Estonian

This month we are going to take a look at a Northern European language that is spoken in Estonia, the most northerly of the three Baltic states, nestled between the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, between Latvia and Russia. It boasts of over 1500 islands, hilltop fortresses, endless forests and woodlands, two Unesco World Heritage sites and some wonderfully preserved medieval architecture, in addition to being one of most digitalised countries and a major start-up hub. Now let’s learn a fact or two about Estonian.

Estonian – what and where?

The official language of Estonia is Estonian, which is spoken by about 1.1 million people there and in scattered pockets in surrounding regions. It is closely related to Finnish, and while Finnish may have many loanwords from Swedish, Estonian contains many words that are of German origin, in addition to a few being from Russian, Latin, Greek and English. There is said to be a considerable mutual intelligibility between Estonian and Finnish, since it is also a Southern Finnic language and is the second most spoken language among all the Finnic languages.

Dialects galore!

Did you know that the Estonian language supposedly has 8 dialects and 117 subdialects? On the whole, Estonian has two groups of dialects: northern and southern. The northern dialects are associated with the city of Tallinn, while the southern ones with Tartu. Standard Estonian is based on the northern dialects, and the southern dialects are sometimes considered separate languages altogether.

Tracing back the links

The oldest examples of written Estonian are names, words, and phrases found in early 13th century chronicles. With the evolution of written Estonian, two separate literary culture centres emerged: the city of Tallinn in the North and Tartu in the South. It’s a fact that the Estonian language that we use today is based on the 19th century’s revised orthography (i.e. the conventional spelling system of a language).

Estonian is one of the official languages of the European Union that is not of an Indo-European origin. Apart from its close connection to Finnish, Hungarian and Maltese, and despite some overlaps in the vocabulary, Estonian and Finnish are not related to their nearest geographical neighbours i.e. Swedish, Latvian, and Russian, which are all Indo-European languages. In fact, it is interesting to know that Estonian has borrowed nearly one third of its vocabulary from Germanic languages.

Fun facts and trivia

Estonia is known to be the first country in the world to adopt online voting and is also one of the few countries in the world, where the population is predominantly female. But did you also know that Estonia was a part of Russia until 1917? That’s the reason why the Estonian language is still spoken in many parts of Russia.

According to the Foreign Service Institute, Estonian is the fifth hardest language to learn! Especially for native English speakers, this language is difficult because it operates with 14 noun cases. On the other hand, Estonian is said to be significantly easier to learn for a Finnish speaker owing to the regional influence, as well as both the languages being from the Uralic language family.

So if Estonia is one of your next travel destinations, you might certainly want to start learning it right away 😉

Japanese

Be it the Bollywood golden oldies like “Sayonara” from “Love in Tokyo”, or today’s always-in-vogue generation that loves wearing kimono and slurping on momos while flipping through manga or unriddling sudoku, Japanese language has been enchanting Western culture for decades. Some of us like to take up karate or go to karaoke on weekends, while others prefer the Zen state of mind rather than giving into the tsunami of emojis on the phone. Whether or not we realise it, Japanese has shaken up the mainstreams! Let’s propose a toast to this wonderful Oriental culture where the valiant Samurai and delicate Sakura play house together.

 Japanese – the what and the where

Japanese is an East-Asian language primarily spoken in the island-nation of Japan. Before World War II, the Japanese dominated Asian Countries such as North and South Korea and Taiwan to name a few and made it incumbent upon them to speak Japanese. If the statistics are to be believed, more than 130 million people speak Japanese even today, making it the ninth most widely spoken language in the world.

Roots and development

The origins of Japanese are the bone of contention among linguists. Japanese is most widely believed to be linked to the Ural-Altaic family, which includes languages such as Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, Korean. The country’s geography has fostered the development of various dialects throughout the archipelago. All these dialects, namely Honshu or Aomori and Akita, are often mutually unintelligible. However, linguistic unification has been achieved by outstretch of the kyotsu-go (common language), which is predominantly based on the Tokyo dialect.

