Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

Rachel’s Hebrew classes at City Lit

November 29, 2017



Rachel Montagu (email) writes to say:

I’m teaching 4 classes at City Lit, Level 1, beginners, Level 2 from about the middle of the EKS book, Level 3 reading biblical texts and learning those grammatical forms which the EKS book omits like Pual, Hophal, Polal and pause, Level 4 reading biblical texts – list of texts for this year below.

City Lit Level 4

Autumn Term Module 1 28th September 2017 to 14th December 2017

1) 28/9/2017 Ps. 96:1-13, Ps 103:1-10
 5/10 no class
12/10 no class
2) 19/10/ 2017 Ps. 103:11-22 Daniel 1:1-10
3) 26/10/2017 Daniel 1:11-21, 2:1-3, 8:1-6
4) 2/11/2017 Daniel 8:7-27
5) 9/11/2017 Daniel 9:1-20
6) 16/11/2017 Daniel 10:1-21
7) 23/11/2017 Ps.105 1-22
8) 30/11/2017 Ps.105 23-45
9) 7/12/2017 Geminate verbs – forms and verses to illustrate
10) 14/12/2017 Ezekiel 1-20

Spring Term Module 2  18th January 2018 to 22nd March 2018

1) 18/1/2018 Ezekiel 1:21-28, 2:1-9, 3:1-3
2) 25/1/2018 Ezekiel 3:4-15, 17:1-9
3) 1/2/18 Ezekiel 17:10-24, 18:1-5
4) 8/2/18 Ezekiel 18:6-25
5) 15/2/18 Ezekiel 18:26-32, 20: 1-12
6) 22/2/18 Ezekiel 20:13-26
7)1/3/18 Psalm 106:1-24
8) 8/3/18 Psalm 106:27-48
9) 15/3/18 Grammar revision
10) 22/3/18 Genesis 25:19-34, 27:1-5

Summer Term Module 3 19th April 2018 to 28th June 2018

1) 19/4/18 Genesis 27:6-25
2) 26/4/18 Genesis 27:26-46
3) 3/5/18 Genesis 28:1-4, 10-22, 29:1-3
4) 10/5/18 Genesis 29:3-23
5) 17/5/18 Genesis 29:24-35, 30:1-6, 25-28
6) 24/5/18 Genesis 30:29-42, 31:1-7
7) 31/5/18 Genesis 31:8-16, 36-50
8) 7/6/18 Genesis 31:50-54, 32:1-15
9) 14/6/18 Genesis 32:17-33, 33:1-14
10) 21/6/18 Ps.130, Ps.131, Psalms chosen by class
11 28/6/18 Psalms chosen by class

Unmet requests to be reconsidered next year: Jonah, Nehemiah, Deuteronomy


Rachel’s Hebrew class at Liberal Judaism

November 29, 2017



Rachel Montagu (email) writes to say:
The Wednesday evening class derived from the Birkbeck class still meets, This year’s schedule attached below, although because I’ve found more biblical texts on prayer, we recently decided to extend our prayer theme and Nachum will probably get bumped back to next year

Wednesdays 6.30-8.30 p.m., at Liberal Judaism, 21 Maple Street, London, W1T 4BE

Autumn Term

Some Biblical prayers and encounters with God

18th October               Gen.4:26, 14:18-20, 20:7&17, 22:3, 24:12-14&62-63, 25:20-23, 26:25, 28:10-22

25th October               Gen.32:10-13, 23-33 & 33:10, 35:1-3, 49:18,

1st November             Ex. 8:24-27, 9:27-29, 10:16-18, Gen.48:15-16&20,Num. 6:22-27, Num.12:1-5,

