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A blomma by any other name…

One of the things I enjoyed about our trip was the different languages we encountered as we moved through various countries and seeing which words for common, everyday things changed. The shifts may have been so subtle that the words remained recognizable, or they may have become something completely different and/or unexpected. I thought it would be entertaining to do a post where I collect and compare the terms in all the languages we came across.

Language fascinates me. A couple of years ago I started listening to the “History of English” podcast by Kevin Stroud. Before listening to this podcast, I was aware that the English language had a lot of Latin, French, and German influences, but I didn’t really know why. Stroud’s podcast is an in-depth study on how the English language evolved alongside England’s history of occupation beginning with Celtic settlers and moving through invasions by the Romans (Latin), the Anglo-Saxons (German), the Vikings (Old Norse), and the Normans (French). My passions for language and history neatly intersect in this area of study.

Ye olde language tree (from Pixabay)

I was intrigued to discover that English has so many influences from Old Norse which, by the way, is also a Germanic language (more on that later). When Neil began studying German while we were in Berlin, he put a few sticky notes up on things around the apartment to help him learn their German names. One of these was fenster, meaning window. 

“That’s interesting,” I pointed out to him, “since the French word for window is fenêtre, which is very similar. Where did window come from if it’s not German or French, and why is it so different?” Neil looked it up, and found that window comes from the Old Norse word vindauga, literally meaning “wind-eye” (vindr = wind, auga = eye). How cool is that? (If you’re as nerdy as me or Neil, the answer is very cool).

From Pixabay

I know some basic French vocabulary, and so learning their German counterparts was a fun way to learn more about where my native language comes from. Our travels began in France and then took us through Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Italy. This was an ideal itinerary to see how similar or dissimilar English was to countries that share a linguistic history. Later, our travels took us to Spain, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Spanish and Catalan, like French and Italian, are also Romance languages. Fun fact: a “Romance” language is called that because it stems from Latin, the language spoken by the Romans, and not because the language sounds more romantic than others (although that is arguably true). Slovak and Croatian are very different from English and we had no familiarity with them, but like all the other languages we had encountered so far these two languages are still Indo-European (more on that later). Estonian is the outlier, as it is the only language we encountered that is not Indo-European, and belongs instead to the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family. Dutch (spoken in the northern parts of Belgium and in the Netherlands) is very similar to German.

What is the difference between Indo-European and Uralic language families? There is a beautiful language tree that you can see/read about here and order here. (I’m probably going to order this for Neil for Christmas, don’t tell him!) The artist who created this tree also has a fun comparison of the Nordic languages using cats here. The Proto-Indo Europeans were a prehistoric people who lived in Eurasia around the 4th century B.C.E. and who shared a language (Proto-Indo-European) and culture. As various members of these Proto-Indo-Europeans split off into different groups and migrated throughout various regions of Europe and Asia, the once-shared language and culture split off and became differentiated as well. There are about 445 Indo-European languages that make up most of the modern languages of Europe, most of the languages we North Americans are probably familiar with, and all but one of the languages that Neil and I encountered on our trip. But in addition to the languages that immediately come to mind and that I’ve previously mentioned (such as the ones that have Germanic and Latin roots), Indo-European languages also include languages in Northern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Russia, among many others. Sanskrit and Celtic languages are Indo-European as well!

Here is an Indo-European language map that I’ve drawn up. Keep in mind, I’m not an illustrator, and Neil and I are currently on the road so I only have a lined paper notebook and a couple of ballpoint pens with me! It is not a complete depiction of the Indo-European language, as that would take up a lot of space. I’ve only filled out what is most relevant to this discussion. If you want to find out more about the Indo-European people and their language, I would highly recommend Kevin Stroud’s “History of English” podcast.

The Uralic language consists of 38 languages, the most prominent of which are Hungarian, Estonian, and Finnish. Various regions of Russia include languages such as Erzya, Moksha, Mari, Udmurt, and Komi. This language family gets its name from the Ural mountains, a mountain range that runs north to south in western Russia, and serves as the conventional boundary between the continents of Europe and Asia. There is some disagreement about the origin of Uralic speakers, but it has been hypothesized to be near the Urals. They lived around the 5th century B.C.E. The Sami languages, spoken by various groups of people who live in parts of northern Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia, are Uralic. There is some debate about whether the Uralic grouping includes the Samoyedic languages.

