My 100th Post: Be Different, Do It Differently, Go Anywhere

PREAMBLE:

I had the idea to start this blog all the way back in March 2014, and I launched on May 22nd of that year (to coincide with the anniversary of my college graduation).

True story: Back then, I actually considered not writing anything about learning languages or foreign cultures at all. The reason why? I didn’t think I was qualified. I thought everyone would fact check me and I would feel so guilty that I would have to shut down the site.

My, my!

And then several years later I find myself on one of my esteemed mentors’ blogs as well as interviewed by a translation agency and eventually making a video of myself speaking 31 languages, and had been featured in several Jewish newspapers because of it. (AND I’ve been invited to speak at a school! And at other Jewish institutions!)

An important lesson: a lot of discouragement exists in the world. You shouldn’t be thinking “I would like to, but”, but rather “I would like to, and I have a plan to” (or intend to ask enough people so that I can make that plan).

I wanted to make this post something powerful that you would remember, and as a result here it is:

 

BE ANYTHING, DO ANYTHING, GO ANYWHERE

 

For those of you who know something about me outside of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a game designer as well as a language instructor (who is more than happy to teach you).

My backbone series of games, “Kaverini”, is emblazoned with holy words on every one of its gaming products: “Be Anything, Do Anything, Go Anywhere”.

Since I was 11 years old I’ve noticed that the world is an almighty crusher of dreams. Many years later and it seems that it shows no sign of letting up.

I’ve seen one thing that’s been getting stronger throughout myself, and maybe it has to do with aging, maybe it has to do with technology, or something else entirely, but I’ve noticed people are getting significantly more scared. Of everything.

Of making their visions become true.

Of getting outside of their immediate friend circles

Of even doing anything that may actually make them distinctive or make them “stand out”.

Of nonconformity in general.

Of too many other things.

 

Throughout the globe, we are being transformed into followers, I’ve seen this everywhere.

 

These times are not the times to mince words.

We cannot afford to be followers anymore.

 

In interacting with other people, I get complimented very regularly, especially at language exchange events. But often a lot of these is “your mind must work in interesting ways” or “you must have a talent”.

 

NO.

 

NO NO NO!

 

What I’m going to reveal to you was one of my most closely guarded secrets. But in times of trouble, I’ll need to reveal it.

My mind may indeed work in interesting ways and maybe I do have a talent of sorts, but I can tell you how I got it.

What I actually do is I think about what a lot of other people around me aren’t doing, what a lot of people aren’t exploring, and what a lot of people around me aren’t saying.

Since I was 7 or so I realized that I had only one chance to write my story (as far as I know). Since I was 12 I was aware that my own existence, by virtue of being an individual in a capitalistic society, is responsible for destruction and pain somewhere else at any given moment.

I also realized that, had my ancestors made other decisions, given that I am Jewish, I never been given the opportunity to live. Given that privilege, I have to make an extraordinary effort for the many other humans who would have been who have had (and continue to have) those avenues taken from them.

Under no circumstances would I enable myself to live an ordinary life. To talk like most other people, to think like most other people, to write like most other people, to post the sort of pictures online in the manner of most other people.

As a youth, I heard stories of Abraham, David, and Odysseus, ones who were always willing to do things “differently”, and that’s what turns them into heroes in worlds of conformity.

Indeed, up until the end of college it was my intention to follow a predictable path (however nonconformist I was insistent on being), but thanks to job and graduate rejections that didn’t happen.

I got so desperate that I decided that, instead of sending job applications to the Northeastern United States, I would even be willing to traverse oceans for it. It might be painful, but at least it was better than the shame of unemployment.

After tasting many cultures, having had my group identity completely vanish, having had my American accent turn into a mixture of local accents from everywhere that I had been (you’ll hear a lot more of this once I get over my camera-shyness), I came to the realization:

BE DIFFERENT. DO IT DIFFERENTLY. GO ANYWHERE.

I try not to use expressions or clichés that I hear frequently used in my speech. (Instead of saying, “It’s a small world” I would say, “adventurers cross paths in many of the same places”, instead of saying “it’s not all black and white”, I would say “Hollywood morality doesn’t apply here…or almost anywhere, for that matter”).

I try to think about the sort of things that most people around me would not consider doing (leaving school to start a company, unplugging from many forms of popular culture).

I try to pick languages based on almost anything but their “popularity” and “practicality”, and often for sentimental reasons, realizing that I can’t let crowds make my choices. People actually respect my choices a lot MORE because of it! Same for hobbies or interests or topics I’d like to research.

If I have to become a member of a circle or group, I’ll try not to get too attached. Yes, there is some pain involved, but this will always enable me to be the “observer” and the “artist”, the type of people to whom we are indebted for our human story.

Another thing was that since I was young, I’ve seen myself as a rising hero of sort, although of what sort I couldn’t imagine. But just in case the world needed my heroism somehow, I needed to learn as much about the world as I can, to seek wisdom everywhere, and to realize that “It can’t happen” or “you shouldn’t” or “you don’t have the (X) to do that” aren’t good pieces of advice.

I don’t exist for Father Time. Father Time exists for me. Fate exists for me. I will not go silently into the timeline. I will not allow myself to be forgettable.