Japanese writing system

Did you know that Japan did not have a writing system for the longest time? The first documented evidence was found around the 5th and 6th centuries, with names inscribed on things such as swords. Written records of Japanese date back to the 8th century, much before kana was invented. By the 12th century, the syllabic writing systems, hiragana and katakana, were created out of kanji, providing the Japanese new freedom in writing their native tongue. The Japanese Ministry of Education designates approximately 2,000 kanjis as a prerequisite before high school graduation. A standardised written language, which is believed to have come into existence in the mid-18th century, has adopted a huge amount of Gairaigo (foreign words) mainly from English such as teburu (table), biru (beer), takushi (taxi) etc.

Culture of Translation

Japanese culture is often characterised as a culture of translation because the today’s Japanese language is the result of translators struggling to match Chinese characters and Japanese words, hitching on native pronunciation and adopting approximations of Chinese pronunciation. It is likely that the founders of modern Japanese literature tended to be either scholars of Western literature or translators. Murakami, however, went even further and developed a distinctive rhythm of writing drawn from 20th century American jazz when creatively tackling the rhythmic prose of The Great Gatsby. Though deemed “unnatural” by some Japanese critics, his translations are so popular that ‘the ‘Murakami style’ now feels quite normal, especially for those raised on it since the 1980s.  

Linguistic Trivia

All you Star Wars fans in the house will be surprised to know that the basis for George Lucas’ famous venture “Star Wars” was “The Hidden Fortress” – a film by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.

Haiku poetry, which was invented in Japan, comprises only three lines and is the world’s shortest poetic form.

Dothraki

While Game of Thrones fans from all over the world wait eagerly with bated breath for the next season’s release, we decided to take a little sneak peek into the languages invented for the show. Long gone are the days when fantasy drama series spouted gibberish on screen. Production designers today are not afraid to invest in the anthropological details: be it the hand-embroidered costumes, rusty drapes or the crested weaponry! One such globally-admired detail is Dothraki, Khal Drogo’s native tongue.

Mother of fantasy tongues!

The Dothraki language is a constructed fictional language in George R. R. Martin’s novel series and its television adaptation Game of Thrones, where it is spoken by the Dothraki tribes from Essos and eventually by the much-loved protagonist, Daenerys Targaryen. While this language first appears in the novels, it was developed for the TV series by the linguist and professional conlanger, David J. Peterson to enhance the cultural context of the characters and the world they belong to.

The dream job

HBO hired the Language Creation Society (yes, that’s a real thing!) to create such a language for Game of Thrones. The application process alone involved over thirty conlangers (people who invent conlangs or constructed languages as an artistic and/or intellectual hobby), in which David Peterson was hired after having submitted a 180-page proposal with functional grammar and nearly 2000 words – dictionary and audio files included!

He drew inspiration from George R. R. Martin’s description of the language, as well as from natural languages such as Turkish, Russian, Estonian, Inuktitut and Swahili.

Fiction or reality?

While the Dothraki’s tongue is intended to be harsh and guttural, considering they are nomadic tribes, George R.R. Martin has stated that the Dothraki do not resemble or represent any tribe or community in particular, but they have been loosely inspired from the Mongols, Huns, Alans, Turks, Native American plains tribes and various other nomadic horse-riding people who lived on the open steppe, typically with a large frame, dark eyes and dark hair.

Other invented languages

While the first entirely artificial language “Lingua Ignota” was developed way back in the 12th century; entertainment industry conlangs have come a long way since Klingon’s utterance in Star Trek (1979). Popular “conlangs” today include Elvish (Lord of the Rings) and Na’vi (Avatar).

After being introduced to Esperanto by his linguistics professor, Peterson caught the bug and now has a string of languages under his belt – or well, on his website.  He developed High Valyrian for the nobility in Game of Thrones, along with Castithan, Irathient, Zhyler, Njaama and Sidaan, most of them for sheer pleasure.

Hey, I want to learn Dothraki!

