When I was in Denmark years ago, I found out the -sen name ending is more prestigious than the -son ending. In fact, one of my relative who does business in Norway added his maternal surname to his business card along with his father’s -son name because it ended in -sen. Also, he wanted to distance himself from the Swedes.

Now it seems even the Swedes want to distance themselves from traditional Swedish names. For the last century, Swedes have been getting rid of names that end in -son, which comes from the old Nordic practice of using the father’s name plus -son or -datter. Under the old laws, only those with names ending in -son could change their names, but now anyone can do it with approval from the patent office.

In recent decades, successive waves of immigrants have been coming to Sweden, and many avail themselves of the laws and take Swedish-sounding names to hasten their integration.

Mr. Ekengren [director of the Patent and Registration Office] recalled a case a few years ago in which an immigrant family requested permission to be called Mohammedsson.

“Permission was granted,” he said.

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Etymology button

One reason to have a blog is to have fast access to links on your home page.

I seem to be spending a lot of mouse clicks accessing the Online Etymology Dictionary (which I have had on my back page for a long time), so I hereby give some front page real estate for the etymological dictionary to have its own button.

Writing a post about it also gives me the excuse to use the blog editor to set up the links for the widget.

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Whenever I have more than six open windows on one subject, I like to start a post to keep track of the links. Sometimes I hit the publish button and sometimes I don’t.

These links on the Caló or Zincali or Cali language of the gypsies of Spain were acquired as a distraction from looking up Catalan. An as-yet-unexplored list of specialty dictionaries of Catalan, Spanish dialects, ancient and modern Romance languages, and esoteric specialty dictionaries like the Dictionnaires de mots croisés is here. I would add to that an online verb conjugator that includes Catalan.


Short Glossary: Caló. Idioma gitano. Lengua gitana (Romaní)

La lengua gitana (el Romaní) manifestación máxima de la cultura del pueblo, es una de las lenguas más antiguas del mundo. Tiene raíces sánscritas, y fueron los lingüistas de finales del siglo XVIII, Grelíman, Rúdiger, etc, los que pusieron las bases que apoyaban la afinidad entre el dialecto hablado por los gitanos y la lengua madre de la India….
De esta lengua surgieron otras…

De esta lengua Romaní, que actualmente hablan todos los gitanos del mundo, surgieron distintos dialectos Sinto, Kalderash, Lavará, Manúsh, Caló… y otros según los países en los cuales se iban asentando.

En España se habla el Caló, conserva un léxico básico de la lengua pero adoptando la estructura gramatical castellano….

[The gypsy tongue Romani is descended from Sanskrit in northern India. From this Romaní language are descended others from the various countries where the gypsies migrated: the separate dialects of Sinto, Kalderash, Lavará, Manúsh, Caló…. In Spain they speak Caló, which conserves their basic lexicon but adopts the Spanish grammatical structure. -Nijma]

Spanish-Gitano Glossary in PDF form VOCABULARIO CALÓ (gitano)- ESPAÑOL

Spanish Caló glossary with 1737 words Diccionario Romanó-Kaló creado por ROBER HEREDIA JIMENEZ (Lorca aficionados will notice the entries for Arañí,rañí-señora; Arañó,rañó-señor)

Dictionary of the Spanish Romani language from The Zincali – An Account of the Gypsies of Spain (google books full text), by George Borrow, a nineteenth century author

Diccionario Castellano-Caló; Vocabulario gitano. Calé (in HTML, with PDF and downloadable options) (notice here araña is rendered as arica “bee” !!!1!)

VOCABULARIO CALÓ ( A-G) (H-Z seems to be defunct, no wait, here it is. Both of these pages refused to load for me, yet when I returned and reopened them, there they were.)

Predecessors to George Barrow’s 1937 vocabularies that accompany the translation of Evangelio de San Lucas al caló and his pioneering book The Zincali (1841):

Vocabulario del Dialecto Jitano, Augusto Jimenez, Seville, 1846.
Vocabulario del dialecto gitano, Enrique Trujillo, 1844, (the first dictionary of the caló)

Universidades de Andalucía VOCABULARIO CALÓ (gitano)- ESPAÑOL (arañi here is translated as preñada–pregnant)
(my Oxford Spanish dictionary mentions the Chilean family usage of araña–[chandelier; zool. spider]–“to be a flirt”)

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“We all smile in the same language,” was the declaration at the bottom of the personalized notepad of the ESL director where I got my first teaching job. It worked for her, but for me it would be a bit too saccharine.

