My Korean flatmate just told me that the Koreans have a planet naming system for their days of the week, which they took from the Japanese:

  1. 일요일 il-yoil / 日曜日 nichiyōbi (日 – sun)
  2. 월요일 wol-yoil / 月曜日 Getsuyōbi (月 – moon)
  3. 화요일 hwayoil / 火曜日 kayōbi (火 – fire)
  4. 수요일 suyoil / 水曜日 suiyōbi (水 – water)
  5. 목요일 mog-yoil / 木曜日 mokuyōbi (木 – wood)
  6. 금요일 geum-yoil / 金曜日 kin’yōbi (金 – gold)
  7. 토요일 toyoil / 土曜日 doyōbi (土 – soil)

Here are the relevant celestial bodies in Chinese:

  1. 日 (sun)
  2. 月 (moon)
  3. 火星 (Mars, fire-star)
  4. 水星 (Mercury, water-star)
  5. 木星 (Jupiter, wood-star)
  6. 金星 (Venus, gold-star)
  7. 土星 (Saturn, soil-star)

Here the Latin equivalents:

  1. dies Solis (sun)
  2. dies Lunae (moon)
  3. dies Martis (Mars, god of war)
  4. dies Mercurii (Mercury)
  5. dies Iovis (Jupiter)
  6. dies Veneris (Venus)
  7. dies Saturni (Saturn)

Hmm, might there be some connection? ;) According to this source, “the most commonly accepted theory is that the use of the seven planets originated in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, was adopted by the Greeks and Romans, and then found its way to China”. Check out the page for more details. In China, this can be traced back to at least the 300s, with later transmissions taking place in the 700s. However, the specific naming of week days is of more modern origin, the Japanese repurposed their Chinese tradition when harmonizing their calender with Europe in the 1870s. Chinese, on the other hand, just numbered the days, starting on Monday, keeping Sunday: 星期日 星期一 星期二 星期三 星期四 星期五 星期六 (sun – 1 2 3 4 5 6).

Here the German/English ones:

  1. Sonntag / Sunday (sun)
  2. Montag / Monday (moon)
  3. Dienstag / Tuesday (Týr, Germanic sky-god, also war. Replaced Mars, although name is etymologically related to Zeus=Jupiter)
  4. [Mittwoch] / Wednesday (Odin, replaced Mercury. Germans killed off Odin in favor of balance: “mid-week”)
  5. Donnerstag / Thursday (Thor, god of thunder, replaced Jupiter)
  6. Freitag / Friday (Freya, replaced Venus)
  7. Samstag / Saturday (Saturn; German ultimately from Hebrew שַׁבָּת šabbāṯ)

Today’s Romance languages (including Romanian) closely reflect their Latin heritage, only having replaced the sun with “Our Lord” (domingo etc.), and ditching Saturn for the sabbath. Only Portuguese, following the Catholic liturgical names, went with numbering days 2 (Monday = segunda-feira) to 5 (sexta-feira), and kept the Lord and the sabbath, thus eliminating a pre-Christian tradition. I wonder how that worked out in Macau, a Portuguese-Chinese colony :)

Curiously enough, the Vietnamese have a system closely mirroring the Portuguese numbering, probably due to Jesuit influence.

And, in Swedish Saturday is called “lördag”, “wash day” :)

Update: Here’s a very nice overview of day naming from dozens of languages.


Just stumbled over Hungarian “Péntek” for Friday, and was wondering whether it’s an accident that it’s really similar to Greek πέντε (5), it being the fifth day of the week. Turns out Hungarian weekdays are quite interesting (I have no specific knowledge of Hungarian whatsoever).

  1. Hétfő — hét “week” + fő “head”. hét does quite look like Greek ἑπτά (hepta) “seven”, and was indeed borrowed from some Indo-European language at some point. One Week = seven days. fő is Finno-Ugric, from Proto-Uralic *päŋe “head”. Head of the week. Cantonese (and probably quite some languages) use the head to signify the beginning of something, for example 年頭 nin4tau4 “beginning of the year”.
  2. Kedd — from Hungarian két “two”. Proto-Uralic *käktä “two”.
  3. Szerda — from Slavic, see for example Slovene sreda “Wednesday”. Related to Proto-IE *ḱḗr “heart”, here in the meaning of “middle” Compare German “Mittwoch” “middle of the week”. “Heart”, “cardio-” and others also come from the same root.
  4. Csütörtök — from Proto-Slavic *četvьrtъ “fourth”, from Proto-IE *kʷetwóres (source of quattro, four, Irish ceathair, Persian چهار čahâr, Greek τέσσερις tésseris, … You go, four!! :)
  5. Péntek — Proto-Slavic *pętъ “fifth”. Proto-IE *pénkʷe, source of fünf, five, Hindi पाँच pām̐c, Persian پنج panj, cinque, πέντε pénte, Albanian pesë, …
  6. Szombat — from Proto-Slavic sǫbota, via Medieval Latin sabbatum, which got it from Ancient Greek σάββατον, which got it from Hebrew שַׁבָּת šabbāṯ.
  7. Vasárnap — from nap “day” (unknown origin) and Vasár “market”. Hmm… Bazaar? Yup, vásár came to Hungarian via Middle Persian wāzār (modern Persian بازار bâzâr). Sunday = Market day.

