So I was lying in bed the other night (bear with me ;)) and I was struggling to get to sleep, so I was thinking about my current book, which at the time was ‘The Stepsister Scheme’, and I sort of segued into thinking that I also struggle to pronounce the word scheme. This led me to ponder other words with that ‘sch’ noise that I can’t pronounce, and why that might be, which led me nicely onto the December topic raven
asked me for, which is – languages! (And interesting cognates, and being bilingual, and all that cool stuff we sometimes talk about.)
But yes, ‘sch’! The other word I struggle to pronounce that starts with it is ‘schism’, and then I noticed that both these words are of course, Greek, scheme means shape (σχήμα - schema) (at least in Modern Greek, so you can see how that works, scheme/shape/plan all kind of share nebulous meaning. *waves hands vaguely*). Schism, in Modern Greek (σχίζω/σκίζω - schizo) I rip. I trust I don’t need to explain that one. I had one other but I forget what it is. Oh, schedule. (σχέδιο - schedio) Pattern, plan.
And you can see in the Greek word the ‘ch’ compound is trying to stand in for the Greek Χ, which doesn't sound like X (that’s Ξ) but rather more like H, but way further back in the throat. I took a term of Linguistics 101 at uni, and remember learning about all those noises we make in the back of the throat, how English doesn't go very far back (in the throat) at all, and how Greek goes a bit further but nowhere near as far as other languages.
I went off on two tangents at this point and one of them is shorter than the other so I’ll address it first. This was me thinking about words that have ‘sch’ in them that I CAN pronounce and the one I thought of first is ‘school’. Then I thought about how, to my eye, the word school comes from the same place across all the languages I know, which struck me as cool. (Disclaimer: I could be wrong about this, like I’m good at spotting patterns across languages and that’s why I’m good at them, but I’m by no means trained or always accurate.) But, to my eye:
informs me that in Gaelic/Welsh school is sgoil. From work I believe Welsh for school is ysgol? (cosmic_llin
So yes, that struck me as a fun cognate. The problem with cognates is as soon as you ASK me about them, my mind goes completely blank. (Brain very helpfully informs me potato is a cognate - πατάτα - patata)
Anyway! My other tangent brought on by the word ‘scheme’ was less about cognates, and more about pronunciation. Namely, that my English of same is sometimes dodgy. It’s the odd word, rather than an accent, no one ever really believes I’m not-from-an-English-speaking-country foreign (we could unpack some stuff THERE if we wanted and I may return to that), but I do trip regularly over Greek words when spoken in English. If you have ever heard me speak about Classics or Ancient Greece or Greek mythology (or as I like to think of it, mythology #brat ;)) at length, you’ll have heard this happen. I can’t immediately find the Anglicised pronunciation. Examples: Aegean, Odysseus, Achilles, Circe (I just can’t pronounce this one at all anymore), Theseus, Delos, Demeter, Persephone, Iphigeneia, Thessalonica, Thrace, Euripides. I can pronounce (and SPELL) most of these now, but it has taken me practice, I have to stop and think about it. I used to have a lot of feelings about Anglicised pronunciation (I thought it was stupid) so I would just switch to Greek for the words I needed, but that was difficult for others to understand, and also in hindsight, wanky. I now get very judgy of non-Greeks who use the Greek spelling and pronunciations of things unnecessarily. As is my right.
I'm also not very reliable about pronunciation in general, tbqh. When reading scifi and fantasy my guesses of made up names are very clearly drawing on a very different set of phonetic rules. (carawj
and I had fun comparing our pronunciations of a lot of character/place names in Robin Hobb for example.)