Today during class, in the midst of sniffles and “bless you”‘s, it occurred to me that we all sneeze in the same language. But what we say afterwards suddenly became obsessively interesting to me. The Hispanic students say “salud”, or health. The students from Haiti say “Dieu te benisse”, pronounced something like deeu tay beNEESS, and meaning “God bless you”. They gave the French automatically, but were quite pleased when I asked for the Creole, which is “Bondye beniw” or bless you, pronounced something like bonDIAY buNEW. And in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia,

pronounced something like maasNETtess, and also meaning bless you.

Creole blues

From time to time I have had Creole speaking students in my class–and it has always been the fastest language group to drop out of my classes–but this year, since the earthquake in Haiti, there have been quite a few more. My Spanish is good enough for the Hispanic teachers to call me “compadre” and for non-bilingual administrators to freak out about my use of Spanish in the classroom, but trying to teach the Haitian students is a challenge.

For example, past tense.


I was

you were

he, she, it was


we were

you were

they were


j’etais [JZEH tay]

tu etais [TWETtay]

il, elle etait [il ETtay, el ETtay]


nous etions [news estseeYON]

vous etiez [vou zet stieeh]

ils, elles etaient [il ZETtay, el ZETtay]


Mwente [mwen TAY]

ou te [oo tay]

you te [you tay]


nou te [noo tay]

yo te [yo tay]

you tout te [yo too tay]

Notice the French nous with the silent “s” becomes nou in Creole.

So far so good, but the problem is that the Haitian students speak Creole, but they read French. Sort of. As far as I can tell, their dictionary skills aren’t good either, so there goes comprehension. And there’s no point in trying to look for a Creole dictionary, because they can’t read Creole, since it wasn’t taught in Haiti until around the 1980’s.

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Amharic resources

If you just want to poke around Amharic a little bit, have fun with the language, and see some interesting visuals, you might want to start out with this blog, Road to Ethiopia, written by a student of Amharic language.

[Amharic is one of the three major languages of Ethiopia along with Oromo in the south and Tigrigna in the north.   It’s also the official governmental language of Ethiopia.]

Image (above): Ethiopian coffee ritual with charcoal burner and incense, woman has traditional braids and is wearing traditional white dress with woven border, painted on leather.

Here are the more utilitarian links:

Online Dictionaries

Dictionary of the Amharic Language by Charles William Isenberg (1841) (google books)

Basic Amharic Dictionary: Amharic-English, English-Amharic. Leslau, Wolf (1970)  (Free download.)    (pdf) 672 pages. Click *ERIC Full Text * to start download

Online Amharic-English dictionary with search box

Download fonts

Amharic keyboard and font to download (scroll down for font)

Senamirmir fonts

(to start using font, close the browser and open again; this website has an Amharic “welcome” message you will be able to see if your font is working)

Dead-tree Amharic dictionaries on Amazon

Concise Amharic Dictionary (Paperback) by Wolf Leslau (see free download above)

Amharic English, English Amharic Dictionary: A Modern Dictionary of the Amharic Language (Paperback) by Endale Zenawi

Information about Amharic

A small Amharic glossary

Road to Ethiopia, blog written by a student of Amharic language

Image below: Ethiopian leather healing scroll, for curing disease.  The initial image on the scroll is the archangel Micheal with his sword, a very popular motif in Ethiopian religious art.  The language is probably Geez, used only for religious purposes.

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Hebrew resources

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Free audio

If you thought the Half Price Bookstores made buying language CD’s affordable, it gets even better. I have just discovered a program that lets you “borrow” language and other CDs from your local library for free.  In Chicago, all you need is your library card, and you can download 8 titles every 21 days. Yesterday I tested the system by downloading Instant Immersion Arabic (Jordanian/Palestinian dialect) and VocabuLearn French Word Booster.