I’m aware that day names are a special case and in no way representative of a language, but it’s fascinating to see how we have a wild mix of Indo-European in here, with some Hebrew thrown in for spice :)

I’m doing German/Cantonese Exchange roughly two times a week, with two very different, but very nice learners (each time 1-on-1).

Yesterday we had a very cool session. This is about the third or fourth session with her, and she’s a German beginner. She is doing Duolingo too for some weeks now. I had forgotten my utensils, so we used a blue pen, and later on a spoon, a (cup of) coffee, and a key (all items grammatically German). The good thing about the key is that when I gave it to her, it was quite obvious to want to get it back again, so I introduced this.

Willst du meinen Schlüssel? — Ja, ich will deinen Schlüssel.

Ok, ich gebe dir meinen Schlüssel. — Danke.

Ich will meinen Schlüssel zurück! :( Gibst du mir meinen Schlüssel zurück? — Ja, ich gebe dir deinen Schlüssel zurück. — Danke!

For some reason I decided to use a past form at this quite early stage, and it went really well.

Was habe ich dir gegeben? — Du hast mir einen blauen Stift gegeben.

Was hast du mir gegeben? — Du hast mir einen Schlüssel gegeben.

Ich habe dir einen blauen Stift gegeben, und du hast mir einen Schlüssel gegeben. Wir haben getauscht.

Was haben wir getauscht? — Wir haben deinen blauen Stift und meinen Schlüssel getauscht.

We were sitting in a rather big coffee shop, and it so happened that the people sitting to my left were female, and the guy to my right male. So they became props in our game :)

Setup: Ich: Schlüssel. Sie: Kaffee. Du: Blauer Stift. Er: Löffel.

Round of Giving!

Ich gebe ihr meinen Schlüssel. Sie gibt dir ihren Kaffee. Du gibst ihm deinen blauen Stift. Er gibt mir seinen Löffel.

Round of Giving Back! :)

Ich gebe ihm seinen Löffel zurück. Er gibt dir deinen blauen Stift zurück. Du gibst ihr ihren Kaffee zurück. Sie gibt mir meinen Schlüssel zurück.

“ihr/ihren” seemed to confuse her. So we played a bit on the male side instead, where the difference is more clear.

CL: mein, dein, sein, ihr (doing the flat hand towards person sign)

CL: mir, dir, ihm, ihr (doing the pointing R fingers sign; most of these end with an R)

Er gibt mir seinen Löffel. Ich gebe ihm seinen Löffel zurück.

I think we played another Round of Giving + Back then.

Was ist passiert?

Ich habe ihr meinen Schlüssel gegeben etc.

Sie hat mir meinen Schlüssel zurückgegeben etc.

We played for an hour, until she became slightly full, then we switched to Cantonese.

We spontaneously ended up with talking about clothing (which I strangely enough have never done in the past one+ year of learning Cantonese :P ). We were mostly talking about our shirts (long- vs short-sleeved, colors, who is wearing what) and pants, and finally coats. Then about what to wear when (Right now, inside it is warm, but outside it’s cold, so when she goes out she will wear her coat. Now she’s not wearing it however). Also an extended explanation of dress code at our respective companies. Then I mused for a while whether the guy next to us could hear us talking about them, and why he left. He was wearing earphones at the end, but not sure if he did so the whole time. Thus introducing 以為 vs. 知道. He was also talking on the phone for a while before leaving, so I speculated that he talked with his girlfriend and is now heading home. The first time he left, his stuff was still at the table. Will he come back? Yeah, probably. Later, he took his stuff with him. Will he come back? Maybe, but not today.

短袖衫 / 長袖衫






When doing German lessons, previously I took care to use only “male” items, because mixing the grammatical genders can be very confusing. I’ve been doing German sessions with Ben for the last weeks, and recently I decided to try mixing them. He has some foundation in using the male forms now, so I thought it might be interesting to see if using both in a controlled environment could actually help him get a better feeling for the differences between the two.

At first I replaced all items with female ones. After playing a little bit with these (»Das ist eine leere Schüssel«; »Ich gebe dir die leere Schüssel«), I added a “male” item that we had used earlier (»Ich gebe dir den roten Stift«). When I had the feeling that this was settled in his mind, I went to the really confusing »Wo ist die leere Schüssel? – Die leere Schüssel ist hinter dem roten Stift« vs. »Wo ist der rote Stift? – Der rote Stift ist vor der leeren Schüssel«. It turned out that this was a really good moment to introduce it. While challenging, it did not make him Full, but rather helped in separating the two. I will play around with mixing the two in later sessions.

