it wouldn't apply. It would, though in the case of 'estoy aburrida' (I'm bored) and 'soy aburrida' (I'm boring, as in 'a boring person').

I love the fact that you can use gerunds in English with an adjectival function (She sent me a letter saying that...) For Spanish speakers this is a big issue as we've taken the structure from EN and the grand majority of people use it in SP, but it's not correct. Teachers suffer badly grin In SP we need to use an adjectival clause 'Me envió una carta que decía...'

Man, I love grammar (and now my post will be full of errors, of course wink)

alexpolistigers Thu 01-Aug-13 20:37:05

I love grammar too - and you have just given me a thought. It might be interesting to look at differing use of gerund/ present participles across different languages in a future article. I shall make a note of it.

Niarfi Sat 03-Aug-13 20:21:52

I forgot about this thread.

That's interesting, Gauchita about the gerund in Spanish. I did some Spanish (a while ago, now, so please don't push me on it!) and I remember using the gerund in the way we do in English. I didn't realise it was considered incorrect. I don't remember being corrected on it.

Gauchita Sun 04-Aug-13 20:09:15

Niarfi, it's so commonly used, everybody seems to use it that way. Many don't even know it's wrong (and you'd without a doubt be considered a pedant PITA if you told someone the structure is actually incorrect grin)

Children in school are taught the correct structure, of course, but then they go home and listen to the other everywhere else ha! To be very honest, I don't think it's a battle that correct grammar will get to win these days.

Niarfi Mon 05-Aug-13 14:09:46

Thanks, Gauchita, that would explain why nobody pulled me up on it, if native speakers don't even notice it as being wrong.

Does anyone know if it is used in the "English" sort of way in other languages too? I'm curious, now!

Niarfi Mon 05-Aug-13 14:11:15

I mean, if the gerund is used in the same way as in English. Sorry, my post didn't quite read right

IsabellaMilborne Mon 05-Aug-13 14:32:40

Very interesting thread; would love to know the derivation / meaning of a Turkish phrase which goes something like "get over the bridge safely before you call the bear "Uncle".

Niarfi Mon 05-Aug-13 14:58:02

That sounds like an interesting expression, Isabella.

I don't speak any Turkish, and I have no experience of this, but could it mean something like "think carefully before you speak" or maybe "don't make any rash decisions until you know you are safe"

alexpolistigers Mon 05-Aug-13 15:48:19

I can't help you on the expression - I don't speak Turkish either. If CoteDAzur is around, she is a Turkish speaker.

But as for the gerund - the present participle is used quite differently in Greek. In fact, it is much less common than in English and you don't use it adjectivally. It would be used in the sense "as I was going to the park" (for example), so you might say "Going to the park..." as long as it refers to the same subject as in the next verb. In Gauchita's example, "a card saying bla bla", you would have to say "a card which said bla bla". (or actually, "which wrote", because you tend to use the word "write" in this context in Greek)

I suspect "call x uncle" is going to be an idiomatic something meaning "insult x", in which case it's "don't wind someone up while they can still reach you" grin

I remember being told that calling someone a goat in Russian should not be attempted unless one wishes to fight, because the implication is "you are very goatish because your father was a goat because your mother is so ugly that no man would sleep with her".

Niarfi Mon 05-Aug-13 19:20:04

That's sort of what I meant, Horry, with the Turkish phrase.

How funny about Russian! I had no idea! Not that I am in the habit of using "goat" as an insult anyway... grin

All the stuff about the gerund, or the present participle, or whatever it's called, sounds quite complicated. Is there a past continuous participle? I know the past participle is like "eaten" or "fried" can you tell I'm hungry right now, but is there an "ing" equivalent?

That probably doesn't make much sense, but I hope you get what I mean grin

In English "participles" can only be past or present (-ing or -ed). You can show the equivalent of a past continuous by using a mixture (having -ed).

NotAQueef Mon 05-Aug-13 20:47:32

Oh, I have found my new virtual home. Thanks for the link!

alexpolistigers Mon 05-Aug-13 21:19:50

I was confused for a minute there about the participles, I was wondering what you meant! But I see from Horry's post that you meant "having eaten" or perhaps "was eating".

Is anyone else seized with an urge to find out some goat expressions in Russian? Or am I just feeling childish tonight

GoodtoBetter Mon 05-Aug-13 21:31:19

I like the way calling someone "like a goat" in Spanish (estás como una cabra, estás cabreada) means mad or really angry, cos goats are a bit mad aren't they?

I also love all the really rude and often blasphemos curses in Spanish.

alexpolistigers Mon 05-Aug-13 21:37:35

That's funny, GoodtoBetter. I have just made a note of that!

In Greek you use "goat" for someone who moves around too much, who won't keep still (horopidas san to katsiki)

Niarfi Tue 06-Aug-13 18:23:12

Thanks for clearing that up about the participles. It seems really obvious now.

Actually, you've all inspired me. I've decided I'm going to take up Spanish again.

Btw Alex I like your articles with the verbs with different meanings, like "throw" and "put".

Well technically I suppose they're continuous or complete but English teachers and syntacticians don't use the same jargon wink

alexpolistigers Tue 06-Aug-13 19:22:26

That's great Niarfi. Funnily enough, I've just been saying to Gauchita in the last few days that I would like to learn Spanish properly!

I'm glad you like the articles, I certainly have fun writing them! Personally I like writing about expressions most of all, though.

Horry Do you actually speak Russian, or was that just something you've heard?

