Category Archives: english

This blog is being moved

This blog is being moved to a new location at my vanity domain. You may want to re-allign your bookmarks to my blog at Apart from having a custom name the main advantage of new domain is that -as opposed to all blogs- it is not filtered in (thus far) and so I have less hassle accessing it (I am now in Iran, if you’ve missed that update).

The move is a part of a larger process of organizing and updating (and pruning) the sprawl of my web-presence. You can expect some tweakings and changes (and mildly interesting additions) over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

To those who had commented/written with no reply from my part:

I am very, very sorry. I really am. Please, have a bit more patience and I will try to get back to everyone. Honestly :)

List of languages – silly approach

To complement yesterday’s serious entry here’s something from the realm of daydreaming. Mind you, I have done such listings many times already, so when I say they are silly and next-to-useless, I know what I mean.

Without further ado, a categorized list of languages I would like to learn someday (if the world was perfect). The categories are not clear-cut, that is one and the same language’s appearance in a couple of them could be equally justified. In particular, almost all (or all?) of them could qualify under the first label, which is…

Languages I would like to relearn

As said above I had longer or shorter stints with most if not all of the languages listed. But only in a very limited number of cases can I say that I had learnt them to a usable level at some point.

Criterion – having once been able to use it actively and/or having made my way through a teach yourself textbook (or equivalent).

Languages belonging here (in no particular order): Italian, Hungarian, Hindi, Finnish, Indonesian, Serbian, Romanian, Georgian

Languages spoken in Iran

As I am based in Iran now and – if all’s well – will remain here for the next couple of years, learning a minority language spoken here is tempting.

Languages considered: Azerbaijani, Armenian, Kurdish

Regionally important languages   

Now, my stay in Iran will end someday and after that happens I have a good chance to be posted in some other country in the region. It would be good and useful to be prepared for that. For instance by learning: Arabic or Turkish

Globally important languages

No matter where I will work there are some languages which could always come in handy. Worldwide these are (apart from English, Russian and Arabic): Chinese, French and Spanish, and in Europe German could be an interesting addition.

Languages I have ‘worked’ with

There are three little-known languages I have made, am making or will make websites for. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some idea about them, instead of just providing materials. So, I would like to learn Lezgi, Ewe and Mari

Languages important because of the diversity

If you thought all the languages already listed make for a very diverse collection, think again. In my opinion, there are still many glaring empty slots. To fill them even in half I would need, at the very least, the following: Xhosa (or Zulu), Maori, Seneca (or Mohawk), Quechua (or Aymara), Somali, Albanian, Tagalog, Yolngu Mata, Nheengatu, Tok Pisin  (I only mentioned those I am interested in, for a truly comprehensive list you would need at least a couple more esp. from East and South-East Asia).

Random languages or challenges ahead

My experience so far clearly shows that I can never predict what I will be involved with even a year later. In particular I hadn’t been planning beforehand for many of my ‘language adventures’, including Persian, Mari, Lezgi or Ewe, yet they happened and in at least one case (Persian, of course) had a profound impact on my carreer and life as a whole.

This is to say the list is always open-ended. For all I know tomorrow I could meet a speaker of Oromo or Chukchee or Tetum… or somebody from Guadalcanal or Omo Valley (or Manhattan ;)  might finally take up The Offer… or I might – at some point – decide to devote, say a month or three to learning a language I hadn’t learn before just to check what is possible… The future possibilities are – as the whole future is – indeed limitless.

Closing remarks

Believe it or not, but I tried hard to limit myself when listing the above languages. For instance, I have completely omitted dead languages, at least some of which are (or could be) of some interest. Also, I didn’t list all the Slavic, Caucasian and Iranian languages I am vaguely (or more than vaguely) interested in.

Bear also in mind, that I am a reader and not a talker – as reading is much easier to learn and maintain than conversational skills, my chances for learning a wide selection of languages are a little bit better. This doesn’t mean I can reasonably expect to learn all the languages listed here, or even most of them – almost certainly I will learn only a couple of them to an intermediate level (ie. can read newspaper articles), and probably none of them really well.

You may have noticed that some language names are bolded. These are the ones I am assigning a somewhat higher priority to.

As always, I am eager to hear/see/read any comments.

List of languages – sensible approach

Publishing lists of languages one is learning, wants to learn or merely dreams of learning seems to be a current fad in the Polish community of language bloggers (see eg. here and here).

