I don't like autumn. Everyone acts like it's the most beautiful time of the year, but it really is not. It's cold, wet and depressing. Maybe in some parts of the world it's pretty and photogenic for a day or so, but I refuse to believe that anybody genuinely enjoys autumn. You are all kidding yourselves.
My Seasonal Affective Disorder-induced bitterness aside, I have decided to share some nice autumnal words from various languages with you. At least autumn is inspiring for art and poetry and has some pretty words, even if the longer nights and the abundance of puddles makes me wish it were socially acceptable to hibernate.
листопáд (listopád, lystopád)
листопáд is a word in Russian and Ukranian for the falling of autumn leaves.
is the Finnish name for the colours of autumn leaves. Similar words in other languages include:
- efterårsfarver - Danish
- 단풍 (danpung) - Korean
- 紅葉 (momiji or kōyō) - Japanese
and on that note...
Literally 'red leaf hunting', momijigari is the Japanese tradition of going to scenic areas in autumn to view the changing colours of the trees.
The Welsh name for autumn, 'Hydref' (which is also the name for October), apparently comes from Proto-Celtic *sido-bremo-, which means 'the bellowing of stags', since autumn is the mating / rutting season for deer.
Mareel is a Shetlandic Scots term referring to the sparkling lights seen on the sea (marine phosphorescence) particularly during autumn nights.
Dagwaagishi is an Ojibwe word meaning 'he/she spends the autumn somewhere'.
Avar is a Hungarian word for the layer of dead, fallen leaves on the ground in autumn.
秋老虎 (qiū lǎohǔ)
A brief period of intense heat in the middle of autumn - in English it's known as an 'Indian Summer', but in Chinese it's called qiū lǎohǔ, literally meaning 'autumn tiger'.
Do you have any favourites? Any more to add from other languages? Drop me a comment!
If you've ever been job-searching in Wales, you are bound to have come across this at some point. There it is: the perfect job for you, and you are the perfect candidate! A match made in heaven! Finally! Where do I sign up? I-- uh, oh, great, "Welsh speaker essential". Nevermind.
And no doubt, anyone who has been politely shown the door because of their lack of linguistic ability has probably been left wondering why they are being discriminated against, or why positive discrimination is still acceptable, especially for the Welsh language. "Isn't having the language forced on us in school enough? Now I actually have to be able to speak it?!". I wouldn't really blame you for being angry.
That is, until I did some reading. A few months ago I would have argued that jobs requiring Welsh speakers are actually pretty discriminatory, but I have now seen the light. So today, I want to give you a summary of why I think it's perfectly justifiable to have jobs that are 'Welsh speaker essential', and why non-Welsh speakers have very little to no reason to complain about them.
Note: These are the very basics of what I wrote in a recent essay assignment. I have left a lot out for blogability reasons.
Everyone speaks English anyway, so why do we need Welsh speakers specifically?
I think it's important to get this mentioned before I get started on the discrimination aspect: bilingualism isn't what the majority of monolinguals think it is. Very few people are perfectly balanced in both of their languages; it is completely normal for bilinguals to feel more confident in one language than the other. So, say if you're in hospital and you need to explain to your doctor exactly what's wrong with you, would you rather:
a) Use your second language, which you have trouble expressing yourself in and have a very restricted vocabulary
b) Use your first language, which you feel comfortable using and feel able to express yourself far more fluently in
This is something that many minority language speakers experience daily, and this is just one of many situations where being able to express yourself accurately and confidently is essential to your well-being. This is why it's important to have these jobs, to help make people feel confident and comfortable in a situation where they are already feeling vulnerable or are at risk. Now, is that really so bad?
Okay, but aren't these jobs just for Welsh speakers a form of racism?
First off, having a job advertised as 'Welsh speakers only plz' is not racist. Why? Because not a single one of these job advertisements have stated a need to actually be Welsh. You could be Welsh, English, Danish, Estonian, Japanese, whatever, it doesn't matter, you just have to be able to speak Welsh. The reason why people think that it's an issue of race is because, being a minority language, the majority of people who speak Welsh just happen to be Welsh.
By this logic, you are also claiming that there is an ethnic difference between Welsh-speaking Welsh people and non-Welsh-speaking Welsh people. And to be fair, I'm pretty sure my mother and I aren't two completely different ethnicities.