I lived with a Russianist with a Russian girlfriend just after his Year Abroad. He could have been having us on but tbh he was bursting with stories about His Year In Russia that he had no need to exaggerate. He taught us several useful Russian insults grin

alexpolistigers Tue 06-Aug-13 19:55:38

I would like to learn a Slavic language, and although it would be fun to do another alphabet and learn Russian, I have been looking at Slovenian more recently. There are so many cases still in use in the modern language, plus the language still uses duality of nouns, I really find it fascinating.

The closes Slavic language to me geographically speaking according to where I live would be Bulgarian, but I would like to do a "small" language in terms of numbers of speakers!

CoteDAzur Tue 06-Aug-13 22:08:37

Isabella - That saying is: "Kopruyu gecinceye kadar ayiya dayi demek" = Calling the bear "Uncle" until you cross the bridge (that it is on).

It plays on the similarity of the words "ayi" (bear) and "dayi" (uncle), and refers to treating someone nicely until you get what you want from them.

CoteDAzur Tue 06-Aug-13 22:28:39

Re "past continuous" - It's been a while since I studied English grammar but isn't that what we do with "I was going..." etc?

While we are on this topic, there is a past tense in Turkish that means "I heard it happened but I wasn't there to see it". So if you say "Yagmur yagdi" it means you saw it rain, and if you say "Yagmur yagmis" it means you heard it rained but didn't actually see it.

There is lots of fun to be had with this. For example, "Geldim" means "I came" and you would say "Gelmisim" only if you are talking about a drunken adventure where you don't remember a thing or possibly about a sleepwalking episode.

Ha ha I love the idea of an "I was so drunk I can't be sure" tense. Why don't all languages have that?!

The past continuous conversation was a spinoff from gerunds and other non-finite phenomena.

alexpolistigers Wed 07-Aug-13 13:31:54

Cote that's priceless! I have to learn some Turkish, what a great tense! I wish it existed in English! We could call it the "hearsay" tense!

There are lots of Turkish speakers who live near me, but apparently, their version of the language isn't the same as standard Turkish spoken in Turkey, they have something of a dialect.

CoteDAzur Wed 07-Aug-13 20:12:41

I think you would find it fascinating. Turkish is closer to Japanese than any European language. Nouns and even pronouns have no gender.

There is extensive agglutination through which new words are formed and entire sentences can be said in a single (very long) word:

Gel = Come
Gelme = Don't come
Gelmedin = You didn't come
Gelmemissin = I heard that you didn't come
Gelmistin = You had come
Gelmeseydin = If you had not come
Gelmeyecektin = You were not going to come
Gelmemeliydin = You shouldn't have come

There is also strict vowel harmony whereby a word will either have only A, O, U, I ("i without a dot") or it will only have E, Ö, Ü, i. This makes it easy to spot foreign words like televizyon (o can't follow e and i) or valiz (i can't follow a).

When English expat friends in France talk about how difficult, how different French is compared to English, I smile and nod grin

CoteDAzur Wed 07-Aug-13 20:29:11

At the risk of boring everyone to tears, here is another interesting thing about Turkish: it is written phonetically - each letter is pronounced in only one way and there are no letter groups (i.e. if you can recite the alphabet, you can read a book in Turkish even if you don't understand a single word). This was intentionally done when a modified Latin Alphabet was adopted in 1928.

This also means that there is very little variation in how educated people speak Turkish. Regional variations are unimportant compared to countries like UK and France and are mainly about the different terms used rather than different pronunciations.

The reason why your Turkish neighbours speak differently is probably that the 1st generation immigrants in their families had little to no formal education so they never learned how each letter is to be pronounced, and their descendants learned from them so have the same "dialect".

alexpolistigers Wed 07-Aug-13 21:03:40

Cote You are right, I am already fascinated!

I have heard of some Hungarian agglutination, but not to the extent you describe in your post. I really am tempted to take a course, it sounds so interesting! Do verbs not need a separate subject pronoun in general, as it is included in a suffix or is part of the way the word is conjugated?

Incidentally, I find that funny about English speakers of French, too. I find it one of the easiest languages I have looked at!

Regarding the Turkish speakers near me - they are the Turkish speaking minority in northern Greece. Some of them will have gone to the Turkish speaking school, but a lot of them go to the Greek medium schools - there are some in my children's classes. I often chat to one of the mums in the playground at pick-up time. She was the one who told me that their Turkish is a bit different.

CoteDAzur Wed 07-Aug-13 21:28:33

A separate subject pronoun is not needed unless you are emphasising it ("I was the one who did it") because it is included in the conjugation of the verb: "n" at the end of the words below mean "you", for example. Replace it with "m" and it would mean "I".

Sorry, I misunderstood re your neighbours. I thought automatically of the immigrant families in the UK, many of whose speech I struggle to understand. I don't know about the Turkish spoken in Greece. Is it Karamanlidika?

alexpolistigers Wed 07-Aug-13 21:36:01

Some of them will belong to the Karamanlidika group, I expect, but this term is usually used for Turkish speaking Christians (at least in Greece, it is). There are also a lot of Turkish speaking Muslims - I don't know enough about Turkish to be able to tell if their language is in any way different. I expect that a large number at least will speak the same Karamanlidika as their Christian neighbours.

Actually, I am curious about this now. I will ask the friendly mum when I see her again - she is from the Muslim community.

English speakers complaining about learning a non-tonal SVO language that uses the same alphabet always get hmm from me.

alexpolistigers Wed 07-Aug-13 21:41:28

I do find it fascinating that Turkish should use an "m" sound for the first person singular. This seems to be a feature of so many languages, from many language groups. Look at English me, my, French me, moi, mon, Italian me, mio, Greek mou, emena, conjugation -mai, the list goes on and on. -m is a sound often associated with the first person.

GoodtoBetter Wed 07-Aug-13 21:43:26

Still reading...Turkish sounds fascinating! grin
What's a SVO language?

alexpolistigers Wed 07-Aug-13 21:49:13

SVO = Subject Verb Object - it refers to the usual word order.