As dull and vapid autobiographical posts like this one are bound to be read more (humans are gossipy animals after all) than anything more substantial, and as at the moment I don’t, in fact, have anything more substantial to say, let me join this caravan and for the umpteenth time provide you with an overview of my future failures (I say failures because such plans and lists always and always stay only on paper). 


Downsizing the dreams

A sensible approach first. Long-time plans (ie. more than a year ahead) make no sense because in the meantime circumstances change widely and wildly. Thus, I am only going to tell you a bit about a half-year perspective.

First, I am planning to use the coming months to improve my Persian – read stuff, write stuff, watch stuff, talk stuff – so that I would be able to play with the language and get well-acquainted with what’s going on in Iranian literature and humanities.

Second, I will try to pay more attention to Russian (and maybe English as well). Write more, try to broaden vocabulary, strive to sound eloquent and interesting (or at least to sound the way I can sound in English). Above all – use it more actively, maintain contacts with local Russian-speaking community, read the books I’ve gathered…

Third, a focus on Irish. It is not a language I really need to learn, but  it is a language I have to learn for the sake of preserving, as Persians have it, the water of my face. My honour, that is. I have told many people that I was going to learn it, so not learning it would mean backtracking on my word, which is not something I would do gladly.

If you didn’t notice – I am being less than half-serious now, as anyone who knows what honour is knows that it has nothing to do with keeping vague promises about learning obscure languages. Truth is, I wish to learn Irish for the fun of it. The fun of the language, the fun of the learning process, the fun of overcoming my own weakness of character. In April 2011 I will, if God so wills, sit an exam in Maynooth. It will be either B1 or B2 – I have until March to decide (which is good because right now my Irish hovers around A0).   

Fourth, – the hardest and the most pivotal part of it – resist the inevitable urge to play and toy, tweak and dabble with something else…


That would be all. The “daydreaming again” list should appear tomorrow.

Mari textbook

Breaking the radio silence with a nugget found on the interwebs:

The Viennese website on Mari language now makes a whole textbook of Meadow Mari available for free download! It is an English translation of a Russian textbook “Marijskij jazyk dlia vsiex”, but a) it is expanded [esp. the grammar notes] and b) it comes with AUDIO

All the Ugrofinists among you – including those still in the closet or in denial – should check it right now.

This is not an ex-blog…

… yet.

Yes, I know it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve last updated and I can’t really promise that the next post(s) will come shortly. I have half a dozen of unfinished posts waiting in the drafts section and half a thousand ideas lurking in my head, but no time to do much with the either group. It’s not a good thing not to have time to write, but on the other hand it is a good thing to have more important things to do in your life than writing a blog for a handful of readers.


In other news, if you happen to visit Kashan be sure not to miss the Handicraft Workshop on Molla Fathollah St. (go along the Alavi St. – the main street all the ‘traditional houses’ are accessed from – in the direction of city walls and turn left on the roundabout). It’s well-worth visiting and the people working the are extra nice. While we are at it –  English-language guidebooks to Esfahan (and environs incl. Kashan) and Fars province (Shiraz at al.) published by Rowzaneh are much more detailed than Lonely Planet. You can buy them at Shahr-e Ketab bookstores in Tehran.

Tehran by bus

I enjoy going around Tehran by bus – be it either line 11 (ie. my own legs) or a regular one. As wise people say – you can observe a lot by looking.  So what I do is go around town and look. And marvel. This is a sign I saw today when going to Meydan-e Arzhantin:

ورود به کابین راننده ممنوع
حتی شما دوست عزیز

vorud be kābin-e rānande mamnu’
hattā shomā dust-e aziz

It means: no entry to driver’s compartment (so far nothing special) even (for) you, dear friend.

Adorable, isn’t it?

Don’t be so ę-ą!

One of my many language-related interests is a certain focus on expressive vocabulary – those little words the meaning of which is so hard to describe, yet without them a sentence sounds bland. I mean by that the ideophones, the particles, the sound-symbolism…

Here, in this post’s title there’s one bit of expressive Polish for you, but first some explanations. As you probably know, Polish is unique among Slavic languages in that it has retained nasal vowels – a nasal /E/ written by ę, and a nasal /O/ written by ą (sic!).

