Ukulele & Languages

Different countries,
Different cultures
one common language... the ukulele.

Language Fun Posts

Today’s Language Fun post might change your perception of English as a language!

British people often find it very frustrating when their English is not understood by foreign people.

A British woman came up with a rather unconventional idea…

Ever wondered why most French people are so reluctant to speak English?

This might be the beginning of an explanation. (Warning: not to be taken seriously)

Watch out next time you are struck with migraine, this is what could happen to you…

I cannot embed the video so click on the link to view it.

In case migraine changes your accent or language to Spanish, make sure you practise the correct pronunciation of the Spanish word  for ‘chicken’ (pollo)  so you don’t have to chicken out when ordering poultry at the restaurant…

A rather rare find this week, a ukulele song in Reunion Creole.

Reunion Creole is a semi-creole language spoken on the Reunion island which is mostly spoken and rarely written. It borrows heavily from French which is the official language on the island, but has a few words coming from other languages such as Malagazy, Hindi, Portuguese and Tamil.

View Reunion island in a larger map

Translator François St Omer has translated a couple of Astérix comics in Reunion Creole.

Seeing Reunion creole written is a bit strange for a French speaker. It looks mostly like phonetic French with the addition of a few extra words that are unfamiliar.

As for the sound of Reunion creole, enjoy Uky May ‘s cover of a song titled Oté Gran Mèr by Reunion band Ousanousava.

I find the subject of swearing extremely fascinating from a language lover’s point of view. When you travel abroad to a country speaking a different language than yours, swearwords are among the first words you pick up as they are overwhelmingly present in nowadays everyday life.

The way those swearwords are used and combined with ‘regular’ language reveal  a lot about the culture of a country, especially when you start looking at their etymology.

Warning : As the subject of swearing will be discussed in the rest of this post, you will come across some offensive language.

I stumbled upon a very interesting podcast on The Guardian last Friday focusing on swearing, the way bad language is used in the medias, and a survey on the worst swearwords in the English language.

Find out what a library curator, a senior lecturer in linguistics, a newspaper editor, a broadcasting regulator, a political satire and a writer have to say on the subject :

I researched the subject a bit more and found a talk by Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker.

Steven Pinker looks into the different categories of swearwords, discusses the reasons we are swearing, looks into the neurologic aspects of swearing and into the reactions swearing triggers.

I really enjoyed listening to Steven Pinker‘s talk as it looks into all the aspects of swearing and as each point is illustrated with amusing anecdotes.

Steven Pinker – The Language of Swearing Part One :

Steven Pinker – The Language of Swearing Part Two:

The podcast and the above mentioned videos made me think about French swearing compared to English swearing. If you try to match French swearwords to English swearwords, you’ll find that words with similar meanings don’t carry the same weight in French or in English.

Here are some examples that spring to my mind :

con‘ in French has the same definition as ‘cunt‘ in English, ie a reference to the female genitalia. I would however have no trouble using the word ‘con‘ every other sentence in an informal context whereas I definitely wouldn’t use the word ‘cunt‘ thoughtlessly.

You can tell someone ‘T’es con‘ with a slight headshake after he/she has said something stupid or has just teased you about something. The original meaning of the word is then completely forgotten and the person will just usually smile when you say this. But I wouldn’t smile at all if I were to be called a ‘cunt’.

arsehole‘ in English would translate literally as ‘trou du cul‘ in French but doesn’t carry the same meaning. A ‘trou du cul‘ in French is usually used to refer to someone (usually a male) who thinks very highly of himself and who tends to look down on others. ‘Connard‘  or ‘Salaud‘ would be closer to the meaning of  ‘arsehole‘.

We’ve heard in the podcast and videos that one category of swearing is referring to bodily functions, and more specifically human feces.