But it's discriminating against non-Welsh speakers who apply for that job!
Prioritising a Welsh-speaker over someone who doesn't speak Welsh for a particular job certainly does look discriminatory, and I don't blame anybody for believing so. But seriously consider this for a moment: aren't all jobs discriminatory?
Hiring: Personal Assistant. Must have excellent people skills.
Great, I'm socially inept and have zero people skills. This job is discriminating against introverts!
Hiring: Cleaner. Must have valid driver's licence as job will require travelling to various locations.
I'm a great cleaner but I don't drive! I'm being discriminated against for being environmentally conscious!
Hiring: Nurse. Must have competent knowledge of Welsh as will be working in the Welsh language heartlands.
I'm a fantastic nurse but I can't get this job because I don't speak the local language? This is discrimination!
Do you see what I mean?
What about positive discrimination/affirmative action?
I don't know where you stand on the whole 'positive discrimination' front, but it is a tricky topic. Is giving some people an advantage for being in a particular ethnic group really 'equality'? This isn't something I want to get into in this blog post, but I'm just going to argue why giving a Welsh speaker a job over a non-Welsh speaker isn't positive discrimination.
Positive discrimination is the promotion and inclusion of a certain group in a particular occupation because they have been discriminated against in the past.
This is precisely what is not happening in Wales with Welsh speakers. Why? Nobody has never been denied a job simply for being a Welsh speaker. The government is not trying to promote the visibility of Welsh speakers in the workplace because of past discrimination, rather they are trying to promote the visibility of the Welsh language so that Welsh speakers in the wider community can live their lives through the medium of Welsh. It's about ensuring that Wales is a truly bilingual country, not about getting Welsh speakers better jobs.
But prioritising a Welsh speaker for a job undermines the whole idea of equal opportunity.
No it doesn't.
Equality of opportunity does not mean that anyone has the right to have whatever job they want. You have to be qualified. Giving a Welsh speaker a job over a non-Welsh speaker in a hospital in Gwynedd is no different to giving a job to a tractor driver over a non-tractor driver on a big farm.
Being able to speak Welsh in the job market is a skill. It's being advertised in schools as an employable skill. It's not nationalistic or racist. It goes without saying that knowledge of English is necessary for the majority of jobs in Britain, why is it such a big problem when we ask for the same thing in a community of minority language speakers?
Last week I came across a meme on the increasingly bad Welsh Memes Facebook page
and I admit, it was nice to see a meme that was actually being used correctly and wasn't about bestiality, but I ended up having to correct a couple of angry Welshmen who refused to believe that Welsh isn't one of the oldest languages in Europe
. I admit this is something I used to believe myself, when I was maybe, oh I don't know, 13, but there are so many myths going around about the Welsh language that I feel need to be addressed, for Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers alike.
This is absolutely in no way whatsoever an attack on the Welsh language, nor is it an attack on its speakers or those who believe in these myths. I just want to get this off my chest more than anything. People need to stop saying this stuff because it's ridiculous and starting to really, really annoy me
1. Welsh is not one of the oldest languages in Europe, nor is it any older than English
This is such a common myth and this is precisely why I'm writing this blog post. Within the past few months I have heard so many people argue that Welsh is older than English, and it truly is ridiculous. The idea that Welsh is older than English is incredibly outdated and goes back to the early days of Linguistics when people took the story of the Tower of Babel literally. By today we know that Welsh and English share the same root and have both been around for the same amount of time.
True, Welsh (and Cornish and Breton) come from the Brythonic language, which existed in Britain before Anglo-Saxon arrived, but that doesn't make Welsh older than English. No, English didn't 'come from German'. No, English didn't 'come from Latin'. And, goddamnit, no, English isn't a younger language than Welsh.
English as we know it today has changed a lot from Old English, which was a super cool language with lots of extra letters and is completely unrecognisable as the ancestor of today's language. It can be argued that Welsh hasn't changed quite as drastically as English over the centuries, but that doesn't make it any older either.
Maybe people think that Welsh is older because it existed in Britain before English did, maybe they think it's older because minority languages are generally linked with tradition, maybe it's the aftermath of decades of being told that English is the language of modernity and Welsh is the language of the olden days, but none of these things matter because, and this is the last time I will be saying this, so read it slowly and carefully now, please: the Welsh language is not older than the English language.
