What do you say for 'violining' in other languages than English?

April 22, 2013 at 05:45 AM · What's the word for "violining" in other languages?

We have an international community, so this seems a good place to ask...

In English, we "play" a violin (or we 'practice,'like one does medicine?). In Spanish one "touches" the violin(tocar , different from 'jugar' to play a game). What do people do in other languages do?

And I LOVE typos--konw--right, know.

Replies (35)

April 22, 2013 at 05:58 AM · In Cantonese/Mandarin they said "pull" the violin (more like "pull" the bow).

A romanian friend told me that in Romanian they'd say "sing" the violin.

April 22, 2013 at 08:15 AM · In France "je joue (play) du violon" but "je joue au tennis"; "Travail" means "work" but also "practice", which is a pity, as it make the French practice with a scowl. They "tirent" (pull) the bow away from the violin (down-bow) and "poussent" (push) it back (up-bow). Any useless activity is called "pisser dans un violon", which I will not translate! "Au violon" also means "in prison"!!

A Rumanian friend referred to harmonics as "falsetto" (like the top end of a yodel).

April 22, 2013 at 09:19 AM · To add to the French lexique, there's "l'âme" (the soul) for sound post, and also "coussin" for s....... r... which translates as cushion no doubt indicating the origins of the concept as a soft pad. Actually that doesn't seem at all a bad idea to stick with that original expression!

In notation there's "noir" (black) for crotchet or quarter note, and "blanche" (white) for minim or half note.

April 22, 2013 at 12:21 PM · Well, down in these here parts in the south o' Brooklyn, we just say fiddlin' - I'll tell ya what!

April 22, 2013 at 07:53 PM · Dutch:

Playing violin: viool spelen.

Playing fiddle: fiddelen.

Practise: oefenen.


Playing violin: main biola. (biola = violin).

Practise: latihan.

April 22, 2013 at 09:50 PM · OK - a little more seriously, it's interesting that in English, French, German, and probably some other languages, the same word is used for playing music as playing a game. In Hebrew, there's a completely different word for playing a game -"l'sachek" (the ch pronounced as in Bach) and playing music on an instrument - "l'nagen". The word, "nigun" derives from that, which means "tune" or "melody" - as in the Bloch "Nigun". (Bloch more freely translated "Nigun" as "Improvisation", with good reason, referring to the impassioned improvisations of Hassidic song masters.)

I've mentioned elsewhere that one of my custom-made Maday violins includes a Latin motto in gold leaf on the ribs. Most of us know the motto, "COGNITO, ERGO SUM" - I think, therefore I am. I was hoping to come up with the Latin equivilent of "I play music, or fiddle, therefore I am". But in cosultation with a couple of Latin experts, I found that it couldn't quite work. So I came up with another motto which now graces those ribs: IN MVSICA FELICITAS - in music happiness.

April 23, 2013 at 07:15 AM · here in italy one "sounds" the fiddle - io suono il violino - i sound the violin.

April 23, 2013 at 09:58 AM · German:

playing violin: geigen, fiedeln, Violine spielen

scroll: die Schnecke (slug)

sound post: die Seele oder die Stimme (soul or voice)

Additionally violining is often used in daily expressions:

to mess sth. up completely: vergeigen

to give it to sb. straight: jemandem die Meinung geigen

Stehgeiger: café violinist (expression for a lazy team player in sports)

to see things through rose-colored glasses: der Himmel hängt voller Geigen.

A****geige: Less essential yet noteworthy, a common insult, roughly translatable as "viola dalla glutealis"

Flats are "b's", Sharps are "Kreuze" (crosses), well, occasionally C-sharp major is called "Heldenfriedhof" or military cemetery.

My favorite musical idiom has less to do with violin than with music in general:

"to be all Brahms and Liszt": Cockney for being drunken

April 23, 2013 at 12:21 PM · C# major as a military cemetary - I like that! Put it in fingered octaves and you probably have Heifetz' favorite scale!

April 23, 2013 at 02:30 PM · In Russian, you play ON an instrument, as opposed to IN a sport:

igrat' na skripke

Violin is skripka from the verb skripet' -- to squeak, creak, crunch

I must be playing in Russian...

April 27, 2013 at 05:13 PM · I love all the varieties of language--the different mental 'maps' offer insights into ways of understanding what we do.

I notice the same thing in computer/typing terminology--back when apple & ibm were the 2 go-to companies, in mac one was told to 'touch return' and in ibm, to 'press enter,' or even 'hit enter.' Different mindset?

