A delicious research

First of all, sorry for the long absence. A lot of work entails a lack of time, but also a lot of experience from which some blog posts can be born at some point. Hopefully.

Today I want to talk about the curious case of the terms used by several languages to refer to a delicious fruit, the peach. In one of my lessons my student and I realized that this term was very similar in all the languages we knew, except in Spanish. This led me to make a little research and I discovered some interesting issues that I wanted to share here. Of course, there are many more languages in which the term is also different, but at that moment we did not know more than just a few, even if from different language families.

Peach

So, where does “peach” come from? It comes from the Latin name of the fruit, persica, through the Old French peach and the Middle English peche. Persica comes from the Greek persikē, meaning “Persian”, since people in the Classical times used to believe that this fruit came from Persia. We also find the Latin name malum Persicum, meaning “Persian apple”. This term is the ancestor of the English peach, but also of the French pêche, the Catalan préssec, the Galician pexego, the Portuguese pêssego, the German Pfirsich, the Finnish persikka, the Gaelic péitseog, the Italian pesco, the Lithuanian persikas, the Latvian persiks, the Dutch perzik, the Romanian piersic, the Russian персик, or the Swedish persika, among others. As we can see, quite a big group.

However, in Spanish this fruit is called melocotón. This term also comes from Latin, but not from the Latin name of the fruit, but from malus cotonus, which meant “Coton apple”which was the Latin name for the quince tree. And why did the name of this tree end up being adapted as the name of another tree? Apparently, Romans used to graft peaches near the roots of the quince trees, believing that this technique would be beneficial for the tree. In some Spanish-speaking countries peaches can also be called duraznos, coming from the Latin “durus acinus”, which means “of hard skin”.

quinces

Quinces

There are other languages in which the term comes also from persica, but there were some modifications. Three Scandinavian languages received the term from German, where we can find the letters “Pf”. In Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic, the “p” was lost and the “f” remained. Therefore, we have fersken, ferskentræ, and ferskja respectively.

So, as we can see, the Latin term for “peach” had a big influence in many present-day languages, and Latin also brought as the Spanish term, even if through a different tree. I hope that you enjoyed this little anecdote and that we do not need to wait 4 more months until the next entry! : )

“An offer he can’t refuse…”

Starting with this quote from the classic movie “The Godfather” by Francis Ford Coppola I want to discuss an interesting topic that I had never thought about until a couple of weeks ago. In one of my English lessons a student was explaining something about her goddaughter, but she didn’t remember the word for this and said it in Finnish: “kummityttö”. Suddenly, all the other students started to say that the word she was looking for was “goddaughter” “because it’s like in “godfather”, like the movie.” This made me think about the difference between Finnish and most of the other languages when referring to these relationships. I have been making a little research and I couldn’t find another language that behaves like Finnish in this.

Most languages refer to the godfather and the godmother including (directly or indirectly) the words for “father” and “mother”, and thus showing the concept of that these people would take over the education of the child should something bad happen to the parents. It would be something like “substitute parents”. Therefore, it is important to include the words for “father” and “mother”. But in Finnish the words that they include are “setä” and “täti”, which mean “uncle” and “aunt”. The godfather is “kummisetä” and the godmother is “kummitäti”.

kummisetä1 kummisetä2

In English we do include the words “father” and “mother”, but this happens in all the languages I have analyzed: In Spanish we say “padrino” and “madrina”, including the root of “padre” and “madre”. Most of the Romance languages also use this method. In Portuguese they have “padrinho” and “madrinha”, similar to the Galician “padriño” and “madriña”. In Catalan, however, they talk about “padrí” and “padrina”, including only the concept of the father. In French they have “parrain” and “marraine”, following the same pattern as their Southern neighbours. In Italian the words are the same as in Spanish: “padrino” and “madrina”, though in the South of the country they also use “compare” and “commare”, keeping the concepts of father and mother but in the end of the words.