8th November              Numbers 12:6-16, Ex.32:7-14, Num.14:11-14

15th November            Numbers 14:15-24, Deut.8:6-10, Jud.15:18-19 1Sam.1:1-8

22nd November           1Sam.1:9-28,

29th November            1 Samuel 2:1-10, 7:5-6 & 8-9, 12:14-25

6th December              2 Sam. 7:18-29, 12:13-16, 15:31, 1Kings 3:4-14

13th December            1 Kings 8:22- 40

Spring Term

10th January                i Kings 8:41-53, 18:36-39, Ps.141:1-2, 5-6

The Prophet Nachum

17th January                Nachum 1:1-2:9

24th January                Nachum 2:10-3:19

The Prophet Ezekiel

31st January                Ezekiel 17:1-24

7th February                Ezekiel 18:1-25

[14th February             Half Term & Ash Wednesday ]

21st February              Ezekiel 18:26-32, 20:1-15

[28th February             Purim]

7th March                     Ezekiel 20:16-26

Wicked Queens

14th March                   1 Kings 9:1-9, 11:1-14

21st March                   1 Kings 16:29-33, 18:13, 19:1-2, 21:1-19,


Summer Term

Wicked Queens cont.d

18th April                      1Kings 21:23-26, 2Kings 9:30-37, 2Kings 8:16-27

25th April                      2Kings 11:1-16, 20, 1Kings:15:9-15

Is it Wicked to Worship the Queen of Heaven? Or Make Figures for the Eternal’s Shrine?

2nd May                       Jeremiah 7:16-20, 44:15-19, 24-26, Judges 17:1-12, 18:31

Queen of Solomon’s Heart?

9th May                        Song of Songs 1:17, 2:1-8

16th May                      Song of Songs 2:9-17, 3:1-11

23rd May                      Song of Songs 4:1-10, 5:1-10

[30th  May                    Half Term]

6th  June                      Song of Songs 5:11-16, 6:1-11, 7:1-5

13th  June                    Song of Songs 7:6-14, 8:1-14


20th June                     Ps.90:1-17, 134:1-3

27th June                     Ps.130:1-8, 131:1-3

4th July                        Ps.145:1-21

Unmet requests for consideration next year; Abraham’s journey,

Are there any good Russian words in English?

October 26, 2017


That is a question I have often asked myself over the decades.  Russian words in English tend to fall into two categories:

i)  specifically Russian/Soviet referents:  tsar, rouble, Gulag, commissar, perestroika, glasnost, vodka, cosmonaut [Russian spaceman], sputnik [Russian satellite], samovar and so on

ii) terms with a negative connotation:  Gulag, commissar, ukase, pogrom, [actually maybe this is not a separate category].

So what might there be that is neither Russian nor pejorative?

It seems hard to derive bistro from быстро on chronological grounds, whatever the sign above might say.


The sable is tenné, not sable

Sable, as well as being an animal that lives in Russia and Poland is a highfalutin term for black as used by Shakespeare among others.  There are a lot more соболь in Russia than there are soból in Polish, but Poland is nearer.  Intelligentsia with that kind of spelling looks Russian rather than Polish (inteligencja) and the concept itself is just foreign rather than specifically Russian.

I quite like the word bolshie as a candidate here.  While it is clearly derived from Bolshevik (so Russian rather than Polish) it has no trace of Russianness attached to it and indeed has a semi-affectionate diminutive quality.  While the meaning of ‘difficult, recalcitrant, uncooperative’ may not seem especially positive, to the English mind these are not necessarily bad qualities–it may be different elsewhere, of course…

Bacchae in Oxford, 21 October

October 23, 2017

Picture from OGP20217 FB page

It cannot be said that my trip to Oxford for the Greek Play was a great success.  I discovered that the classical section of Blackwell’s had been moved up a floor to make way for the coffee shop )and the second-hand section had been reduced as well).  I felt mildly interested by a Collected Papers of Milman Parry but not enough to buy it.  I also visited the Oxfam Bookshop, as one does.

At the Oxford Playhouse, people had been moved forwards, sometimes into seats already occupied by others, and the masses of private school pupils were silent like a field of turnips.

Gosh, it was just so boring!  It seemed to have been reimagined as a ballet from the 1930s with music by Sir Arthur Bliss and an Art Deco cube for the set, but the chorus hardly moved, never mind getting off the ground.  The idea of having three Dionysuses meant there was never even an illusion of Pentheus confining them or him, and though Pentheus delivered his lines effectively that would not hold my interest on its own.