Yes, maybe you might think of these sorts of beliefs as egotistical in a way. But they’ve worked. They’ve turned me into a character, one who sometimes is silent or doesn’t say or do the right thing, but one who has the “hero spark”.

Almost no one who has ever met me has ever forgotten me (ask ANYONE who knows me in person). Perhaps it wasn’t always for reasons I would be proud of in retrospect, but that’s okay.

There are those who have tried to make me feel bad about my choices, but my story isn’t over yet. And besides, people who want to make you feel bad about your choices are always wrong (remember that!)

Oh, and if you would prefer to not listen to what I have to say here, I very much respect that. You are welcome to have a different life from the one I have and it may work out for you and for all I know I could be very wrong indeed about absolutely everything.

But in case you’re curious where you get that hero spark, it is through being different and doing things differently…in addition to surrounding myself with people who do similar things (or are at least inclined to do so). Ones that are willing to swim against the stream, ones who are willing to make unpopular and sometimes strange choices, ones who venture into depths of human knowledge few have a desire to explore.

Once you find yourself willing to do that and willing to help others explore where you are, you will find yourself with an enthusiasm and a strength that no one will ever be able to quench.

They may not agree with you, they may not even respect you, but they will never forget you.

And neither will you allow yourself to be forgotten.

kegn dem shtrom

True to the theme, that sign says “against the stream” in Yiddish (kegn dem shtrom), and I made that scarf myself, choosing the most outlandish colors possible. The scarf still gets me a lot of compliments.

 

Are Some Languages Harder Than Others?

Ah, yes, one topic guaranteed to get clicks!

IMG_2906

Helsinki, 2013

I should begin by mentioning the previous “schools” that I am aware of concerning the ranking language difficulties. Keep in mind that for this article I have primarily native English speakers in mind, without taking into account other languages that they may know to whatever degree:

 

  • Most well-known is the Foreign Service Institute’s rankings, captured in way too many infographs throughout the web so I won’t post the extensive list here. The short version: Romance Languages and most Germanic Languages are the easiest, Swahili Indonesian and German a bit harder, most languages in the world are hard but not the hardest, which would go to the Chinese Languages, Korean, Arabic and Japanese.

 

(I’ve heard that “Arabic” in this case actually indicates either “MSA” or “extensive knowledge of all dialects”, surprisingly, not clear what a lot of people mean by “Arabic” when they say it, even in the Language Learning World [ESPECIALLY in that sphere, come to think of it!]. That said, I played around with some Arabic dialects for tiny tastes here and there but nothing devoted. No interest in learning MSA at the present moment).

 

The gist of the list is this: easier languages require less time to speak at a good level. I see some validity in this. No doubt between learning a language like Galician (a sibling of Castilian Spanish and Portuguese that didn’t go on and take over the world) and Gujarati (an Indo-Aryan language spoken on India’s westernmost coast), I and almost anyone with a knowledge of English would find it easier to “sprint” with Galician, even as a monolingual native English speaker.

That does NOT mean that sprinting with something like Gujarati is impossible, only that it requires more mental focus or, in some cases, mental gymnastics (prepare for either a lot of out-loud repetition or heavy-duty memory techniques!)

The biggest weakness of the list, in my opinion, is that it isn’t too extensive and that it just covers primary official languages without going further. Curious to see where Irish or Greenlandic or Tok Pisin, or even Haitian Creole, would stack up!

 

  • The Benny Lewis school (which, to be fair, really helped me get over some of my difficulties with languages like Finnish and Hebrew), the idea that all languages are equally difficult and that some languages that are touted as “difficult” actually are simplified in other regards.

Without a doubt, from the vantage point of the English speaker, Lewis’ argument has some validity, as anyone who has ever TRIED a “hard” language with this mindset and succeeded can attest to.

One thing that frustrates me is the idea that often people read a lot about a “hard” language online. These tend to read like fact-lists of grammatical phenomena, but rarely if ever are they actually written about someone who has actually learned it. (And in the rare case that it is, as I may have seen on finland.fi or the like, it actually DOES contain encouragement).

The attitude presented as such is vital. It can help people who are struggling with a language very dissimilar from English (such as what I have with, let’s say, Welsh or Burmese at the present moment).

It also manages to magnify the fact that, yes, there are some portions of “easy” languages like Spanish that are actually insanely difficult when actually looked at. (Spanish verb conjugation is a page, but Burmese verb conjugation is a paragraph, if not actually a few sentences).

 

BUT!

There is something missing from both of these ideas, and its one that I’ve almost never encounter anyone else bring up before, which is why I needed to write this, and that is…

 

A Language’s Political Power Makes It Easy to Engage With.

 

Careful!

Engage with =/= learn!

If I wanted to, I could live my entire life in French somewhere. My computer is available in it, almost all major video games and other software programs on the market are available in it, there’s dubbing, and more political support than a language could hope for. In short, one of the most powerful languages on the planet.

A language like French, German, or Mandarin is the easiest to engage with. If you want to start putting what you’ve learned to practice, you can start within seconds. In some globalized cities, you can even just walk outside and encounter native speakers.