English falls into this category - we only invert in special circumstances - generally either for questions or standardised expressions (eg "be that as it may"). And even questions don't onvert the main verb, it's an auxillary.

alexpolistigers Wed 07-Aug-13 21:53:15

Incidentally, Cote you couldn't tell me the Turkish equivalent of the expression "great minds think alike"? I have been making notes on it, I'd like to write a post on this expression

Yes, sorry. If you think about all the languages most English people complain about (French, German, Spanish), you can translate nearly word for word most of the time, and can at least sound out words and have a stab at spelling.

I pretty much fell over trying to learn Greek grin

alexpolistigers Wed 07-Aug-13 21:59:56

Really?? I've always thought of Greek as quite easy, compared to Welsh, for example! Once you've learnt the alphabet and the main conjugations and declensions, it all follows the same pattern!

I got stuck on the alphabet blush to be honest. I am a very visual learner with a stupidly fast reading speed, so slowing down to reading one letter at a time stalled me completely.

Learning IPA (the international phonetic alphabet) to do my degree was bad enough.

CoteDAzur Wed 07-Aug-13 22:55:08

"great minds think alike"

I guess that would be "Aklin yolu birdir", which is not easy to translate in a meaningful way but is something like "There is only one rational/intelligent way (and we have both found it)".

CoteDAzur Thu 08-Aug-13 09:00:19

alexpoli - Would you be interested in looking at the etymology of words common to Greek & Turkish? I have often wondered about names of food & dishes, for example.

"Domates" = Tomato in Turkish, but clearly not a TR word since (1) e can't follow o & a due to wowed harmony, and (2) it is so similar to the words in European languages.

Yoghurt, on the other hand is a TR word that was imported into European languages (Several Greek friends found this upsetting, for some reason. They seemed to think that yoghurt is a Greek invention.).

Sarma and dolma are TR words meaning "wrapped" and "filled" so I would think that sarmades and dolmades are imported into Greek from Turkish. I'm not sure about the origin of musakka/moussaka. Possibly Arabic?

alexpolistigers Thu 08-Aug-13 12:46:10

Oooh, I would love to look at this, Cote! I have no hang-ups as to who has the most ancient form of the word, being neither Greek nor Turkish wink I know what it is like, though! I have heard it all.

"tomato" is one that i know anyway - it comes from Nahuatl.

You are probably right about sarmades/ dolmades. I will look into some of the others! This looks like a fascinating subject. I'll probably need some time to delve into it properly, though.

alexpolistigers Thu 08-Aug-13 13:42:06

Cote Can you tell me some other words in Turkish that start in the same way as "yogurt", or might possible be in the same group/ same roots? What is Turkish for "yeast"? Maybe "knead"? I'm asking because I have found two schools of thought on the word, and other Turkish words stemming from the same base would strengthen the case for a Turkish origin. Some Greek linguists claim that it is a reverse-loan from ancient Greek. I shall do some more research on this!

alexpolistigers Thu 08-Aug-13 14:50:57

I have found yo&#287;urmak and yo&#287;un in Turkish listed as being from the same root as "yogurt", and to be honest this seems to me more likely than the conjecture that it comes from the ancient Greek root "iartos", as proposed by some scholars.

I shall look into some other words now, that's enough yogurt for one day!

alexpolistigers Thu 08-Aug-13 14:52:04

My Turkish letters didn't work on MN! Never mind, it was "yogurmak" and "yogun", with a little accent over the "g"

alexpolistigers Thu 08-Aug-13 17:19:14

You are right, Cote about musakka/moussaka - it's from Arabic "musaqqan".

Baklavas/baklava is from Arabic "bakla"

Kadayif/ kantaifi is from Arabic qata'if

Meze/ mezes is from Farsi "maza", meaning "taste, aroma"

CoteDAzur Thu 08-Aug-13 17:26:23

Is there really any doubt re the origin of the word "yogurt"? Open any dictionary and you will see the letters TR next to it, meaning it comes from Turkish.

Yogurmak = to knead
Yogun = dense, thick

Interesting tidbit: You don't see two consonants at the end of a word in Turkish. The one exception is 'rt', for example in:

Dört = Four
Abart = Exaggerate
Yurt = Portable tent-like swelling, and in recent use, one's homeland

... and of course Yogurt smile

CoteDAzur Thu 08-Aug-13 17:33:04

I'm actually pretty sure re sarmades/dolmades:

Sar = Wrap
Sarmak = To wrap
Sarilmak = To hug
Sarmasik = Creeping plant (hugging the wall/trellis)
... and Sarma = Something that has been wrapped

Dol = Be filled
Dolmak = To be filled
Doldur = Fill
Doldurmak = To fill
Dolu = Full
... and Dolma = Something that has been filled

CoteDAzur Thu 08-Aug-13 17:34:55

Anyway, should we ask for this thread to be moved to Language/Bilingualism? Not sure if anyone else is interested but I'd be sad to see it disappear.

alexpolistigers Thu 08-Aug-13 18:33:33

Re "yogurt" - I thought it was pretty well decided too, but apparently some scholars are trying to make out that it's from the ancient Greek "iartos". Clutching at straws, in my opinion.

Yes, of course, you are right about sarmades/ dolmades. I was just looking to see if "lachano" was Turkish too - in this area "lachanodolmades" and "lachanosarmas" are very popular.

alexpolistigers Thu 08-Aug-13 18:36:11

Is the consonant thing you mention to do with the vowel harmony and overall music of Turkish? It's an interesting point.

What is the Turkish word for "music", just out of curiosity?