Then the thing had ground along so slowly there was an INTERVAL, so I rushed off to the station and quite by chance came across the rather lovely Chiltern Railway train to Marylebone, which also had decent free WiFi.  And there was a trilingual announcement in English, Arabic and Chinese at Bicester Village Retail Outlet.

Gosh, that was so exciting!  And not so long after I was back in South London!

Agonising death

October 19, 2017


My attention was caught by this Belarusian cigarette packet on the streets of South London, probably by the word ‘Minsk’ in Latin script.I suspect that is what the Belarusian consumer would notice too. We also have ‘Superslims’ in English and a customs stamp which makes it all look all right, and then an emaciated photograph resembling an X-ray with ‘Agonising death’  written on it in Russian, which probably also counts as prestigious in Belarus.


The other side has ‘agonising death’ in Belarusian and ‘Minsk’ in Cyrillic characters together with ‘Superslims’ once again in English, which is of course were the prestige is. Apart from that, catastrophic warnings tend not to work because the addressee smokes a packet of cigarettes, does not drop dead, in fact feels perfectly OK, and then starts to discount them more and more until it’s too late.

A pretty comprehensive example of ineffective tobacco control I would say–I wonder how much tax they collected from it…

The worth of foreign languages in Paris

October 14, 2017

Some mandarin-related data from Paris

So, we extend our previous study in London to consider and Paris. The table below shows results tabulated as previously for London


Jobs in Paris involving foreign languages

So, there were 1364 postings mentioning ‘polonais’ with a total estimated yearly salary of 29.35 million Euro and an average salary of 29,185 Euro.  ‘Overall here’ refers to the 12 language names listed while ‘Overall jobs’ is all the postings on the site.

We can also express this in terms of percentages referred to ‘overall jobs’, as below:


Data from Paris in percentage terms

Here, we see that 0.52% of the overall job postings mentioned ‘polonais’, and they had an average salary that was 13.1% higher than for the ‘Overall jobs’.  35% of postings appeared to mention a foreign language and for 30% that language was English.  We can compare this with data from London in the same format:


Data from London in percentage terms

There is a great difference in the worth of Polish (probably genuine) and of Turkish–probably due to small numbers, and you get very different results with [la langue] turque.  Italian and Japanese subtract value in both capitals, while Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese add value in the two of them.

Overall, the language-related jobs have a salary premium of 4.6% in Paris as against 17.3% in London.

The clearest conclusions are:

i)  there are far more jobs possibly requiring a foreign language (English!) in Paris than in London;

ii)  there seems to be a far higher premium for foreign languages in London than in Paris.





Greek at Madingley Hall

October 13, 2017

Picture from Madingley site

Janet Watson has written:

Cambridge University’s Institute for Continuing Education offers weekend residential courses in Classical Greek for Beginners’, Intermediate and Advanced levels, and will meet three times this academic year at Madingley Hall, just outside Cambridge. There will be a course for absolute beginners at the weekend of November 3-5, with the opportunity to progress through the basics of Greek grammar over subsequent weekends. For further information on all levels, see:

We gave an overview of the Madingley experience in relation to New Testament Greek:

This course took place over the weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday lunchtime. There were 7 teaching sessions of 90 minutes each: one on Saturday evening, four on Saturday and two on Sunday. Six of these sessions consisted of the students in turn reading two or three verses aloud and translating them, while in the after-dinner talk on Saturday the lecturer gave a talk on ‘Acts and the Classical World’. […]Participants were very enthusiastic about the course (and about Madingley Hall in general) and several had already been on many previous years’ editions of the same course.

We have also shared our experiences regarding Greek Lyric Poetry, Odyssey XI, Agamemnon (Part 1) and Agamemnon (Part 2).

Hopefully this information will help interested readers work out what it’s all about…

Ukraine and Wales

October 10, 2017

Picture from ‘Voice of Ukraine in Wales’ FB page

Reading Laada Bilaniuk’s book on the language question in Ukraine while holidaying in Wales has led me to musing on the similarities (and contrasts) between the two nations.


