Languages Galore

The Blog – Halloween (A2-B1)

Trick or treat? It’s Halloween today!

By the way, did you know that Halloween is a Celtic festival?

Halloween is a Celtic festival which was born in Europe. It was also celebrated in France, Italy, Swtizerland, Germany, Austria, north of Spain, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, all the countries where the Celts lived. In Ireland Halloween has always been very important and when many Irish people emigrated to the USA in the 1800s because of a terrible famine, they brought their traditions with them to America. The Americans in the States particularly liked the festivity and that is why this European festival is so famous in America too! The Irish used to lit candles in carved turnips to scare the evil spirits away on the night of Halloween but when they went to America they couldn’t find any turnips. However, they found some vegetables that were even better: pumpkins! There are many stories about Halloween, one that many children know is the story of Jack o’ Lantern, which also gave the name to the spooky Halloween lanterns!

Now, you’ve probably been asking: “who were the Celts and why is the festival associated to spooky and eerie things?”

The Iron Age Celts lived in Britain from around 750 BCE to 12 CE. They were the most powerful people in central and northern Europe. There were many groups (clans or tribes) of Celts around Europe.

The Celts believed that the world of the living and the world of the dead could meet during the night of 31st October. It was a night when the spirits of the Otherworld could return to Earth and roam through the villages until dawn. You could meet good spirits but also bad ones. If you didn’t want to be caught by these spirits, you had to dress up like them. That night was called the night of Samhain, which changed its name in All Hallows’ Eve in the Middle Ages and then became Halloween! Hallow is a word in Medieval English meaning Saint: the name All Hallow’s Eve means in fact “the eve of all Saints”. Halloween, or Samhain, was in fact an important festival celebrated by the Celts and it was a moment to celebrate the end of the year (New Year’s Eve) and the beginning of a new one. Everybody celebrated the end of summer and the arrival of winter and ate, sang and danced. There were also religious ceremonies like weddings or rites or purification, and in each village a sacred bonfire was lit.

The ancient Celts divided the year into two halves, the lighter half and the darker half, and held four celebrations (also known as Fire Festivals) to mark the changing seasons:

• Imbolc – celebrated halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox (1st February)
• Beltane – halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice (1st May)
• Lughnasadh – halfway between the summer solstice and fall equinox (1st August)
• Samhain – halfway between the fall equinox and winter solstice (1st November)
Of these four sacred times, Samhain was perhaps the most significant as it is thought to have represented the Celtic New Year. For the ancient Celts, time began in darkness, with each 24-hour day commencing at dusk. At the same time, the new year began with the arrival of darkness (winter). Ushering in the darker half of the year, Samhain represented the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

Before we go trick-or-treating, here are some fun facts about Halloween!

Samhain is also the modern Irish word for the month of November.

The colours of Halloween are orange and black. Orange represents the harvest (the fruit and vegetables harvested at the end of summer) and black represents death.

Some popular activities of Halloween include: the game bobbing for apples, going from house to house in costumes to ask for candies (and to play a trick to the owner of the house if you don’t get anything), divination games and telling ghost stories or watching horror films.

Many elements of fairy tales, fantasy stories and fables come from Celtic myths and folklore.

Put on your costume and let’s carve a pumpkin, it’s time to party! Happy spooky Halloween!

The Blog – Autumn has arrived (A1/A2)

Autumn has arrived

It’s October now and we’re in Autumn.

The days are shorter and colder. It’s also started to rain. We’re going to school and summer is over. It really looks sad, but autumn is great fun too! There are a lot of nice activities to do!

What can you do in autumn?

Well, in autumn you can do a lot of funny things: for example, you can go leaf-peeping! To peep is to look, and a leaf is the flat part of a plant growing on a branch. Some leaves turn red, orange or yellow in autumn and the landscape becomes wonderful! When you go leaf-peeping, you walk in the woods and look at the bright colours of the leaves. 

You can also look for chestnuts or mushrooms and then you can make some delicious food. 

What can you make with chestnuts?

You can bake a cake, or you can cook chestnuts with milk, or… you can roast them! Roasted chestnuts on the fire are delicious and fun! When the chestnuts get too hot, they pop!

Mushrooms are excellent too! Have you tried fried mushrooms? Or mushroom risotto? Yummy!