2. Welsh is not a dead language
This is aimed at those who don't speak Welsh or feel like they were forced to learn Welsh in school: so often have you gone out of your way to let me know that the language I hear on a daily basis is dead. Just because you don't use it, it doesn't mean that it's dead.
Let's put it this way: I don't personally know anybody with an iPad, I've never used an iPad despite all the adverts I ever saw and I never will buy such a thing. But I don't claim that it doesn't exist just because I haven't personally encountered one or found use for one.
Me claiming that iPads don't exist is exactly how daft you sound when you say Welsh is a dead language, especially since it has 562,000 speakers in Wales alone.
3. Welsh is not a dying language
And this is for those of you who exaggerate the state of the Welsh language for the opposite reason. Now, I am by no means whatsoever saying that there is no need to preserve the Welsh language, or that no action needs to be taken to help the Welsh language survive. I wouldn't be dedicating my life to the cause if I didn't think so. The point is, I understand that Welsh is a vulnerable language but it is nowhere near dying
. We have radio, TV, websites, education systems, newspapers, magazines, popular music, films, all sorts
of amazing Welsh-medium stuff that most dying language activists would only dream of having. You can use Welsh daily if you choose to, speakers of real
dying languages can't do this.
If you look at Fishman's Graded Inter-generational Disruption Scale
, Welsh is most definitely at stage 1 or 2. That means, for a minority language, we're doing pretty damn well. I think more of us need to be grateful for that. Go and read about languages with less than 5 speakers and then
see if you still want to complain about how we have English adverts on S4C.
4. Welsh spelling is not stupid
We've all either said it or heard it at some point: Welsh looks like a cat walked across a keyboard. Trust me, it gets funnier every time, folks. But what a lot of these people don't realise is that Welsh spelling is far more uniform and easy to learn than English spelling is.
I can understand why words like anghydweddogrwydd might look like a mess to non-Welsh speakers, but while our spelling system may seem strange to outsiders, it is at least more or less, what we call, transparent. What this means is that a letter of the alphabet represents a particular sound and will represent that sound in all contexts. This seems basic enough, but there are plenty of languages that aren't transparent; English being one of them. Orthographical transparency is almost entirely true for Welsh however, with only a few exceptions that have simple rules that can be learned.
Most people can't get their head around the fact that <dd> is used in Welsh to represent [ð] (i.e. the 'th' sound at the beginning of the words 'the' and 'this'). It might seem weird to have <dd> for this sound but whether it is at the beginning, middle or end of a word, it will always be pronounced the same way.
What about English? Well, just then I had to clarify the fact that <dd> in Welsh is the 'th' sound of 'the' and 'this' rather than 'thin' and 'through'. In English, <th> represents both sounds [ð] and [θ] and it isn't immediately obvious which is used in what context. Essentially, with English you generally have to learn how to pronounce a lot of words individually, whereas a Welsh speaker will be able to pronounce almost any new or unfamiliar Welsh word when it is presented to them. If you need more proof, you need only try to list as many words as you can that end in -ough and hopefully you will never need to think that Welsh spelling is stupid ever again.
In fact, I'm not quite done just yet, because this is the one myth that bothers me above all others. I am going to give one final example before I leave you all alone. So let's look at a nice made up word:
If I were to show this to 50 Welsh speakers and tell them 'this is a brand new Welsh word, how do you think it's pronounced?' I would say that almost all of them would pronounce it something like [aˈbamɛ]. Tell the same amount of English speakers that it is a new English word and you would get all sorts of different answers ([ə'beɪm, 'abeɪm, ə'bɑːmeɪ, ə'bɑːmiː] etc etc).
The point is that Welsh spelling is far more regular than English so please stop complaining about it, thank you.
5. Welsh has no vowels
We get this one a lot, and you have no idea how stupid you sound when you say that Welsh has no vowels. In all fairness, unless you have some knowledge of Linguistics you probably don't know that spellings and sounds are not the same thing, so even in English, 'the word rhythm has no vowels' is about the dumbest thing you can say because <y> is being used as a vowel in this context.