Some words falling into that category from various languages which have stuck to my memory are :

– The German (Schwäbisch) word ‘Scheißebach‘ : if you think the word ‘shit‘ is too mainstream to convey anything anymore, you will not deny the effect of ‘Scheißebach‘ which translates literally as ‘stream of shit’. The impact of this word is twofold : the meaning is obviously stronger than just a plain ‘shit‘ or ‘scheiße‘ but, at the same time, the sheer sound of that German word is powerful enough to enforce a strong repulsive feeling in anyone.

– The idiomatic expression ‘to be scared shitless‘ : this is an expression I heard during my stay in Hull and I found it, well… rather self-explanatory and straight to the point. Somewhat inelegant perhaps but still, dead on !

– A word I heard a lot in Ireland : ‘Gobshite‘. I just love this word. It is used to describe people who talk complete rubbish for an endless amount of time. In other words and to remain on the subject of human dejections, people who are full of wind and who suffer from verbal diarrhoea.

For a proper demonstration of Irish swearing, watch the following extract from the Father Ted series. Thanks to Al.

– the Norwegian ‘Faens dritt !’ : literally translated as ‘The Devil’s shit’. Or you may prefer ‘Faen i helvete‘, both expressions meaning something like ‘Fucking hell!’ I wonder has anybody thought of using the compound ‘Faens dritt i helvete‘ for extra emphasis?

Enough rambling, if you’d like to learn more about Norwegian swearing, I strongly recommend this hilarious video :

As you will hopefully not have failed to notice the subject of swearing in various languages is one that I find particularly inspiring.

I’d love to hear your feedback on the subject, so don’t hesitate to share creative swearwords from your own language, funny anecdotes and your own thoughts on the subject. Please refrain from swearing at me though!

In the series of Funny Shop Names(funny from a French perspective), a Dutch friend of mine sent me a couple of pictures which are rather amusing and which I’d like to share.

If you are a Dutch shop owner and you wish to use a French name for your shop (to benefit from the classy image French seems to have), you need to  be sure that your fellow countrymen will pronounce your shop name correctly even if they don’t speak French.

Francophile Dutch shop owners have used cunning phonetic spelling of their shop names to ensure that they would be pronounced correctly.

Here is the Dutchified version of Déjà-Vu

Another creative approach is to use SMS-like spelling to encourage proper(ish) pronunciation of the French.

If your English is American rather than British, you will need to pronounce the letter Z the British way, ie. zed and not zee to get the next shop name right.

Here is the Dutch  for C’est Ici (‘zed’ ici : it’s here)

Do you have any funny pictures of signs, shop names from your own country ? If so, don’t  hesitate to send them over to me if you would like to share them with the rest of the world.

Accents are a really fascinating subject for language lovers.  During the year I spent in Northern England for my studies, I was amazed by the variety of British accents and by the fact that British people had problems understanding each other if they were not used to their respective accents and dialects.

I remember the “how will I cope” feeling I had when I attended my first Managerial Ethics lecture given by a Glaswegian. I was however quickly comforted by the fact that British students were as puzzled as myself.

I discovered at that time that it only takes a short amount of time to adjust your ear to different accents. It does require a great deal of concentration at first in order for you to pinpoint exactly what is different from the accent(s) you know, whether it be the rhythm of speech, the melodic pattern, the swallowed consonants or exaggerated vowels sounds or the use of specific regional words.

Knowing my interest in languages and accents, Herman sent me the link to a video of an English student doing 24 different English accents. I think he did very well. Maybe not on all the accents, but some of them are really spot on (spo’ on). What do you think? Is your accent represented? If so do you think it is rather accurate ? Let us know in a comment.

Warning : there is a fair amount of swearing in this video.

If you intend to learn an accent in any language, actress, singer, and director Amy Walker has some very interesting tips in the following two videos.

It is striking to see how changing one’s accent does seem to alter one’s personality. Watching Amy doing different accents, you wouldn’t think it is the same person talking.

How to Learn Any Accent / Part One by Amy Walker

And Part Two :

Language Fun

A place for language lovers where I’m trying to demonstrate how fun it is to learn other languages and how much of a culture you understand through its language.
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