A notch beneath is a national language of (what is usually) a particular country or a handful of countries. Swedish, Indonesian, Hungarian and Vietnamese would fit squarely into this category. Often there is a lot of tech support available in this language, although not a lot of (or ANY) film dubbing (and having film dubbing, outside of those for children’s programming, usually ensures that it is one of the most powerful languages on the planet, Ukrainian would be the exception that proves the rule, in my opinion).

These are easy to engage with online but not AS easy as the ones that will flood you with lifetimes’ worth of material within seconds.

Sometimes included in this category are some regional languages of very powerful states (e.g. a handful of regional languages of India, Indonesia or Spain).

Then comes the genuine minority or regional language, varying a lot in their positions, or certain local languages that, while commonly spoken where they are, often are deemed “less prestigious” than European colonial tongues (Tok Pisin and Tetum from East Timor come to mind immediately). Other examples would include Breton or Faroese.

While the Internet still provides tons of materials for languages like these, especially if they’re from Europe, you’ll notice that it is a lot scarcer. What’s more, some languages, like Quechua or Cornish, have an extraordinary dearth of programming, but hopefully the future will change that.

Then come local languages such as those spoken within even smaller communities than that. I have only met a handful of people EVER that have managed this task, and often by becoming a genuine friend of these communities (these are languages that, I would say, would exist on Wikipedia but their respective wikis would be very, VERY small! Imagine languages of small indigenous communities. Some Melanesian musicians, such as Sharzy from the Solomon Islands or Daniel Bilip from Papua New Guinea, will lapse into such languages)

 

But hold on, Jared! Certainly you don’t mean to say that Bislama (the third category) would be harder to learn that Japanese (first category)

No.

But often your ability to rehearse and get better at a language makes it easier to maintain and easier to get a vocabulary.

So how does this tie into difficulty?

Allow me to explain:

I refer to some of my languages that I have “activated”, which means that I have mastered basic elements of grammar, can conjugate basic and general verb forms in a past, present and future, understand how adjectives work, understand how cases work (if the language has cases) and how articles and sentence structure function.

Once you get a very good grasp on these, then having the language is a bit like a “bicycle skill”, one that you never truly forget even if you haven’t done it in the longest time.

Case in point: I abandoned Russian and Polish for several years but throughout all of this time I could distinguish verbs from adjectives and make them fit grammatical in sentences.

Once you have “activated” a language in this manner, and acquired a core vocabulary of 300 words or so, then it comes the time to improve it.

Improving it is going to be easier for a more politically powerful language.

In short, the list that I provided above is a difficulty on how to improve, whereas the FSI’s list actually determines difficult to activate.

Two different types of learning, both radically different difficulty levels. One can be very easy in one and absolutely impossible in the other.

Have fun activating and improving!

 

Dysgu Cymraeg

RAWR! said the Welsh Dragon! And yes, that’s cartoon me in the picture!

4 Reasons Why You Should Learn Cornish

 

kernow

 

Gool Peran lowen onen hag oll! (Happy St. Piran’s Day to one and all!)

It’s been a little bit more than two year of on-and-off with Cornish with me.

One thing you definitely should know if you are struggling with a less-commonly-learned language, feel free to take a break for a year or two and then come back to it when you feel like it. You will find that the material has multiplied! Guaranteed! (This happened with Cornish, Irish and Icelandic with me, actually)

Anyhow, for those of you who aren’t aware, Cornish is Welsh’s brother, and is one of two Celtic Languages (the other being Manx Gaelic) that have been “revived”.

That is to say, there came a time in which there were absolutely no native speakers left, and then there was a revival where people were encouraged to speak it again, albeit this has been on a smaller scale to day.

(Oh, and for those of you who want to learn more about Cornish, feel free to click on the category at the bottom of the page and read my articles that I wrote about the language when I was still a “Kernowegor” novice).

Another point worth mentioning is the fact that “Pirate English” an the “Pirate Accent” is heavily inspired by English in Cornwall, and some place names from Cornwall may be familiar to you, some of which are Cornish (Penzance / Pennsans) and others of which are English translations of Cornish names (St. Ives, Land’s End).

The book that started all of this was Henry Jenner’s “Handbook of the Cornish Language” in the very early 20th century. Having a look on English Wikipedia (as well as its Cornish translation!), I came across this quote:

 

“There has never been a time when there has been no person in Cornwall without a knowledge of the Cornish language … The reason why a Cornishman should learn Cornish, the outward and audible sign of his separate nationality, is sentimental, and not in the least practical, and if everything sentimental were banished from it, the world would not be as pleasant a place as it is.”

 

I think in a world in which late capitalism is encouraging a lot of us to thing about jobs and economy above all else (a mentality that must be changed and is guaranteed to poison us in too many ways to count if we continue), we should take Jenner’s words about sentimental things very seriously.

Too many people think about languages as “what can I get from it?”

Shockingly enough, even from that perspective, Cornish still wins on many fronts!

Yes, I know this may surprise you, but read on!

