Sunday, 24 December 2017

‘Merry Christmas’ in European languages

The following map shows how to say (or rather write) the equivalent of “Merry Christmas” in European languages. The colouring corresponds to etymological relations between the translations of the word Christmas (i.e. not to language families and not to relations between other parts of the phrase).
This leads to a few unexpected results. Even though Romanian and Hungarian are completely unrelated languages, the words karácsony and Crăciun come from a common root (either Proto-Slavic *korčiti or Latin creātiōnem).
The IrishWelsh and Scottish Gaelic words are all borrowed from Romance languages and are related to French Noël. The same holds true for the Turkish expression, which is directly borrowed from French.
Something quite unusual happens in Czech and Slovak. The word Vánoce resp. Vianoce is derived from German Weihnachten by retaining the “Weih” part (which comes from an old Germanic expression meaning “holy”) and replacing nachten (“nights”) by the Czech/Slovak translation, “noce”. However, the word “noce” itself comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as German “Nachten” (and English “nights”), so the Czech/Slovak and German expressions are essentially etymologically equivalent.
Here are the same phrases as above as a text so that you can copy-paste them:
AlbanianGëzuar Krishtlindjet
BasqueEguberri on
Belarusianз Калядамі or з Божым Нараджэннем
BretonNedeleg laouen
BulgarianВесела Коледа or Честито Рождество Христово
CatalanBon Nadal
CroatianSretan Božić
CzechVeselé Vánoce
Danish God jul or Glædelig jul
DutchVrolijk Kerstfeest
EnglishMerry Christmas or Happy Christmas
EstonianHäid jõule
FinnishHyvää joulua
GalicianBo Nadal
GermanFröhliche Weihnachten or Frohe Weihnachten
GreekΚαλά Χριστούγεννα
HungarianBoldog karácsonyt
IcelandicGleðileg jól
IrishNollaig Shona + Dhuit (singular) or Daoibh (plural)
ItalianBuon Natale
LatvianPriecīgus Ziemassvētkus
LithuanianLinksmų Kalėdų
LuxembourgishSchéine Chrëschtdag
MacedonianСреќен Божиќ or Христос се роди
Malteseil-Milied it-Tajjeb
Norwegian: God jul
Northern SamiBuorre juovla
RomanianCrăciun fericit
OccitanBon Nadal
PolishWesołych Świąt (Bożego Narodzenia)
Portuguese: Feliz Natal
Russianс Рождеством (Христовым)
Scottish GaelicNollaig Chridheil
SerbianSrećan Božić or Hristos se rodi
SardinianBona Pasca de Nadale
SlovakVeselé Vianoce
SloveneVesel božič
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
SwedishGod jul
Ukrainianз Різдвом (Христовим)
WelshNadolig Llawen


Friday, 1 December 2017

The languages that take the most (and least) time to learn, per the US Foreign Service

Learning a new language takes time. But according to US diplomatic training guides, there are many languages that Americans should be able to learn in under a year.
The map below shows how long it takes to learn almost 70 different languages, estimated by the Foreign Service Institute, which teaches these languages to would-be or current diplomats.

Countries on the map are colored according to how much time it takes to learn the local language: The darker-colored the country, the longer it takes.
The CIA Factbook was used to identify a dominant language for each country. Countries with no clear dominant language, like multilingual Mozambique, or where the FSI doesn’t teach the dominant language, appear gray.
FSI language-learning categories are numbered like hurricanes—higher number, scarier language. The darkest countries on the map represent Category 4 languages, those that take the longest for Americans to learn: Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. FSI literature refers to these as “super-hard languages.”
After that are 50 merely “hard” Category-3 languages, including Czech, Hindi, Russian, and Thai. The final two categories include languages that are more closely related to English. (See the full table of languages below.)
The numbers of weeks in that map represent the amount of time a learner with no experience of a language will need to get to “3/3 proficiency,” meaning a three out of five for speaking/reading. A zero, the FSI writes, indicates “only a cursory level knowledge of the language,” while five shows a “highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency.” As of last year, there were over 4,200 staffers in the FSI with at least this 3/3 level of proficiency, in “about 70 languages,” according to a recent report(pdf).
One thing to note here. These estimates, like 24 weeks for Spanish, assume the learner is in one of the FSI’s intensive courses. For the hardest languages, like Chinese, the course may even include several months of immersive study abroad. What’s more, the FSI sets out to hire smart, worldly people, and its estimates assume the student has “very good or better aptitude for classroom learning of foreign languages.” So the idea that it “takes 44 weeks to learn Finnish” is not very meaningful to most people.

