Sláinte – better late than never!

Yesterday was St Patrick’s Day.  As I said the other day, this is a good month for Celtic patron saints, with Ireland being the third Celtic nation in as many weeks to celebrate its saint’s day. I was busy for most of the day so I didn’t get very much opportunity to mark the occasion, although I did listen to a bit of Irish music in the evening (including some wonderful traditional piping by Finbar Furey and an album by the Bumblebees, a lovely bunch of ladies with whom I once had the pleasure of playing at a jam following a gig they did over in Caernarfon several years ago).

Today I have been continuing the same audio theme by listening to more of my reasonably extensive collection of Irish music.  This is mostly folk music based, but it ranges from quite traditional stuff (such as solo fiddling by Paddy Canny and some truly beautiful singing (mostly in Gaelic) by Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola) to somewhat more modern interpretations (for instance, the Mary Custy band, which has drums and everything!).  The classical music world is represented by a set of four Irish dances by Malcolm Arnold, which are based on folk dances (he also did sets of English, Scottish, Welsh and Cornish dances, though sadly I forgot to listen to the latter the other week).  In the true Irish spirit of not taking oneself too seriously, I also slipped Tom Lehrer’s Irish Ballad (an exploration of all the cliches of the genre which has to be the most hilarious murder ballad of all time) in there.

Probably one of the most esoteric bands in my collection of music with Irish connections is the Russian band Белфаст (that’s “Belfast”, for those of you who don’t read the Cyrillic script). I first discovered this band on last.fm about 18 months ago, where they had (and still have, at the time of writing) several tracks available as free downloads.  The genre of their music is described as “rockapaddy”, a term I’ve never encountered elsewhere that apparently means an Irish-oriented mix of Oi, punk and rock.  I’ve no idea what Oi is supposed to be but I can certainly detect punk and rock influences in there.  Some of their stuff is quite Irish flavoured, although some of it sounds more country & western to me.  In any case, it’s quite fun to listen to.

This evening I hope to be going to another meeting with the Bangor polyglots.  At least one member of the group speaks fluent Irish (while I have a very limited command of the language), so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one of the languages spoken about (or, indeed, spoken) tonight.  I may also depart from my usual choice of Wychwood or Jennings beers and have a pint of Guinness or Magners, or some other beverage from the Emerald Isle, depending on what is available.

In case you were wondering about the patron saints of the other Celtic nations (apart from Wales, Cornwall and Ireland, whose saints have featured recently in this blog), Brittany has St Anne (traditionally recognised as the mother of Mary and hence grandmother of Jesus), who is celebrated in July, and Scotland has St Andrew, whose feast is on 30th November.  I was unable to discover from Wikipedia (the font of much, but not quite all, knowledge) anything about the patron saint of the Isle of Man.

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Malwod noeth

Last night I went for my second meeting of the Bangor Polyglots (their third meeting overall).

When I first arrived, shortly after my brass band practice had finished, the only people already there were the three from last week; I don’t know if anyone else had been and gone before I got there.  I was able to greet both Rhian and Sam in Icelandic, as I’ve been working through a free online course that Sam pointed me to last week.  However, I haven’t yet got as far as learning the plural forms of the greetings, so I had to greet them individually.

Fairly shortly after I arrived we were joined by Edith, who is from Germany and teaches German through the medium of Welsh at Bangor University.  She speaks several other languages in addition to German, Welsh and English, including Finnish, Icelandic and French, and she’s planning soon to add Greek to the list.  As well as the modern languages, she has a good knowledge of Old Norse and Middle Welsh (and, I suspect, probably a few other archaic languages too).  She’s from the southern part of Germany and speaks the local Swabian dialect in addition to standard HIgh German (in fact, I think she was only half joking – if at all – when she said that German was her first foreign language).

A bit later we were joined by Jochen, who is also German, works at the university (in the music department) and speaks several languages to a high standard.  I have met Jochen several times on the local music scene, although we have never previously spoken to each other at great length.  He brought with him a girl from Paris who is over here to do a gig with him (she’s a singer).  Unfortunately I didn’t catch her name, or at least didn’t manage to make it stick in my memory, and since we were at opposite ends of the table I didn’t get much chance to speak to her.

Once everyone was there, we got a truly multilingual conversation going, with usually at least two threads running concurrently and languages being mixed freely.  French and German seemed to dominate, with a fairly healthy amount of Welsh and relatively little English.  Bits of other languages were used or spoken about, with a particular emphasis on Finnish in the discussion at my end of the table (and I also threw in a bit of Hungarian – which is similarly structured to Finnish but somewhat more familiar to me, although my knowledge of it is still extremely rudimentary – for comparison).