Ukraine is a large country with a large population.  Wales is a small country with a small population.


Ukraine is located to the west of Russia.  If foreigners have any idea about Ukraine, they think it is or ought to be part of Russia.  Wales is located to the west of England.  If foreigners have any idea about Wales, they think it is or ought to be part of England.


The Welsh may be considered the successors of the first historically-identifiable inhabitants of Britain who where later displaced by invading Germanic tribes from the east.  (Human beings of course inhabited Britain long before the Indo-European languages came into existence, but who exactly they were in terms of for instance language is hard to say.)  Ukraine may be considered the successor to the original Kievan state (founded to be sure by Germanic invaders) while in Russia the succession was interrupted by Mongol-Tatar invaders from the East.

Wales is essentially an agrarian country but in the 19th century large deposits of coal and iron were discovered which led to the industrialisation of the South-East of the country.  Ukraine is essentially an agrarian country but in the 19th century large deposits of coal and iron were discovered which led to the industrialisation of the South-East of the country.


Since the 19th century, Welsh has traditionally been spoken in the North and West of the country and in the villages, while English has been spoken in the South and East and in the large towns.  Since the 19th century, Ukrainian has traditionally been spoken in the North and West of the country and in the villages, while Russian has been spoken in the South and East and in the large towns.

Prior to the 19th century, Welsh was abandoned by the upper classes in favour of English and so became a language of village-dwellers.  As such, there was no standard form and considerable dialect differences emerged or persisted, making it difficult to form a standard language.

Prior to the 19th century, Ukrainian was abandoned by the upper classes in favour of Polish or Russian and so became a language of village-dwellers.  As such, there was no standard form and considerable dialect differences emerged or persisted, making it difficult to form a standard language.

During the 20th century, socialist leaders in Wales downplayed the importance of Welsh while relying on English as a language of international progress.  During the 20th century, Bolshevik leaders in Russia downplayed the importance of Ukrainian while hoping that Russian would be the language of international progress, or if not that then of revolution in one country.

The position of Welsh in the school system has generally been subservient at best, though in the 21st century it has been made compulsory in  schools in Wales, although in the vast majority of cases instruction is basically in English .  It is now possible to study most arts subjects in a university somewhere in Wales.  The position of Ukrainian in the school system has generally been subservient to Russian, though in the 21st century it has been made compulsory for Ukrainian schools to work exclusively in Ukrainian .  It will probably soon be compulsory for all university education everywhere in Ukraine to be in Ukrainian.

However,  Welsh is the only member of the Celtic language group to remain in significant everyday use, which group has a large number of fascinating typological and morphological features.  As well has synchronic dialectal variation, it is also subject to diachronic/register dissimilation with a literary standard based on William Morgan’s 16th century Bible translation marked (for instance) by use of simple verbs rather than the periphrastic forms favoured by modern colloquial Welsh.  As such, and excepting only Basque, its survival and promotion is the most important task facing language policy  in Europe.  Contrariwise, Ukrainian has been considered as a debased form of Russian or at least as belonging to an East Slavic group and as such closely allied to Russian.  In any case, Russian and Ukrainian can hardly have diverged any time significantly before 1000 CE.


The Conservative government of the 1950s established the Welsh capital in Cardiff, an industrial city near the border with England, rather than the more obviously traditional candidate of Caernarfon.  The post-Revolution Bolshevik government established the Ukrainian capital in Kharkiv, an industrial city near the border with Russia, rather than in the traditional site of Kiev.


With iron and coal having lost importance, Wales suffers from a lack of modern industries to supplement its traditional agrarian economy.  With iron and coal losing importance, Ukraine suffers from a lack of modern industries to supplement its traditional agrarian economy.


On 9 October 2017, the Welsh football team lost 1-0 at home to the Republic of Ireland, thus losing their chance to reach the World Cup finals.  On 9 October 2017, the Ukrainian football team lost 2-0 at home to the Republic of Ireland, thus losing their chance to reach the World Cup finals.