German, as Catalan, includes only the masculine concept: “Pate” and “Patin”. But the other Germanic languages follow the most common method, like English. Thus, we have Norwegian, Swedish and Danish that share the terms: “gudfar” and “gudmor”. In Icelandic they have “guðfaðir” and”guðmóðir”, the same roots again. In Faroese the words change a bit as well, but the roots still refer to father and mother: “gudpápar” and “gudmammur”. In Dutch they continue with the Germanic tradition by calling them “peetvader” and “peetmoeder”.

But this trend is not only found in Germanic and Romance languages. In Polish they use a different construction but they include the words for “father” and “mother”: “ojciec chrzestny” (being “ojciec” father”), and “matka chrzestna” (being “matka” mother, and as a funny note: “matka” means trip in Finnish… This is why I love languages!). In Russian they say “крёстный отец” and “крёстная мать”, which makes sense since “отец” means “father” and “мать” is “mother”.

Hungarian, a language of the Finno-Ugric family don’t follow the system of its distant relative, but follow the mainstream path instead: They have “keresztapa” because “apa” means “father”; and “keresztanya”, since “anya” means “mother”.

In Asian languages we have, once again, the same: Chinese children can have a “教父” and a “教母” and, as you can imagine by now, “父” is the character for “father” and “母” means “mother”. Japanese use these same characters but the words change slightly: “代父” and “代母”.

So, why is Finnish so alone in this? Why did they choose to use the words “uncle” and “aunt” instead of “father” and “mother” like the other languages? In my research I haven’t found any other language that behaves like Finnish or even in a different way than the common trend, but there are many languages in the world and there may be other languages that have different ways of expressing this relationship. If someone knows more examples of languages that use “uncle” and “aunt”, or even totally different concepts, I would really like to read about it in the comments. So please, don’t hesitate to share it with us.

What do the animals say?

It has been a while since I wanted to write a post about the sounds animals make in different languages, but I think that this is the right time for that due to a certain song that is getting very famous and raises a very interesting question.

It is rather interesting that even if animals do more or less the same sound in different countries, people have adapted them to the phonetics of their language to put into words these sounds. However, some studies show that animals also “speak different languages”, that is, use different series of sounds in different geographical areas. I have myself noticed that seagulls in Finland and in the North of Spain do not make the same sounds, since in my home-town you can listen to them all the time and somehow you know some of the series of sounds they do every day, but in Finland I have never heard them doing those particular series… Maybe they were speaking Finnish-seagull, who knows?

Let’s start comparing the sound that dogs make in different languages: In English dogs say “woof-woof”, similar to the German “wuff-wuff” and the French “wouaff-wouaff”. But in Spanish dogs say “guau-guau”, similar to the Italian “vau-vau”, the Finnish “hau-hau” and the Estonian “auh-auh”. But then we have other different sounds, like the Russian “gav-gav”, the Korean “mong-mong”, or the Ukranian “breshe”.

When it comes to cats there is more agreement in the different languages, but we can still find some very different examples. In English cats say “meow”, in Spanish, Danish, Hebrew, Portuguese, Hungarian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish they go “miau”, in Italian and French they say “miao” and in Dutch they say “miauw”. But there are other cat languages, or so can be supposed from the fact that Japanese cats say “nyan”, in Korea they say “yaong”, and in Estonia they say “näu”.

Cats

What about cows? In English they say “moo”, which is what they say in most other languages, even if changing a bit the spelling. In Spanish, Portuguese, and Swedish they say “muu”, in Japanese they say “moh”, Norwegian cows go “mø”, and in Finland they say “ammuu”. But Polish cows for some reason say “yazoo”, in Estonia they say “mop”, and Dutch cows say “boe”. These last three examples are a bit curious, aren’t they?