As far as phonemes go, standard RP English and Welsh have pretty much the same amount of vowels, with Welsh winning by one extra. When it comes to the alphabet, English vowels are taught as a e i o u (y), Welsh vowels are taught as a e i o u w y. So as far as the alphabet goes, Welsh has more.
So the reason why people think that Welsh has no vowels is because <y> is used to represent a vowel sound in Welsh, and <w> is used as both a vowel and a consonant (just like how <y> is used in English, e.g. yes vs happy). In fact, <w> is used to represent vowels in English, too (crowd, crown, news), so it's not that weird that we use it as a vowel (words like cwrw are a lot of fun for non-Welsh speakers). In fact, ever stop to think that the English name for <w> is called DOUBLE-U and the Welsh use it as a long [u:] sound? Logic'd.
6. Welsh is not just "a cheap copy of English"
Welsh is full of English loanwords and apparently this is a source of much hilarity. There's no point in me lying though, I've found myself scoffing at an ashtray marked stwmps sigarets in Welsh, and I think everyone in Wales is familiar with bin brown, the Welsh translation of 'brown bin' found on our food waste bins. To be honest, this is a lesson I need to learn myself; I am always the first to laugh at 'stupidly bad' Welsh borrowings but I'm also the first to point out that there is nothing wrong with loanwords, no matter how stupid they seem.
Wait... what language was I learning, again?
Lexical borrowing happens in all language contact situations, and the language with less influence is the one that ends up borrowing lots of words from the language with more influence. This happens all over the world and it's not just the Welsh 'being lazy'. The people who criticise the amount of English loanwords in Welsh tend to either be monolinguals who don't understand how bilingualism and language contact works, or language purists who won't accept the reality of how bilingualism and language contact works. But for those of you who scoff at our words like tacsi, ciwb, pyramid, ambiwlans and coffi, let me just remind you:
Taxi comes from French (from German, from Latin)
Cube comes from French (from Latin, from Greek)
Pyramid comes from French (from Latin, from Greek)
Ambulance comes from French (from Latin)
Coffee comes from Italian (from Turkish, from Arabic).
A topic came up in the Facebook Conlangs
group about international auxiliary languages (auxlangs
) designed for endangered languages, and I simply had to write about it.
For those who don't know, an auxlang is a language that has been constructed with the purpose of being used by people who don't share a common language. They are often designed to be neutral and easily learnable (for example, I'm sure most people have heard of Esperanto
; this is a pretty well-known auxlang). So, auxlangs are meant to be a neutral solution to finding a common language to use with others. As much of a constructed language enthusiast as I am, I'm still not much of a proponent of auxlangs, and here's why: as a Language Planning student, I want to encourage people to learn and speak endangered and minority languages. So, when my passion in life is the preservation of lesser-spoken languages, why would or should I support a language that has been designed with the intention of being spoken internationally? It's somewhat of a conflict of interest.*
Personal matters aside, would an endangered language auxlang actually work? I'd have to say that I don't think so. To explain my point, I'll give you a little example: my hypothetical auxlang, Brėthoneg.
Brėthoneg is designed to be a hypothetical auxlang for the Brythonic languages, i.e. Welsh, Cornish and Breton, the latter two being listed as endangered by UNESCO. This project started as an idea to make a language that would be intelligible or easily read by speakers of any of the Brythonic languages. When I realised that this was pretty much impossible, it became a language that should simply be easily learnable for those speakers, with plenty of room for regional variations (one example being that <r> may be pronounced according to the speaker's native language, i.e. /r, ɹ, ɾ, ʁ/).
Simple phrases are easily intelligible in the standard forms of the languages: English:
I have a bookWelsh:
Mae llyfr gennyf Cornish: Yma lyver genevBreton:
Ul levr zo ganin Brėthoneg:
Ma lyvr genivEnglish
: Hello! My name is Rhian. What's your name?Welsh:
S'mae! Fy enw i 'di Rhian. Beth yw dy enw di?Cornish:
Dydh da! Ow hanow yw Rhian. Pyth yw dha hanow?Breton:
Salud! Rhian eo ma anv. Petra eo da anv?Brėthoneg:
Deidh da! Ma anu ėw Rhian. Pėth ėw da anu?