There is also another important vegetable in autumn: the pumpkin. Pumpkins are small or large, round or long, orange or yellow, and there are so many types! With pumpkins you can make pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie and you can carve them to create a Jack-o-Lantern for Halloween!

Next time, we’re going to talk about Halloween, but now let’s go into the kitchen! We need to cook all this delicious food!

When weather, place and culture affect languages

It rains a lot in Britain, doesn’t it?

So, it’s quite normal in English to have many different ways to describe the rain.

We may have drizzle if the rain is very light, or a shower if it is a short period of rain, a downpour if it is heavy rain or we can say that it is raining cats and dogs if it is really raining a lot.

If you live in a very hot area, you may not have as many names for the rain as the English language does.

This is in fact how languages work. The people who speak a specific language contribute in inventing new words for things they see very often that maybe others don’t know.

In the past, the Latin language had no words for the colours brown, green or grey. These words entered the Latin vocabulary when the Romans came into contact with tribes from the North, the Celts, or the Germanic peoples, who lived in areas with a higher percentage of woods and forests who, for this reason, had words to describe colours they used to see every day while the Romans didn’t. Names of trees such as birch and beech were new for the Romans who had never seen those plants in the south of Italy before. For the same reason, the word pants entered the Latin vocabulary because of the Celts, who actually used pants or trousers which were completely unknown to the Romans who were more used to wearing togas.

These were all examples of how different places, with specific colours, plants or animals shaped some languages; but now let’s step back in time even further and let’s go to prehistoric times.

There is a theory in Linguistic Anthropology which differentiates language sounds according to space. Have you ever noticed why some Latin languages such as Italian, French, Spanish or Romanian contain several vowels, while languages such as Swedish, German, English or Dutch contain many consonants? Here is the reason why. Try to say out loud the sound “ah” and try to keep the sound as long as you have breath, like this: “aaaaah”. Now, try to do the same with this sounds: “tch”, “p”, “t”. How long were you able to maintain these sounds? Probably for just about a second. Vowels are sounds you can keep saying for a long time, while consonants are explosive sounds which cannot be prolonged in time. People who lived in very hot areas, such as the Mediterranean, needed sounds that could be prolonged in time, so that if your companion was very far from you, he or she could understand you better. The same happened for some languages of peoples living in the Amazon forest or on the Pacific islands. All their languages contained a lot of vowels because the speakers needed sounds that could be prolonged in time so that if they were hunting or very far from one another, they could use words which could actually be shouted for a long period, and be sure that everybody would understand or hear them.

On the contrary, in very cold areas such as Scandinavia for instance, people stayed closer to one another because they needed warmth. For this reason, there was no need to have sounds that had to be prolonged in time, so short sounds such as consonants were more useful. If you live in Italy and speak or know dialects, you may find the same thing: in the North of Italy, near the Alps or in the mountains, people speak dialects with a higher quantity of consonants than people living in the centre or the south of Italy, who use a larger quantity of vowels instead. It is in fact normal to hear a difference in sound between people living in cold places (who tend to have a lower volume of voice) and people living in hotter places (who tend to have a higher volume of voice). All these things happened a long time ago, but these features are still present in today’s languages. But there’s even more to it!

In very small communities of Aboriginal peoples in Australia or Native Americans in the States, it is often very common to find languages where the concept of right and left or north, south, east or west is totally absent. Some of these languages rely on different cardinal points. For example, if you live near a very big mountain you consider to be sacred, you may use it to say over the mountain or below the mountain and that is all you need to say! How crazy languages can be at times!

The Origins of the English Language

Languages evolve all the time.

English, too, was born a long time ago, and has never stopped changing since then. It was born from a mixture of different languages brought by different peoples over more than 2000 years of history. You can imagine English as a big soup, where everybody contributed by putting in some ingredients. Let’s have a look at the evolution of this fascinating language.

Before 43 CE, Britain was inhabited by Celtic populations who spoke Celtic languages. When the Romans arrived in 43 CE and founded the city of Londinium (yes, nowadays London!), the Celtic populations were conquered, and Latin became the official language. Romans didn’t like the cold weather of Britain, and the Celtic populations didn’t like them either, so, in 409 CE, the Romans left, and Latin stopped being used there.