CoteDAzur Thu 08-Aug-13 19:04:47

Lahana = cabbage?

Yes, lahana dolmasi and lahana sarmasi are popular in Turkey, too. Lahana sounds like it could be Turkish or Arabic.

Then again, Turks were nomadic tribes until the last 1,000 years or so (Have you seen Mongol? Brilliant film about Ghenghis Khan's early life) so I'd be inclined to beliee that names of vegetables came from other languages.

... as opposed to words about war and meat, naturally smile

For example, pastirma (pastrami) was the salted meat Turks cured & kept under their saddles so it was "pressed", back in Central Asia. The word comes from:

Bas = Press, put down on
Basinç = Pressure
Bastir = Press hard on
Bastirmak = To press hard
Bastirma = Something that's been pressed hard on (I'm not translating this well smile

CoteDAzur Thu 08-Aug-13 19:33:46

Re consonants - Syllables in Turkish don't have two consonants in a row, like:

Bu-gün e-vi-mi-ze bir ya-ban-ci gel-di ve bi-ze ye-mek yap-ma-yi ög-ret-ti. Bu ne-den-le se-nin-le bu-lus-a-ca-gi-miz ye-re gec gel-dim.

Coupled with vowel harmony, I suspect it sounds like speaking in tongues to foreign ears.

Neither does Japanese (syllables are CV). Hence arigato from Portuguese obligado and kirimete from English Christmas.

CoteDAzur Thu 08-Aug-13 20:12:14

I believe there are other similarities as well: All vowels are pure (no diphthongs etc), sentence structure is SOV, etc

cakesonatrain Thu 08-Aug-13 20:32:05

Is arigato from the Portuguese? That's very interesting.


Before trading with Portugal (which eventually happened A LOT) Japanese didn't have a single word for "thank you". Much of Japanese is very formal and would always previously have expressed that thought more fluently, like "I'm deeply obliged for your kindness" or something. But the Portuguese traders came over and a kind of pidgin arose between them, leaving arigato as a legacy.

I find Japanese absolutely fascinating - actually there are several Far East languages that are similarly formal, with up to seven (IIRC) levels of morphological formality depending on your social level and that of the person you're talking to. Compare with English "you" and even Fr/Ger/Sp tu-vous/du-Sie/vos-usted and we suddenly don't seem that class obsessed in Europe at all!

CoteDAzur Fri 09-Aug-13 13:46:29

Native Portuguese-speaker DH didn't know this and found it fascinating confirmed his annoying conviction that the world owes everything to the Portuguese smile

Now I'm going to mess with your brain eeeeeeever so slightly.

Lots of children go through a phase of not being able to combine consonants either. Did yours do this? You might not have noticed except in particular words. Certainly they might have inserted or inverted some sounds. I'm stuck for an example off the top of my head but "nucular" is an example of someone struggling to combine -cl- in the middle of a word.

One theory is that there are only very few language settings in the human brain, and the baby learns which switches to switch on while it's practising. So for example verb-object or object-verb (I play tennis v I tennis play) is one switch, combine consonants or not is another, require subject or not is another, and so on. Some things you wouldn't think were the same all go together as if all on one switch. And in the meantime the baby might have some of his switches set wrong so he comes out with peculiar ways of saying things that he hasn't heard from anyone.

CoteDAzur Fri 09-Aug-13 20:56:31

At least in the case of Turkish, it is not an inability to pronounce consonant groups, but just the fact that Turkish words just don't have them because of agglutination and vowel harmony in particular. Turks are quite capable of saying words like "extra" (with /kst/ consonant group in the middle).

I'm not an expert in English language but my feeling is that trouble with a word like "nuclear" is the diphthong rather than the not-so-difficult /kl/ sound and that a dim president made it acceptable to pronounce it "nucular".

CoteDAzur Fri 09-Aug-13 21:11:47

"One theory is that there are only very few language settings in the human brain, and the baby learns which switches to switch on while it's practising"

I doubt it. I started learning English at the age of 12 and as you can see, my brain has managed to cope with its fundamentally different grammar and sentence structure. My DC speak three languages (English, French, Turkish) and their brains seem to have managed switching on these conflicting switches, if they exist.

I could mess with your mind, though grin by telling you about the book I'm reading at the moment, which talks about language as the software that programs the standard brain (hardware) that everyone is born with. Hacking into the brain with the basic programming language (Sumerian), then a verbal virus spreads through the population like wildfire and so Tower of Babel story happens - languages diverge. Fascinating story grin

That's for native language learning though, not second languages.

CoteDAzur Fri 09-Aug-13 22:12:40

Have I misunderstood what you said? "Switching on/off" sounded permanent. So if my mother tongue switched on the SOV sentence structure, would you have expected me to be so fluent in the two SVO languages I have subsequently learned?

No, sorry. My oversimplified explanation.

They do set their switches per language. So a child growing up bilingual compartmentalises the two separately, and sets the switches accordingly.

When we learn a "second language" (in Linguistics terms, this is something one learns after puberty starts, roughly speaking) no matter how immersively we do so we don't have access to that deep instinctive understanding feel for that language. We learn it more formally, even if we never have a formal lesson - as a conscious skill.

For the vast majority of people, there's only one "first language".

Language divergence is FASCINATING. It seems to prove that all the possible structures of natural human language already exist in the infant brain - but because the child only learns from what it hears, it applies the wrong rules.

For example, English is fairly strictly SVO with occasional V2 anomalies; German is more strictly V2. That means that English sentence structure almost always has a subject, then a verb, then any objects (Yesterday Gary gave the ball to Steve) whereas German puts the verb second (Yesterday gave Gary the ball to Steve).