While you’re probably already well-versed with the term “Khaleesi” (the Dothraki term for a queen or the wife of a khal i.e. a ruler) there are plenty of web and mobile apps that teach you how to pronounce words, learn with games, discuss morphology theories and have a conversational dialogue! In 2014, David Peterson also produced a guidebook for learning the language: Living Language Dothraki.

So happy learning and  fonas chek! (Goodbye!)

Inuktitut

This month, we’re going to learn a fact or two about people from the Canadian Arctic and the language spoken by them. We’ve grown up doodling igloos and polar bears, but have you ever wondered what people on the Alaskan coast spoke? These Arctic people living across Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia, are known as the Inuit. Popularly recognised as “Eskimos” which came to be termed offensive, they are now officially known as the Inuit, which means ‘the people’. And undoubtedly, everything about the lives of the Inuit is influenced by the cold tundra climate in which they live.

Inuktitut – what, where and how much?

Inuktitut is an Inuit language spoken primarily in northern Canada, specifically in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut (noo-nah-voot). Approximately 75 percent of the Inuit in the territory of Nunavut are known to speak Inuktitut as their mother tongue.

This indigenous language of the Canadian Arctic was recognised as one of eight official native tongues in the Northwest Territories in 1984. The 2016 census reported 39,770 speakers, of which 65 per cent were located in Nunavut and 30.8 per cent in Quebec. It is also one of the many dialects spoken between Alaska and Greenland, as well as peppered parts of Europe and Canada.

Tracing back the links

19th century colonialism brought over the European schooling system to Canada. During this time, missionaries of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches were one of the first ones to deliver education to Inuit in schools. The teachers used the Inuktitut language for instruction and developed writing systems and the first residential school for Inuit opened in 1928.

Of scripts and lineages

Inuktitut has an official status in Nunavut, along with Inuinnaqtun, English and French. It is interestingly, a polysynthetic language, meaning that words tend to be longer and structurally more complex than their English or French counterparts.

Inuktitut uses a writing system called syllabics, created originally for the Cree language, which represents combinations of consonants and vowels. The language is also written in the Roman alphabet, while the Inuktitut-speaking Inuit of the territory of Nunavut and the Nunavik region in Quebec use an abugida-type writing system.

Trending today

Nunavut, one of Canada’s youngest territories, has four official languages: English, French, Inuktitut, and Inuinnaqtun, of which the latter two are Inuit languages. Inuktitut is most certainly spoken in many communities, and each one has several regional dialects.

As for fun facts, did you know the name “Eskimo” (native American word) actually meant ‘eater of raw meat’? While it is commonly used in Alaska to refer to all Inuit and Yupik people of the world, this name is considered derogatory in many places today and so, it is recommended to call them the Inuit people instead!

You think this language might be interesting to learn? You can take a quick online course on the Tusaalanga app and find out!

Czech

The Czech Republic, a country situated in the heart of Europe, is known for its ornate castles, native beers, preserved medieval towns and most notably, for its wealth of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. It was formerly known as Czechoslovakia until its separation with Slovakia, and today it is bordered by Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland. This month, we are going to explore a fact or two about Czech, the official language of Czechia (the new shortened name since 2016).

Czechia’s official language

Czech (čeština or český jazyk) is a Slavic language, developed from the olden Proto-Slavic and is considered to be mutually intelligible with Slovak. While spoken Czech has several regional dialects, the differences among these dialects mainly involve the pronunciation of vowels and the names of local or regional dishes, plants and costumes.

Like other Slavic languages, Czech is a fusional language with a rich system of morphology and relatively flexible word order. It is also similar to Polish, as well as Russian and Croatian.

Of fun facts and trivia

Czech is spoken almost exclusively in the territory of the Czech Republic (i.e. a whopping 95%). It is possible to come across small Czech-speaking enclaves in Romania, Ukraine, the USA, Canada and Australia. Tourists here will definitely get by in English and quite often, even in German or Russian. 

For some culture and language trivia, did you know that the word “Czech” is an adjective and therefore, must not be used as the abbreviated name of the country? That’s probably why the Czech Government decided to go with the name ‘Czechia’ as an English one-word alternative for the Czech Republic in September 2016.

