Friday, February 28, 2014

St David's Day: A Welsh Language Profile by Rhian Davies

Tomorrow is Saint David’s Day, the national day of Wales. Thousands of people across Wales will be donning daffodils and leeks on their shirts to celebrate their patron saint and national day.

Welsh is a Celtic language closely related to Cornish and Breton and evolved from the native language of Britain, Brythonic. It is the official language of Wales and is also spoken in Y Wladfa, Argentina, where Welsh settlers emigrated in the mid-1800s, with the purpose of avoiding further influence from England and the English language.

Over the centuries, Welsh has been highly influenced by Latin, English, and to a lesser extent, Norse and Irish through various invasions of Britain. It has a rich poetic tradition with some of the oldest British poetry being attributed to Welsh, dating back to the 9th century. The language has always been written using the Latin alphabet, but a literary forger in the 18th century invented a runic alphabet known as the Bardic Alphabet, claiming it was used by ancient Celtic druids.

Anglesey, North Wales
Welsh is one of the most vibrant and widely spoken minority languages with 560,000 speakers in Wales, 5,000 in Argentina and thousands more worldwide. Welsh-language media is widely available with a Welsh radio station, numerous magazines and local newspapers as well as a television channel. It is a compulsory subject in Welsh schools until the age of 16, and Welsh-medium education is available through to university.

The language has many dialects which are often categorised by linguists into two main varieties: Northern and Southern. The standard language is a mixture of the two, and the grammar of literary Welsh is so vastly different from the colloquial varieties that it may be considered a separate language altogether.

Despite being seen by many as having a harsh and guttural sound and an unconventional orthography, it is highly influential in the construction of fantasy languages, namely Tolkien’s Elven language, Sindarin, which shares many features with Welsh.

Rhian Davies is a Language Policy & Planning student currently working on a website detailing the Brythonic languages.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rhythms and Culture in Languages by Anne Mason

Have you consciously tapped into the rhythm and pulse of a culture and language? I noticed the effect one day when I landed in the UK from a trip to Ireland. It was tangible, and felt like electricity moving through my body. A new awareness emerged, like I was awakening to something that has been happening in the background, like a running program. At first it felt strange and unusual, like I was a stranger to the place, even though I had spent most of my life in Britain. I noticed then that something was leaving me, feeling the pulse and rhythm of Ireland, the country, the language and culture I had left, as an identity that had become part of me, moving away. When I put my feet on the ground in the UK, it was like shedding this skin. Then a sense of familiarity and then I remembered what it felt like to be in the UK. 

From this new observance, I wondered about how much of our communication with others was coloured by this. I had been exploring my desire to meet others, learn languages and speak to others, a lifelong dream and Ireland had been part of this. I felt held by the country, after living there for a while, like it didn’t want to let me go. Yet when I arrived in the UK, it felt like this was my new place and the feeling of Irish culture I had experienced was moving from me.

I am a member of an internet based social media called, whereby you can search for other people, based on your shared interests and languages and thought I could explore this new realisation of mine, using my PC or mobile phone. Just to see what happened when I connected to other people, their languages and their cultures from a distance as it were. I log in to SpeakTalkChat to use it as a tool to practise my language skills and to learn from others. I can search for others, make appointments to chat, and video chat freely, meeting others face to face via my PC. Would I be able to feel this rhythm and connect to it, when speaking to another in this way?

I noticed then, I was indeed moving from a different perspective, like an archetypal 'English' woman, talking to another. I wanted to meet and practise my language skills using SpeakTalkChat. This UK pulse was influencing me and my approach to another. I then listened in a different way. So as an example, I made an appointment to talk to a member in Ireland, to practise my Gaeilge. The time spent with my friend in Ireland was lovely, via SpeakTalkChat and helped me to find some of the sounds I was looking for to pronounce key phrases. I have been working on the Conemara dialect. However, from my new perspective I realised something I hadn’t felt before.

There it was an energy I could see for the first time. Ireland, a beautiful country with lovely people, with its own music, and this lyrical language enclosed in some way, like a bubble of energy, around the culture. I then realised I too felt this surrounding me, I now had a different experience of this chat with my friend. Flowing underneath or around us the real language and culture it was like listening to a beautiful composition and delightful dance. I was no longer just ‘learning’ to speak Irish.

I got excited. SpeakTalkChat is available globally. I could reach out, take myself to anywhere in the world, meet new people, learn the new ‘street’ language and see how it felt to tap into the flow of the culture and the people. Wow. Off I go, why don’t you join me?