April 28, 2013 at 12:24 PM · Yes, it's french it's really "jouer" (play) a musical instrument and "pratiquer" (practice) when we speak of serious repetition to learn a skill (may it be music or something else).

There are certainly some differences between french from Québec (the french canadian province in which I live) and french in France, Europe.

I never EVER hear "pisser dans un violin" here and would laugh my head off if someone would tell this!

I learned some Russian at school and them too say (play) "egrat". They will say "egrat na ______ " which means "play on ______ (instrument name here)".

But in russian violin "skripka" comes from the word scratch. Students scratch a lot, but I've heard many scratches from Russian masters as well :) Dear instrument... a good player is one that can play more often than scratch...

April 28, 2013 at 03:10 PM · >In France "je joue (play) du violon" but "je joue au tennis"

Yikes, I never knew this! I always assumed it was "joue au violon." Thanks for the head's up, Adrian. And I cracked up over the violin/prison reference.

Also got a kick out of hearing the German idioms involving the violin. Hilarious and interesting (and important to know!).

April 28, 2013 at 04:22 PM · Misha lol!

May 12, 2013 at 12:39 PM · In Iran we use two different verbs.

One is "Navakhtan" which according to google translate means "to caress" [Well, not exactly... It doesn't sound as weird as it sounds in english! It's actually very poetic.]

---man violon minavazam--- (I caress the violin!)

The other one that is more slangy is "Zadan" which means "to hit" [yeah, it's not pretty but we do use it!]

---man violon mizanam--- (I hit the violin!)

May 12, 2013 at 02:48 PM · Mahta, I have to smile to these expressions!

Depending on your mood and how well the violin goes, you can use one or the other... :)

Having learn english, a little spanish and a little russian at school, I have to say all these funny moments when we either make mistakes (and say really funny things) or learn the meaning and from where an actual word come from are precious "funny" memories!

August 23, 2013 at 09:52 PM · What's interesting is that in Mandarin Chinese, there is a different way to say "play" based upon the instrument. For violin and bowed instruments (cello, double bass,etc.), as Casey said, it is "pull" as in pulling the bow. Piano and guitar, it is "touch/play/pluck(for guitar)". For percussion, it is "hit". For brass and woodwind, it is "blow". So these different forms of "playing an instrument" conform to the logical style of the Chinese language.

August 24, 2013 at 01:22 AM · In Turkish it's keman çalmak; the second word means to blow, to strike, to chime, plus two or three other meanings, or to ring someone on the phone.

August 24, 2013 at 05:38 AM · Agreed with Vincent and Casey to some extent on the Chinese verbs for playing different instruments. Strictly speaking though, each Chinese character has multiple meanings depending on the context so it is incorrect to say that "I mad pulling a violin (bow)" because the word, "la", here doesn't mean pull as it is in the case of pulling someon's arm; they look and sound the same but are semantically different, although the similar motion can be associated with, and this is something typical of the verbs for playing instruments in Chinese: "Pulling" a bowed instrument or an accordion, "flipping"/"springing" a piano or a non-bowed string instrument, "hitting" percassions, "blowing" horns or flutes, "knocking" bells or charms, etc.

August 24, 2013 at 07:27 AM · I don't know if that's special in chinese.

In german we say "ein Instrument spielen" (to play an i.) as a generalisation. But we

hit (schlagen) a drum

streichen (stroke, but in the same meaning as

using a brush when painting) a violin

blasen (blow) a flute

zupfen (pluck) a guitar

anschlagen (strike) a key

btw. sound post is "Stimmstock"

Shoulder rest is shoulder support (Schulterstütze)

Stopping a string is "greifen" (to grab, but softly)

Students are only at an university or music academy, same with professors (highest academic grade). Children and their instructors are Schüler und Lehrer (pupil and teacher.)

To study violin is to be at the Musikhochschule,

if someone is at the Musikschule in the small town he is learning violin.

The generalizing usage in english can lead to embarassing misunderstandings. As a pupil myself I met a young guy (english speaking) who said he was studying violin. I was a bit jealous, cause he was only as young as me. But as I learned he was only learning it, I was first dissapointed about him. But it wasn't his fault that I felt he was boasting.

August 24, 2013 at 01:18 PM · On http://www1.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Come,_ye_Sons_of_Art,_Z_323_%28Henry_Purcell%29, you can find some archaic English terms for the playing the various instruments, but I don't think I'll be saying "I shall strike the viola" any time soon!