There is no absolute answer to which language is the “easiest” or “most difficult,” because every learner is different. A native English speaker will have a harder time learning Italian than a native Spanish speaker, since the two Romance languages are closely related. And some people find pronunciation in a tonal language like Vietnamese difficult, while others adapt easily. The FSI difficulty measurements are also a bit confusing based on the “speak/read” requirement. Mandarin grammar is not nearly as complicated as that of some European languages, but the complexity of the Chinese writing system puts it in the highest category.

The map does show, though, a general trend of increasing the difficulty the farther American English-speakers get from the United States—starting with Europe and South America and continuing to Western Asia and East Asia—with obvious exceptions like Australia and the relative ease of Indonesian compared to Japanese or Chinese. The map also shows how much easier colonialism has made things for speakers of Western languages.
Here is the full list of FSI languages, and their difficulty rankings:
Haitian creole

Source: Quartz 

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Scandinavian and Nordic Languages in the Nordic Region

Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, English  translators
Collage: Baltic Media

Much of the Nordic Region is bound together by languages so closely related that, with a little effort, most people understand each other.
Other languages spoken in the Region are less closely related, and English is gaining ground in both professional and cultural contexts, which represents a challenge to our understanding of the neighbouring languages.
The linguistic community of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish speakers is also under threat in other ways. Our expectations of and attitudes towards the extent of our mutual understanding affect how we interact with people from neighbouring Nordic countries.
These expectations and attitudes are based on, among other things, how often we encounter the neighbouring languages in our day-to-day lives. For example, in 2016, the Norwegian online drama SKAM(Sham) generated considerable interest in the Nordic language community among young and not-so-young people across the Region.  
Certain words and phrases from SKAM achieved an almost cult status among fans. Time will tell whether any of these loan words from SKAM will endure as slang, or even everyday terms, in other Nordic languages.
Upper-secondary teachers across the Region have used the series to focus on and work with the neighbouring languages and to explore shared Nordic cultural and social references. It will be interesting to see what impact a youth-culture phenomenon like SKAM will have on the teaching of neighbouring languages in the long term.  
SKAM made a difference to many fans’ expectations about whether they would be able to understand Norwegian. This is just as important as formal teaching in the neighbouring languages, which might otherwise have had a somewhat limited effect in the long run. Instead, the idea that learning Norwegian is easy – or even fun – will have a lasting effect on the SKAM generation.
Languages in the Nordic Region
Historically, many of the people of the Nordic countries were able to understand each other. This linguistic community transcended borders and helped to bind the Region together culturally.
The sense of community in the Region is the result of linguistic and historical conditions.
For centuries, the Nordic states and autonomous territories have been part of various unions and other formal communities, as a result of which Denmark, Norway, and Iceland have close cultural links – as do Finland and Sweden. These relationships became interwoven – and further strengthened – by the Norwegian-Swedish union and the by Greenland and the Faroe Islands being an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark and Åland being an autonomous part of the Republic of Finland. Norway gained its independence in 1905, Finland in 1917 and Iceland in 1944. Previously, these countries’ administrative, educational and church language was either Danish or Swedish. They had also shared a literary history and a linguistic and cultural community, and this continued – at least to the extent that the Nordic nations and people saw fit to maintain it.
Most of the Nordic languages are part of the Indo-European family. Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish are all North Germanic languages that stem from the same common tongue spoken by the Vikings. Since then, the languages have grown apart from each other and separated into western and eastern branches, with Danish and Swedish on the one hand, and Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic on the other. Faroese and Icelandic constitute the Island-language group. They are not mutually intelligible with what are known as the mainland Nordic languages, i.e. the Scandinavian languages Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. This is due to, among other things, divergent developments in pronunciation. In other words, they have different sound systems.
Pronunciation differences are the biggest cause of problems when it comes to understanding neighboring languages. Nowadays, perhaps surprisingly, there is a greater degree of understanding between Norwegian and Swedish than between Danish and Swedish.
The Finnish and Sámi languages belong to the Finno-Ugric language family. Sámi is spoken in the north of the Nordic Region, in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Small minorities also speak Karelian in Finland; Kven in Norway, and Meänkieli in Sweden, languages not readily understood by speakers of the main Nordic languages.
Greenlandic (or Kalaallisut) belongs to the Inuit branch of the Eskimo-Aleut languages, i.e. a third language family, and is spoken in Greenland. It is related to a number of languages spoken in northern Canada and Alaska.
As well as the spoken languages, the Nordic countries also have their own national variants of sign language, which are again divided into eastern and western branches. Finnish, Finland-Swedish and Swedish sign language are closely related, as are Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic. Greenlandic and Faroese sign language is based on Danish, with some national variations. 