 

  1. Cornish will help you get a job more securely that almost all other languages.

 

Yes, you read that right. Granted, note I said “a job” not necessarily “the one”, but keep in mind that with minority cultures on the ascent (again, because of the mentality I described in the preface is going to have to be abandoned), Cornwall will be a place where more and more Cornish speakers will be sought, across many disciplines, and this can mean good things for you!

Teachers, content creators, those who do clerical work and beyond—if you want to live in the UK, Cornish would be an extraordinarily good bet for you to place.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking, “aren’t there about only a hundred speakers?”

As I may have written before on this site, this is one of the problems measuring the “worth” of a language by the amount of native speakers. Most Cornish users are non-natives. For Cornish, you would need to measure the amount of “active users”, which would be:

skeul-an-yeth

(on St. Piran’s Day Weekend, 2017, that’s Welsh you’re seeing on the right side of the page, by the way, not Cornish, although they are close.)

You read that right. 19,000 speakers on Facebook, which seems more or less correct to me based on my “gut feeling”.

And you can make it 19,001 if you give it time!

Speaking of the point about Native speakers…

 

  1. Not many languages can afford the full privileges of its usage as an L2. Cornish is one of them.

I love languages like Finnish and Irish, but given as I haven’t been raised speaking either, I will always have to realize the fact that, unless I commit 70,000 hours to the task, I will not speak at a native-level (e.g. be good enough to get translation jobs into that language, the native speaker will always win against me, however much he or she might appreciate my ability to speak these tongues). On the other hand, I have the upper hand as a native English speaker, even in comparison with countries that have very high levels of English proficiency (such as Scandinavia and the Netherlands).

Cornish, like Esperanto and Manx Gaelic, is primarily used by communities of non-native speakers, so if you get good enough you can even start getting the “full privileges” (e.g. being able to translate into Cornish), even if you were a learner a few years or even a few months ago.

Ask anyone who has learned Cornish to a high level. He or she will say that it was really hard starting out but then it clicked with extraordinary ease not too far down the line.

Listen to the Radyo an Gernewegva Podcast (my favorite in the world), you may encounter some speakers of Cornish who may stumble or even lapse into English, but they still carry forth proudly…and get on one of the Cornish Language Revival’s flagship podcasts!

Speaking of that podcast…

 

  1. The Cornish Revival is Creating an Dizzyingly Diverse Array of Content!

 

Kernowegoryon (Cornish Speakers) like myself are keenly aware of the fact that there are people out their making fun of or belittling our efforts. I even considered writing a piece about “things people have said to me about the Cornish Language” instead of this encouraging piece you are now reading.

So what do we do?

Try to make the content as interesting and attractive as possible!

And get everyone involved!

I’ve even encountered Cornish-language videos made by preschoolers!

That’s not also to mention Monty Python / Star Trek / Beatles Songs rendered into Cornish as well as original content on Cornish Language media such as “George ha Samantha” or this album which I have put here in full (lyrics and track listing in the description), Philip Knight’s “Omdowl Morek” (Sea Wrestling):

I also recommend “Hanterhir” and “The Changing Room”, as well as all of the diverse goodies you can listen to by poking around RanG as well as the rest of the web.

Who knows? Maybe the next big star on the Cornish music scene can be you.

And this brings me to my final point.

 

  1. I’ll just leave this right here…

 

From: http://www.anradyo.com/promoting-cornish-musicians/

  

Radyo an Gernewegva is here to boost the Cornish language and Cornish music.

We play music primarily in the Cornish language, or instrumental traditional Cornish music. We also play music in the other Celtic languages. We are now going to start making a distinction.

We will give emphasis to promoting any musician or group that has a Cornish speaker as a member, or has a member ACTIVELY learning Cornish.

This is meant as an encouragement to groups to learn the language and use it more. Active promotion means we will not only play any music in Cornish or instrumentals, but will help you put together a Cornish language radio ad for the station and talk it up too.

Be aware as well, that RanG is about to go on three of Cornwall’s community stations. It is time that more Cornish musicians got down to learning the language – and we hope this will be an encouragement/incentive.

 

 

Advertising publicity?

Music publicity?

Like getting yourself out there?

Want to learn a language?

Your choice is made.

 

I’m done here.

 

Chons da! (Good luck!)

 

slot-car-racing-rag-kernow

 

6 Reasons Why You Should Learn Breton

breizh

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, pick a more original picture, but this keeps in mind those that have never seen this flag before. Introducing, dear friends and followers and curious people, the flag of Brittany!

Time for me to be honest, I get vexed whenever I see a “reasons to learn popular language” post, as if they needed any more reason aside from being from (usually) very politically powerful and/or rich countries.

So this series is my response, and I’ll start with one of my favorite languages to sing in…

 

“You’re learning what…?”

Too often people will rule out potential languages to learn if they have to explain what it is to most people.

Look.

You have one life.

I understand if you may not want to spend even a small portion of that life doing a certain something.

But if you do have a desire, however small, to learn a language that most people in your community don’t even know exist, then…DO IT ANYWAY!

But you haven’t come here for my opinions, you’ve come here to learn about Breton (or maybe you just want to know what it is!)

 

What is Breton?

Breton is a Celtic Language native to Brittany, which is the area of France directly across from the English Channel. That peninsula sticking out westward towards the sea? That’s it.