Around 450 CE, many tribes from the north of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark conquered the British land and the populations of the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes started to settle in. These populations, known as Anglo-Saxons, mixed with the Celtic populations, and so did their languages.  The Britons started to use Anglo-Saxon words, which everybody preferred than those difficult Latin words, and the primitive English welcomed new words such as “arm”, “baby” “man”, “woman”, “friend”, the verb “can” and many more.

During the 5th century CE, Christianity came to Britain and Christian monks reintroduced the Latin language which became very popular again with the spread of the Christian religion among poor and rich people. The Latin alphabet was introduced, and many religious manuscripts were written in the language. Many monasteries flourished, both in the south and in the north of England. But in 800 CE, the north of England was ransacked and raided by some populations coming from the North Sea on board of monstrous boats: the Vikings. They stayed in the area for more than 300 years and their language offered some 2000 words such as “sky”, “knife”, “husband” “law”, “skill”, the names of the days, e.g. “Thursday” from the god Thor, or verbs such as “take”, “kindle” or phrasal verbs, all entered the English vocabulary.

In 1066, England saw the invasion by another country: The Normans from France.

William the Conqueror from France became the King of England and introduced the French language at court. French was used in castles, among knights and noble men, while English was still used among the poor. It’s interesting to notice that at this time, many nouns and verbs started to have a double nature: an English version and a French version. The best examples come from food: at court, people talked about “pork”, which is the cooked version of the animal “pig”. “Pork” was used in castles, where the nobles were interested in the meat of the animal, while “pig” was used by poor people, who had to look after the living animal; so “sheep” became “mutton”, and “cow” became “beef”, once these were cooked and served at the table of princes, barons, dames and other royals. Verbs got this double nature as well: e.g.  the French “search”, and the Anglo-Saxon “to look for”.

In 1600, Shakespeare, one of the greatest poets of all times, introduced more than 2000 new words and expressions and the whole language was transformed again.

British Imperialism also contributed in shaping the language. Many colonies around the world meant that new cultures and new objects entered the English language. Words such as “pyjamas” coming from the Urdu language, or “safari” from Swahili, “raccoon or opossum” from Native American languages, “kangaroo” from Aboriginal languages are some examples.

Even the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century and the revolution in technology of the 20th century with the introduction of computers and new devices, made the English vocabulary bigger and bigger.

By the way, did you know that the English Language used to be much more difficult in the past than it is today? In the past all verbs were irregular, and nouns and adjectives had cases just like Latin! If you tried to read a text written in Old English or Middle English, you would probably understand nothing! English in the Middle Ages looked like a completely different language! However, like all languages across centuries, it evolved towards simplicity, verbs became more regular and nouns and adjectives lost their cases. English is still transforming itself now, but at the same time, it is adding new words into its vocabulary each year. One of the most recent words to be included in English dictionaries was the word “selfie”.  Who knows how the English language will be in 500 years’ time… but one thing we know for sure, like all languages, it will never stay still!

British Food: the Victorian Way

During Victorian England urban poverty was visible in degraded areas of London. The diet of English workers at that time was based on bread and potatoes, with bacon when extra earnings could be saved, as well as one of the most famous British fast food: fish and chips. The main problem of Londoners during the period was to get fresh food because the latter had to travel long distances before getting to London. In fact, one of the main causes of many diseases that flooded London during those times was the low consumption of fruit and vegetables that took too much time to reach the town.

The railways were the most influential factor for both the quality and the quantity of food available in the cities. Before the massive construction of railway infrastructures, bulky goods had to be carried by sea, river and canals. The long time needed for transportation prevented fresh foods from arriving intact in London.

Cookery books also had a great impact on the 19th century cooking style. However, their influence had little to do with the genre: they were in fact more related with the fact that women’s education level was growing. The first example is Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton (1845). The book is stuffed with essays, engravings, illustrations and poetic descriptions, making it a collection of poems more than a cookery book. A second important example is Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beaton (1861). This one is much more pragmatic and is the first cookery book to mention aspects concerning costs, quantities, and preparation times.

Still today television baking competitions are incredibly famous all around the world. Let’s think about England: The Great British Bake Off, Nigella Bites (by Nigella Lawson) and Mary Berry Cooks. Many of these tv shows still use some of Acton’s or Beaton’s recipes such as in the Mary Berry’s Ginger and treacle spiced traybake. Speaking of ginger, the first recorded mention of gingerbread being baked in London dates back to 1793, although this was probably earlier, as ginger had been stocked in high street businesses since the 1640s. Today one of the most popular shapes of gingerbread is the gingerbread house which has become a common Christmas staple.