A lot of the time you can't tell the difference (Gary gave the ball to Steve = Gary gave the ball to Steve) so a child hearing such a sentence can't tell whether to set SVO or V2. If the language is actually SVO but children decide to set V2, then within a generation the language is V2.

A frivolous example:

A thousand years ago we said "Me like cakes" - our case marking and V2 structure meant that it was obvious that pears are doing the pleasing and I am benefiting therefrom. But as we lost verb morphology and mislabelled the structure as SVO, we "corrected" me to I, and ended up with "I like cakes". Unlike comparable examples in other European languages our verb "like" is sort of inside out.

Crikey I'm rusty. These examples are dredged from some very cobwebby parts of my brain.

GoodtoBetter Fri 09-Aug-13 22:44:31

I found like hard to crack when learning Spanish...had to remember it as cakes please me to be able conjugate correctly.

CoteDAzur Fri 09-Aug-13 22:56:50

Horry - I read your posts several times and honestly don't know what you were saying. So now I'm going to bed smile

... but before I go:

I'm not sure about the hypothesis that second language cannot attain the instinctive fluency of the mother tongue. From personal experience, I would say that it is entirely possible to speak a second language (learned after puberty) as well as your mother tongue.

There is a very little empirical proof that a second language is not learned in the same way as a first - stroke or head injury sufferers who lose their mother tongue but retain second languages.

Although functionally a highly skilled person could attain a high degree of fluency in a second language, linguists still distinguish between "fluent" and "native".

I'm knackered too so who knows what garbage I'm spouting grin

Good night!

Gauchita Sat 10-Aug-13 01:08:24

Wow, fascinating posts, ladies!

Horry, I had no idea about the PT/Japanese thing; you'd think the PT teachers would mention that! wink

Alex, Slovenian might have been trumped by Turkish then? Ha!

Very glad to hear we've delved into bilingualism and multilingualism. I need to go to bed but I need advice re this and DD. I'll come back tomorrow.

Cote, good idea to ask MNHQ to move this thread so we don't lose it. I'll email them now.

alexpolistigers Sat 10-Aug-13 11:59:44

Gauchita not at all, I am quite tempted to learn both Turkish and Slovenian! And a bit of Spanish too, why not! wink It would be fun!

I really don't agree with the theory on "language switches". I have learnt a number of different foreign languages, with varying grammatical structures. I started learning Greek, a language in which I am entirely fluent, when I was already an adult. I have never found the different structures and grammar to be a stumbling block.

Horry you've confused me a little bit, but I think you are trying to say that the language can easily evolve into another type?

I read an article about that re English question construction. Currently we are supposed to invert the auxiliary verb with the subject (You like fish > Do you like fish?). The article suggested that in the nost so distant future it will become standard to just say "You like fish?" with a questioning tone.

alexpolistigers Sat 10-Aug-13 12:10:14

Cote that explains where the Greek word "pastourmas" comes from then! (personally I can't stand the stuff! I much prefer things like dolmas!)

Re "lachano/ lahana" I have found a Homeric reference to the word, so it seems to be from ancient Greek.

This means that lahana sarmasi is actually an interesting mix of Turkish and Greek. I like finding things like this - a good example is "butcher's shop". In standard Greek this is "kreopoleio". But in this area, Greek speakers say "hasapiko", putting a Greek ending onto the Turkish word.

Or another of my favourites is "glentao" in Greek, meaning "celebrate" - this is a great example, because -ao is a standard Greek verb conjugation, not the one usually used for foreign words, and yet it is tacked onto the Turkish "glent" (I am not sure precisely how the word is in Turkish, but I am sure Cote can enlighten us!)

Yes, languages can evolve into other types - each generation is fractionally, incrementally different from the last. Usually it's social changes that splits one from another (eg the differences between Danish and Swedish are largely political) such as a group emigrating and not keeping in contact with the original community. Australian Finnish is different from Finnish Finnish; American English is different from English English, because they evolved separately.

How else would languages develop except incrementally and generationally...?

KateSMumsnet Cameroon (MNHQ) Sat 10-Aug-13 16:34:09

What an interesting thread! We're going to move it to Language now so it doesn't get lost.

CoteDAzur Sat 10-Aug-13 16:44:48

""hasapiko", putting a Greek ending onto the Turkish word. "

Almost smile Butcher = Kasap.

""glentao" in Greek, meaning "celebrate" - this is a great example, because -ao is a standard Greek verb conjugation, not the one usually used for foreign words, and yet it is tacked onto the Turkish "glent" "

"Glent" isn't and can't be Turkish, since words in Turkish can't start with two consonants, as I mentioned below. I can't imagine what this word can be. "Celebration" in Turkish would be kutlama, tören, or maybe merasim (clearly of Arabic origin - no vowel harmony), depending on the context.

GoodtoBetter Sat 10-Aug-13 16:51:01

the differences between Danish and Swedish are largely political Can you explain this, sounds fascinating?

CoteDAzur Sat 10-Aug-13 17:13:07

re Splits in languages - I find it fascinating that Spanish and Portuguese are so different (in pronunciation if not in grammar & vocabulary) that most Spanish people don't understand spoken Portuguese, although these nations are neighbours and always have been.

On the other hand, people from Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey all understand each other, over 1,000 years after Turks left Central Asia. No meaningful contact since then until last couple of decades. Yet, these three languages are incredibly similar. Azeri & Uzbek sound like "broken" Turkish to me, like a young child would speak, but differences are not important.

GoodtoBetter Sat 10-Aug-13 19:51:50

yy I can read Portuguese because of Spanish but find it sounds more like Russian when spoken.

alexpolistigers Sat 10-Aug-13 20:49:16

Cote re "glentao" - according to my etymological dictionary, it comes from Turkish "eglenti". It was the stem I was referring to as "glent". I have also found "eglendim" and "eglenmek", which I assume are parts of the same verb.