But if you go to Britanny nowadays, you’ll hear mostly French spoken on the street, the reason for that being the same as why you’d hear mostly English rather than Irish in Dublin.

That said, there are movements for the revitalization of the Breton language, and there are a lot of people who know it natively (at least 100,000 people!), but most of these are older people (born in the 1950’s or so).

So given the current demographics, and despite the existence of the Diwan school network (which you can read about here), there is some cause for worry.

But luckily you, dear traveler, can help!

And if you want to hear it spoken, feel free to scroll down where you’ll encounter folk songs and heavy metal (no, not making this up!)

If you want to see it written, feel free to look at some of the links as well as Breton Wikipedia here.

And No. 6 on this list will have exciting ways for you to use the language while having fun!

 

Why Should I Learn Breton?

 

  1. Breton played a key role in the history of Britain and France

 

Bretons were essential in turning the tide of victory to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, one that ultimately decided the future of the world’s most powerful language today.

After the Normans defeated the Saxons and set up “house” in England, Bretons migrated from across the English Channel to Cornwall, making the Celtic languages there, especially Cornish, more similar to Breton.

The Celts played a role in influencing both Britain and France, and their influence in turn has been spread over the entire world, despite the fact that all Celtic languages alive today are endangered.  Enya’s “March of the Celts” describes them as “Beo go deo / Marbh go deo” (Irish for “Alive forever / Dead Forever”), and ever since hearing these words, I’ve noticed that the not-completely-subtle-nor-completely-invisible influence of Celtic Languages and Cultures has spread throughout the entire globe.

Brittany is no exception, and among some well-known people of Breton heritage you may have heard of are Jack Kerouac and Charles de Gaulle, both of whom used the language at various points.  (General de Gaulle’s uncle was a Breton poet! De Gaulle = V’ro Chall. Bro C’hall = Gaul Country = France)

Brittany continues to play a role in popular culture in the Francophone world the same way that Scotland does in the Anglophone world. What’s more, people with Breton names live in all continents, by virtue of the fact that France actually has territory in more time zones than Russia does (!!!)

 

  1. Like Singing but Can’t Play Instruments? Breton is for you!

 

Almost all of the Breton music I have heard sounds equally fantastic when sung solo as it would be on highly produced recordings.

If you like Open Mic nights and want to impress people with something exotic and memorable, getting to know Breton music for a while would be highly worth your time!

Denez Prigent (his last name is pronounced as in French), best known for songs of his that were featured in works of American popular culture such as “Black Hawk Down” and “South Park”, learned Breton from his grandfather and has since become a powerful voice of Breton music.

This is the song that was featured in both of these works, and I know it isn’t particularly creative of me to include it, but I have to include it because some of you may have that “wow, I actually know this song from somewhere”. Lyrics and information in the description of the video:

(This song has since been covered dozens of times as well, and I highly recommend you check out Denez Prigent’s other albums, “Irvi” and “Sarac’h”, some songs are very helpful for advanced beginners, others are quite arcane, however…)

And for those seeking something more energetic and wondering. “Cool…got any heavy metal?”

This is for you (title translates to “The Sailors are Dead”, one thing you’ll notice about Breton is that, like Ye Olde English, the sentence structure actually reads “Dead are the Sailors”. I’m also curious if I’m the only one that thinks of the NES game “Zelda II” when I listen to this):

I’ve found myself genuinely a changed man as a result of Breton music. What’s more, because I am a synagogue cantor as well as (insert my other six odd jobs here), I’ve found inspiration in the a capella melodies of many a Breton singer.

What’s more Alan Stivell, the godfather of Breton music nowadays, is Jewish via his mother’s side (!)

Don’t lie! You’ve heard that melody before! (“Son ar Chistr” = the Cider Song, has to be the only drinking song I’ve found included in a phrasebook [!]).

This song’s melody has been included in various other pop songs all over the world, and is a Breton melody from the 1920’s (if I recall correctly).

One of those tunes that stays with you forever, isn’t it?

 

  1. The amount of public domain songs that exist in Breton is staggeringly high!

Do you like singing?

Even if you don’t like singing, do you want to use classical and vaguely familiar songs in your creative work?

Good news!

Lots and lots of Breton songs are out there, waiting to be discovered!

As well as heart-rending poetry that YOU may be the next great translator of!

Putting this in google.fr set to Breton and clicking on “Ar Voul zo Ganin!” gets me this:

http://per.kentel.pagesperso-orange.fr/

And that’s just 101.

 

  1. Standard Breton pronunciation is straightforward

To the very untrained ear, Breton and French are spoken with identical registers. Not surprising. I tell people who aren’t aware of what Breton is that “Breton is almost like Welsh spoken in a French accent” (even though Cornish is a lot closer, actually).

While there are some tricky sounds, including the c’h that is actually pronounced as a separate letter from “ch” (c’h = guttural sound like “Bach”, ch = sh sound in English), as well as some consonants/vowels that disappear in spoken speech (think New Englanders not pronouncing t’s) as well as shenanigans with the “ñ” sound (you’ll see this letter at the end of words in Breton), vowels are straightforward and diphthongs, while also slightly tricky, don’t take long to get used to.

