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Word "flag" in different languages

Last modified: 2016-05-07 by antónio martins
Keywords: flag: word | word: flag | languages |
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Language translation is full of confusions, and there is no way around it except to explain fully and completely all the subtle nuances of meanings, in enough depth to be unambiguous. With the new technology available, it might even be able to display the scripts of those languages, and maybe even audio files that give an accurate native-speaker pronunciation of the word, possibly even with contexts.
Bill Dunning, 11 Aug 2007

What we need here is a way to distinguish between the main translations of "flag" in the various languages and the other words that are subtly or not so subtly related to them. We can’t have a one-to-one list for the simple reason that different languages have differing understandings of what a flag is.

In a mathematical analogy, each word in each language designates a certain set of objects that may overlap for the most part but does not coincide, and therefore we have to include the words used for the grey areas where the main ones don’t fully overlap.

Jorge Candeias, 11 Aug 2007

I don’t think this is a very important vexillological topic, and I hope no one does. It is just a mildly interesting yet marginal issue.
António Martins, 15 Aug 2007


Etymology and semantics

See also: Etymological index

Organizing the etyms of our quite large collection of words meaning "flag", even if at a very crude level (listing only similarities and leaving aside for now any attempt at finding branching relationships), other major “families” pop to the eye, such as Arabic "al"/"alav", Dravidian "koti" and "pataka", and Indo-Aryan "jhamda".
António Martins, 12 Sep 2007

There are many instances of the semantic relatedness between "signal" and "flag":

  • Words meaning "flag" in several languages, stemming from Latin "signum", meaning "sign".
    António Martins, 16 Apr 2009

  • Greek "σημαία", meaning "flag" and cognate of word meaning "sign" / "symbol".
    António Martins, 16 Apr 2009

  • "Unancha" means "flag" in Quechua and "electrical signal" in Aymara; in Quechua it means also "sign" (i.a. in "qillqa unancha", "punctuation signs") and is cognate with "sanancha", meaning "symbol".
    António Martins, 27 Mai 2008 and 16 Apr 2009


Scope of these pages

These pages register as words just the spellings (and indirectly orthographies).
António Martins, 18 Aug 2007

Sound / pronounciation could be added right now, whenever an audio file is available, and/or pronounciation indication by means of IPA symbols (or the former generated from the latter). However, there is not a simple one-to-one correspondence between word as written (which is for now the scope of these pages) and word as spoken. This is clear for things like sign languages or ideographs, but also for, say, the recently mentioned alternate spellings for the same word, such as English "flag" in the regular Latin based orthography and then in Deseret or Shavian (which have/had marginal usage), or the Latin vs. Cyrillic vs. Glagolitic spellings of the same words in Croatian/Serbian etc. And I’m not even considering things like Braille, Morse, semaphore or signal flags — because their correspondence with mainstream alphabets is trivial. The link between writing and sound is not a simple one.
António Martins, 20 Aug 2007



When it comes to words that mean both "flag" (etc.) and non flag-related things (such as English "colour"), non "flag" meanings are not expanded.
António Martins, 11 Oct 2007




Cyphers are excluded from these pages, as they are of trivial implementation:

  • If you know the word "karogs" you can tap it or flash it in Morse code, using a cypher key giving each latin letter a form made of dits and dahs.
  • If you know the word "застава" you can signal it using cyrillic signal flags.
No need to list these separately.

Shavian is a proper script/alphabet, not a cypher (i.e., there’s no one-to-one correspondence slaved from Latin or other letters, like Morse etc.), and was included for English and not for other languages because it is/was used in English in a minimally relevant way. Same for Deseret in English, Orkhon in Kazakh and Chuvash and other historical/residual script use.

IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet) is a notation system for phonetics and phonology, not an orthography. We can/will add IPA transcriptions to these pages, but as an additional data item for each word, not as separate entries.

Sign systems are yet a different thing: some, the spelling signs, are cyphers, others are true languages and here considered as such.

António Martins, 11 Oct 2007



  • Word forms, total: 918, namely:
    • main words: 412, of which
      • meaning "flag" in general: 304
      • meaning a specific kind of flag: 108
    • derivate word forms: 506, including:
      • grammar variants: 123
        • 12 diminutives
        • 4 unspecified case declensions
        • 1 non-paradigmatic nominative
        • 7 accusatives
        • 3 datives
        • 2 ergatives
        • 11 genitives
        • 2 illatives
        • 1 locative
        • 2 partitives
        • 1 vocative
        • 8 mutations
        • 67 plurals
        • 2 other (unspecefied) variants
      • spelling variants: 350
        • 72 less common orthography forms
        • 5 unpredictable lower case forms
        • 11 unpredictable upper case (“allcaps”) forms
        • 135 historical/residual forms
        • 48 official transcriptions
        • 30 alternate transcriptions
        • 49 acceptable spelling variants
    • Additionally, word class considered for 98 words:
      • 14 neuters
      • 50 feminines
      • 33 masculines
      • 1 noun of Bantu class 5/6
  • Languages covered: 249
  • Scripts used: 69

Technical problems?

Note that the question marks that may appear instead of letters (or the squares, or spirals, or boxes, or whatever the not def. glyph of your browser’s default font) are still the intended characters, only provisionally lacking a glyph to go with them. Should one copy and paste the said characters and e-mail them to somobody else (or otherwise transport them onto another computer) with appropariate font coverage, they would show as the intended characters.
António Martins, 20 Aug 2007

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