Sunday, September 28, 2014


You probably know that English is considered to have the most words of all comparable languages. Depending how you count the English vocabulary, there are 250 000 to 750 000 words (short explanations HERE and HERE). I learned English and became a bilingual person as an adult. “Bilinguals are those who use two or more languages (or dialects) in their everyday lives”. This is my favorite definition of bilingualism by Professor Fransois Grosjean. What I love about this definition - it is inclusive, not exclusive. It does not matter as much how well you know another language (or dialect). It does not matter if you use it conversationally or you only write or read in it. What matters is that you use it in your everyday life. More than half the people in the world are bilingual, by this definition. And to me as a linguist, bilingual person who is raising a bilingual child, and someone who worked with dozens and dozens of bilingual children and families for a few years, this really makes sense on a deep level. My bilingual brain works in somewhat whimsical ways, and I don't always know when I think in Russian and when in English. Very often its almost like being in two languages at the same time, or somewhere in between two languages, when they intertwine, whether I think, write or speak. The concepts which I either learn or simply use more often in English will creep in the form of English or Russianized English words when I think/speak/write in Russian. And vice versa - for some concepts I learned in Russian it is not easy for me to find English equivalent words. English has so many words that it probably does not really need other new ones - yet the new words keep getting created all the time, English is a quite "open-minded" language that way (which one can't say about English writing, "we write Manchester, but read Liverpool"). There are so many synonyms in English, so many ways to express just one meaning, and at the same time many words that can express a very precise nuance which, being translated into other languages, sometimes require a whole phrase. Yet at times, there are certain pretty significant concepts which have their own words in my native language, and seem to be overlooked in English. One of them is a classic linguistic textbook example - are you ready? There is no special word in English which means "a 24 hour period." How is it even possible in the language with at least a quarter of million words? :)

Sure there is a concept, and sure there is a need for the word, so people use the word "day" or, if they want to emphasize, a phrase "day and night", or, if it's the business world, a phrase "twenty four seven", which is very handy when written in numbers ("24/7 5 days a week" - remember the joke from Frasier?), or if you are in the hotel industry, the word "night" instead of "day" (you never pay "per day" in a hotel, right? It's always "per night"). There is apparently a scientific term for "24 hour period" or "day and night" in English - nychthemeron, which not surprisingly comes from Greek. I doubt though that the majority of English speakers know the meaning, and my guess is most of us would have a trouble trying to just pronounce it if we to encounter it in a book. In Russian, on the other hand, there is this very common word, familiar to pretty much everybody with the exception of very young children - sootki (сутки) which comes from the Old Russian language (and probably from the Old Slavic before that). It is a plural form of the old Russian word "junction" (cтык, столкновение). Our ancestors apparently not only noticed that very "junction" of day and night, light and dark, but considered it important enough to give it a special, word of its own. (While they did not seem to think that "snuggle" or "privacy" as concepts really need special words in their language. And if "snuggle" at least as a concept is quite familiar to my native culture, the jury is still out on the concept of privacy.) 

Russian is not the only language which has a special word that means precisely "24 hour period" and nothing else - there are special words for it in Ivrit (Modern Hebrew), Swedish, Dutch, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Bashkir, and Kazakh languages. At least, that's what Wiki article says about it (in Russian).

If you are still with me in my little linguistic adventure today, I'm telling you all this only to get you ready for another word which seems to be missing in the very wordy English language, and it seems extremely relevant to me right now - межсезонье would be what we say in Russian, a noun which literally means "between seasons". I know there is a sport term "off'season" and there is a more generic term "transition" which can be used describing the weather or clothes for this kind of weather, but again - it's not the same as having one special word for the concept, do you get what I mean? Межсезонье, "between two seasons" is exactly what is happening in the world when it has already stopped being Summer, but has not yet fully became Fall. Or any other seasonal transition, like between Winter and Spring in the Southern hemisphere now. It's a beautiful concept and a beautiful word, which notices and cherishes the nuances in nature and in our state of mind. We don't feel comfortable to wear just Summer clothes any longer, and yet it feels a bit too early to fully embrace Autumn. It's in between. It's not a very long period and its borders are quite loose and vary from place to place and from year to year. But it's out there, it's impossibly to miss межсезонье, even if you miss the word, - this vague period of time in between two seasons...