Accented syllables are almost pronounced as two, and look for these on the penultimate syllable.

An iliz = the church. To be pronounced “on “ee-ee-leez”.

So much fun!

What’s more, there is at least one Breton-Language song I am aware of that is generally available in karaoke outlets in France. Probably one of the most recognizable Celtic songs on the planet, actually!

 

 

  1. By learning Breton, You Take a Stand Against Cultural Assassination

 

There are those that say that Breton has the distinction of being the one language in human history that dropped in usage more quickly than ANY other!

If you can read French, have a look at some of these chilling quotes under the section: “Les langues ne meurent pas toutes seules…” (Languages don’t die by themselves)

http://brezhoneg.gwalarn.org/yezh/kinnig.html

I’ll translate a few of them for you:

 

“For the linguistic unity of France, it is necessary that the Breton Language disappear

“There is no place for regional languages and cultures in a France that must make its mark upon Europe”

“A rule that I would never bend: not a word of Breton, neither in class nor at recess”

“Keep in mind, gentlemen, that you have only been put in place in order to kill the Breton Language”

 

I will spare you the rest of them.

It may or may not be “your” culture, but if you can play “doctor” to someone else’s culture or language, it will give you an extraordinary warm feeling of satisfaction knowing that you are, in this critical moment in time, taking the side of those who have been unfairly treated.

 

  1. Despite the fact that the Republic of France declares French the sole official language of the country, the opportunities to use Breton will grow despite of, or perhaps because, of this policy.

 

And while history can’t be undone, I think that people everywhere are more open to the idea of reviving and nourishing cultures that have been suppressed. And even within France, there are a lot of initiatives, from bottom to top, encouraging the usage of Breton and furthering its publicity.

Even if you are a not a native speaker, you can help! Let people know about the Breton Language, its music, its poetry, and the cultural aspects that may not seem as foreign to the ordinary American / Frenchman / Brit / (anyone else) as he or she may imagine.

The curiosity you spark in other people may very well start their journeys, and it is likely that you may have a deeper impact on creating cultural awareness than you realize!

Last year, one of Denez Prigent’s songs was featured on an episode of South Park (I found out this out at a Jewish youth event in Brooklyn, of all places…), and that by itself caused a lot of people to become curious. You may not be an extraordinary pop culture icon (yet), but you can still do something!

There will come a day in which Breton will come to Google Translate (as it already has come to Minecraft and to Mozilla Firefox, in complete translations, no less!). There may even come more impressive and unforeseen victories still.

Wouldn’t you like to be a part of that, and proudly say to your friends and family members that you helped make it happen?

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Your boat, ready to take off for an exciting journey into Breton / Brezhoneg, that will forever change you. Note: this is Sweden, not Brittany. Sorry about that!

 

What Yiddish, Tok Pisin, Irish, and Not a Few Other Languages Have in Common

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In two days, this blog will celebrate its first birthday, and I recognize that for a handful of reasons I have not been updating this enterprise particularly well, although my own language adventures have been energized even more vigorously.

Throughout those adventures, I have noticed that there is a significant break between the languages that UNESCO notes as “Endangered” and those that it does not (and those listed as “Vulnerable” are on the borderline).

For those of you wishing to see the Atlas: http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/index.php

It is not about the number of speakers. Yiddish has more native speakers than Icelandic does, if you take into account all Yiddish dialects (UNESCO’s atlas as well as its Red Book notes individual dialects—suffice it to say that the boundary between dialects and languages deserves another post). Faroese has more native speakers than Irish or Breton does, yet Faroese is only “Vunerable” whereas Irish is “definitely endangered” and Breton “severely endangered”.

And before you ask, what the languages have in common in the title is NOT that they are endangered: Tok Pisin actually is not (for those curious, it has over 1 million native speakers , 4 million fluent speakers at least, as well as government support).

I detect two factors between all endangered languages:

  • The fact that every single one of them has had their usage suppressed by a government. One significant horror story is that of Breton, which in 100 years went from the sole language of Brittany to being spoken by 10% of the population of the region natively…the quickest decline of a usage of any language that did not involve genocide.

The Celtic Languages in the United Kingdom, largely the poster children for Endangered languages in the Anglophone world (next to Yiddish), have similarly had their usage restricted or punished. Even now, there are some British politicians that deem the study and speaking of Celtic Languages as something tribalistic or even pagan.

To go outside Europe (but not far away from it), the story of Yiddish in Israel is well-known, deemed the language of the ghetto in the early days of the state to receiving state support in contemporary times. Israel was far from the only state suppressing the usage of Yiddish—the communist nations sought to integrate their populations into a single standard, and sometimes this vision involved “no minority languages” (although obviously this was notoriously inconsistently followed).

  • Now I get to answer the question at the beginning of the article: a lot of endangered languages (of which Tok Pisin is not, although it has this feature anyway) feature usage of components from various nations that have had an occupying presence or the like. In Irish, there is even a word for Irish that is influenced heavily by English: “Béarlachas” (the word for English is “Béarla”).