Last week, I learned that the Cornish word for snail is bulhorn, which has immediately become my favourite word for snail that I’ve so far discovered in any language and will probably retain that position for quite some time.  It is quite different from the Welsh word, malwoden, and while I don’t know the etymology of either word it seems obvious (and may well indeed be true) that they come from totally different roots.  This week there was some further discussion about snails and I learned (or possibly relearned, as it’s likely to be a word I once knew and had forgotten) that the German for snail is die Schnecke.  Even better, the German for slug is Nacktschnecke, which literally means “naked snail”.  I still loathe slugs, and resent the devastation they regularly wreak on my attempts to grow pretty much anything in my garden, but I think that’s a cool name for them.

I’m looking forward to many more meetings with the Bangor Polyglots.  The only trouble is that there are so many languages to learn and so little time to do it.

Hello, bonsoir & croeso

I recently joined a new group on Facebook called Bangor Polyglots.  As the name suggests, this is for people based in the Bangor area (that’s the one in North West Wales rather than any of the many others around the world) who speak several languages and have a strong interest in language in general.   As you might also guess from the fact that the name specifies a geographical location, this is intended to be a group that has face-to-face meetings rather than just existing in cyberspace.
The group only began to meet a fortnight ago and, at the moment, they meet on Monday evenings at one of the pubs in Bangor (the Ship Launch, down near the pier).  This is unfortunate for me, since on Monday evenings I have rehearsals with the Menai Bridge Band.  However, I discovered after the first meeting that they go on fairly late (until around 11pm), which gives me a chance to get across after the band practice (which finishes at 9).  Since the weather was fine (albeit cold) last night and I wasn’t feeling too tired, I cycled across to meet the others for the first time last night.

As it happens, there were only 3 other people there (though apparently there had also been one other person there earlier), one of whom I already know, so it wasn’t too daunting to join in the meeting.

One of those present was Simon, the organiser of the group (and the one I already knew).  He is also the creator and maintainer of the Omniglot website – an online encylopedia of languages and writing systems.  I first came across this fascinating website some time before Simon moved to Bangor so I was delighted when I met him a few years back and discovered that he was the man behind it.  He speaks several languages to a high standard and has a particular interest in the Celtic languages.   He’s also learning Russian, which I studied for a while (as a subsidiary subject) at university (far too many years ago).

The other two people there are, I gather, both students.  I think Rhian is studying linguistics and Sam is studying German (with a bit of Dutch on the side).  They both speak Welsh and Cornish, as well as several other languages.

Last night’s general conversation was mostly in a fairly free mix of Welsh and English.  I also had a bit of a chat with Simon in French and Russian and we all threw bits of quite a few other languages into the mix too, so it definitely qualified as a meeting of polyglots.  One of the notable topics of conversation was the notion of cellar doors, as propounded (though apparently not originated) by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Both Rhian and I were delighted to find somebody else (i.e. each other) who was familiar with this concept and we had great fun explaining it to the others and then all coming up with our own cellar doors in various languages (if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you may want to check out the link in the previous sentence to Simon’s blog, where he has written about cellar doors today).  We also spent some time discussing compound words in German (and trying to make up some of our own, then translate them into Welsh), the Welsh translation of “passion fruit” (which none of us knew – I looked it up later and apparently it’s granadila, which is very similar to the French grenadille) and the current state of the various different proposals for a standard dialect of modern Cornish (a scene which appears to be even more fragmented than when I last seriously looked at it several years ago, when there were three main claimants for the title).

I did manage to get an answer for a question that’s been bugging me (slightly) for a couple of weeks.  A friend and I were discussing corgis (the small Welsh dogs beloved of Queen Elizabeth) and we couldn’t remember the meaning of the word.  It is a Welsh compound word, breaking down to cor + gi (< ci = dog) but we couldn’t remember what cor meant.  We did flippantly speculate that it could be côr = choir, which would make corgis dogs that sing in choirs.  🙂 However, it turns out (as Rhian reminded me last night) that cor is a synonym or abbreviation (I’m not sure which) of corrach = dwarf, so a corgi is actually a dwarf dog (not a bad description, really).

All told, I had a very pleasant evening with my fellow polyglots.  I’ll probably try and get across for the meetings (or at least the last part of them) whenever possible (which will probably be based on what the weather’s like and whether I’m feeling sufficiently energetic to cycle there and back).  I hope that this will help me to polish my French and Russian (and Welsh, for that matter) and perhaps learn a bit more Cornish and a few odds and ends of other languages.