If you want to learn more about language families, this page is a good starting point.

All right, after all that ado, let me present three different charts of languages we encountered and some of the words I paid attention to as they changed across our travels. The first chart is a comparison of the Germanic languages, the second compares English with the Romance languages, and the third compares English with the rest of the languages we encountered on our trip. Please note that I’ve used Google Translate to draw up these charts, so the words below may not always best reflect the way the language is actually spoken. If you’ve noticed there are any mistakes, please let me know!

I’m not going to wade too much into pronunciation because my knowledge on that is woefully inept. Here are a few things I do know:

  • in German, the ß character can mostly be used interchangeably as an English “ss” sound. So straße can be pronounced as strasse.
  • in German, Ws are pronounced as Vs.
  • In German, Danish, and Swedish, Js are pronounced as Ys.
  • A Danish ø or a Swedish ö is pronounced as a low eeeew/oooh sound. The Danish & Swedish å is pronounced as a short oh. The Danish æ is sort of like the Canadian eh.
  • For more information, a good Danish pronunciation guide is here. A good Swedish one is here.
English German Dutch Danish Swedish
hello hallo hallo hej hej
goodbye auf wiedersehen vaarwel farvel adjö
good morning guten morgen goedemorgen god morgen god morgon
please bitte alsjeblieft vær venlig snälla du
thank you danke dank je tak skal du have tack
I love you Ich liebe dich Ik hou van je Jeg elsker dig Jag älskar dig
street straße straat gade gata
window fenster venster vindue fönster
church kirche kerk kirke kyrka
castle schloss kasteel slot slott
king könig koning konge kung
flower blume bloem blomst blomma
mulled wine glühwein glühwein gløgg glögg
beer bier bier øl öl
orange juice orangensaft sinaasappelsap appelsinjuice apelsinjuice
strawberry erdbeere aardbei jordbær jordgubbe
milk milch melk mælk mjölk
boy, man junge, mann jongen, man dreng, mand pojke, man
girl, woman mädchen, frau meisje, vrouw pige, kvinde flicka, kvinna
dog, puppy chien, chiot hond, pedant ventje hund, hundehvalp hund, hundehvalp
cat, kitten chat, chaton kat, katje kat, kattekilling katt, kattekilling
help hilf helpen hjælp hjälp
heart herz hart hjerte hjärta
one

two

three

four

five

six

seven

eight

nine

ten

ein

zwei

drei

vier

fünf

sechs

sieben

acht

neun

zehn

een

twee

drie

vier

vijf

zes

zeven

acht

negen

tien

en

to

tre

fire

fem

seks

syv

otte

ni

ti

ett

två

tre

fyra

fem

sex

sju

åtta

nio

tio

In Germany, we noticed that instead of using auf wiedersehen to say goodbye, many Germans used the much less formal and Italian word ciao! instead. Some amusing translations I came across included the German word pissoir to mean urinal, and the Swedish word julskum to refer to a Santa-shaped marshmallow candy.

Some specific words from the chart above that I like:

  • The words for mulled wine in German (glühwein), Danish (gløgg), and Swedish (glögg).
  • In Danish and Swedish there are lots of words that began with hj such as hjerte and hjärta. My childhood surname, which starts with an hj, fits right in!
  • In Danish and Swedish, orange juice becomes appelsinjuice, almost like apple juice instead!
  • The Danish vindue is closest to the English window and old Norse vindauga.
  • The Danish øl and the Swedish öl for beer, like the English word ale.

All right, onto chart number two! It covers the English and the Romance languages. Catalan is the language of Catalonia, a region in Spain that wants independence. Barcelona is the capital of the region.

There are lots of tricky pronunciations with these languages and I definitely don’t know what they all are. There are lots of guides available around the Internet, or you can plug the word into Google Translate to hear what it sounds like there.