Roosters have also a very peculiar sound that languages have tried to adapt but with different results: English roosters say “cook-a-doodle-do”, but in Spain they say “kikirikii” and in German “kikeriki”. French roosters prefer to say “cocorico”. In Korea rooster prefer to say something shorter, like “ko-ki-oh”, a preference not shared by Finnish (“kukkokiekoo”), Japanese (“kokekoko”), Norwegian (“kykkeliky”) or Swedish (“kuckeliku”).

Another farm animal, the pig, offers also some interesting variations: In English, Spanish, and Portuguese pigs say “oink”, but in Portuguese is often written “óinc”. Finnish pigs say “röh röh”, and Hungarian say “röf röf”. This f-ending is shared with Swedish “nöff nöff”, Norwegian “nøff nøff”, and Danish “øf øf”. French pigs say “groin groin” whereas German pigs say “grunz”. Dutch, Japanese, and Albanian offer the most interesting ones with “knor knor”, “bu-bu”, and “hunk” respectively.

Ducks are said to make the only sound that produces no echo, but how is this written in different languages? English ducks say “quack”, like the Spanish “cuack” and similar to the Finnish “vaak” and Turkish “vak”. French ducks say “coin” but Danish say “rap”, and Hungarian say “háp”. Romanian ducks say “mac”, and Estonian ducks win the prize to the strangest sound with their “prääks”.

English birds say the famous “tweet” that is nowadays well-known everywhere for other reasons, but in other languages they usually say something starting with “p”. In Spain they say “pio-pio”, in Portuguese “piu-piu”, in Swedish and Norwegian “pip pip” and in Japanese “pi pi”. In French they say “cui cui”, in Dutch “tjilp tjilp”, in Japanese “chun chun”, and in Finnish “tsirp tsirp”.

Sheep have two options: They can either say something that starts with “b” or something that starts with “m”. Sheep that preferred the “b” option moved to Spain, Hungary, Russia or Italy “bee”, Holand “bè bè”, England “baa”, France “bêê”, Germany “baehh”, or to Sweden “bä bä”. However, sheep that found easier to pronounce the letter “m” moved to Finland “mää”, Denmark “mæh-mæh”, Greece “maeee”, Japan “meh”, and Turkey “maeh”.

When it comes to horses we can find similar versions of the same sound. English horses say “wehee”, Spanish horses say something like “ihiiihihi”, Finnish horses say “iihahaa”, Dutch say “hihi”, and French, Italian and Japanese say “hiiiii”. But German, Hungarian, and Turkish horses are a bit different: They say “wiihiee”, “nyihaha”, and “e-he-he-he”.

And now, does anybody know what does the fox say in any language? ; )

Feel free to add some other sounds you know, or to correct some of these in the comments.

Days and weeks

Have you ever wondered what do the names of the days mean and how this differs in different languages? If so, this post is for you. We could say that many of the names they get in several languages come from astronomical objects or deities from the past.

In Latin, Monday was the day of the Moon: dies Lunae. Tuesday was dies Martis, the day of Mars. Then there was dies Mercurii (Mercury), dies Iovis (Jupiter), dies Veneris (Venus), dies Saturni (Saturn), and dies Solis (day of the Sun). Later on, with the arrival of Christianity, dies Solis was called dies Dominicus, the day of the Lord; and with Judaism dies Saturni changed to the Hebrew shabbath. The names of these planets were also the names of the Roman gods, so here we have both astronomical objects and deities. Romanic languages have very similar terms because they all come from Latin. Therefore, we have the Spanish names: Lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado and domingo; the French: lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi and dimanche; the Italian: lunedì, martedì, mercoledì, giovedì, venerdì, sabato and Domenica. Portuguese is an exception for this rule, since its terms have no relation to the Latin names and follow a different structure. They start with Sunday, which is Domingo, following the other Romanic languages, but then Tuesday is segunda-feira (second day), and following this structure: terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira, sexta-feira, to finish the week with Sabado.

