My name is Indo-European

My very last lesson as an English language teacher provided an interesting insight into languages … twice. I was using the Schoolhouse Rock and Grammaropolis songs to illustrate the main points of English grammar. My students on that day were from South Korea, Colombia and Nepal, so along the way I commented briefly about similarities and differences between English and Korean (eg, basic word order of subject-object-verb), and English and Spanish (eg, basic word order of noun-adjective). I could say absolutely nothing about Nepali. The only two things I know about Nepali are that it’s Indo-European and most closely related to Hindi and Urdu. So towards the end of the lesson, I went to the Wikipedia page on Nepali  in the hope of gleaning something of interest. One of the example sentences is My name is Bryan Butler, which is given in Nepali script as मेराे नाम ब्रायन बट्लर हाे । and then transliterated as mero nām brayan batlar ho.

mero nām – Indo-European much?

The Spanish student provided me with mi nombre and I know the Korean 내 이름 (nae i-reum) (usual/natural) and 제 이름 (je i-reum) (polite). Clearly, Korean is not an Indo-European language. Continue reading



In the last week I have learned, via social media, of the deaths of three older men who I met earlier in my life through my involvement in music in two different cities as I moved around – a cathedral organist/choir director/university lecturer, a pipe organ builder and a stalwart of the local music theatre company. I knew them well enough to remember them and to want to express my condolences, but not well enough to keep in contact with them as I moved around (though I did bump into one on one visit to that city). I left messages on the Facebook pages of their closest family member (two of whom I knew as well or better, and one of whom I only saw around and never actually spoke to, so I explained who I was). One replied briefly and the other two “hearted” my comment

The English phrase Rest in peace is often used in this context. This conveniently shares initials with the Latin phrase Requiescat in pace, but there’s a difference. Requiescat is subjunctive, and is better (and sometimes, maybe often or even usually) translated May (s/he) rest in piece. Rest by itself is imperative, so Rest in peace is Requiesce in pace (singular) or Requiescite in pace (plural). The plural of Requiescat in pace is Requiescant in pace. All of these are derived from the noun requies, which is best known in its accusative form requiem (as in Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine, Grant them eternal rest, Lord. Requies, in turn, means re + quies, or quiet again.

So, Requiescite in pace David, Peter and Peter, though I’m not sure if “quiet” is an appropriate wish for an organist, organ builder and singer. I like to imagine them getting together somewhere and making a joyful noise.

In fact, rechecking those three Facebook pages, I have just learned of the death a few months ago of another musical acquaintance, so Requiesce in pace Mary as well. I may have to stop reading Facebook.

(Most of the Latin from Wikitionary.)

Harry Potter and the Overworked Translator

A few days ago the topic in the textbook was books, especially translating books between languages. Most of the students I’ve ever taught read very few books, and this class was no exception. Some of them had read books in English. I asked about Harry Potter, probably the most famous set of novels in English in the recent past, and available in many languages. Some had read at least some of the books either in their language or English, but not both. I asked about the titles. The first book is usually either ‘magic stone’ or ‘magician’s stone’, but the Korean word translates as ‘wizard’. The Nepalese students conferred, then said ‘shining stone’. Continue reading


Yesterday I emailed someone whose company’s domain name contains the letters q and g consecutively. It arose because the company’s name is a respelling of an ordinary English word ending with c, for example spelling Topic as Topiq. This is followed by the word ‘Global’, so (for example)

No ordinary English word has q without u following. Websites (for example, Wikipedia) list words, but it is questionable how many of these are “English”. Most are borrowings from French or Middle Eastern, Chinese or North America languages.  Continue reading

Korean consonants

In October 2015 I wrote about the consonant sounds of Korean, especially the three series ㅂㅈㄷㄱㅅ (plain, or unvoiced and unaspirated), ㅍㅊㅌㅋ – (unvoiced and aspirated),ㅃ ㅉ ㄸ ㄲ ㅆ (tensed). Yesterday I found a video by Talk to me in Korean which explains and demonstrates these. Even if you are not learning Korean, can you hear the difference? Bear in mind that English p and b, t and d, and k and g sound as alike to some speakers of some languages as these sounds to do us. 

By the way, I met Hyunwoo at an English teachers’ conference in Korea in 2015.

gugak and gagaku

Many years ago, possibly before I went to Korean the first time, I came across a reference to gugak, or Korean traditional music. In the Korea the first time, I saw and heard various performances of traditional music, but did not encounter the word. In Korea the second time, I wandered around the regional city I was living in on various occasions. One day, I saw a museum of traditional arts and crafts. I had always thought that gugak was gu+gak, but the hangeul at the museum read 국악 or gukak. (One advantage of hangeul is that it tells you where the syllables are.) Guk by itself means (among other things) nation (most often found in words like 대한민국 (dae-han-min-guk, the official name of the Republic of Korea), 한국 (han-guk, the short name) and 외국 (oi-guk [way-guk], any foreign country). Ak by itself is related to 음악 (eum-ak, the general word for music) (which I incorporated into my Korean name, which I rarely use). So gugak is literally “national music” (국가 음악).

Last night I came across a reference to gagaku, or the classical music of Japan. Are the words gugak and gagaku related? Possibly, but after some research this morning, it’s impossible to be sure, working across Chinese characters, Japanese kanji, hangeul, pronunciation, transliteration and translation of all three language into English, and dictionary and encyclopedia entries. Gagaku is 雅楽, literally “elegant music”. The syllabification seems to be ga+gaku, because there is a related word bugaku, or “dance music”. Gugak includes court music, folk music, poetic songs, and religious music used in shamanistic and Buddhist traditions. Gagaku is primarily court music and dances, but also Shinto religious music and folk songs and dance. Continue reading

Strenuous laboratory

Two snippets from this week.

1) My class was practicing changing verbs into nouns into adjectives and vice versa. One word was strength, to be changed into an adjective. Most students wrote strong, but one wrote strenuous. To the extent that I have ever actually thought about it, I have never thought that strenuous is related to strong, so I had to check it quickly. No – it’s not. Online dictionaries didn’t give quite enough information, but Etymology Online shows the derivation of each, slightly confusingly, but convincingly.

Strong is from Proto-Germanic *strangaz and Proto-Indo-European *strenk-. (An asterisk with an etymology means that word has not been directly attested, but has been reconstructed by comparing forms in related languages.) Strenuous is from Latin strenuus and is possibly related to stern.

The student happily accepted his classmates’ answer of strong, but I told him that if he’d written strenuous in a test, I would have given him a mark. Continue reading