Yiddish-speakers in a place like Boro Park will notice that there is also an excess of English words that is found in many Ultra-Orthodox communities, words like “blueberries” and “challenges” are taken direction without any changes in this jargon, although you would be hard-pressed to find the equivalent in anything as assigned reading in your Yiddish-class (such as from the Forvertz).

In Tok Pisin as well, there is a split component. English is a composite language (between Norman, Saxon, Norse, Celtic and Colonial influences) as is Yiddish (between Germanic, Slavic, Latinate, other local languages and the Holy Tongue), and Tok Pisin is as well. Like Irish and Yiddish, there are words used to indicate a version of the language with overt European influence. Except for in the case of Tok Pisin, using too many European loanwords can be construed as unbelievably offensive. Not surprisingly, this variety of the language is called “Tok Masta”, which exists primarily in written text and, when it was spoken, was used primarily by condescending colonists in days of yore.

Not all languages that have this feature are endangered, but every endangered language that I have looked at does have a “purist” version as well as a version (or set thereof) that pays a significant amount of homage to the former rulers. The among of Norwegian words in a Northern Sami dictionary, for example, comes as a surprise to those not expecting the two to be related in any way. But when you consider history, it is not a surprise.

I am not someone to believe that languages influence too deeply the way we think about things (more on that in another post, perhaps). However, I am one to believe that learning languages is an excellent way to learn history and the relations between cultures. I was telling my mother, one day, a history of Celtic languages, and she paused my conversation and said, “are you saying that the history of every language is affected by who invaded where?”

It isn’t difficult to disagree or to say why. But yes.

My Translation Adventure with Northern Sami ‘n Friends

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A week from tomorrow is my birthday. In looking for potential gifts and wish-list constructions, one click led to another and I found myself discovering something about Minecraft (a well-known video game with quite simplistic but cute graphics that I can’t really grasp the point of) being translated into many languages.

Since my travels have hardened my discipline, I’m usually not one for game-playing, but I was so intrigued that I had to take a look.

Turned out, the list of languages included the standard ones that most Americans can name off the top of their head, but then spun into complete unpredictability with Manx Gaelic and Cornish being featured (!!!!)

Both languages, for those unaware, had passed into extinction and have been revived. In the UN’s Atlas of Endangered Languages, these two are noted with the red pin (indicating “critically endangered”) with a letter “R” on it, indicating that it had been brought, pardon my expression, back from the bring.

It is interesting to note that the game is likely being used to further the revival attempts at both languages, even though neither translation is truly complete (Cornish is at 65% or so as of the time of writing, with Manx slightly over 70%).

Now here’s the most interesting part: Minecraft outsourced its translations to the public. What that means: you can create an account on CrowdIn, and start translating to whatever degree you want to, no matter who you are. Of course, those who know the language better will vote on your translations accordingly, acting as quality control.

Taking a look at its offerings, I noted that there was a Northern Sami translation and that it was not making signs of great progress (as of last week it was about 1%).

Keeping in mind the adage from the language encourager community that languages need to be experienced rather than learned, I snatched the chance, created the account, and then began translating.

My only experiences with the game dealt with watching some of my college friends play it (and try to hopelessly explain the game to me), but luckily this was no barrier in me getting to work.

A few days later, and the progress for the translation is now at around 14% or so, and when I’m in more of a working mood I’m likely to continue it.

Some of my thoughts / frustrations:

  1. There are lots of languages recognized by CrowdIn, possibly the longest list I’ve seen on anywhere that isn’t Reddit. Very interestingly, while they had offerings like Ewe and other languages whose name I only recall seeing once, Greenlandic / Kalaallisut was nowhere on the list.

 

Mixed blessing?

 

  1. A Material Notebook proved helpful. I had grammar tables and the like in my notebook that was right by my side. I had also copied the contents of a screenshot from Wikipedia that showed Kubuntu being translated into Northern Sami, and I had never thought that I would ever to put it to use like this when I first wrote it.

 

As it turns out, I consult multiple dictionaries for the translation, Giella Tekno (which is Norwegian/Finnish to Northern Sami and back to both), as well as two English-Northern Sami Dictionary lists, and another Norwegian/Swedish /Sami Languages dictionary. But clicking between the tabs proved difficult and really wore out my hand, after which I needed to take a walk.

 

  1. There was an original stage of self-consciousness, but I quickly got over it. I thought, “what if a Native speaker comes in and demolishes all of my translations?”, then I figured, “well, you know what, Jared? If you don’t get this done, who on earth is going to do it? Are you going to put your skills to use or are you just going to close the window and forget than anything ever happened?. Jared. Samiland needs you. You might not know it perfectly, but good enough is okay. And you can trust that others will modify your work accordingly…”

 

Further adding to the degree of self-consciousness was the fact that the language, as small as it is, is fractured (for those who don’t know, there are about 15,000 native speakers of this language at least, and definitely many others who learn it as a second language).

 

The word for “I” can be spelled either “mon” or “mun”, and I opted for the first one. Now among the books and websites that I was using, some of them did end up using alternate spellings and I might have not been perfectly consistent. But yet again, Minecraft does note that the “translations may not be 100% correct”.