Enjoy your meal and Merry Christmas!

Questo articolo è stato scritto da Arcadia Fiorini, postgraduate student in Foreign Languages, Literatures and Modern Cultures, UNITO.

Paese che vai, modo di dire che trovi

Gli italiani fumano “come turchi”, i francesi come “pompieri” e gli inglesi e i tedeschi, più banalmente, come “ciminiere”. I turchi, mi dice il mio amico Mimmo, non si pongono certi problemi. Fumano (tanto) e basta. Non è dato sapere se bestemmino. In compenso hanno una città, Trebzon, da cui deriva l’antichissimo detto “perdere la Trebisonda”.

È tutto un gran casino, comunque. Perché gli italiani fanno i portoghesi quando non pagano il biglietto, gli inglesi baciano alla francese, e i francesi, in compenso, se ne vanno di soppiatto “all’inglese”. Gli inglesi, a loro volta, “take Dutch leave”, se ne vanno all’olandese. Ma i tedeschi, e giuro che non scherzo, se la svignano alla francese. Alzi la mano chi ci ha capito qualcosa.

Le lingue sono questo. E sono belle per questo. Perché dietro ogni espressione che usiamo quotidianamente ci sono storie che neppure potremmo immaginare, come l’attore che nel 1600  portò in scena un fiasco (il perché lo sa solo Dio) in un teatro di Firenze durante uno spettacolo e decise di usarlo per improvvisare una performance che non fu esattamente apprezzata dal pubblico. Da qui l’espressione, utilizzata anche in inglese (“to be a fiasco”).

Piove forte? Attenzione a stare in Portogallo, dove piovono “canivetes”, coltellini. O peggio ancora in Francia, dove “piove come una mucca che piscia” o a Praga, dove esagerano e addirittura piovono carriole.

Facile come bere un bicchier d’acqua? Per i francesi è più facile dire “bonjour” e per gli inglesi è un pezzo di torta, “a piece of cake”. E se uno ha avuto la vita facile in Svezia, è avanzato scivolando su un panino di gamberetti.

Gli spagnoli non ne dicono quattro quando sono arrabbiati, ne cantano quaranta. E non hanno il braccino corto ma il “puño cerrado”, il pugno chiuso, come gli inglesi (“tight-fisted”).

Facciamo qualcosa di inutile? Gli inglesi portano carbone a Newcastle, i francesi l’acqua al fiume, gli spagnoli legna ai monti e i tedeschi gufi ad Atene.

Per dire che una cosa accade raramente, qui facciamo morire il papa, o in mancanza di meglio, un vescovo. I francesi aspettano il 36 del mese, gli spagnoli da Pasqua alla domenica delle palme, i tedeschi il giubileo e gli inglesi due lune piene in un mese.

E per finire, in punto di morte, i francesi “rompono la pipa”, gli olandesi la restituiscono a Martin, chiunque sia costui, e i britannici “kick the bucket”, calciano il secchio. E noi? Noi tiriamo i calzini o le cuoia. Sappiamo morire con stile tutto italiano.

Questo articolo è stato scritto da Silvia Borgiattino: insegnante di lingue e traduttrice. Ama l’inglese, i libri, la pioggia e il caffè, non necessariamente in quest’ordine.

Languages Galore Magazine

Da oggi il blog di English Galore School si arricchisce di una nuova sezione: stiamo parlando di Languages Galore Magazine, un’area dedicata a curiosità linguistiche, usi e costumi, modi di dire e altre interessanti scoperte e aneddoti per appassionati delle lingue di tutto il mondo. In Languages Galore Magazine troverai articoli scritti in italiano da insegnanti ed esperti di lingue (traduttori, interpreti e nerd del settore).

English Galore School è una scuola di inglese, certo, ma la sua filosofia è quella di promuovere la diversità linguistica e culturale per incuriosire anche chi magari non ha familiarità con il colorato e multiforme mondo delle lingue. Troverai tutti gli articoli di Languages Galore Magazine nel menù di questo blog, sotto l’apposita etichetta “Languages Galore”.

Buona lettura!