Three weeks ago I took part in something unforgettable: Polyglot Gathering 2018 in Bratislava, Slovakia.
When I signed up for the gathering I didn't really know what to expect besides meeting other language lovers and polyglots. I had been to Bratislava twice already and it's actually one of my favorite cities, so I was really excited to go back there. Before the gathering, I flew from Barcelona to Helsinki and spent a week with my family in Turku before flying to Vienna, but that and the post-gathering trip will have a separate blog entry later.
On the first day of the gathering I felt really nervous – I'm not the most extroverted person in the world and I suck at small talk, and I knew that almost 600 people had signed up. I only knew a handful of Esperanto speakers beforehand and a few polyglots that I had been following on social media, like Richard Simcott and Luca Lampariello (who were both extremely nice when I got to meet them, I might have been a bit starstruck…) and I didn't even know if there would be many Finnish speakers. However, during the first hour after registration and finding all the flags for my name tag, I made some new friends and knew that the gathering would be amazing. And it's not every day you chat with someone and find out that they're behind a webpage that has saved your butt many times – I'm talking about Simon from Omniglot, the page that I had used for years for information and (funny) sentences in different languages.
So what happens in a gathering like this? Lots of things – anything from a lecture in French about haplogroups in Europe to a knitting workshop and from a quick language taster class of Southern Saami to a giant multilingual game of Scrabble. Once I entered a hall and there were people dancing like no tomorrow!
Here are some pictures of the gathering. Unless otherwise said, the photos were taken by me, so in case you use them somewhere (despite the horrible cell phone quality), please credit me!
I stayed in a wonderful AirBnB flat not that close to the city center. I don't have a balcony in Barcelona, so I was excited to have my morning coffee outside! It took me 20 minutes to the venue by bus, and with our name tags we got to use the public transportation for free.
There was a little Tesco near the venue and we thought these signs were hilarious. What if you do all those at the same time, skate inside with a camera, gun, dog and ice cream and you're smoking? What if it's gun-flavored ice cream? What if the dog has a gun? Those might need to be tested next time.
The venue was the University of Economics in Bratislava. It was a great place for the gathering, as there were many lecture halls that were big enough for many participants, and we could all fit into the cantine for lunches and dinners.
Kelvin Jackson gave a talk about polyglot punning. He also gave an interesting talk about Finno-Ugric linguistics, in Finnish. It always amazes me when a non-native speaks Finnish, as it's not one of the easiest languages!
Ah, the Polyglot Singalong! The wonderful Olivia came all the way from New Zealand and taught us some songs in several languages. My favorite was this traditional Maori song. Olivia was also in charge of the polyglot karaoke one evening, among other artsy workshops.
Simon Ager and his fascinating talk, Deconstructing Language. I learned quite a few new facts, and as a huge fan of historical linguistics I was on fire.
English-free zone. I didn't have time to check this out in action, but it didn't really matter – I think I spoke English only half of the time anyway.
Finally got to meet Richard Simcott in person! When I grow up I want to be like him – that includes the ease to talk in front of a large crowd and keep them focused the whole time.
Dave Prine spoke about waking the sleeping language of Tunica, a Native American language. While the talk was really interesting, Dave was incredibly hilarious and made me laugh in tears several times. I didn't have any previous knowledge of Native American languages, so I was really curious to see how the grammar works.
So how many languages do you speak? The question that polyglots dread, as usually the answer is not that simple. Tim Keeley spoke about this and gave many great examples including the fact that it's not quite the same thing to speak several languages within a dialect continuum than languages that are (not that closely) related.
I absolutely love Cards Against Humanity and was super excited when I saw the polyglot version, Cards Against Polyglottery! Hilarious times.
I took part in two language workshops by uTalk; Manx and Southern Saami. In both workshops there was a competition where we had to, in groups of 3, learn as many words as possible. In the Manx workshop we were all so good that we got a complete language course for free! They have 140 languages so it's gonna be difficult to choose. In the Southern Saami workshop I teamed up with Simon and an English polyglot Adam (also known as Töffari™). It was quite intense even if Finnish helped me a bit – Adam got a sore neck, probably because of the word njuenietjåerviejuvre (rhinoceros) – and despite our efforts we didn't make it to the final… which was fine.
I met so many wonderful people from all over the world. Some of them were Polyglot Gathering veterans, others were first-timers like me. Never had I ever been in a situation where you could just switch languages in the middle of a conversation without the other person even blinking!
Jana Fadness told us about Asian languages – I have to admit that one of the reasons why I have never studied an Asian language (besides those few weeks of Vietnamese…) is because I'm afraid of the writing systems and tones. However, with her talk Jana managed to convince me that maybe I should give it a try.
I only know a few words of Hungarian, but when Kyle Kuzman spoke some sentences, I was able to hear the differences between case endings. It was interesting to see how many grammatical similarities there were with Finnish (yes, I know, they're related, but so are Swedish and Greek). I really like how Hungarian sounds and would love to learn it one day.
Qapla' – André Müller taught us about Klingon. For those who don't know, Klingon is a constructed language made for the Star Trek films and TV series. I'm learning Klingon on Duolingo and was
bravecrazy enough to put its flag to my name tag… This talk was super interesting and entertaining, and André was dressed for the occasion. I hope to be able to converse at least a little bit in tlhIngan Hol in the next gathering – hopefully they'll add the audios soon to Duolingo so that I won't end up with a ridiculous accent.
|Melko-hyvä-Bra in action. Photograph: Jozef Baláž|
On the last night we had an international culture evening. There was also a Finnish surprise – together with Jami and Tiia from Finland and Stefano from Italy (whose Finnish was impeccable) we sang Sinä lähdit pois by Ultra Bra. After that I sang a traditional Icelandic song, Vísur Vatnsenda-Rósu, a cappella.
|The official group photo. Photograph: Jozef Baláž|
There are so many things I didn't include in this blog post, like the reactions of people when they tried Finnish black sausage or how a Hungarian friend of mine, who I know through Esperanto, was happy about "understanding Italian quite well" even if he was actually listening to me speaking in Catalan (Oh! Well, looks like I understand Catalan as well!)… I want to thank everyone I met and especially Lýdia Machová, Peter Baláž and the other organizers and volunteers. I can't wait for the gathering next year – maybe I'll even send a proposal for a talk!