Why do I find all of this so fascinating? I love words, and I love languages. As anything else, when you pay attention, it can tell you a lot about us, people who create and use it. It can give you insights into history, mentality and the soul of a person or the whole culture.

As Justin and I took a walk in the lower part of the Grandview Trail (I think it's called Soundview Trail over in the lower part), he noticed a huge nest on the remains of the old demolished factory where the trail and golf course are built. He zoomed his camera lenses, and sure enough, a magnificent osprey (or sea hawk as they often call this bird here; in Russian the name is apparently скопа - I had no idea) was guarding it. Ospreys usually mate for life, and build their nests near water. They use their nests for many years. I don't know when exactly this nest was built, but people say it was there in the Spring (we did not see it when we were there in March though). It's pretty amazing if you think of it, that the old factory poles are an ideal place for their nests - apparently enthusiasts who want to protect these birds even build poles for their nests!

I wrote about our other encounters with wild animals: a coyote HERE, herons colony HERE, raccoon family and whales HERE (I also created a label "nature encounters" for more fun reads in the future).

There was another sunset, very different from the last week, but that's just one of the great features of sunsets. Oh, and sunrises too, of course.

I turned off the automatic feature in Google Plus which tries to "correct" your photos. I like my photos the way I post them - sometimes I love darkness or intensity of the shots, and that automatic feature drove me crazy from time to time with its artificial lighting up or "smoothing" effects which changes colors and flattens images sometimes too much. To turn it off, go to Google Plus - Home - Settings - Photos - Auto Enhance (just mark "off" and good to go, it saves automatically). There are many other things which are optional, but forced on users "by default". They easily can be changed to your liking, remember that.

I also wanted to mention this little free software which Justin introduced me to a while ago, and I really like it. It's a free download and you can adjust settings to your preference (like change the timing or other options). It's called EyeLeo and is designed to remind us computer users to give our hard-working eyes a break in light and playful ways. Enjoy!

Dress and cardi - Ashley Stewart.
Shoes - Toms.
Purse - hand-made, old.
Earrings - Chico's.
Haircut - fresh from Erica (probably my favorite to the date)

Photos by Justin

Joining Share-in-Style: Autumn with this post. Come over!


  1. I love the warm, golden and mellow tones in all of these photos as well as in your outfit. I am so envious of the bloggers who do their photos outdoors but I am not prepared to make a public spectacle of myself with my tripod and timer. Your new haircut looks lovely and I like the soft wispy ends around your face.

    Like you I love language and words but unlike you I am only uni-lingual, unless we count botanical Latin. There was a time when I used it daily but now I am forgetting it. My ex husband studied languages at university and used to explain to me how some concepts were tricky to translate as they may not exist in a single word such as the German Schadenfreude, which we don't have a word for in English. I enjoy studying about the English language and its development so I have many books on the subject. At one time I thought of being a linguist but there was a mathematical aspect to the linguistics courses at university which I was not good at. I loved this blog post, Natalia, and your writing is just beautiful. The fact that you can write like this in two languages is so very impressive.
    Love and hugs!

    1. I remember that your ex studied Russian, of course, but I forgot that you considered studying linguistics! WE did not have any math, though I know that some fields of linguistics do require math. I was pretty good at math at school, but never was interested in it. Go figure... Languages are so much more fun than numbers. :)

      Justin helps to correct mistakes before I publish my posts - I do not expect my posts to be perfect in grammar or anything like it, but I want to be understood. He said there were 5 or 6 little mistakes in this post - mostly articles or verb tenses, those are my typical errors. Writing comes so much easier to me, my speaking skills are more rough. I think I could write pretty well in any language if I study it a little, it's just very natural to me, like breathing. xxx

  2. Natasha, thank you for such an informative post. I do compare English and Russian sometimes. They are very different languages. I don't know how to translate Pushkin's poetry in English :))
    Love your outfit: you look elegant in the orange shirtdress and brown cardi. Great color combo. Very cute!