I’ve been doing Japanese/German sessions with Ben for the last weeks, and I love every moment of it! While my effort these days is focused on learning Cantonese, I found that at this point, starting Japanese does not interfere notably. We’re mostly doing the classic WAYK setup, playing with two pens, a rock and a stick. For the last time, we have been doing numbers, which are a bit complicated in Japanese. Ben is adding to the WAYK Wiki, and putting a lot of work into treading the path for Japanese, and I’m very happy to help him, and learn a beautiful language on the way. We started recording the early sessions, but ran into technical problems (see the totally unsynced audio here). Maybe we will take on this habit again in the future.

I actually find Japanese a formidable pastime to get a break from Cantonese, because for some reason it comes to me much more easily. Maybe it’s the lack of tones, and the longer words, complete with endings like I’m used from European languages. For sure one part is that Ben is a great teacher :)

I’ve been doing sessions with a 15-year old Hong Kong student, who needs to improve his English. On most weeks he comes over on Mondays and Tuesdays, and we play one hour of English, and one hour of Cantonese. It’s a medium problem that it’s after school, and he’s quite tired afterwards, but he’s very motivated, and so we both are steadily progressing.

Today were especially good sessions :) In the first hour, I spontaneously put up a jar of peanut butter, a tin of peanuts, and a spoon. The last English sessions had not gone so well in my opinion, mainly due to me running out of ideas on what to do. This changed during this lesson though :) First, it appeared to me that “peanuts” is a dangerous word for Cantonese speakers, as they tend to drop the “t”. Great reason to practice it! :) So first we talked about opening/closing the jar/tin, and about the colors. Then we went into materials: plastic, paper, metal, glass. After that, I asked him about some colors, eliciting “mainly” and “all”, eg. »Is this cookie box all blue?« – »No, it is mainly blue, but it is also white and red«. From there, we went to materials, like »Is this table made of metal?« »Yes, it is made of metal, but it is also made of plastic.«;

He didn’t know “spoon”, so we played with that a bit, then I added a fork and a knife. Cantonese speakers often pronounce “fork” as “frog”, so we practiced that a bit as well. Then I asked him how to make a peanut butter sandwich. In order to complete it, he had to tell me about opening the freezer, getting out the bread, opening the fridge, getting out the margarine, opening the peanut butter jar, using the knife to spread the margarine and peanut butter on the slices of bread. Great setup! :) Because we had tried to spread the margarine with the spoon, it was even dirtier than the knife, while the fork was untouched. So we played “Which one is dirtier?”

After about an hour we switched to Cantonese, and I tried to use many ideas from the previous English session. We did several materials, I learned how to ask what something is made of, if it’s the only material used, and some very interesting details of Cantonese that were new to me or that I had forgotten. I used a napkin and the dirty spoon for clean/dirty, mainly because the two almost sound the same, a great chance to practice to distinguish between the two!

In other news, we did a short session at a McDonald’s with nine people some days ago! We wanted to go to some quiet café, but it was full, and so we tried to get some space at McD, and while not perfect (table too long mainly, and a bit loud), it was amazing how undisturbed we were, playing about an hour without even ordering anything, with keys, pens, mobile phones etc. on the tables :) That session really whetted my appetite for doing larger groups, but I still have not figured out how to do these on a regular basis.

Hong Kong is a great place for hosting Couchsurfers. My flatmate and girlfriend put a limit to how many we host, otherwise we could have people around on a continuous basis :). Right now there are three guys from Sweden around, so we did a short Swedish/German/Cantonese session. We started with German, and while one of them (B; she’s a language lover) soaked it up instantly, the other two got pretty intimidated, and soon signaled Full. Which is kind of a success, as normally new player are very hesitant to do this :) I was going pretty fast, which might have been a factor. So I switched to Cantonese. This might seem counter-intuitive, but worked pretty well. The first of them again assimilated everything so rapidly that it almost took my breath away, definitely the fastest learner I’ve encountered so far, while the others were mostly overwhelmed by their own anxieties, but played along nevertheless. I breezed through yes/no; I/you/she; my/your/her; have/give/want in maybe 10 minutes with B, while the others mostly watched from the meadow, occasionally taking part in the game. When I overwhelmed her with a slightly difficult yes/no construction, we switched to Swedish.

I never realized how similar Swedish is to German! It felt like learning a German dialect with a simplified grammar. Would love to learn more! Maybe it becomes more difficult further in, but right now it feels like a language for free :) Definitely a break from the beautiful, but demanding Cantonese.

After the fast Swedish we did some more Cantonese. Switching languages is a great way to make people relax after they became Full, especially of course when doing it in their native tongue ;)