"hasapiko" was my own transliteration - the "h" is a harsh sound, more like the German "ch", so probably halfway between "k" and "h".

This has really been fun to look into, I will have to write an article about Turkish words in use in Greek, or the words common to both languages that come from elsewhere.

CoteDAzur Sat 10-Aug-13 21:53:10

Re Glenteo/Eglenti - That g is a "soft g" (has a bar over it) so makes more like a /y/ sound than g.

Eglen = Have fun
Eglenmek = To have fun
Eglendim = I had fun (note the m at the end)
Eglenti = Small fun gathering (a reading at the neighbourhood cafe, for example)
Eglence = Entertainment, party (c is pronounced j in Tr)

Eglenti isn't a frequently used term. You would normally use Eglence. I can only imagine that the word flows better in Greek with a -t, which might be why the Greek word isn't Glenmeo or Glenjeo.

I'm sure that article will be fascinating. Let me know if you need anything smile

The differences between Danish and Swedish are largely political.

Briefly, and without a book in front of me... The difference between two languages and two dialects of a single language are to do with mutual intelligibility.

So American English and British English are sufficiently different that we consider them separate dialects (slight grammatical differences such as "do you want I should translate that?" v "do you want me to translate that?", and the much-observed vocabulary differences). On the other hand, they are sufficiently similar that someone who speaks one can completely understand the other without the need for a dictionary or translator or subtitles.

On the other hand, if you speak Dutch to me I nod and smile and have No Fucking Idea what you're going on about.

Danish and Swedish are arguably mutually intelligible. One person can speak Danish and another Swedish and they can carry on a conversation. The fact that we call them different languages is mainly in deference to the fact that they are associated with distinct sovereign nations. Linguists disagree but nobody listens to us.

alexpolistigers Mon 12-Aug-13 07:35:40

Horry I didn't know that about Danish and Swedish. I knew, of course, that they were close, but I didn't realise it was as close as that. I haven't really looked much at Scandinavian languages. A Russian-speaking friend was telling me all the differences between Russian and Ukrainian recently, and to me it sounded more like Brits complaining about creeping Americanisation than any meaningful differences! I could be wrong, of course!
Anyway, your Danish/ Swedish example has got me wondering how many other "languages" are like that - more politically different than actually different.

Cote Interestingly, the "g" used in Greek is also a soft one, half way between "y" and "g". (I saw the accent over the Turkish letter, of course, but it won't work on MN). You are right about Greek, it really doesn't flow nicely without the "t" in Greek, and "glenmao", for example, sounds awkward. If it had retained the initial "e" ("eglentao") it would have sounded more like a past tense, which might be one reason why it lost that too.

It will take me quite a while to research and write the article, it's not like a short, one-word/expression article, as are many on my blog, this will take more time and thought! But I think I will enjoy it!

CoteDAzur Wed 14-Aug-13 19:10:23

alexpoli - I just finished re-reading a book called Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. It is futuristic fiction ("cyberpunk", if you are familiar with the genre) but the story is built on some very interesting bits of information about languages in general and Sumerian language in particular. I can only describe its ideas as mind-blowing.

Please read it. Until about the 200th page, you will hate me and wonder why on earth I recommended it to you (from a linguistic POV) and then you will see smile

Gauchita Sat 17-Aug-13 07:17:17


Another very busy week with work, so catching up only now.
I had a question to ask you all re. bilingualism/multilingualism at home.
We only speak SP at home. DD is 4, DS will be 2 this month. DS doesn't properly speak yet, only a few words/phrases.
DD has always preferred EN. She understands everything we say in SP but replies in EN.

She only says a few words/phrases in SP but never in full, they're always mixed in between the EN ones.
We do speak EN outside the house. If I'm talking to other people she hears me speak EN and if I have her with me and another EN-speaking person I don't switch back and forth, I speak EN.

If you ask her to repeat something in SP, for example, she either does it but her accent is like an EN native starting to learn SP confused or she says 'I can't, mami'.

- Should I worry about her not speaking SP?
- Should I do something about it or is it something that will come later?

I don't particularly like the 'I won't speak to you until you say it in SP' approach. I wouldn't be able to put that into practice and feel ok with it so I'm discarding that one.

GoodtoBetter Sat 17-Aug-13 14:23:26

Gauchita I have almost exactly the same situation as you but with the languages round the other way and less input of the minority language - English.
We live in Spain and I speak EN to the DCs but SP to DH, who obviously speaks SP to DC. So the only EN is from me and stories I read or any tv they watch.
DS is nearly 5 and a half and has been at school for 2 years and although he understands everything I say, SP is totally dominant. He uses some EN but v rarely full sentences...more like "you no puede have it" kind of thing. His SP is a bit behind his peers too. I have worried a lot (he was so to start speaking...only had about 50 words at two and a half) worried it was something I was doing wrong or not doing enough of something, but I'm not sure what else I can do- he's been endlessly read to, sung to, talked to, any tv is EN. We aren't in a position to have long holidays in the UK, in fact he's never been. sad
DD is 2 and is much much more "normal" in her language acquisition, she repeats everything she hears in both languages and chats away...words, structures the lot.
I think DS is just DS and it's just the way his brain works. I do push it sometimes if I know he can say it, but it just destroys all fluency and spontaneity to do it a lot and I really really don't want EN to become a chore. I speak only EN to him and repeat/model as much as poss:
Puedo have un ice cream?
Can I have an ice cream? Can you say that DS?
DS also does weird pron too. He keeps saying bag like buy-g.
I think maybe he's just a bit funny with language and in the future if he wants to "activate" this sort of passive knowledge he can live in an EN speaking country or do some study.