I kind of alluded to this earlier, but I also thought I‘d talk about what languages I do actually speak, and to what level. English is now, and sort of always has been, my first language. I spoke English first, when I was small, given my mum and her friends were the people I saw most, and my parents spoke English at home. I learned Greek when I went to nursery. I have vague memories of being encouraged to speak Greek at nursery, even though all the kids were bilingual, everyone had Greek in common. (My mum found this ex-pats nursery, so the staff were v good about language stuff. Probably much better than if I’d gone to a straight-up Greek nursery.) I am told I refused to speak Greek until this nursery. Mum assumes this is because I associated Greek with loud, pushy relatives and old ladies in the street poking at my (weird, huge, white-blond and fluffy/spiky) hair. (I don’t know whether I remember this or have just constructed memories from mum’s stories.)
Once I learned Greek, I was definitely bilingual, and still am, though my Greek is rusty now. I dreamt and thought interchangeably in both languages, which is supposed to mean something. (I now dream and think in English. Excitingly if I go to Greece long enough I do sometimes start to think in Greek.) If anything, my written Greek was better than my written English for a long time. My mum arranged for extra English classes twice a week to address that, with another ex-pat friend of hers. (Ex-pats feature hugely in my life. ;D) This is where I picked up a) a life-long love for reading, we did a bookwork scheme and it REALLY worked ;) and b) a life-long confusion over American vs British English spelling and phrasing, with some NZ and South African confusion thrown in for funsies. I can’t tell you which is which, and I can’t pick one to use consistently. I was always running into difficulty over this once I moved here. (Is it a pavement? Is it a sidewalk? Is it the footpath? WHO KNOWS. I wrote the word ‘anglicised’ and then 'anglicized’ two sentences later and almost didn't catch myself doing it. My teachers eventually cracked and were like ‘just pick one and for god’s sake be consistent’. *hollow laughter*)
I loved being good at English when I was little, I was a little brat to the English teachers at school, my English was better than theirs and I was not nice about that. I remember a lot of school English classes spent at the back of the room with the (English) book of my choice.
I did a tiny bit of French and German for a while (another ex-pat gave a few of us lessons for a while ;)), but didn't really learn any new languages till I moved to the UK, where French and German were both mandatory at my secondary school. I took those to GCSE, and then to A-Level. I also started Spanish at A-Level. I would have been able to pick that up no problem if I’d actually done any work, but my 6th form college experience is largely characterised by doing no work whatsoever, so. Now I have A-Level French, German and Spanish, that I haven’t practiced in over 10 years. I think I could make something of all 3 if I spent some time in each country or some sort of immersion programme, probably most time for Spanish, then German, then French. My French is best.
I realised I loved languages when I moved to the UK, actually, and got the opportunity to learn French and German. Schooling and education is so much better over here. I had so many issues at secondary school, but a lot of the stuff I got to learn was not one of them. I also continued my Greek, by getting a GCSE and an A-Level in it, which has definitely helped my Greek.
(I have a lot of feelings about teaching and learning languages, and how interesting it’s been for me learning Greek and English taught as foreign languages and mother tongue, as I’ve had experience of both languages, both ways.)
I also have some Latin and Ancient Greek, picked up at university. I find that having Modern Greek has made learning lots of Romance languages easier for me, and adding Latin was like adding an extra link to that chain. Having Modern Greek is also a massive vocab cheat, naturally. I still occasionally stumble on words I would have no idea how to define without Greek.
I also know approx. 3 words of Maori. (Tena koe, kia ora, tahi-rua-toru.) I also have a lot of feelings about the relationship between Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand, but as a Pakeha who lives far away, I don’t really know enough about it to feel entitled to take up space with my words on that.
For my next trick, I’d love to learn a language that’s not even a little bit related to Greek, and see how I do. Preferably something with a totally different alphabet. (Russian is out, cosmic_llin
and I have lots of fun with Russian and Greek cognates.)
This is now long, and a brief smattering overview of my thoughts on languages. I will start tweeting cognates as they occur to me, going forward. ;D
(Please note, I tried to post Greek alphabet, I have no idea how that will look once I hit sent, or indeed on other devices. o.o)