The status of the languages in and outside the Nordic Region
Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Swedish (including Finland-Swedish) are all official national languages. Along with Faroese, Greenlandic and Sámi, they are the languages that our societies and culture are based on. Nordic Sign Language also occupies a special position in the Nordic societies. The Declaration on Nordic Language Policy explains the status of the languages and of key areas of Nordic language policy. Responsibility for following up on the Declaration lies at the national level, but Nordic co-operation is designed to support those national efforts.
Danish, Finnish and Swedish are also official languages of the European Union.
Danish is an official minority language in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. In the South Schleswig area, Danish has been one of the several official languages since 2015.
Finnish is recognised as a minority language spoken in the Republic of Karelia, in north-west Russia.

Language use in Nordic co-operation
Nordic co-operation involves a certain degree of parallel language use between the three Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) on one side, and English on the other.
Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are the working languages of official Nordic co-operation. For meetings of the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers, an interpretation service is offered between Finnish, Icelandic, and Scandinavian, but never between the Scandinavian languages. The secretariats for the Nordic Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers and Culture Fund use Danish, Norwegian and Swedish as their working languages.
Since 1991, the Nordic Council of Ministers has developed close co-operation with the three Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. English is the working language of Nordic-Baltic co-operation.
In some academic and professional contexts, English is used as the language of co-operation.
In some respects, it might be easier and more convenient for all co-operation to be through the medium of English. However, the fact that political co-operation is rooted in the mutual understanding of the neighbouring Nordic languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) sends a positive signal of cohesion across linguistic and national boundaries.
The Nordic countries have concluded several agreements on language co-operation.
For example, the Council of Ministers has a special focus on listening comprehension between Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. You can read more about the neighbouring language understanding in research reports like Håller språket i hop Norden? (Does language hold the Nordic Region together? 2005), Dansk og svensk – Fra nabosprog til fremmedsprog? (Danish and Swedish – from neighbouring languages to foreign languages, 2013) and Man skal bare kaste sig ud i det (Just take the plunge! 2016).

Source: Norden 

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Catalan: a Language That Has Survived Against the Odds

Catalan (català)