Our language enthusiasts will also find it extremely interesting to know that the U.S. Defense Language Institute has recognised Czech as one of the most complicated languages in the world! Other languages in this league include Finnish, Russian, Bengali and Thai.

Tracing back the links

The oldest records of the Czech language appear in Latin and German texts of the 12th century. There was no standardized Czech language during the Old Czech period (11th–14th century), although the literary language became increasingly uniform during the Middle Czech period (15th–16th century)

Interestingly, prior to the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1989 (Czechoslovakia’s separation), Russian was compulsory in schools and is still spoken by the older generation. German was also fairly widely spoken until the mid-1990s, when English became more popular as the international language of business. However, is not unusual to hear German spoken in towns and villages close to the German and Austrian borders. English is certainly taught in schools and universities in major cities today.

Being Global does not simply mean being a citizen of the world. It means to provide value to your society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

So #BeLingual – linguistically and culturally. Learn about a new culture and see the world through another lens. It isn’t simply about knowing new people, their practices & lifestyles, sometimes it’s about breaking the ice to develop new relations and creating opportunities.

Deutsch

We all know of Germany as Europe’s automobile and industrial capital. We are well acquainted with its technology, its logical structures & organisations, and most certainly with its (thriving) engineering and manufacturing culture. Let’s not even get started on its innovations or Oktoberfests. Having set a legacy for beer brewing and beer drinking fests, it’s no surprise that they have one of the highest numbers of beer consumers in the world!

But these facts apart, did you also know that German is among the ten most commonly spoken languages in the world? Time to check out just how widespread this intellectual culture really is!

Language of Deutschland

German, referred to as Deutsch in German itself, is the official language of Germany and Austria, and is also one of the four official languages of Switzerland. With an astonishingly high number of native speakers in the European Union, German is also a lingua franca of Central and Eastern Europe.

It belongs to the West Germanic group of the Indo-European language family, along with English, Frisian and Dutch. Knowing German will give you the chance to reach out to 100 million people, along with access to 15 million websites. Furthermore, if you have a business, you might want to consider localising your website or product literature into German, to increase your sales prospects in their markets.

Analytical or complex?

German has been an important language in academia as well as for professionals moving to Germany. While the country has produced a number of inventors, Nobel Prize winners and philosophical thinkers, there are plenty of people who will tell you all about how its complex sentence structures and word formations, while many others will also tell you that once you’ve figured out the logic, it is extremely easy, especially for an English speaker!

Despite all the jokes about it being an impossible language and its sixteen different ways to simply say “the”, as an English speaker, you actually already have an advantage since German and English share the same Germanic root; unlike Japanese or Arabic.

Understanding their Culture

Germans have a reputation for being logical, punctual, focused planners and organizers, which is reflected in their rules, procedures and systems. While humour, surprises or personal chat might not always be appreciated in a business context, German is also the native tongue of some of the greatest literary and artistic minds in human history, such as Goethe and Mann, and composers such as Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Wagner.

Being Global does not simply mean being a citizen of the world. It means to provide value to your society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts. So #BeLingual – linguistically and culturally. Learn about a new culture and see the world through another lens. It isn’t simply about knowing new people, their practices & lifestyles, sometimes it’s about breaking the ice to develop new relations and creating opportunities.

Greek

A culture that began thousands of years ago in Mycenaean Greece, gave the world its first Olympics, theatre and drama, a brilliant set of mathematicians, historians and philosophers, some astounding architecture, temples, sculptures. From such diverse mythology and literature, to some inspirational war stories and heroes, a culture as divine as this one certainly belongs to a league of its own! This fantastic civilization is what gave the world the classic Indo-European language – Greek.

Descendant of Ancient Greek

Modern day Greek is the official language of Greece and is spoken by 99% of the population. It is also an official language in Cyprus and is recognised as a minority language in parts of Italy, and in Albania, Armenia, Romania and Ukraine.