...and so on and so on. If you look closely, the biggest problem with Br
ėthoneg is that it is ridiculously similar to Cornish. So if I've designed an auxlang based on three languages, and it turns out to be structurally almost identical to one of them, why not just learn that
one, and not waste time on a conlang? I can only imagine that in a larger group of endangered languages, a similar thing might happen, or all the words would be so different that there would be no way to find a neutral solution.
Coming from a language ecology standpoint, I think it's more important to encourage the learning of the endangered languages themselves rather than to suggest a new one for people to learn. I don't think that anyone would want to learn an inter-Celtic language, simply because Celtic-language speakers already have a common language, as is the case with most speakers of endangered languages. Besides, I think it takes a certain kind of person to take an interest in an endangered language, another kind to want to learn an auxlang, and I think that it would be a very rare breed that would want to learn an auxlang for endangered languages. So, would they work? As with any auxlang, it's a nice idea, but I really don't think they would catch on. A nice conlang project perhaps, but I wouldn't expect too much.
* (I am aware that auxlangs are meant to be used as a second language, but many endangered languages' only hope is to spoken as a second language, too.)
Yup, my life is so void of any real excitement that my favourite thing to do is collect interesting words. Since I have a vast collection of many, many words, today I thought I’d share about 10 of these with you. Enjoy!
1. 積ん読 tsundoku (Japanese)
(n.) The act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books
I think many of us can relate to this one. I myself have quite a few books that I will probably never really read. My grammar of Middle Breton, for example. I just love to collect books, to have them there on my shelf whether I read them or not, just so I can say, "Hey, look, I have a book on Middle Breton grammar" or "And this is my Irish dictionary from the 1920's written in An Cló Gaelach". A lot of people would criticise this practice, but really, with books slowly being pushed aside for e-readers and so on, I'd assume that one day most books will only have ornamental value anyway.
2. Wīwī (Māori)
I don't think this word needs much explanation. It comes from French "oui, oui". Can you imagine naming a country after one stereotypical phrase used by its language's speakers? Just beautiful.
3. snowlight (English)
(n.) The light reflected by snow
I'll be honest, I thought I had invented this word myself, so I was a little disappointed to see that it already exists, but it's a wonderful word nonetheless! Have you ever noticed how the world just glows when you're outside in the snow at night? You could walk through a field in the middle of the night and be able to see clearly just from the light reflected by the snow. It's one of my favourite things about winter.
5. molotulun (Ngarrindjeri)
(vb.) The ebbing and flowing of the waves on Lake Alexandrina, South Australia
I can't vouch for the authenticity of this word, as a Google search will only give you links to various dictionaries and a couple of books. Whether this word is genuine or not, the idea of a language having such a specific term fills me with joy.
6. 森林 sēnlín (Mandarin Chinese)
"Forest?" you might ask, "that's an interesting word?". Well, stop asking such silly questions and just look at it. It's literally a picture of five trees. In fact, from what I've seen, it gets even better. Let me show you how often you can use this simple 木 character:
木 林 森 𣛧 𣡕 𣡽
How can you not adore this language!?
7. ននៀល [nɔniel] (Cambodian)
(vb.) to lie on the ground and thrash about (as a fish out of water or as a child having a temper tantrum)
It's essentially comparing a spoilt brat to a dying fish, what more could you possibly want from a word? There can't really be that many instances in which you could use it, but I can just imagine it being hilarious.
8. crebi (Welsh)
(n.) A sheep that has lost its wool by forcing its way through thorns and briars, etc
I discovered this word the other day through the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, and it had me laughing for a good five minutes. Only Welsh could have such a specific sheep-related word. I love this language.
9. serein (English)
(n.) fine rain falling after sunset from a sky in which no clouds are visible
I can't say I've ever experienced this myself, and as someone who doesn't know the first thing about meteorology, I don't quite understand how you can have rain without clouds (someone enlighten me?) but I just love nature words that are so specific.
10. petrichor (English)
(n.) The distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell.
Some people use this word to mean 'the smell of the earth after rain', but it does have a slightly more specific meaning than that. It was coined by two Australian researchers, and it is an absolutely beautiful word: it's combined of the Greek words 'petra' (πέτρα) meaning 'stone', and 'ichor' (ἰχώρ) the ethereal golden blood of the gods.