domenica 25 ottobre 2009

German for beginners...

It is quite easy to learn German! Someone who knows the Latin declensions will feel confident enough in learning German. This is, at least, what German language teachers claim during the first lesson...

But how to learn German by yourself? It’s easy... The first step is, of course, to buy a German language course, like the excellent edition, published in Dortmund, which tells us about customs of Hottentots’ tribe (die Hottentotten). The textbook also explains that the opossums (die Beutelratten) are chased and kept in closed wicker baskets (die Lattengitter). This kind of cages is called in German Lattengitterkoffer; and if it contains an opossum it is called Beutelrattenlattengitterkoffer.

One day, some Hottentots capture a murder (der Attentäter) 
who is thought to be a killer of one of the mothers (die Mütter) from the Hottentot tribe (die Hottentottenmutter), 
mother of a stupid and stuttering person (der Stottertrottel). 
This type of mother, in German, is called Hottentottenstottertrottelmutter, 
and her killer Hottentottenstottertrottelmutterattentäter...

Well, you should know that when Hottentots capture a criminal or an enemy, they put him in the opossum cage (der Beutelrattenlattengitterkoffer). 
But, unexpectedly, the murder who was recently caught escapes: so the searching starts! 
After a while one of the Hottentot warriors runs up to the leader and says:
"I caught the murder! (der Attentäter)",

"Yes? Which one?" - the leader asks.

"the Beutelrattenlattengitterkofferattentäter" replied the warrior.

"What? The murder who was kept in the cage for opossum, made of wickerplaited material?" asks the boss.
"Sure, the Hottentottenstottertrottelmutterattentäter (i.e. the murder of the mother of the stupid and stuttering Hottentot)", replies the warrior.

"Ah, yes..." says the Hottentot leader, "you should say it at the beginning that you caught the Hottentottenstottertrottelmutterbeutelrattenlattengitterkofferattentäter!"...

MORAL of the story:
Always beware of a German-speaking Hottentot who wants to offer you an opossum.

mercoledì 23 settembre 2009

Etymology of apple and coffe...

Nothing is better than etymology, the science of the origin of words, to memorize foreign words. I like sometimes to enjoy a cup of coffe with an apple strudel... So, lets start our journey into History and linguistic curiosities with a couple of words: apple, and coffee...

-- Apple --
English: Apple / German: Apfel / Russian: Яблоко, pron. yabloko
from Indo-European root: *
abol. It is a very old northern European’s word which is also concealed in city names such as Avella (in ancient times Abella, i.e. ‘city of the apples’), small city of Avellino’s province in Italy, and Avallon in France.
It is only from the 17th Century, that the term ‘apple’ was associated with the prohibited tree’s fruit in the Genesis.

Italian: Mela / Romanian: Măr
comes from Latin malum that takes origin from ancient Greek mêlon. An old generic Mediterranean term used to indicate also other seed fruits, like peer, quince, and so on.

: Pomme / Catalan: Poma
It comes from Latin root pomum which means ‘fruit’. Is maybe associated with the Sanskrit word phala,
‘fruit, apple’.

Spanish: Manzana / Portuguese: Maçã
It comes from popular Latin : mattiana, abbreviation of “mala mattiana”, in literary terms ‘apple of Mattius’, from the agronomist’s name who spread this kind of apple.

In other languages with non alphabetic writings, ‘apple’ is written in this way...

Chinese: in traditional Chinese, apple is written: 蘋果 (pron. píng guǒ); in simplified Chinese: 苹果. The second character 果 of the word means ‘fruit’ and is made with the pictograms 田 and 木 together symbolizing a fruit on a tree.

Japanese: Japanese people use two different writings in concomitance with the Chinese characters called ‘kanji’: the sillabic katakana and hiragana characters are used to write words in a ‘phonetic’ way.
Apple in kanji’s writing is as follows: 林檎 (pron. ringo ), in katakana: リンゴ, and in hiragana: りんご.

-- Coffee --
The word coffee, one of the symbols par excellence of the Italian ‘dolce vita’, comes from Arabian
qaHwat (al-bûnn), i.e. ‘wine (of the bean)’, in Arabic قهوة.
Originally it identified a stimulating drink produced by a juice extract from some seeds that was drank as a dark red liquid.
Thanks to the Venitian ambassador in Constantinople, Gianfrancesco Morosini, in 1585, we get the first report of coffee’ consumption: "Turkish people here stay sit on the floor and spend their time drinking together, in shops as well in the street, a black and hot water obtained from a seed called cavèe, which has the virtue to maintain people awake".
So, the word passed from Turkish (
kahvé), to Venetian (cavèe) and, from Venetian to today’s Italian (caffè) and finally to English (coffee).

English: Coffee (drink). Coffee bar or café (public place).

French, Catalan, Spanish, and Portuguese: Café (drink and public place).
In French slang, however, we pronounce 'caoua', like in Arabian!
The word indicates also a public place where the coffee itself is drank.

German: Kaffee (drink). Gastwirtschaft or Café (public place).

Russian: Кофе kòfye (drink). Кафе kàfye (public place).
A Russian saying: “The coffee, to be good, must be black like the night, sweet like love and hot like hell”.

In other languages with non alphabetic writings, ‘coffee’ is written in this way...

Chinese: 咖啡, pron. kā fēi. As coffee doesn’t belong to Chinese culture, the word ‘coffee’ is adapted from Italian, and is written with phonetic symbols used precisely to write foreign words.