 

Speaking of which, Facebook is also working on its Northern Sami Translation and it is showing almost no signs of activity, last I checked (which was last week or so).

 

  1. “My dictionaries aren’t showing up any word for X. Should I use the English word instead?”

 

  1. “My dictionaries offer multiple words, one that is more purist Sami and the other that is very clearly ‘Dárogiella’ (the “land language” which is either Norwegian or Swedish, depending on where in Samiland you are). Which one do I use?”

 

I am reminded of the same struggles in some other languages, specifically in Hebrew and in Greenlandic, where there are purist words and European loanwords (all over Europe in Hebrew’s case, Danish in the case of Greenlandic). Yiddish also comes to mind, with its blend of Germanic, Slavic and “Loshn-Koydesh” elements, all of which carry different connotations to a trained ear.

 

The situations are very comparable between the lot of them.

 

  1. “This language has lots of words for reindeer and lots of words for snow, but for some odd reason I can’t find any equivalent for word X (usually something related to technology)…odd…”

 

  1. CrowdIn gathers a list of your “preferred languages” as a result of your profile registration. This proved to be very useful, as I could reference the Finnish and Estonian translations, as well as those in the Scandinavian and West Germanic Languages (among many others) and note what routes I could take. (I usually checked my results with Google Search or Giella Tekno…you’d be surprised how much material there is online even for the smallest of languages…)

 

  1. Despite the fact that it was working, it didn’t really feel like work. I kept in mind Robert Benchley’s adage that “anyone can do any amount of work, as long as it is the work he’s not supposed to be doing at the moment” (note to world: I did not miss any assignments on account of this project).

 

  1. This exercise dramatically improved my vocabulary in all of the “preferred languages”, especially in Norwegian, Finnish and, of course, Northern Sami itself. A speaking exercise afterwards noted that I almost never was grasping for words or pausing as a result of this immersion.

 

I help translate things, and my languages get better…

 

And who knows? Maybe I’ll end up playing the game one day…

 

What a deal!

Viva Rumantsch!

I would like to congratulate Julian Tsapir again for solving my SECOND riddle so quickly. I took forward to the day in which he represents his country/hometown/family in puzzle and riddle competitions.
Anyhow, the clues for said riddle:

“• This language is the official language of a country, but not the only language with this status.
• This language is also an official language of a part of said country
• This language is endangered
• Judging from the FSI’s standards, this would be very easy for an English speaker to learn (although I do have problems using “hard” and “easy” to describe language projects or languages in general).
• The language is very closely related to some of the most popularly studied languages.
• The language’s name sounds very close to an adjective used to describe its classification.
• On paper, the most common language in the area where it is spoken is one that is on my list already (it is one that I know well)”

The language in question is Romansh, the fourth official language of Switzerland.
If you have read anything about it, you may know that it is often said that it is the “closest living language to ancient Latin”. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that statement quite yet (I think that I may need to dabble in some Italian dialects first…I don’t intend to do that for a while yet…)

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But perhaps you are asking “why?”

1. I realized that I had trouble maintaining some of my Romance Languages, especially with less-than-helpful progress in both French and Italian. European Portuguese is definitely my favorite of the commonly spoken Romance Languages, but I realized by the sheer amount of hours that I poured into Greenlandic that I had a burning passion for understudied languages (again, much of the reason that I started this blog).

While studying Northern Sami, I realized that my command of Finnish became stronger when I was using the dictionaries on Giella Tekno. Before I took polyglottery very seriously, I knew that my mind tended to work in highly associative patterns.

New York is probably the one place on earth where I really shouldn’t forget many of the importantly spoken Romance Languages, and I have trouble motivating myself to fall in love with something that is already receiving a lot of attention.

Therefore, I have my underdog language that is closely related to Italian and to French, and by giving him/her/it appropriate care, I hope that I can not only learn more about Romansh revival efforts and Swiss culture but also ensure that I can maintain some semblance of conversation in the Romance Languages which, admittedly, I did not fawn over the way I did many of my others (especially the Scandinavian trifecta and Greenlandic).

2. I’ve already studied lots of endangered languages: Yiddish was my first, Faroese is going by well, and I will be conversational as soon as I start learning to build sentences together, Northern Sami has slipped by the wayside in the past few days, but I did spend lots of time on it in the past year (after April/May or so) and now, Romansh. Greenlandic is listed as “vulnerable” by UNESCO, so it is somewhat in the league of these languages, but not quite…

I intend to look at how the various revival efforts for each of the languages can be seen in the light of one another. Furthermore, I am curious if there are some traits in Endangered Languages that are usually not seen in ones that are more secure.

Interestingly: in both Northern Sami and in Yiddish there are words denoting outsiders or outsider women in particular: “goy” and “shikse” may be familiar to those of you who may know only very little about Jewish culture, but “rivgu” (a non-Sami woman) and “dáža” (a non-Sami Norwegian) are words that outsiders of Sami culture may not be aware of.

Also: many people are amused by the fact that the word for the Danish Language in Greenlandic is “qallunaatut” – very roughly, “the language of white people”.

Anyhow, next up: a progress report on my language studies and goals before my school begins next week!