Anne Mason has a life-long interest in languages and culture, in particular the way language brings us together as people. She is concerned by the loss of languages and the domination of mono-culture. Her love of languages stemmed from music and a desire to sing and play her cello. She wanted to not just learn the words, but to understand the meaning of the music and the words and the 'flavours' of it all.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What's the Difference Between a Washboard and a Bar of Chocolate? by Andy B

A washboard is a tool that was used for hand washing clothes before washing machines, a bar of chocolate is something sweet that you can eat, and a six-pack is what you call six beers packaged and sold together as one item.

The remnants of last night's six-pack.
What do these three things have in common? The answer to that question is not really obvious, because it is not the words themselves that have something in common, but when used idiomatically they all describe the same phenomenon: Abs.

That probably wasn't your first conclusion, which is understandable. Not all of them are used as a metaphor to describe toned abs, at least not in the same language. First of all, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. If you say for example, that America is a melting pot, you are not saying that it is a container in which different materials are melted and mixed instead it is your intention do describe America as a place where different peoples and cultures are mix together.

Handkerchief also is a special kind of metaphor. A "kerchief" actually is a piece of cloth tied around the head. However, when used in your "hand", these two words combine to give you "handkerchief". Now you can blow your nose.

In English it is most common to refer to defined abs as a 'six-pack'. Also known as a 'washboard stomach'. Both of these words are used in German as well: 'Waschbrettbauch' and in the absence of a proper German word, 'six-pack' as an Anglicism. However, in Spanish it is called a 'tableta de chocolate', chocolate bar. French uses the same comparison, 'abdos en tablettes de chocolat', having said that, this wouldn't work in English.

To prove my point just search 'sixpack' (English), 'Waschbrettbauch' (German), 'tableta de chocolate' (Spanish) or 'abdos en tablette de chocolat' (French). You will see that this search will present you strong abs. If you search 'chocolate bar', you'll only get pictures of actual chocolate and no abs.

It's interesting that these idioms would develop and perhaps culture plays some part in this. Usually Germans are considered as a hard-working nation whereas the French and Spanish cultures are more concerned about their standard of living and are said to have a certain expertise when it comes to savoir-vivre. Maybe this is why their languages would opt for something closely related to pleasure, such as chocolate, to describe something attractive, such as toned abs. Maybe the Germans are always thinking about work and when it comes to the English-speaking countries, the less said, the better.

Another possible reason is maybe that the use of a washboard was just more common in Germany and in the UK than in France and Spain, which could explain why people living there would be more likely to draw a comparison to washboards then elsewhere.

Andy B. is a Business Administration student, sports and language enthusiast, particularly English, French, Spanish, and German.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Conlangs: Skyrim's Dragon Language

If you are a fan of video games, and RPGs in particular, then you should be familiar with The Elder Scrolls series of video games. The series is celebrating twenty years since the release of its first installment, The Elder Scrolls: Arena, while its massively multiplayer online (MMO) installment, The Elder Scrolls Online will be released later this year.

Other than the ability to slay dragons and generally be a total badass in a fantasy world, the fictional language of the dragons featured in the fifth game, Skyrim, known as the Dragon Language, was of particular interest to me as a language and games enthusiast. For those who haven't played it, the player is found to be Dragonborn, destined to slay the dragons in Skyrim that are running amok and generally being nuisances.

The dragons in Skyrim are a lot more menacing than this one.
While this kind of story is commonplace in fantasy literature and media, the means by which the hero unlocks their power is through learning "shouts", all of which are various words in the Dragon Language. The shouts in the game consist of three-word groupings (when fully learned) and amount to more of a mantra than a sentence. For example, Unrelenting Force, one of first "shouts" that can be learned by the hero, is made of the words for Force, Balance, and Push, rendered as Fus Ro Dah. Though the language only comes into play during the game's main quests and fleetingly in a few side quests, there are extended moments of the language's use, including dialogue between dragons.

Whilst the language has a fairly key role in the main story of the game, its use is somewhat sporadic and inconsistent, especially when it comes to pronunciation. Perhaps I'm being overly critical here as for the most part, its native speakers (the dragons) are fairly consistent within their use of the language and the non-native characters seem to pronounce words from the language in their own accent.

The grammar almost mirrors that of English, in such a way that word-for-word translations will almost always provide perfect translations, meaning it really should be classified as either a cant or language game. If you happen to be a dragon it could even be used as a shibboleth to oust non-dragons.

The Cuneiform script which served as
the basis for the alphabet of the
Dragon Language.
The alphabet of The Dragon Language is made up of 34 characters, 25 of which correlate directly to the English alphabet with the exception of the letter "C" as the letters for "K" and "S" replace the phoneme it represents. The remaining 9 characters represents digraphs "aa", "ei", "ii', "ah", "uu", "ur", "ir", "oo" and "ey".

