What do you call back-to-school month?

By Sophie Shields

It’s the beginning of the school year. In other words, it’s September, the month of Libra, the “turning leaves moon” and so on. Around the world, people experience time differently, depending on how their language names the months of the year.

In most European languages like English and French, the names of the months stem from the predecessor of today’s Gregorian calendar, the Julian calendar, which was created during the Roman Empire. Each month on it honours a key god, goddess or emperor. Indeed, March refers to the Roman god of war Mars, since that is when military activities could resume after a winter’s pause, and July honours Julius Caesar – there are perks to being emperor when a calendar is being created!

In many other languages, the names of months reflect the natural phenomena from that time of the year.

For example, in Ukrainian, Jovten (October) means yellow, referring to the yellowing of the leaves, while Lystopad (November) is a compound word for “leaves falling.” Closer to home, in Ojibwe, it is October or Binaakwe-giizis, which is the falling leaves month. This is taken even further in Northern Sami, a language spoken in northern Finland, Norway and Sweden, which is unique in its focus on the reindeer cycle. Cuoŋománnu (April) refers to the hard crust on the ground needed for reindeer migration to calving grounds. It leads to Miessemánnu (May) – reindeer calf month.

Of course, there are other month-naming systems. Several Asian languages, for instance, emphasize the numerical order of months: July is Chirwol (seventh month) in Korean and August is Bā yuè (eighth month) in Mandarin. Other languages follow a lunisolar system. In Hindu’s solar calendar, months are named in relation to celestial signs, making Mesha (Aries) the end of April to mid-May and Vrishabha (Taurus) end of May to mid-June. Some languages don’t use a 12-month system at all: Ethiopian languages have 13 months!

So, whatever you want to call it, happy September and happy Amiraijaut (shedding of the caribou antlers – Nunavik Inuit dialect)!

Sophie Shields is a Carleton student studying global literature and a proud Franco-Ukrainian who is learning German. She is the social media coordinator for the Glebe Report.

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