The point is, these are not as much nasal as, say, the French nasal vowels. Since quite a long time our nasals are pronounced as a combination of regular oral vowel and a some kind of nasal sound (m, n, ng or a nasal glide; depending on what sounds come next – if you’re interested I can provide the examples later). Even more – ę at the end of the word is pronounced either with a slight hint of nasality only, or – more commonly – as a regular, oral e /E/.

An added twist is that in some rural (and proletarian) dialects, the nasality of “nasal” vowels has disappeared altogether. This means that if you pronounce them with no nasality in all positions (as I said before, ę normally loses nasality at the end of the word) you sound a bit boorish and uneducated. As a consequence, many people coming from lower social strata, who grew up without nasal vowels try hard to acquire them and -sometimes- overdo the nasality. This – in turn – makes them sound ostentatious, pretentious and “I-think-I’m-better-than-you”.

And this is where we get to this post’s title: “Nie bądź taki ę-ą / Don’t be so ę-ą” means “don’t be so stuck up, don’t insist so much on maintaining ‘proper’ forms”. Overdone ę and ą sounds apart from the “nouveau riche” effect described above (people betraying their origins by trying too hard to hide them) are also associated with the French (who have a reputation of being fancy-shmancy people) and our aristocracy (no longer with us, fortunately), and used often in mocking the speech of those groups.



Another stereotypical characteristic of posh aristocratic Polish was  r grasseye or Parisian r (they were usually educated in French), in place of normal Polish r which is pronounced as in Italian.

In writing (eg. in jokes) this pronunciation is represented by replacing r with h or – more commonly – ł (= English w), as in the following silly joke:

Count to his manservant:
Zasłałem łóżko = I made up my bed
To bardzo dobrze, panie hrabio = That’s very good, Mr. Count
Oj, nie bałdzo = Oh, not very much

What’s supposed to be funny here, you ask? The count’s last line has bałdzo instead of bardzo “very; very much; a lot”, which betrays that he speaks with that posh accent. Now, knowing this, let’s go back to his first line: zasłałem means “I made up (a bed)”, but with reversal of the count’s speech pattern we get zasrałem which means “I shat all over”.

Silly, I know, but I kind of like it.

On what’s true while being false

Just a short thought inspired by a discussion with a friend. Isn’t it a paradox, that while none of the information provided on this page about me (I’ve just noticed an embarrassing typo there, by the way) is true, the whole of it, in some way at least, is true indeed.

I mean, that page does give you an impression of what kind of person I am, doesn’t it? And you could even say that it is more true than a dry set of correct and exact biographical data. With people, numbers only matter so much, I mean.


There’s a half-forgotten Polish writer called Marek Hłasko in whose short, mock-autobiographical story  “I, Goofy the Dog” – a kind of self-description people like me can identify with – I read a sentence,  which now escapes  my memory, but it certainly was about how you can tell the whole truth when lying about all the details. Or so I (mis)remember it. And again, it’s not important if there really is such a sentence, if there really is such a short story, if there really is such a writer… what matters is that by telling you about it I am giving you a glimpse of myself. Or am I not?


Sorry for that blabbing. A bit pretentious I think. The regular broadcast of sarcasm and irrelevant trivia will resume shortly.

Two links

Just two links in this bad excuse of a post. But these are good links, or rather links to good places, so you will forgive me.

First, there is a website of my friend from Unilang, Ali Jahânshiri. A lot of interesting and useful information on Persian, including the best Persian keyboard layout I have ever seen. You can check Ali’s good work on Unilang’s Persian forum, too.

Second and last, another find via languagehat. The blog is called “Poemas del río Wang” is written in English, Spanish and Hungarian and is very erudite and beautiful. A must-read.

Afghanisms in Persian

My friend Rémy LeBeau has posted a nice list of vocabulary items specific to Persian of Afghanistan along with transcription and Iranian Persian equivalents (so if you don’t read Iranian Persian already, they won’t be of much use). They  are taken from contemporary literature, but that doesn’t mean they’re all formal – in fact, they cross over all registers.


One thing I want to add to this selection – which looks more comprehensive than the most I’ve seen so far – is that the bulk of the differences between the two variants, is, I feel, a matter of mere preference for certain words which are known on both sides of the border. Ie. both Iranians and Afghans know that both X and Y mean the same thing, but Iranians are more likely to use the former, and Afghans the latter (while foreigners typically know only one word of such pairs, depending on which variety they have more contact with). The list which I link to focuses on those Afghan Persian words, the meaning of which would not be recognised by the average Iranian  reader.