The design of the alphabet is also based on the Cuneiform script, one of the earliest writing systems discovered. Cuneiform was in use from the  3rd Century BC until the 1st Century AD and changed drastically during that time. The Dragon Language's alphabet resembles the latest variation in Cuneiform as it was used before its extinction.

Though based on Cuneiform, the alphabet is stylised to appear like the claw marks of dragons. Obviously since the dragons are the native speakers, it would make sense that they would also make use of the written form. As a result, none of the characters feature more than three scratches and a dot.

Whilst the Dragon Language does not have a lexicon as extensive as Tolkien's conlangs, particularly Elvish, or the ever-popular Klingon from Star Trek, the game features around 500 common words in the language. Fans of the series and the language have also documented the words used in the game and began adding their own in order to build up the lexicon at

Given its somewhat limited lexicon, for nouns the Dragon Language also makes use of compounding, much like in German, meaning that newer longer words can be constructed in order to create words that do not currently exist in the language.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How Learning a Language is Social by Jake Stainer

If you love travelling it can be very useful to learn a little of the language of the country you are visiting. Local people appreciate visitors who can speak or try to speak their language even if it's just to say "hello", "thank you" or "goodbye". It's also a great achievement for the individual if they can master another language other than their own tongue and also very interesting to see how a different country's language differs to the structure of theirs. To help you along, why not change your social media account into a language you would like to learn fluently? That is to say Facebook, your mobile phone, Twitter or any web page you are browsing. 

Socialising is at the heart of language learning.
Make new friends

Whether you attend classes to learn a new language of your choice or participate in a social language learning course, it's a good way to make new friends. Why not find a pen pal in a country that you are learning the language of? This is a fantastic opportunity to learn verbs, nouns, adjectives and the general layout of sentences. Online courses offer individuals the chance to practice speaking a foreign language, the intonation of words, along with any tonal use. Some languages are more difficult than others, so as your first social language learning, choose something that's not only easy to learn, but to read and write too. Online language learning is growing rapidly as most people have access to the internet. This method has transformed the more traditional classroom ways of language learning by using educational software applications. 

Attending language classes

If you prefer attending language classes at a college for instance, it's possible to combine them with online resources. Social media enables everyone to communicate and connect with a worldwide audience not only finding places in online education establishments but individual teachers too. Another good way to learn a language is to take part in a holiday exchange with someone who is eager to try their skills in your language. It is recommended to have a smattering of the language of the country you intend to visit. In a short space of time, speaking the language on a daily basis with foreigners will soon help to understand what they say. 

Integrating in any country is fairly easy and straightforward to do, especially if the people see you are trying to communicate with them. Once you get over your initial nervousness saying the wrong word, using the wrong tense or speaking in the wrong tone, you will enjoy the challenge. To become fluent in another language takes time, so don't expect miracles to happen after a week or so. Think back to when you were at school. Many students had to learn a foreign language with classes being held every day for a couple of hours. It will take you a long time to fully master any language and become fluent. However, once you get the gist of new words, plurals, adjectives and where they go as well as using the right tone, you will be so proud of yourself. Don't give up, after all everyone is capable of speaking in their Mother tongue, so it is possible that you can speak not just one other language, but many.

Learn a language online with Papora.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Hot.Cool.Yours." What Does Sochi's Motto Even Mean?

Although I enjoyed the opening ceremony and over the weekend I've been immersed in a variety of winter sports that I wouldn't usually watch, one thing about the Sochi games has been niggling in the back of my mind. What does "Hot.Cool.Yours." even mean?

Whilst each word is separated by a full-stop (or period) it is very odd to have no spacing after each one. Why couldn't it have been written as "Hot. Cool. Yours."? This seems even weirder given that the Russian version appears to have been rendered as "Жаркие. Зимние. Твои.", complete with spaces.

Aside from the painfully poor spacing in the English version, let's have a look at the words. Initially, like most English speakers, we will look solely at the English translation as they will have no access to or understanding of the Russian language.

"Hot" or "Жаркие"

What does hot mean? It clearly can't refer to temperature. These are the winter games, after all. The events take place on ice and snow, so it can't be temperature. Does hot mean sexy? Sure, there are a lot of events where aerodynamics are key and as a result, skin-tight clothing is required. Regardless of your sexual preference, there is certainly a good amount of "eye candy" on display. However, we doubt this is what the marketing team were going for.

In fact, the Russian word "Жаркие" does refer to both heat and passion. The heat is apparently in reference to the heated competition and the passion of the games.