First, check to see if the service is available in your part of the world.  Next, download the Overdrive software.  Then you can either play it on your computer, transfer it to a device (like an MP3 player) with a simple right-click and “transfer” command, or in some cases burn a disk from it. Most portable devices support MP3 and WMA format; if in doubt, you can check a list of supported devices. At the Chicago library, after 21 days, the audio file is automatically “returned” to the library without you having to do anything.

The system is available from libraries in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, and the U.K. For example, the Melbourne library (Australians are such great travelers–I love to see what they read) has the In-Flight language learning titles in several languages, lasting an hour each, also a couple of Learn in your Car titles, as well as some from the Instant Immersion series. The Melbourne library allows you only two titles checked out at the same time, but you can select the desired lending period for a particular title.

How do I like it so far? Fun. Easy to use. The Arabic one isn’t as good as other Instant Immersion products, but it’s hard to find anything at all for colloquial Levantine Arabic.  I have seen Instant Immersion workbooks; it would be nice to see the written language too if there is a companion book, but they don’t seem to have one for Arabic. Also, the next time I download something, since there is a limit to the number of downloads, I will probably do more research beforehand with the Amazon ratings and be pickier about what I download.

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More thoughts about language while waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel to reappear at Language Hat:

A recent thread at Language Log about the Pictish Stone “writing” discovery turned towards oghams found on several of the Scotland stones.

The first oghams were from Ireland. In the 14th century Book of Ballymote, their invention is credited to Ogma in the Auraicept na n-Éces, or “scholars’ primer” believed to be from 7th century sources. (full text, ogham drawings start on p.300)

The introduction explains some of the secrecy of the oghams, I quote it a length as it gives a startling picture of the status of poets as a warrior class with extensive privileges. The text then goes on to give a syllabus of their subjects of study, year by year.

The poets, filid, were a guild, making their own special laws,and exercising discipline upon their own members. They claimed and used the right to quarter themselves and their retinue upon society, and they exacted a fixed sum for their poetic compositions. In general this was cheerfully paid ; the means for enforcing unwilling payment was satire. The exercise of this potent weapon was moderated by rule, certain forms of satire, such as tamall n-aire, being forbidden in the Trefhocul ; and though the poets have been abolished by law for over a century, even at this day in certain districts the phrase, dheanamh aoir air, to satirise one, is not without its terrors.

The poets were a secret society with a language peculiar and intelligible to themselves only. According to their literary tradition Feníus, at their request, devised this language for them, and its obscurity was essential.

The people often rose up against the poets and attempted to repudiate their claims. One such rising was that at Drumketta, a.d. 590. About that time they numbered 15,000. Owing to the advocacy of St Columba, himself a fili, they were suffered to continue, but under restrictions.

The filid were a strictly professional class, undergoing a rigorous training to fit them for their position. The bards, on the other hand, were unprofessional, and more or less untrained, but they practised a large number of metres in which the filid were required to become proficient.

Irish oghams aren’t the same as Pictish/Scotland oghams, but scholars have had some success interpreting some stones in Scotland.  From Sir Samuel Ferguson’s, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland (text):

CHAPTER VII. (Pages 133-154) 

Scottish Oghams differ from those in Ireland, Wales, and England--Shetland
Oghams ; Lunnasting : St. Niniari's : Bressay--Orkney ; Burrian, Aberdeenshire ;
Newton : Logic : Aboyne--Scoonie stone in Fifeshire--Golspie in Sutherland. 

210. ALL the older Oghamic monuments of Ireland, and all
those of Wales and South England, so far as they are known
to us, are of the digit and notch kind. The Oghamic monu-
ments of Scotland, on the contrary, are all of what has been
termed the scholastic variety, in which digits constitute
vowels as well as consonants, and the notch is unknown.
The stem-crossing vocalic groups are distinguished from
consonantal by being vertical to the medial line ; but this is
by no means a general rule. In some instances vowels and
consonants are sloped in reversed directions, and in some
reverse inclinations are given to both classes of letters inter
se. The consequence is a range of alternative transliterations
so wide that room can only be found for the most obvious
possible variations in the transliterated texts of this section.
The Scottish Oghams, therefore, agreeably to these views,
may be considered the more modern, and in them we may be
prepared to find more of that studied obscurity which appears
to have originated in the pedantry of later ecclesiastical
scribes. They are about equally distributed over the main-
land and the islands. In the latter we find no collateral aid
from associated epigraphs, or, save in one instance, from
definitely intelligible sculpture. On the mainland all the
examples ally themselves with peculiar Picto-Scottish forms
of sculpture, which, for such interpretation as they may
receive, require the fuller preparatory exploration.