Germanic languages use variations of Proto-Germanic and Old Norse terms. The English Monday comes from mondæg, or monandæg, day of the moon. Tuesday, Tiwesdæg, was the day of Tiwaz, or Týr, a god of the Germanic pantheon which, curiously enough, is similar to Mars, the Roman god after which Tuesday is named. Wednesday, Wodnesdæg, was the day of Woden, who is better known as Odin. Thursday comes from Old Norse Þorsdagr, which was the day of Thor. Friday was also named after the goddess of love, like Venus, but in this case it was the Germanic version: Frig, and the Old English name was Frigedæg. Saturday and Sunday come from the same root that the Latin counterparts, Sæterdæg and Sunnandæg, meaning day of Saturn and day of the Sun respectively.

The Germanic god Woden

The Germanic god Woden

However, the North-Germanic languages do not call Saturday the day of Saturn, even if they share the same roots that the English names. Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic share the origin of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. But when it comes to Saturday they keep the Old Norse root, which has an interesting origin. The ancient Scandinavians had the habit of bathing, washing, and grooming themselves every Saturday. For this reason Saturday was called Laugardagur, day of bathing. From this word come the Swedish lördag, the Norwegian and Danish lørdag, and the Icelandic Laugardagur, which is the same word as in Old Norse because Icelandic has remained very similar as to how Scandinavians used to speak 1000 years ago.

Another trend to name the days is after the five elements, which is how they are in Japanese and Korean. In Japanese we have the symbols of the words Sun (), Moon (), Fire (), Water (), Tree/Wood (), Gold/Metal (), and Earth () in the Japanese days of the week: 月曜日 Getsuyōbi, 火曜日 Kayōbi, 水曜日 Suiyōbi, 木曜日 Mokuyōbi, 金曜日 Kin’yōbi, 土曜日 Doyōbi, and 日曜日 Nichiyōbi. Chinese used to have these same words (although with a different pronunciation) but nowadays they use a different system. They use the word 星期 xīngqī, which means “star period” and start counting: Monday is star period one (星期一), Tuesday is star period two (星期二) and so on, until Sunday, where we find again the symbol for “sun” or “day”: 星期日 xīngqīrì.

I think that it is very interesting to see how cultures that apparently have no relation do share the same roots in their words for the days, or that they named them after the same gods, even if adapting it to their own pantheon. There is, of course, more languages and linguistic families where there are for sure more content to analyze, but this is all for today. I hope you enjoyed this walk through etymology as much as I did.

The sound of music…. notes.

Something that surprises many Spanish-speaking people when in contact with anglophones is that the names of the music notes are different. This is because there are two systems of naming the notes. In several countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Greece, or Russia, among others, the music notes are called Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Si. However, in England, Germany, Finland, Poland, Norway, Hungary and other countries the notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. I do not really know a lot about music, but I thought that this may be interesting to know to avoid misunderstandings, so I will comment a bit on the linguistic aspects of this, without deepening the musical issues.

clave de sol

The Do-Re-Mi system comes from Latin. This seems obvious when we notice that the system is used mainly in countries whose languages come from Latin. The origin is the hymn “Ut queant laxis”, dedicated to John the Baptist and written by Paul the Deacon in the VIII century. Guido D’Arezzo was who took the first syllable from each verse and formed the actual scale in the XI century. This is the Latin text:

Ut queant laxis

Resonare fibris

Mira gestorum

Famuli tuorum

Solve polluti

Labii reatum

Sancte Ioannes

It could be translated as: So that your servants may, with loosened voices, resound the wonders of your deeds, clean the guilt from our stained lips, O Saint John. “Ut” was changed as “Do” in most countries, but in France the original form is still used. In some areas “Si” is changed by “Ti”.

As for the Anglo-Saxon system, it also comes from Latin, but from the alphabet. It is said that the philosopher Boethius took the first letters of the Latin alphabet to from the scale: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-K-L-M-N-O, but over the centuries it was changed to the present day “C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C”. In Germany “B” is sometimes changed by “H”.