While Greek is native to Greece and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, there are number of minority languages and dialects also spoken here. Interestingly, the most common foreign languages learned by Greeks today include English, French and Italian.

Tracing back the links

Fun fact – The earliest written Greek was found on baked mud tablets, in Messenia, dating between 1450 and 1350 BC, leading many to believe that Greek was the world’s oldest recorded living language. We call this language ‘Linear A’ and it has not been entirely decoded till date.

Even though the Greek alphabet was only intended for the Greek language back then, today it is the root of most scripts used in the western world!

Globalisation

The Greek language holds an important place in the history of the Western world as well as Christianity. While it is also the language in which many of the foundational texts of science, astronomy, mathematics, logic and Western philosophy (such as the Platonic dialogues of Aristotle) were composed, today about ¼ of the English language is said to have been borrowed from the Greek language!

Many English words were formed using Greek roots, stems and prefixes. Keeping aside the whopping 85,000 words for now, some interesting Greek expressions that are good to know include – Greeks bearing gifts, a mercurial disposition, Achilles’ heel, the Midas touch, to harp about something and some words such as mentor, nemesis, phobia, atlas, music, narcissism and psychology all interestingly come from Greek!

And well, the Olympian Gods and Goddesses would be seriously proud of you for learning Greek!

Tagalog

Guess the country: a breathtakingly beautiful archipelago in Southeast Asia with over 7000 islands and cultural influences from at least a dozen Eastern and Western countries. That’s right, the Philippines. With 170 languages and 8 major dialects spoken here, what do you even think is its national language? Filipino. Right? Oh but that’s only since as late as 1939.

What was it before that? Tagalog. Now let’s brush up on a fact or two, so you know how to impress your culture-loving and quiz-loving friends the next time 🙂

Tagalog – what and where?

Tagalog is popularly known as the language of the Philippines, and belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. With an estimated 21.5 million speakers speaking it as a first language, it is also spoken across Canada, Guam, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK and the US.

Modern-day Filipino is said to be based on Tagalog. While it is the modified and standardised version of Tagalog, they are still two separate dialects. Tagalog is conventionally related to other Philippine languages such as the Bikol languages, Visayan languages, Ilocano, Kapampangan and Pangasinan, and more distantly to Taiwan, Malay, Hawaiian, Māori and Malagasy.

Tracing back the links

The word is derived from “Taga-ilog,” which literally means a “river native” or “from the river”. After the arrival of the Austronesians, their culture has strongly been evident in the ethnicities, languages, cuisine, music, dance and all other cultural aspects, including influences from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei as well as Japan, Korea, China, the Indian subcontinent and Arabia due to trade.

Other culture trivia

While the Philippines is an archipelagic country composed of 7641 islands, it is best known for its rich biodiversity. Tourists flock to this large cluster of islands primarily for its beaches, mountains, rainforests, diving spots and waterfront promenades.

As for some fun facts, did you know that Tagalog was proposed to be the national language only in 1939, until it was further modified and was then named as “Filipino” in 1959.

Globalisation factor

When you ask a Filipino today to name the national language of the country, the natural response is “Filipino”. While very few acknowledge that there is any difference between Filipino and Tagalog, a lot of natives see Filipino as more of a Tagalog-Plus.

They learn to speak Filipino now because it is taught in schools and is constitutionally the national language, but English is naturally used in colleges, universities, the courts and the government, and they even pride themselves for having the third largest number of English speakers in the world!

That apart, the thousands of loan words from Spanish and the ever increasing borrowing of vocabulary from English, especially in the urban areas, has now interestingly resulted in the Taglish and Englog languages.

Irish

What do we know about Ireland apart from its Gaelic kilts, enthusiastic sports culture and Irish pubs? Did you know about its iconic Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations with all the green costumes and the lucky four-leaf clovers? Or have you heard of its famous folklore filled with tales of the Irish Leprechaun? Well, let’s learn a fact or two about this marvellous culture, of a country tucked to the west of the United Kingdom.

Irish – what’s that?

Irish or Gaelic Irish is the language spoken in Ireland – by precisely 3% of the population there as a first language!

