Merry Christmas from Language Trainers USA!
To celebrate the festive season with people all over the world, here’s how to wish people a merry Christmas in several different languages… how many do you recognise?
- Afrikaans: Geseënde Kersfees
- Albanian: Gezur Krislinjden
- Arabic: Milad Majid
- Basque: Zorionak eta Urte Berri On!
- Bulgarian: Tchestita Koleda
- Chinese (Cantonese): Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun
- Chinese (Mandarin): Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan
- Croatian: Sretan Bozic
- Czech: Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok
- Danish: Glædelig Jul
- Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest
- Esperanto: Gajan Kristnaskon
- Finnish: Hyvaa joulua
- French: Joyeux Noel
- German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
- Greek: Kala Christouyenna!
- Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
- Hebrew: Mo’adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
- Hungarian: Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket
- Italian: Buone Feste Natalizie
- Japanese: Kurisumasu Omedeto
- Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha
- Norwegian: God Jul
- Polish: Boze Narodzenie
- Portuguese: Feliz Natal
- Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
- Spanish: Feliz Navidad
- Swedish: God Jul
- Thai: Souksan wan Christmas
- Turkish: Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
- Vietnamese: Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
- Welsh: Nadolig Llawen
I stumbled upon this fascinating site recently – muturzikin.com – the webmaster of which draws linguistic maps displaying different languages and dialects across continents. I always knew that there were plenty of different American English dialects across our country, but I didn’t expect quite so much detail on a map of the USA. Click on the image below to see the full sized version – be warned, however, the full sized .png is huge (3567×1878, 301Kb), so you might want to open it and then right click -> save it to your computer and view it that way.
So here, it is, a map of indigenous languages, dialects and accents in the USA:
It’s amazing to see just how many Native American languages and dialects remain around the nation. This must have taken a long while to put together, but it was clearly well worth it!
This isn’t so much of an annoyance, but in the age of the internet it seems to be such a common error that it’s worth a mention. Of course, 99.9% of people could not care less if the correct form of the word is used, but what kind of pedant would I be if I let it go unchecked? Answer: a very poor one.
So, disc vs disk – which is which? The answer is actually simpler than you might think.
A compact disc (CD) are read using a laser – that is to say, optically. A hard disk, on the other hand, is read magnetically. And believe it or not, that is it.
So, if data is reproduced optically, it’s disc with a C; and if magnetically, disk with a K. Therefore, it’s compact disc, but floppy disk.
I suppose this makes British author Terry Pratchet‘s Discworld series syntactically correct – since you read the books with your eyes!
James Cameron’s soon-to-be-released movie, Avatar – his first since Titanic – has been grabbing headlines mainly due to the incredible CG used throughout the movie to create the alien world of Pandora. However, I was even more interested to learn that he commissioned a language to be created to flesh out his movie even further, turning to linguistic expert Paul Frommer, a professor at the University of Southern California.
However, unlike the scratchy, clicky tongue of the “prawn” aliens in the recent movie District 9 (there is a very interesting essay written on this topic), there is rhyme and reason behind the language of the blue alien race known as the Na’vi. Frommer says of Cameron’s request:
“He wanted a complete language, with a totally consistent sound system, morphology, syntax,” Frommer says. And “he wanted it to sound good — he wanted it to be pleasant, he wanted it to be appealing to the audience.”
Frommer spent years working on the Na’vi language, eventually teaching it to all of the principal actors who have to speak it, and making recordings for them to listen to on their iPods.
Considering that the Klingon language from Star Trek is now famously offered as a course at some universities around the world, will Na’vi catch on in a similar way?
I guess that depends on whether the film is any good…
Today marks Zamenhof Day, the 150th birthday of Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof (December 15th, 1859), the inventor of the Esperanto language.
Zamenhof’s hope (giving the language its name: the word esperanto is Esperanto for “one who hopes) was that Esperanto would become a universal second language to the world, and would enable anybody, no matter where they were from, to communicate with one another. The international Esperanto-speaking community is estimated at anywhere between 100,000 and 2 million speakers – though they are mainly spread around eastern Europe (in particular the former nations of the old Soviet Union), and in East Asia, particularly mainland China. This has given it something of a reputation of a ‘communist’ language, even though the tongue has no intended affiliation at all.