"Cool" or "Зимние"

As cool can refer to temperature and how fashionable something is, we're fairly happy with its inclusion as a fragment in this mantra of a motto. When the motto was announced, many preferred translating " Зимние" as "wintry". For me, "Hot.Wintry.Yours." is just as confusing and ambiguous as the official translation.

The Opening Ceremony at Sochi.
"Yours" or "Твои"

It seems that everyone, including the organisers and even the internet, is in agreement that "Твои" simply means "yours". Apparently this is because the games are "ours". As a Brit, I'm not so sure that the games are "ours", even if we are aiming for a record medal haul.

Whilst we could hope that "Жаркие. Зимние. Твои." is really clever and awesome in Russian and the English translation is just simply missing the beautiful nuances of the source language, it seems that some Russians think it's just as stupid as I do.

Sorry Sochi, we're really enjoying the games and the opening ceremony was cool, but we just can't deal with "Hot.Cool.Yours.".

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Greek and Shakespearean Origins of Moons: Part 2

On Wednesday, we questioned a "fact" we'd heard. The fact stipulated that all moons in the Solar System were named after Greek gods, with the exception of Uranus' moons which were named after Shakespearean characters. Whilst it became clear that naming the moons after Greek gods was a fairly common practice, not every moon was named after a Greek god.

We looked at the planets from Mercury to Jupiter on Wednesday, so today we'll continue our search from Saturn onwards. Call us old-fashioned, but we'll also have a look at Pluto, as it was still considered a planet when the moons were being named so it may still follow this rule.

Saturn and its moons.
British astronomer John Herschel suggested in 1847 that Saturn's moons be named after mythological characters associated with the Roman god Saturn and his Greek equivalent Cronus, the leader of the Titans who would overthrow his father Uranus until Zeus overthrew him.

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is of course named for the Titans themselves, which were in essence giants. However, when Christiaan Huygens discovered it, it was simply named Saturni Luna (or Luna Saturni), the Latin for "Saturn's moon". This was fortunately changed in accordance with Herschel's nomenclature as there are currently a total 62 moons with confirmed orbits, and if we followed Huygen's method they'd all have boring names.

Rhea is the second largest of Saturn's moons and is named after an actual Titan. Rhea was a daughter of Gaia and Uranus who was referred to as "the mother of the gods", though not all of them. Saturn's third largest moon Iapetus takes its name from another Titan who was the father of Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius.

The fourth largest, Dione, is named for a Titaness who in one source was suggested to have been a wife of Zeus. Her name is also her title, with Dione having its etymological roots in both the ancient Greek Zeús and the Latin Deus and Diana, all meaning god or goddess.

Tethys, the fifth largest moon of Saturn was an incestuous Titanness, having ruled as an aquatic sea goddess with her brother and husband. To make their incestuous love even more disgusting, she happened to be the mother of all the major rivers of the known world of the time and to roughly three thousands daughters, known as the Oceanids. 

Rhea, Iapetus, Dione, and Thethys were all discovered by the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who named the moons Sidera Lodoicea, "the stars of Louis" in honour of the French king Louis XIV.

Enceladus shares its name with another of the Titans, the only one that had dragon scales for feet. As Enceladus was discovered and named by Herschel, it would of course follow the nomenclature that he put in place. Mimas certainly follows convention as well, as Mimas was one of Gaia's sons and a Titan. The moon was discovered by Herschel's father, William Herschel.

Whilst these main moons all follow the Greek naming convention in the fact that we are scrutinising, the majority of Saturn's other moons also follow this pattern, with the exception of a few that have boring-sounding scientifically-orientated names, such as the catchy "S/2009 S 1".


Uranus is the only planet in the Solar System that has been said not to have moons named after Greek mythology. Instead, Uranus' moons are said to have been named after Shakespearean characters.

Just like Saturn's moon, the names for the moons of Uranus were again decided by John Herschel. Whilst Herschel was adamant that Saturn's moons were to be named for Greek mythology, he insisted that Uranus' moons be named after magical spirits in English literature, not solely Shakespearean characters. The moons Oberon and Titania were named after spirits in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, while the moons Ariel and Umbriel were from Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, though Ariel is also in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Whilst Herschel had outlined this nomenclature, only the moons Puck and Mab followed this rule. Both were sprites and Shakespearean characters. Puck appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Mab, or Queen Mab, is from English folklore and was mentioned in Romeo and Juliet.

When Gerard Kuiper, who had the Kuiper Belt named after him, discovered Uranus' fifth moon, he named it Miranda, a character from Shakespeare's The Tempest, rather than following Herschel's rules. However, the International Astronomical Union later agreed that the moons all be named after characters from Shakespeare.