  3. mischsaison!!!!! its not russian - its german! or more "meschsaison" what sound yiddish. i can remember the written russian from school, so when a saw the word it struck me :-)
    but we use different words for different seasons: "spätwinter"(late winter) "vorfrühling"(before spring) "frühsommer"(early summer) "spätsommer"/"altweibersommer"(late summer) "früh-/spätherbst"(early/late autumn). no early winter as a word.
    for the 24 hours period we say here just "vierundzwanzig stunden" - twenty four hours.
    LOVE your linguistic adventure, language says so much about the mankind, a lot about history. one have just to look a bit deeper.
    you look like the personification of a gorgeous sunset in this color combo! and again the yummy berry earrings! or is it sweet pumpkin with chocolate and cranberries? maybe it´s because i´m hungry ;-)
    i read somewhere that pumpkin is a term of endearment in america, with "sweet" or "little" together. a german woman would be a bit upset when called a "kürbis"...... language.......
    your great adventure man not only brings your coffee and makes your smile - he is a great photograph - of you, sunsets an not at least of wild animals too. that bird is beautiful!

    1. Very, very interesting! I forgot German - I'll take a dictionary and find all the words you've mentioned here. :) It's very interesting to see what words we save for modern usage and what we get rid of. In Old Russian, there are also many words for each season - not in the modern language though. xxx

  4. Language is so interesting, I'll often read American or Canadian blogs and be confused by what they mean. US and UK English can be so different, even descriptions of clothing: vests for waistcoats, pants for trousers, jumpers for pinafore dresses.
    I'd call a 24 hour period "a full day".
    Love how your dress looks almost mustard in the Autumnal light. The sunlight at this time of year makes colours appear very different.
    The osprey is magnificent. I spotted a sparrowhawk in the lime tree this morning and feared for the cats! xxx

    1. I looove learning those differences in British English vs American English. :)

  5. I love the linguistic adventure! I didn't know that English was the wordiest language...that's why my Oxford dictionary is so heavy!:P
    'сутки' in Polish is 'doba' and I can't come up with only one polish word for 'Межсезонье'. In my try to find one I checked on google translator but it actually says 'poza sezonem' (off-season). I personally say 'przejściowa pogoda' (transitional weather).
    If I have children they'll be trilingual (French, Polish, English) to understand the world outside, parents separately, and parents speaking to each other:D
    I also don't think Polish or English, I don't translate in my head or anything of this kind. I just adapt my way of expression depending on whom I talk to. Which language do you swear in when you for example hit your toe etc.?:) Even tho I usually speak English only in my everydays life, when surprised by sudden pain I use Polish:) I also tend to mix Polish and English especially when I speak with my man cuz I know that he can understand:) I don't mix when talking to others tho.

    I have noticed one very interesting thing about English. All the shortenings: husband- hubby, television- telly, ad- advertisement and so on. Polish don't shorten and we go for diminutives not to shorten the word in any way but to give it either negative either positive meaning or simlpy to show that something is just small (like with English largish)

    mąż- mężulek/mężuś (husband)
    ogłoszenie- ogłoszonko (advertisement)
    kot- kotek (cat)

    And look, none of this diminutive forms make the word shorter:) It's almost like English speaking people want make language more comfortable and faster while Polish speaking people just don't care about this aspect at all. It is never about making a word shorter in Polish.

    I had noticed that auto enchance actually spoils photos and turned it off on my blog too.

    You look really beautiful. I like the colors and earrings are so romantic. I will keep complementing the little purse too:) Great photos and the last one stimulates my imagination the most.

    1. Very insightful of you to notice - yes, in Slavic languages we don't try to make words shorter, we instead add a new additional meaning by adding different suffixes! Great observation and very true. xxx

  6. I love language and words too, although I can't even contemplate having a mental dictionary of 2 languages. I have always wondered how a bi-linguist thinks though (which language?) now I know how you do it! language is ever changing, colloquialism gives us lots but I don't always think it's for the better haha! but young people play with words a lot eg 'rotsy'- rotten drunk, is something my eldest would say, but another group may have another word (worryingly, there really are a lot of slang words for 'drunk' though!! ha!)
    Beautiful photo's Natalia, sunsets are a magical time of day - I love how the beautiful colours of your outfit play so well with the golden, rich sunset, and isn't that osprey incredible!! x x x