I might try and look up whether the ancient Greeks used verbs other than psallw (which means "I strike" or "play", but can also mean "I sing") and kitharizw (meaning "I harp").

August 24, 2013 at 01:46 PM · Vanessa Gouw - In Indonesian:

Playing violin: main biola. (biola = violin).

Practise: latihan.

Same as in the Malay (Bahasa Melayu) language.

In Malay "main" is to play whereas "latih" is to train. This means that depending on your purpose, if you are "violining" your pieces for fun or performing, you "main" whereas if you are "violining" scales or etudes, you are undertaking "latihan."

August 24, 2013 at 03:06 PM · I'd heard that Indonesian was a form of Malay - I'm not saying this is true, but what did the non-Chinese, non-Indian inhabitants of Sumatra, Bali, etc. call their language before their country was called Indonesia?

August 25, 2013 at 12:50 AM · If "biola" is 'violin,' what is 'viola?'

August 25, 2013 at 08:01 PM · Japanese like Chinese pulls the violin. It may be derived from archery where the bow is pulled. (Hiku)

August 27, 2013 at 11:16 PM · Strike the harp and join the chorus,

Fa-la-la-la-la, la la la la...

But only at Christmas, maybe?

August 28, 2013 at 11:30 AM · @ Charlie--maybe the 'harp' was a hammered dulcimer?

August 28, 2013 at 09:58 PM · "If "biola" is 'violin,' what is 'viola?'"

Marjory, [don't laugh] "viola" I think is "biola besar" [literally, big violin] in Malay.

Logically, you might think that the cello must be "lagi besar biola" [even bigger violin]?

No, cello is, thankfully, just selo.

John, I wouldn't say that the Indonesian language is a "form" of Malay despite their similarities since those who claimed that Malay is the more diverse and cultured form got into trouble. Although I have not spoken in Malay for more than half my lifetime my recollection is, both languages are very similar although there are differences in subtleties which only the locals will recognise.

August 28, 2013 at 10:59 PM · Thessa (and I think I know enough about languages not to think that the beginning of your name sounds like the beginning of "Think". In fact, I think it sounds most like the English name "Tessa" and if your name had been spelled "Tessa" we uneducated English would think it was "Dessa"), my point was not that the national language of Indonesia is a form of Malay, but that its original name cannot have been "Indonesian". I've now looked it up on Wikipedia, which I now quote: "Indonesian is a standardized register of 'Riau Malay',[7][8] which despite its common name is not the Malay dialect native to Riau, but rather the Classical Malay of the Malaccan royal courts". So there we have it. Two forms of Malay of equal importance.

As regards the names of the different instruments in Malay, it's interesting to contrast the names that Percy Grainger gave the instruments in the Trio version of Handel in the Strand:

Viola = Middle-Fiddle

Violin = Fiddle

'Cello = Bass-Fiddle.

My father told me that (perhaps in other works) the violin was Little-Fiddle, the 'cello was Big-Fiddle, leaving the double bass to be Bass-Fiddle. Middle-Fiddle for the viola, however, is beyond dispute!

Back to a little snippet I now remember about Malaysia/Indonesia. Around the 1800-1820s an Arab named Sabat got involved in a rebellion in Sumatra (now Indonesia) and was sown into a sack and drowned on the orders of the "King of Malaya". Before he died he left a message written in his own blood saying that he died a Christian (He had previously converted to Christianity and then gone back to Mohammedanism). So Sumatra (in Indonesia) must have then been under the king of Malaya (possibly the Aceh Sultan). There appear to be other claims that the whole area had been called Malaya before the term Indonesia had been invented. I'm a bit confused!

August 29, 2013 at 04:01 PM · I have quite a nice one. In Welsh, these days most people would just say 'chwarae'r ffidl' (play the violin) but the proper term is to 'canu'r ffidl' which is to 'sing' the violin.

August 29, 2013 at 05:06 PM · I like that!--'sing the violin'--except it doesn't give credit to the singer--which IS the violin.

August 31, 2013 at 01:30 PM · Thanks, John, for the clarification. Sorry, I've forgotten the Malay history learnt some 40 years ago at school so am too un-enlightened by middle age to go deeper. My relatives are ethnic Malay and they like to say their language is superior to Indonesian even though clearly, many words including "violining" are the same.

September 5, 2013 at 11:40 AM · “??”,in Chinese.

September 5, 2013 at 01:06 PM · In romanian it's "to sing at the violin".

September 5, 2013 at 10:02 PM · Romanians are famed throughout Central and Eastern Europe for the singing that's part of the culture!

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