Hello! Well, I have been quiet for a few days after a long, long time of consistent language learning and consistent banging-on-about-it on here. We went to France and I had to squeeze my brain into French mode and its taken me a while to get back into the right frame of mind to get back to work on Portuguese. I’m actually still jointly reading the French translation of Six of Crows with my daughter so I’m going to be twin-track for a few weeks to come, but at least I’m starting the ball rolling again.
I’ve also just finished listening to this course about languistics, presented by John McWhorter who is an author and the host of the Lexicon Valley podcast as well as being an accomplished academic in his own right. He really brought the subject alive. I’ve been interested in the development of language for ages and enjoyed seeing how some of my pet theories, derived from learning Portuguese, French and Scots Gaelic, lined up with current ideas formed by people who actually know what they’re talking about. Portuguese is mentioned a few times, both in its relation to other romance languages and in its role as a source languages for creoles and pidgins in areas where Portugal’s empire spread its influence. Of course, knowing about linguistics doesn’t make you better at speaking another language but I feel like it adds an extra dimension to the experience and I’d definitely recommend it if it’s not something you’ve already tried. It’s on Audible’s free list, meaning if you’re a member you can just listen without spending precious, precious credits.
I’ve been really interested in the parallels between Scottish Gaelic and Portuguese. One of the first things that made me want to get familiar with a celtic language was seeing words like Llyfrau and Eglwys on signs in Wales, meaning Book and Church, respectively. Both are very obviously related to French, Portuguese and Spanish equivalents. Of course, it’s less surprising when you realise that churches and perhaps to a lesser extent books were introduced to these islands by Christian missionaries arriving from the mainland in the 6th century speaking languages not that distantly removed from the language of Caesar. So the words came along with the physical objects.
But it turns out that this Latin influence is just the tip of an iceberg and under the surface is a much larger body of connected words, dating back to before the Romans because of common Indo-European origins. All sorts of nouns have echoes of other languages in them, often changed almost out of recognition by the tides of history. Even the phrase “ciamar a tha?” (pronounced “kimmer a ha” and meaning “how are you?”) which I’ve seen a few times in videos online turns out to be basically cognate with “como está?” which seems obvious now but I’d never been struck by it before. It’s a link between Gaelic and Portuguese, not because Gaelic is a romance language but because both come from an even more ancient root.
These moments of epiphany are coming to me courtesy of an excellent, and very concise introduction to the language, “Scots Gaelic – an Introduction to the Basics” by George McLennan. It’s exactly what I need right now: definitely not a how-to book, but one that maps out how the language works and why. Now that I’ve got to a certain point with Duolingo, I have a lot of questions and this is answering most of them in a very satisfying way.
8AM. Mrs Luso is up now and is telling me about Korean (which she’s learning) and we’re comparing notes. Language-learning is freaking amazing.
No quarto capítulo do seu livro “Doze Segredos Da Língua Portuguesa”, Marco Neves lista as dez línguas de Portugal (Dez? Sim. dez, embora algumas sejam faladas só..hum… em Espanha) e faz uma tentativa de responder à pergunta “há línguas piores do que outras?” Aprendi muito com esta primeira secção. Como o autor diz, as dez “nem sequer inclu[em] o inglês algarvio”, e não fazia ideia que havia tantos idiomas no país. Quanto à segunda parte… hum… considero que a sua explicação do mecanismo que torna as línguas mais ou menos complicadas não seja completamente convincente. Pois, claro, como estrangeiro, estou a tornar a língua mais simples pelo método de fazer tantos erros (querido leitor, imploro-te não impeça este processo por corrigindo-os!) mas quando tento imaginar um processo que possa tornar o inglês mais complicado, não consigo. Será que alguém introduziria uma sistema de géneros arbitrários se não invadíssemos um outro país nos próximos séculos? Acho que não.
Mas, diga-se o que se disser, devo admitir que não tenho a sua formação em línguas e é mais do que possível que esteja enganado, e como sempre, tenho muito interesse no assunto, e opiniões polémicas são sempre bem vindas, embora nem sempre concorde!
I’m in Wales for the Hay festival and… Made a linguistic observation….
The night before last, Mrs L suggested we watch a film called Arrival, starring Amy Adams as a brilliant linguist supported by Jeremy Renner as Jeremy Renner and Forest Whittaker chewing the scenery in a very enjoyable way (him and Jeff Goldblum: as far as I’m concerned, they should be in everything)
Anyway, this isn’t a blog about movies, so why am I mentioning it? Well, Amy Adams starts her first scene in a lecture theatre with the opening lines of a lecture she’s about to deliver about Portuguese and why it sounds so different from other romance languages. I was all like…
But sadly at this point the movie was ruined for me when a siren sounded, heralding the arrival of twelve alien space ships who have come to… Well, I’d best not let slip any spoilers, but suffice to say they hadn’t come to help answer the question, and Amy Adams found her priorities had shifted somewhat so she didn’t even move on to the second paragraph.
I hunted around and found a reddit discussion about the lecture. I think there’s a lot of copy/pasting from Wikipedia going on here, coupled with some diversionary chatter from Brazilians who don’t see what all the fuss is about because everyone in South America sounds more-or-less the same, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one who wanted more. Maybe one day there’ll be a director’s cut with the whole lecture included. I live in hope.