Catalan is a Romance language spoken by about 9.5 million people. It is the official language of Andorra and an official language, along with Spanish, in Catalonia (Catalunya), Valencia (Comunitat Valenciana) and the Balearic Islands (Illes Balears). It is also spoken in parts of Aragon and Murcia, Pyrénées-Orientales in southern France, and in the Sardinian city of Alghero (l'Alguer)
The language of Valencia is known as Valencian, which some belief is a separate language, however most linguists view it as a variety of Catalan. The Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua (AVL) consider Catalan and Valencian to be two names for the same language.
 Catalan appeared as a distinct language during the 10th and 11th centuries. During the 12th century, Catalan began to appear in writing in scientific, philosophical, financial, religious, legal, literary and historical documents. At that time, Latin and Provençal were the preferred languages for literary and philosophical texts.
After the War of the Spanish Succession (1705-1715), Philip V abolished all the government institutions then existing in Catalonia and implemented Spanish laws. Catalan went through various periods of prohibition and repression.
In the 19th century, a period of economic, cultural and national recovery began, known as the Renaixença (Renaissance). Catalan was reborn as the language of literary culture through the Jocs Florals (Floral Games - a poetry contest) and through distinguished figures such as Jacint Verdaguer, Narcís Oller and Àngel Guimerà.
The Renaixença raised awareness of the lack of unity in the use of the language (there was no model for a common written language) and of the need to draw up rules on spelling. The founding of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans (Institute of Catalan Studies) in 1907 led to the language being codified through the publication of Normes ortogràfiques (Spelling Rules) in 1913, the Diccionari ortogràfic (Spelling Dictionary) in 1917, and the Gramàtica catalana (Catalan Grammar) by Pompeu Fabra in 1918.
During the first 30 years of the 20th century, Catalonia went through a period of political fervour, culminating in the recovery of a degree of political power in the Generalitat (the Government of Catalonia) during the 1930s. During the Second Republic (1931-1939), Catalan was restored to its official language status, which it had lost in the 18th century. However, this promising future was checked by the Civil War and its consequences. The use of Catalan in public was forbidden and the language retreated into the home.
Ever since the restoration of democratic institutions, there has been a process to re-establish the use of Catalan. It is now a co-official language, along with Spanish, in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, and is widely used an everyday language throughout Catalonia, Valencia, Andorrra and the Balearic Islands. Catalan is used as a medium of instruction in many schools. It is also used extensively in the media and in government.
Catalan at a glance
·         Native name: català [kətəˈɫa/kataˈɫa]
·         Linguistic affiliation: Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Western, Gallo-Romance, Occitano-Romance
·         Number of speakers: c. 9.5 million
·         Spoken in Andorra, southern France, northeast Spain, the Balearic Islands, Alghero in Sardinia, Italy
·         First written: 11th century
·         Writing system: Latin script
·         Status: official language in Andorra and in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands in Spain. Recognised minority language in Pyrénées-Orientales in France, in Aragon in Spanish, and in Alghero in Sardinia in Italy.

Barcelona. Photo : 
Proud of its own identity and language, Catalonia is one of Spain's richest and most highly industrialized regions, and also one of the most independent-minded.
With a distinguished history stretching back to the early middle ages, many Catalans think of themselves as a separate nation from the rest of Spain.
This feeling is fed by memories of the Franco dictatorship, which attempted to suppress Catalan identity, and is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the fierce rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, Spain's top football clubs.
A roughly triangular region in Spain's far north-east corner, Catalonia is separated by the Pyrenean mountains from southern France, with which it has close historical ties.
Most of the region's population lives in Barcelona, its vibrant political and economic hub and a popular European travel destination.
Holiday-makers also flock to the Mediterranean beaches of the Costa Brava and Costa Daurada/Dorada, and the Pyrenees are popular with hikers, making tourism an important part of Catalonia's economy.
But it is manufacturing - traditionally textiles, but more recently overtaken in importance by the chemical industry, food-processing, metalworking - that make the region Spain's economic powerhouse, along with a growing service sector.
Barcelona, Catalonia. Photo: 


The area first emerged as a distinct entity with the rise of the County of Barcelona to pre-eminence in the 11th century. In the 12th century, the county was brought under the same royal rule as the neighboring kingdom of Aragon, going on to become a major medieval sea power.
Catalonia has been part of Spain since its genesis in the 15th century when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and united their realms.
Initially retaining its own institutions, the region was ever more tightly integrated into the Spanish state, until the 19th century ushered in a renewed sense of Catalan identity, which flowed into a campaign for political autonomy and even separatism. The period also saw an effort to revive Catalan, long in decline by then, as a language of literature.

  • Politics: Catalonia's leadership is keen to split from Spain, and held an independence referendum in 2017
  • Culture: Catalonia's laws require teachers, doctors, and public sector workers to use Catalan, an official language along with Spanish
  • Economy: Catalonia is one of Spain's wealthiest but most indebted regions. Harsh austerity measures have boosted separatist sentiment

Source:  Omniglot BBC