English French Italian Spanish Catalan
hello bonjour ciao hola hola
goodbye au revoir addio adiós adéu
good morning bonjour buongiorno buenos días bon dia
please s’il vous plait per favore por favor si us plau
thank you merci grazie gracias gràcies
I love you Je t’aime Ti amo Te amo T’estimo
street rue strada calle carrer
window fenêtre finestra ventana finestra
church église chiesa iglesia església
castle château castello castillo castell
king roi re rey rei
flower fleur fiore flor flor
mulled wine vin chaud vin brulè vino caliente vi calent
beer bière birra cerveza cervesa
orange juice jus d’orange succo d’arancia zumo de naranja suc de taronja
strawberry fraise fragola fresa maduixa
milk lait latte leche ilet
boy, man garçon, homme ragazzo, uomo chico, hombre noi, home
girl, woman fille, femme ragazza, donna niña, mujer noia, dona
dog, puppy chien, chiot canej, cucciolo perro, perrito gos, cadell
cat, kitten chat, chaton gatto, gattino gato, gatito gat, gatet
help au secours aiuto ayuda ajuda
heart cœur cuoro corazón cor
one

two

three

four

five

six

seven

eight

nine

ten

un

deux

trois

quatre

cinq

six

sept

huit

neuf

dix

uno

due

tre

quattro

cinque

sei

sette

otto

nove

dieci

uno

dos

tres

cuatro

cinco

seis

siete

ocho

nueve

diez

un

dos

tres

quatre

cinc

sis

set

vuit

nou

deu

Some words that caught my eye:

  • I think Spanish has the cutest names for dog/puppy (pero/perrito) and cat/kitty (gato/gatito).
  • I like the Spanish niña meaning girl and the Italian and Catalan donna/dona for women because they have become female names.

Chart number three! Remember that Estonian is not Indo-European. I have no familiarity with any of the three languages, so I have no advice to give on pronunciation except to search out some guides if you are interested in doing so!

English Croatian Slovak Estonian
hello zdravo ahoj tere
goodbye doviđenja zbohom hüvastu
good morning dobro jutro dobré ráno tere hommikust
please molim prosím palun
thank you hvala vam Ďakujem aitäh
I love you Volim te L’úbim t’a Ma armastan sind
street ulica pouličné tänav
window prozor okno aken
church crkva cirkevné kirik
castle dvorac hrad loss
king kralj král’ kuningas
flower cvijet kvetina lill
mulled wine kuhano vino varené víno mullvein
beer pivo pivo õlut
orange juice sok od naranče pomarančový džús apelsinimahl
strawberry jagoda jahoda maasikas
milk mlijeko mlieko piim
boy, man dječak, čovjek chlapec, muž poiss, mees
girl, woman djevojka, žena dievča, žena tüdruk, naine
dog, puppy pas, štene pes, šten̂a koer, kutsikas
cat, kitten mačka, mače mačka, mačiatko kass, kassipoeg
help pomozite pomoc abi
heart srce srdce süda
one

two

three

four

five

six

seven

eight

nine

ten

jedan

dva

tri

četiri

pet

šest

sedam

osam

devet

deset

jeden

dva

tri

štyri

pät’

šest’

sedem

osem

devät’

desat’

üks

kaks

kolm

neli

viis

kuus

seitse

kaheksa

üheksa

kümme

Some things I noticed:

  • that the Estonian word for mulled wine, mullvein, is similar to English and German, even though many of the other words don’t look English or German at all!
  • The Estonian apelsinimahl is similar to Swedish and Danish appelsinjuice.

That was fun! Hopefully you found this post educational and entertaining. What caught your eye as you were looking at these charts? What are your favourite words and translations? Any interesting language facts you would like to share? Let me know!

I apologize for any mistakes I may have made, and am open to any helpful corrections you may notice!

If you’re interested, here is an earlier post I wrote about learning German. (I later gave up but Neil, one year later, has almost reached B2! He can have entire conversations in German!)

Hmm, my German may not be great, but for some reason I have no problem translating the sign below.

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