Japanese: katakana: コーヒー, hiragana: こうひい, pron. kuhii.

lunedì 7 settembre 2009

Single Letter Words

Interesting single letter words to be found among the world's languages are the following:
"á" is Icelandic for river.
"å" (an a with a circle on top) is Swedish for river, stream.
"ø" or "ö" (an o with two dots on top) is Swedish for
"A", short from 'Aa', means big brother in Sudanese (West Java, Indonesia). To be used preceding a name, e.g. A Rudi - big brother Rudi.
"e" is Japanese for picture, bait or handle.
"e" (pron. uh) in Chinese means hungry.
"i" in Japanese can be stomach or well (the kind you draw water from).
"o" (long o) means large, big in Japanese.
"u" is Japanese for cormorant.
"u" (Burmese), a male over forty-five (literally uncle).
"i" (Latin) means ‘go!’.
"i" (Korean), a tooth.
"m" (Yakut, Siberia), a bear; or an ancestral spirit.
"Zi", short from "Zio", means uncle and informal an unrelated older acquaintance in Neapolitan dialect. It is used preceding a name, e.g. Zi' A' - Uncle Angel, Old Angel.

A famous Swedish tongue twister involving single letter words is the following:
"I åa ä e ö å i öa ä e å". (I ån är en ö och i ön är en å)
In the stream there is an island and in the island there is a stream.

And here is another interesting tongue twister in Bergamasco (Italian dialect):
"A o a ae, e öe i ae ie!".
I go and catch bees and I want them alive!

Two friends bet who would be able to write the shortest letter in Latin. Thus, the first man wrote: "Eo rus" -- ‘I am going to the countryside’. His friend responded with just a vowel: "I!" which means ‘Go!’... and had won the bet!

But, indubitably, the shortest written exchange ever was that between the French writer Victor Hugo and his publisher, following the publication of ‘Les Misérables’, with Hugo enquiring with a simple "?" about the book's success, and his publisher responding: "!".

martedì 1 settembre 2009

Archetypal Common Personal Names

John Smith” is a name often regarded as the archetype of a common personal name in most English-speaking countries, a generic name sometimes representing ‘everyman’ or ‘the average person’. Whereas “John Doe” is widely used in the United States as a recurrent pseudonym or a placeholder name for a male party in a legal action, case or discussion whose true identity is unknown (or must be withheld for legal reasons).
Below is a list of other typical placeholder names from around the world (interesting to note that the Arabic "
Fulan" gets used in a lot of Hispanic countries):
Italy: Pinco Pallino; Tizio, Caio e Sempronio.
Germany: Lieschen Müller; Otto Normalverbraucher; Hinz & Kunz.
Spain: Fulano; Mengano; Zutano.
France: Monsieur Durand; Monsieur Untel; Jean Dupont; Pierre-Paul-ou-Jacques.
Belgium: Duschmol; Jos Joskens.
Netherland: Jan Jansen; Jan Modaal.
China: 无名氏 (
Wúmíng Shì, literally 'Mr./Ms. No Name'); 某某 (Mǒu Mǒu, literally "so-and-so").
Japan: 名無しの権兵衛 (
Nanashi-no-Gombei, literally 'Nameless member of the imperial guard').
Israel: פלוני (Ploni); אלמוני (Almoni).
Arabic countries: فلان (Fulan); علان (Ellan); مجهول (Majhoul).
Russia: Иванов Иван Иванович (Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich).

mercoledì 12 agosto 2009

False Friends

False friends (or faux amis) are pairs of words in two different languages that seem or sound similar, but differ in meaning.
For instance,
actual, which in English is usually a synonym of "real", has a different meaning in other European languages, in which it signifies "current" or "up-to-date" (aktuell in German, actuel in French, actual in Spanish, and attuale in Italian) and has the logical derivative as a verb aktualisieren (German), actualiser (French) meaning "to make current" or "to update". "Actualise" in English ("Actualize" in N.A. English) means "to realize in action, to make real, or to become actual".
Other examples:
‘Maschine’ in German means: airplane, whereas ‘macchina’ in Italian means: car.
‘Burro’ in Spanish means: donkey, whereas ‘burro’ in Italian means: butter.
Salir means to go out in Spanish, but to go up, or climb in Italian, and to soil, to make dirty in French.
in Spanish means: long, whereas ‘largo’ in Italian means: wide.

Puzzling false friend:
‘Biograf’ in Danish means: cinema.
‘Transparent’ in Slovenian means: sign, slogan.

domenica 12 luglio 2009

History of Words (1)

A bit of Etymology

CHANCE, /'chan(t)s/ n. from Old French chaance / cheance, from Vulgar Latin *cadentia (from Latin cadens, cadent-, present participle of 'cadere', to fall, befall); cf. Indo-European root *kad-.
English words sharing the same Latin root cad-/cas-/cid-: cadence, cascade (both from Italian); case, casual, occasion, cadaverous,
accident, recidivist; decay, escheat, chute (from Old French).

sabato 9 maggio 2009

Unusual Italian words

SOQQUADRO (terrible mess) is the only Italian word with a double Q.

(to decenter), SCERVELLARSI (to puzzle over) and SCIABATTARE (to flip flop along) are the only Italian words beginning with the digraph 'SC' to be pronounced "S-TSH". Usually, 'SC' is pronounced as "SH" in "shoot" when it precedes an "i" or "e". Example:
sciare (shee-AH-reh) [ʃiˈare], "to ski".

(as fast as you can) in some dictionaries is the longest Italian word.

(manufacture it there for me) has its stress on the first syllable, which is followed by five unstressed syllables.

Puzzle: which Italian word has six I's and no other vowels? (hint: prime numbers have this quality). Click on "post a comment" below to post your answer.