Word of the Day – Polyglot

I recently called one of my students a polyglot, and was concerned and amused to see the look of suspicion cross their face. They relaxed when I explained that it just means someone who speaks several languages!

I was surprised that the student (an Italian) was not familiar with the word, since it is very similar in the romance languages (polyglotta in Italian; poliglota in Portuguese, for example). It comes from the two Greek words ‘poly’ (many) and ‘glotta’ (tongue). Obviously it is not a common word in Italian or Portuguese (perhaps it’s not that common in English, either).

It then got us into a conversation about the glottal stop, which apparently is not a common phenomenon in Italian, although it occurs to some degree in many languages. It is a sound produced by obstructing the airflow in the vocal tract, or glottis, and appears to be translated as parada glótica in Portuguese, although I have never heard anyone refer to it in Brazil or Portugal. If you think how some (many?) native (British) English people say the word ‘rotten’ without actually pronouncing the ‘tt’, you will recognise what it is – and if you still don’t understand, ask your English teacher next time you talk to them.

It is also interesting to see that romance languages no longer use the Greek ‘glotta’ as the word for the tongue, but use instead the latin ‘lingua’, and that the Greek word is now used specifically to mean the vocal chords (and the space between them) – glote in Portuguese, glotte in French, for example).

So there you are – three words from one, today. See you next time.

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