CoteDAzur Sun 18-Aug-13 18:50:22

My DC are trilingual. DD went through a phase of saying things like "C'est baba car" but then was speaking sentences in each language before the age of 4, iirc. She had only three words at age 3, and one of them was an invented word she used to describe all flying things & animals. It is entirely normal for your DS to have had "only" 50 words at 2.5 - he had two languages to sort out in his head before he could speak.

Can you find him a friend who speaks only English?

GoodtoBetter Sun 18-Aug-13 19:35:24

Thanks Cote, that's reassuring. By only I just meant it was a small amount compared to what DD has now at not 2.5 and was less than the other bilingual children we knew. No children who only speak EN, no sad

CoteDAzur Sun 18-Aug-13 20:55:07

My DS started speaking earlier than DD, as well. I think there is the 2nd child effect at play. And it's of course easier to figure out a language when you hear speech between two people (me & DD) than just monologues (me alone talking to a baby).

CoteDAzur Sun 18-Aug-13 20:56:15

Ah sorry, I just realized my typo below: DD had only 3 words at the age of 2 (not 3).

alexpolistigers Mon 19-Aug-13 15:21:33

Thanks for the book suggestion Cote, I will have a look at it when I come back from my holiday! (going to Italy this week, can't wait!)

Gauchita I wish I knew what to suggest re your dd and Spanish, I've been thinking about it, but our whole set up and approach is very different to yours. I only ever speak to the children in English, no matter who else might be present. I don't speak to the children in Greek so that someone else can understand, only in English. My DH only speaks to them in Greek, again, even in the presence of English speakers. I also speak to him in English in their presence - he answers in Greek.

Apart from a couple of instances of temper-tantrum refusal to speak in the "right" language for the "right" person, the children have stuck to this too.

The only thing I can think of to suggest is a long holiday in a Spanish speaking region, visiting your relatives, but of course this could be quite expensive and difficult!

alexpolistigers Mon 19-Aug-13 15:25:46

Incidentally, Cote while I was researching and trying to find out more about Turkish, I stumbled across this site, which is quite interesting, especially the Gokturk inscriptions

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 18:38:30

How did I miss this thread?!

(It comes up when I look for your blog, btw, alex. smile)

I have never looked into the research for this properly, but anecdotally (from DH and other people I know), I think perhaps the issue with second/third/whatevereth languages isn't so much fluency, as translating between those languages.

I think it must be because we have to systematize somehow, to keep the languages separate, and it is then very hard to override that separation. However, what I don't know is whether this would be the same if you lived in a culture where people habitually and haphazardly mixed languages.

Does anyone live in a bilingual/trilingual culture who has a perspective on this? And does it correlate at all with literacy?

Sorry to be full of questions but this thread is so interesting!

CoteDAzur Mon 19-Aug-13 19:46:59

alexpoli - That link is quite good. I'll keep it for the next time I explain how different Turkish is from European languages smile

Göktürk Inscriptions are indeed very interesting, especially re how little the language has changed in 1,300 years and across two continents. I can understand that text when written in Latin alphabet and that is because many of the words are the same today, like:

Gök = Sky
Türk = Turk
Kirk = 40

... And many others are only slightly different from the words we use today, such as:

"Yiti" = yedi (Tr) = 7
"Üçün" = için (Tr) = for, because
Tengri = Tanri (Tr) = God

You might find it interesting that I wouldn't be able to understand poems written during the Ottoman Empire times as easily, if at all. That is because, as it says in that page you linked to, Ottoman Turkish and especially the "eloquent Ottoman" or "court Ottoman" in which poems were written had a lot of outside influence from Persian and Arabic.

This has led to a curious and rather poignant break from the near past - we know the history of our grandfathers but we don't know their cultural heritage, most of which we can't understand. We can't even try to understand, because it is all written in Arabic letters which we don't even know.

alexpolistigers Mon 19-Aug-13 19:48:28

You were searching for my blog, LRD? I am touched!

Having thought about it, I really don't know whether I keep my languages separate, or what exactly I do. They're just there in my mind! Helpful, I know! But I genuinely don't translate to English all the time, I just go straight into the appropriate language, without thinking through what I am going to say in English first, if you get what I mean. Sometimes, when asked by English speaking friends for an explanation, I struggle to find the right words for some things that I understand precisely and clearly in Greek.

I don't know if this is to do with growing up hearing other languages and taking it for granted. Perhaps people growing up in a wholly monolingual environment deal with multiple languages later on in an entirely different way.

alexpolistigers Mon 19-Aug-13 19:52:28

I have bookmarked the site, Cote! I thought it was fascinating!

I'm intrigued by how little Turkish has changed. Most people can't read Chaucer from 1340+ or so in English without some special help!

GoodtoBetter Mon 19-Aug-13 19:54:14

This applies to me too:

I genuinely don't translate to English all the time, I just go straight into the appropriate language, without thinking through what I am going to say in English first, if you get what I mean. Sometimes, when asked by English speaking friends for an explanation, I struggle to find the right words for some things that I understand precisely and clearly in Spanish.

I grew up monolingual and learnt Spanish when I came here as an adult.

alexpolistigers Mon 19-Aug-13 19:54:15

(and how come your Turkish letters work fine on MN, but mine don't??)

alexpolistigers Mon 19-Aug-13 19:56:26

For a minute there GoodtoBetter I thought I had accidentally written Spanish instead of Greek! And then the penny dropped!

I also learnt Greek as an adult. But I had other languages around me besides English whilst growing up.

GoodtoBetter Mon 19-Aug-13 20:02:18

I didn't. I don't think GCSE French and German count smile

alexpolistigers Mon 19-Aug-13 20:05:59

No, I meant I heard the languages being spoken and used as living languages and means of communication, not the school environment! I did both of those at GCSE too, though!