    1. These "mental dictionaries" are not the same though - they overlap, but not equal. I think you are a very observant language user, Sandra, I am truly impressed and glad to discover it about you. :)

  7. I'll have to check out that downloadable software. I love finding things like that for free.
    Isn't that nest amazing? I've spotted enormous nests on I90 on the way over toward Ellensburg way up high on telephone poles along the highway. I also enjoy seeing them when all the leave fall from the trees and they are exposed for the winter. One would never know they were there in the warmer months.
    Interesting thoughts on language. I love words themselves but am not bilingual or even know enough Spanish to get me by. I am always impressed with people who do know more than one language. There is so much to learn I'm sure your mental capacity is quite impressive and you'll be far from dementia in your upper years with all your brain activity going on!
    You know what? I really like this short over long look on you. I think you should do more of it!

    1. I heard that hula dance is great for preventing dementia and such - it's when your brain and body have to cooperate simultaneously, it really is so much more difficult to do than it looks! :)

  8. Really amazing colors and you are right, language is so amazingly interesting!

  9. Great post and great colour combination with the outfit. Beautiful! :)

  10. As a wordsmith, this post resonates so much with me! You started a conversation in our car as we went driving yesterday :-) did you hear? Loving your short hair...seems to be a movement going around. The bird on the nest is magical! Thanks so much for your generous comments on my Autumn post. Love you! Xo JJ

    1. I wish I heard! :) Love you too, my dear friend! xxx

  11. Lovely sunset colours... BTW, there is a word in Finnish for a 24-hour period, too "vuorokausi"... And we speak of late autumn, early winter, mid-winter, even spring-winter (the period in March-April when it snows, thaws, the sun shines brighly and you think it's spring until it starts snowing again...). Some concepts just don't exist in English (because there's no need for them) such as the many words describing different types of snow in Scandinavian languages, Finnish and I would guess also in Russian...

    1. There are many words describing winter weather conditions in Russian, but really not so many describing snow. Another well known linguistic fact which I remember from my student years is that Eskimo language has over 40 words describing snow. No, Russian is not like that. :)

  12. Wonderful warm light and autumnal colours here, Natalia, you look as though you are glowing - with health, vitality, affection, and intelligence!
    Words are always interesting, aren't they? It never ceases to amaze me how limited many people are when it comes to vocabulary; I always say to the kids, "come one, there are loads of great words out there, let's make use of them!" instead of sticking to just a few. Mind you, I am equally amazed by anyone who can communicate effectively in more than one language. That you write so brilliantly in a language other than the one you grew up speaking is so impressive to me! xxxx

    1. I can't really brag that my vocabulary is very rich, not my active vocabulary anyway (there is also a passive one - the words you understand when hear or read, but rarely use yourself). I think it's great if you have fun language games with your kids and get the words out of your passive vocabulary for a walk! :)

  13. Well I tried to give my interpretation of it in this post. Maybe that whole point is to say "24 hours" instead of a descriptive word (which is quite poetic in its etymology in Slavic languages) - to be precise... I find words and languages very fascinating. I studied a few foreign languages in university (German, Check, and of course a few ancient ones like Latin, Old Russian and Old Slavic), and I studied them in depth, which I can't say about English - probably 90% self-taught there. I have Master's in the Russian language and literature. I think you understand a little deeper when you learn more than one language. I shouldn't say that. You have a chance, an opportunity to look a little deeper - into people, into cultures, into life. I am trying. :)

  14. Beautiful natalia wearing such a wonderful shade of gold dress. You couldn´t be more Autumnly and gorgeous.
    Tons of love and thank you so much for being part of the Share-in-Style family

  15. I always find it unique to see what certain languages are "missing". There are phrases in French that I find express more clearly what I want to say and visa versa in English.

    Great transition outfit.


  16. dear lady, I'm loving your 'between two seasons' outfits, and also find hard to translate some usual concepts in English to Spanish (and vice-versa). We've got a lovely word to define that transition, 'entretiempo', some autumn or spring warm moments which are next to summer. When you find a word which is really that hard to translate, sometimes it's like finding a new shade of color into your language!
    Your transition outfits are being fabulous, love how you wear khaki and olive as neutrals, and love your vest, and all those rusted and orange and purple. You're gorgeous!!