The language itself is in many ways in a category of its own – being a planned language (that is, one that was created rather than evolved over time), it does not derive from any particular cultural or ethnic group. There are no regional accents or dialects to worry about, and the grammar is without exceptions – that is, everything follows the rules. Like Spanish, the writing system is entirely phonetic, so if you can speak it, you can read and write it. Even learning vocabulary is made easy due to the ‘root’ system and the way smaller words are combined to create longer, more specific terms (agglutination) – by learning around 500 root words of vocabulary, you can still have fairly complex and in-depth conversation.
Studies have also shown that a working knowledge of Esperanto is a great advantage if you want to learn another language – mainly due to the simple yet versatile way in which its grammar works.
Happy birthday, Dr. Zamenhof!
Ah, Wikipedia. When I was at school and the internet was still in its early days – Compuserve, AOL, 14.4k dial-up modem screeching and waiting forever to load, well, any web page – I would have given anything for such a wealth of knowledge just a couple of clicks away. Kids these days have it so easy.
I learned only recently, however, that besides the vast array of languages in which everybody’s favourite collaborative encyclopedia is available, you can also browse Wikipedia in simple English – perfect for young children, or anybody who is trying to learn English.
There are ‘only’ around 60,000 articles on the simple English Wikipedia (compared with over a million on the usual English site), but it’s still an excellent move by Wikipedia to make their site a practical and approachable tool for everybody.
Remember though: whilst their continuing attempts to deliver an unbiased, factual encyclopedia is a noble cause indeed, using Wikipedia as a primary source is not advisable!
I’ve been visiting China for a month, and have been having a darn good time. In my (mostly fruitless) efforts to learn a bit of survival Chinese, I quickly realised that Mandarin is an extremely complex language, and is perhaps as far away from English as you could ever get.
The main difficulty is the tonal system. Whilst this is something ingrained in Chinese people from infancy, to native English speakers it can take a lot of getting used to. Getting the right word is only half the battle – depending on how you say the word (that is, the intonation of your voice), a word can have wildly different meanings.
Take, for example, the single syllable ‘ma’:
- 媽/妈 (mā) “mother” — high level
- 麻 (má) “hemp” or “torpid”— high rising
- 馬/马 (mǎ) “horse” — low falling-rising
- 罵/骂 (mà) “scold” — high falling
- 嗎/吗 (ma) “question particle” — neutral
There’s a fine line, then, between describing your mother and describing your horse!
The age of the Chinese language means that it has to adapt itself to new concepts and ideas. For example, Mandarin for ‘train’ is 火车 (huǒ chē), which literally means “fire car”. Likewise, a computer – 电脑 (diànnǎo) – is an “electric brain”; and a helicopter – 直升机 (zhí shēng jī) – is a “straight-rising machine”.
These all make a certain amount of sense, of course – I guess Chinese isn’t as ‘lucky’ as English is, in that we can simply steal words from other languages (e.g. karaoke, Japanese for “empty orchestra”), or make our own from Latin/Greek roots.
It’s a common thing to hear misquoted song lyrics (perhaps the most famous example is from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “kiss the sky”), but occasionally you hear people mangling English idioms in equally hilarious ways. This is due in part to the heavily idiomatic nature of English.
The technical name for this is a Mondegreen – slightly different from a malapropism (or, when attributed to a certain former president, a Bushism).
Recently a friend was talking about fixing spelling errors in his college thesis as he wrote each chapter, claiming that he wanted to “nip it in the butt”. He didn’t understand why I was laughing so hard. The correct version is “nip it in the bud”, as in pruning plants – to cut it at the bud to stop it from growing again. His version was certainly funnier, but didn’t quite convey the same idea.
I also recently overheard somebody in public saying that something was a “pigment of my imagination”. I didn’t have the heart (or the balls) to correct them.
Perhaps one of the most famous Mondegreens is from a Britney Spears song, If You Seek Amy. The lyric in question goes:
All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy
At first this doesn’t really make much sense, but replace the last four words with their phonetic equivalent, and you get something else entirely:
All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to eff yoo see kay me
She’s a smart one, that Britney.