On a curious note, in Chinese they use the Anglo-Saxon system, whereas in Japanese they use the Do-Re-Mi system, but adapted to their writing system. Here is the Chinese scale:

C谱号, D 谱号, E 谱号, F 谱号, G 谱号, A 谱号, B 谱号, C谱号.

And this is the Japanese scale:

ド 全音, レ 全音, ミ 半音, ファ 全音, ソ 全音, ラ 全音, シ 半音.

It is surprising to know how many people do not know that in other countries the music scale is different, so I hope that this entry will be helpful and that someone will learn something new.

Meatballs with or without meat?

Some days ago I overheard a conversation that really made me think about the origin of the word “meatball”. The conversation -or rather the argument– was about whether or not a meatball had to contain meat necessarily. Everything started when one of the participants of the discussion who was a vegan said that you can prepare vegan meatballs using tofu instead of meat, and another participant said that if it did not contain meat, it could not be called “meatball”. The conversation was in Spanish, so they were talking about “albóndigas”, which is the Spanish word for meatballs. They spent a long time arguing about this topic, and all I could think about was that in English the word implies that we are talking about “balls” of “meat”, so probably you should not call meatball a ball of tofu. But the Spanish word does not imply (at least at first sight) that you need meat to cook an “albóndiga”. So I decided to look for the etymology of the word and to compare if in other languages a meatball has to contain meat because the actual word implies the concept.

albondigas

As we already know, in English we say “meatball”, which literally means “ball of meat”. However, the Spanish word is “albóndiga”, and as many other Spanish words starting with “al-” comes from Arabic. This is because the Arabs stayed in the South of Spain during almost 800 years and therefore, it is natural that some traces of their language have been assimilated into Spanish. “Al” was the definite article “the”, so many words in Spanish that start with “al-” come from when the Arabs used to call something using the article first, and the Spaniards made a noun putting together the Arabic article and noun. This is the case of the word “albóndiga”. “Búnduqa” was the Arabic word for “ball”, so they used to call meatballs “al-búnduqa” (the ball), and this was how we ended up saying “albóndiga” as a noun. As we can see, this Spanish word has no references to meat, it just means that the form of this product is that of a ball, so even if Arabs used to cook balls of meat, meat is not present in the etymology of the word. Thus, it would be logical to call “albóndiga” to a ball of tofu when speaking Spanish, because meat is not implicit in this term.

But, what about other languages?

 In German, meatballs are called “Fleischklößchen” which also means “balls of meat”, so they do imply the use of meat in them.

The same happens with the French name, which is “boulette de viande” and means, again, “balls of meat”. Other languages where we find the same meaning are: Dutch (“gehaktbal”), Finnish (“lihapulla”), and Swedish (“köttbulle”).

In Norwegian they call them “kjøttkake” which means “cake of meat”.

But in some other languages, as in Spanish, the terms used do not imply the use of meat. For example, in Polish meatballs are called “klops”, which apparently has nothing to do with the word for meat “mięso”. In Italian they say “polpetta”, and it is unclear whether it comes from the French word “paupière” (eyelid), or from “pulp”. The most interesting word for “meatball” that I found was the Cebuano “bolabola”. “Bola” means “ball” in Spanish, and Cebuano is spoken in the Philippines, where the Spanish language has a big influence. Therefore, it seems obvious that “bolabola” means “ballball”, comes from Spanish, and does not imply the presence of meat.

As a conclusion, the words for “meatball” imply the presence of meat in several languages, but in others they do not. The argument that I overheard could have been easily finished by using etymology, and the answer would be:

It depends on which language we are talking about, it is legitimate to call “albóndiga” a meatball made of tofu, but we cannot call it “köttbulle”, for example.

This is what I found in my little research about meatballs and languages, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did enjoy comparing these languages.