Indeed accounting for the value of languages

October 6, 2017

Data as at 2240 on 6 October

So we continue our previous attempts to find some value in foreign languages with the help of Indeed.  We say that the typical undifferentiated graduate may well end up as an accountant, and ask what value may be added if they know a foreign language.  This approach also has the advantage that ‘accountant’ actually means something (unlike ‘consultant’) and it means something outside the UK (unlike ‘solicitor’).


Accountant salaries, with and without languages

The table above shows results for numbers of jobs and average pay, where ‘German’ means postings that mention both ‘Accountant’ and ‘German’ and so on.

We see that:

i) a rather small proportion of the accountant jobs mention languages (about 4% for the languages mentioned here);

ii)  for some languages–Arabic, Turkish–accountant jobs are scarce;

iii)  as previously,  Dutch, German and Spanish are worth money;

iv)  as previously,  Polish and Japanese are not worth money.

What to read in English?

October 4, 2017

Concision against contemporaneity

We are sometimes asked what books (novels) it is worth reading in English by those studying or teaching the language.

We once shared our thoughts on this subject with students in Perm, and on the basis of ten years’ book club experience.  The criteria employed were:

Interest:  you ought to want to read the book for its own sake

Accuracy:  please use the English language precisely and don’t just spread words over the page

Britishness:  rather than American-ness, translations or indeed science fiction.  It should show language in use to describe something recognisably British

Contemporaneity:  and not language and mores of the 19th century

Concision:  it gives you a feeling of achievement to say ‘I have read X [a short book]’ rather than ‘I have read some of Y [a long book’.

We give below the books recommended on that occasion, together with some further comments.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis; Лев, колдунья и платяной шкаф)

Both a children’s fantasy story and a work of Christian apologetics, this book gets a great deal into a very few words.  It is also one of those books that everyone has read as children and so forms part of the general stock of common knowledge and allusions.  The last time I read it, I was struck by how much it was infused by the spirit of English medieval literature–which was Lewis’s academic speciality–commingling the Christian and the pagan-fantastical.

Stump (Niall Griffiths)

Describes the lives of ex-drug-addicts and small-time criminals with wonderful precision and focus.  A rather different world from the one you often meet in novels.  At his best, Griffiths makes you feel what it would be like to live with no skin and no defences.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon) Что случилось с собакой ночью/Марк Хэддон)

The world as seen through the eyes of a boy with…autistic spectrum disorder…or a predilection for mathematics.  Very precise language and also defamiliarisation–he sees and experiences things but doesn’t know what they mean or why they happen, in the same way that a foreigner doesn’t.  You also get some value out of your familiarity with the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Restless (William Boyd)

Describes a relatively unknown aspect of WWII–the struggle to bring the USA in or keep it out.  Again, the language is very clear and the descriptions of what one would do or need to do in various extreme situations very precise.  You can amuse yourself wondering where the heroine’s surname comes from.

Skin Lane (Neil Bartlett)

It is 1967 and Mr F goes every day from his flat in South London to work as a furrier in the city.  Then he begins to dream of a naked young man.  At the end, he has become Mr Freeman and this book is pure literary magic.

Troubles (J. G. Farrell)

I’m not so sure about this one now.  It’s rather long, and there were an awful lot of novels in the 1970s that offered various metaphors for the collapse of British Rule (in Ireland in this case).

Brooklyn (Colm Toibin)

A young woman goes from Ireland to America and back in the early 1950s.  Very economical evocations of ordinary life, together with tactful application of symbolic realism, and he gets the words right!  Then again, the background of drearily prospectless lower middle class life in the back of beyond, alleviated by the prospect of emigration, was all too familiar to me.

The Night Watch (Sarah Waters; Ночной дозор, Сара Уотерс)

Combines hyper-realistic descriptions of women’s lives during and after wartime with reverse chronology and a truly terrifying backstreet abortion, and also ensures you get god value from your knowledge of Shakespeare.  In many ways, an instantiation of what the contemporary English novel is.