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 20:25:56

Well, I should have it bookmarked, but I'm not that organized! grin

I was trying to find what you said about colours, but it came up on here too.

I think I do languages the same way as you, though I'm not fluent at all. 'Sometimes, when asked by English speaking friends for an explanation, I struggle to find the right words for some things that I understand precisely and clearly in Greek.' - I definitely do that. Though all my languages are school languages, and obviously the concepts I understand in them are quite simple.

I think that is definitely part of why translating is so difficult - it's conceptual as well as syntactic.

But what I was thinking was, maybe the reason people in the UK get so jumpy about bilingualism is that they're seeing people struggle when asked to translate between languages, and interpreting that as a lack of fluency, when it's a separate skill.

CoteDAzur Mon 19-Aug-13 20:26:49

Some of my Turkish letters work (ö, ü, ç) because they are also in other languages like German and French, I suppose.

Some others don't (i without dot, g with a bar, s with a tail) which is why I had to write Tanri. If that letter was indeed 'i', it wouldn't conform to vowel harmony.

CoteDAzur Mon 19-Aug-13 20:28:04

I don't agree with any of that, LRD.

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 20:33:56

You mean, you don't have that experience, or you don't think the interpretation makes sense? Or something else?

Turkish is fascinating, btw. Is it right that it's part of the earliest branch that split off from Indo-European? I think I heard that - if it is, maybe that is why it's remained relatively unchanged over time (if it's somehow very stable, perhaps)?

CoteDAzur Mon 19-Aug-13 20:56:23

Interpretation doesn't make sense. When you are truly fluent in a language, you think in it. So, by definition, you don't translate from another language.

This is more marked the more different the languages are. You might get away with translating some things in your head between French & English, for example, but you can't possibly translate between languages as different as Turkish & English and Japanese & English as you speak.

You learn these languages without translating them in your mind and you become fluent in them without ever translating between them. As you learn new words in them from context, you don't find out which words they correspond to in the other language because you are not translating and many of the words/concepts can't even be easily translated.

So when you are asked to translate years down the line, you struggle.

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 20:58:55


Did you read my posts?

I think you're saying what I'm saying about why translating is difficult, but as I said, I'm not fluent. Not even close.

I said that I think British people have a tendency to think bilingualism (trilingualism, etc.) are difficult because they look at someone like my DH (who is fluent) struggling to translate between English and Russian, and they confuse this with a lack of fluency.

How are we not agreeing?

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 20:59:45

I'm sure I'm not being terribly coherent, btw, cos I was excited finding this thread.

CoteDAzur Mon 19-Aug-13 21:20:31

No, Turkish is not an Indo-European language, either.

It was considered within the Ural-Altaic languages, but that language family is disputed these days. I'm not sure about the most recent classification. It might be Altaic.

Take a look at that page that Alexpoli linked to.

CoteDAzur Mon 19-Aug-13 21:23:57

I can't imagine British people in general confusing translation skills with fluency, either.

Surely, when they see your DH speak in Russian they realise that he is fluent? Especially if your DH is Russian, I can't see how anyone can doubt his fluency in Russian, regardless of whether or not he can translate well to English.

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 21:29:53

It might well just be the people I know, that's true.

Usually people don't get much chance to see DH speaking Russian, because his family aren't over her. SIL has had the same experience with German, though she is actually much better at translating than DH is, because she does it a lot in her day-to-day life.

Thanks for the info about Turkish - really interesting.

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 21:33:26

Ah, I was thinking of Anatolian.

CoteDAzur Mon 19-Aug-13 21:41:39

For example, proto-Indo-European mehter has led to mother (English), mutter (German), mat (Russian), madar (Persian), and matka (Polish).

In Turkish, mother is anne (un-neh).

This comparison between Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Turkish, and Mongolian is interesting.

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 21:46:34

That is fascinating.

I was reading a book recently about which sounds are most likely to turn into which other sounds (like vinum to wine, or pater to father), so I wonder how far back people could reconstruct to find the ultimate common roots.

'Amma' means mother in some languages (I forget which), and sounds almost like halfway between the Turkish and the IE versions, but I expect that is just far too simplistic a comment.

Gauchita Tue 20-Aug-13 19:34:39

GoodToBetter and Alex, thanks for your replies (and sorry for a very late one from me!)

I mainly just wonder whether this is something that should worry me or whether it's normal.

She also learns French at school, I forgot to mention, and oddly enough she seems to pronounce FR much better and more easily than SP hmm

People who listen to us talking (in a shop for example) always look - and generally smile - as she speaks EN to me and I reply in SP. It must sound a bit strange to those 'outside'.

She 'interprets' everything, though. If I ask her to tell something to DH, for example, she says exactly the same thing I told her but in EN. It's fascinating.

CoteDAzur Tue 27-Aug-13 09:28:20

I saw this today:

The Weirdest Languages

... And thought alexpoli in particular would be interested in the World Atlas Of Language Structures

alexpolistigers Fri 06-Sep-13 12:33:57

Thanks, Cote I've bookmarked that for a proper look later. It does look interesting. Sorry to take so long to come back to you - I've been away on holiday and only just come back.

According to my reference sources, Turkish is now viewed as a member of the Altaic family, they don't use the Ural bit any more. Subject to the next major theory, of course!

KateSMumsnet Cameroon (MNHQ) Wed 29-Jan-14 19:01:31

Hullo everyone,

We've had a suggestion to move this to the shiney new linguistics topic, and it seems like a good fit, so we've going to move it now.

AuntieStella Wed 29-Jan-14 20:56:03

Thank you!


Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now