The moons of Neptune were decided to all be named after characters in Greek and Roman mythology. Triton, Proteus, Despina, and Thalassa were all children of Poseidon, the Greek equivalent to the Roman Neptune. Other Neptunian moons were named after varieties of Greek water nymphs as Neptune (or Poseidon) was the god of the sea.

An artistic representation of Pluto as seen
from Charon.
Though Pluto is now considered a dwarf planet, it still has moons. The names of Pluto's moons have their roots in Greek mythology, albeit the darker side of Greek mythology.

Charon is the ferryman of Hades and the largest of Pluto's moons. Charon is so large in comparison to Pluto that it may be under consideration for dwarf planet status, which would make Pluto and Charon a binary system. Pluto's second moon, Nix is named after the goddess of night who also happened to be the mother of Charon. 

Pluto's third moon, Hydra, is clearly named for the reptilian creature with multiple heads, and Kerberos in Greek mythology is also known as Cerberus, the three-headed dog or "hellhound", the namesake of Pluto's fourth moon. 

Pluto's fifth and final moon, Styx, is named after the river in Greek mythology that separated the realm of the living from that of the dead.

Having looked at all the planets in the Solar System, it's clear that not all moons are named after Greek gods and Shakespearean characters, though many of them are.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Greek and Shakespearean Origins of Moons: Part 1

Some time ago we had a look at the the astronomical nomenclature and the etymology of the Solar System. However, we came across a piece of trivia that stated that all the moons in the solar system are named after Greek gods, with the exception of Uranus' moons, which are named in accordance with characters from Shakespeare.

We decided to investigate and see just how true this trivia was:

A false-colour image of Mercury

The first planet in the solar system has no natural satellites. As a result, is not worthy of our attention today. 


Like Mercury, Venus doesn't have any natural satellites either, with the exception of 2002 VE68, an asteroid that follows a quasi-orbit around the planet. In the 17th Century, it was reported that Venus did have a moon, which was "discovered" by the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini. He named this "moon" Neith, after the Egyptian god. Has this discovery held water, the naming convention and our trivia tidbit would have been disproven after only two planets. However, it was not, and as a result, we may be on to something.


Our home planet, as many people should know. Has one natural satellite, the Moon, which came from Moone,  from the Old English word, mone. This word came from the Old English mōna, which has its origins in the Proto-Germanic  mǣnōn. Whilst none of these are the name of a Greek god, the term Lunar comes from the Latin word Luna, named for a Roman god, and the satellite was at one point even named for Selene, a Greek god.

Whilst this is a tenuous link and hardly seems definitive that all moons in the Solar System are named for Greek gods, we will soldier on regardless to see if our moon was just an exception.


The Red Planet has only two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Phobos, written in Greek as Φόβος, was indeed a Greek god. Phobos is in fact the Greek god of horror and the embodiment and personification of fear. This is, of course, is the origin of the word phobia.

Deimos, or Δεῖμος, is the Greek god of terror, Phobos' twin, and the second of Mars' moons. Even though both moons are named after twins, the actual satellites are not particularly similar.

Jupiter and the Galilean moons.

The red giant has 67 natural satellites. We covered the Galilean moons in our previous post on the Solar System. The Galilean moons are evidently named after their discoverer Galileo Galilei. Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto are certainly Greek names. It is whether they are Greek gods or not. Io was a priestess of Hera and nymph. Europa, was a god and as you can guess, is the namesake of both the moon and continent. Ganymede was a mortal who was abducted by Zeus, which appeared to be a hobby of his, and became the cupbearer for the gods. He was granted immortality so was sort of a god, despite Homer referring to him as the most beautiful of the mortals. Callisto was also a nymph abducted by Zeus.

Just from the Galilean moons we can see that whilst the names of the moons are all of Greek origin, they are not all technically gods. The next moons were named with Roman numerals until the International Astronomical Union attributed names to the moons V to VIII and established the nomenclature that future moons were to be named after lovers and favourites of the god Jupiter, or Zeus as he was known in Greek mythology. Once it became somewhat clear that Jupiter had a lot of moons, the IAU decided that all moons after XXXIV were to be named after sons and daughters of Zeus or Jupiter.

Closer inspection at each of Jupiter's moons show that even with this nomenclature, not every moon is named after a Greek god or a character from Greek mythology. Take the catchy "S/2000 J 11", which wouldn't take a Greek specialist to realise that it's neither a god nor from mythology.

Clearly our daily trivia doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Despite this, we'll be back on Friday seeing if Saturn has any Greek gods and whether or not Uranus' moons are indeed named after Shakespearean characters.