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.

Posted in language. Comments Off on Mohammedsson

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.

Posted in language. Comments Off on Etymology button


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”)

Posted in language. Comments Off on Calo


“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.

Posted in language. Comments Off on Creole blues

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.

Posted in language. Comments Off on Amharic resources

Hebrew resources

Posted in language. Comments Off on Hebrew resources