Irish used to be the only language spoken in the Republic until the 17th century, but there has been a sharp decline in the number of speakers since, owing to the dominance of English and emigration.

Irish is sometimes referred to as GaelicGaelic Irish, or Erse, but in Ireland it is simply called Irish. It has evolved from the language brought to the island in the Celtic migrations between the sixth and the second century BCE.

Tracing back the links

Irish culture shares a significant number of traits with those of Britain, other neighbouring English-speaking countries and other Celtic nations, and this reflects in its language and terminology as well.

For hundreds of years, the Irish people leaving Ireland have always been higher than those immigrating to Ireland. Yet, the Irish national culture is relatively homogeneous as compared to other multicultural countries, and is highly influenced by Anglo-Norman, English and Scottish cultures.

What else do we know about their culture?

Popular culture, customs and traditions in Ireland are very similar to many other Western countries in terms of cinema, TV, language, music, art, literature, folklore, cuisine and of course, sports.

However, one aspect of popular culture in Ireland that really makes it unique is its pub culture. Did you know that the Irish per-capita consumption of beer is the second-highest in the world?

Trivia for the day!

Who knew that the term ‘Halloween’ is actually a shortened version of the term ‘All-Hallows-Eve’? According to some historians, it has its roots in the Gaelic festival Samhain, where it was believed that the border between this world and the other world became thin enough for the dead to revisit the mortal world.

Consequently, mass trans-atlantic Irish and Scottish immigration in the 19th century popularised Halloween in North America. But good to know that this is where it originated from, right?

Hieroglyphs

The land of torrid deserts, pharaohs, river Nile and the beautiful Cleopatra has given the world many things. Apart from belly dancing and a significant contribution to mathematics and medicine, Egypt has also given us one of the world’s earliest writing systems. So join me this month as we discover a fact or two about this cool, ancient language of icons and images that we find sprawled across scrolls of papyrus paper, the walls of pyramids, temples and stone monuments, containing stories and secrets of the glorious civilization back then!

While the earliest writing system was introduced by the Sumerians (present day Iraq) and dates back to around 3000 BC, there are also plenty of archaeological discoveries from the same period that suggest that the Egyptian hieroglyphs were already in use then, and may possibly be the oldest form of writing.

Hieroglyphs – what’s that?

Hieroglyphs are ancient history’s emojis – they were essentially pictures, icons and symbols that represented sounds, things, words or phrases. This legit language comprised pictures that collectively told a story and could also have more than one meaning, depending on how they are written.

First developed by ancient Egyptians as a way to integrate writing into their artwork, there are about 700-800 ‘glyphs’ in all and these were mainly used by priests and to decorate temples. The Egyptians referred to hieroglyphs as “the words of God”.

As for the fun facts

Egyptian hieroglyphics are of two main types: ideograms (objects) and phonograms (sounds). When reading, syllabic signs represent a combination of two or three consonants.

Hieroglyphs can actually be read in almost any direction: left to right, right to left, and top to bottom. To determine how to read a specific set of glyphs, start by locating a glyph with a head. If the head is facing to the left, start reading from the left and work your way towards the head. If the glyphs appear in vertical columns, always start at the top and then head downward.

Tracing back the links

The main purpose of writing for ancient Egyptians then, was neither decorative nor literary or even commercial. Its most important function was to provide a means by which certain events could be recorded.

It started off with the use of pictographs and images that represented specific objects, until their full fledged development into hieroglyphics and symbols that represented sounds and concepts as well.

What else do we know about their culture?

Egyptian culture is a rich, heady mix of indigenous Egyptian and Western influences, which is also reflected in its music. It is known to be one of the most flourishing ancient civilizations, with its archaeological treats and Mesopotamian architecture. Did you know that they were one of the first major civilizations to codify design elements in art? As simple, elegant and intriguing as their wall paintings look, they followed a rigid code of visual rules and meanings.

For those interested, there are plenty of online courses available on topics related to Ancient Egypt and Egyptology, and how to read hieroglyphics.