The big surprise, for those who read the complete chapter, is that the language of the oghams in two of the stones turns out to be Old Norse. Other stones are found to have Christian symbolism, and the images accompanying the oghams on the stones are found either to be of the Wild Hunt or are compared to art in European churches with similar themes .

Images: Auraicept na n-Éces (wikipedia)

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Near and far

Yes, the languagehat blog is still dark.  Languagehat reports that  “Discussions with Gandi (the hosting service) are ongoing.”  In commiseration with suffering LHians, including the 149,649 other subscribers who like me read it on google reader, today again I’m writing something about language.

I usually work Friday night, but this week is spring break, so last Friday I took a train downtown for a Good Friday church service.  To read on the train, I brought Bernard Lewis’s The Political Language of Islam.  I’m not sure what I expected, maybe something about political rhetoric, but Lewis does actually talk about language–words. Interesting, interesting stuff–and you have to wonder how many misunderstandings and missed opportunities there have been when the East and the West do not understand each others’ usage of concepts that seem like they should be similar but are not.

In the chapter about metaphor and allusion, Lewis talks about how the meaning of metaphors can be buried.

When we use the English word “government” few of us think of its origins in an ancient Greek word meaning “rudder” and an ancient Greek verb meaning “to steer”; but when we–that is, the verbally less gifted or fastidious among us–speak of the man [sic] at the helm steering the ship of state, there is still some faint awareness of a maritime metaphor contained in these words.

The east and in the west spacial metaphors–denoting position and direction in space–are common but have a different meaning in the east.

But while Western language, from the earliest time, makes extensive use of up-down and front-back imagery to indicate domination and subordination, early Arabic political language makes very little use of these images.  Where they do occur, they are often specific allusions rather than metaphors.  thus, the common use of verbs from the roots qdm and ‘mm, both with a root meaning “in front of” or “before,” to  indicate precedence or authority, derive from leadership in battle or in prayer. In ancient, in contrast to modern times, both kinds of leadership were necessarily exercised from the front, not from the rear, and the use of these terms thus represented facts on the ground, not metaphors in the mind….

Power relationships are more commonly indicated in Islamic usage by the imagery of near and far, in and out, or, to borrow a social science expression, center and periphery, and of course, movement in either direction. Thus, according to an early text, the caliph ‘Umar explained his refusal to employ Christians in positions of power in these words: “I will not honor them when God has degraded them;  I will not glorify them when God has humiliated them;  I will not bring them near when God has set them far.” A Western speaker or writer would almost certainly have expressed this idea by saying that he would not raise them up when God had  cast them down….

Clearly the centrality of the ruler, and the importance of nearness and access to him, is reflected in this language….

One of the roots most frequently used to connote power and authority, the treliteral wly, whence come such familiar terms as vali and vilâyet from Turkey, mollah from Iran, and maulvi and maulana from India, has the primary meaning of “to be near.”….

Changes in power relationships are indicated by the same metaphors.  In Western language contenders for power may rise or fall.  If they rise, it may be as climbers or as rebels, engaged in an uprising.  In Islam, verbs meaning “to rise” are commonly used to convey religious, especially mystical, experience, but rarely political ascent.  Ambitious Muslims move inward rather than upward; rebellious Muslims secede from, rather than rise against, the existing order.  The earliest–indeed the paradigmatic–movement of rebellion against the existing order was that of the Khawārij, “those who go out.”  Significantly, their movement was expressed as horizontal, not vertical; even more remarkably, it was outward, not inward.  The same concept is expressed in the extensive social and political use of the two verbs jama’a, “to gather or join,” and faraqa, “to separate or divide.”  Gathering is good–hence the jamā‘a, “the community,” ruled by ijmā, “consensus.” Separation is bad, and gives rise to firqa, “sect,” and other forms of disunity.

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