Wednesday, November 10, 2010

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Word play

Meanings get lost in translation. Lambing, for example, doesn't have a direct English equivalent. Endearment is the closest word I can think of, but if you're Filipino, you know that it's more than that.

If that were the case, we're missing out on a lot of things. Words, after all, are cultural. An agricultural society in the tropics will have various words for rice—in the Philippines, kanin (cooked rice), bigas (uncooked rice), palay (rice that's still with a hull) are some of them. In America, they only use one: rice. The Eskimos, I remember from my Linguistics class, had lots of words for snow when we only have niyebe, one that was only adapted from the Spanish nieve. Snow (or really cold, solid water) isn't important to us—until the advent of Milo-flavored ice drop, that is—but it is to them.

That goes to say that when we read English translations of an Alexander Dumas novel in French or of a Gabriel Garcia-Marquez story in Spanish, we're missing out something. Like in the movie, things do get lost in translation. It's usually in the idiomatic expressions, or in rare occasions, in the words themselves.

That also goes to the core of hermeneutics, the methodical interpretation of Scripture. To study the true meaning of the message, we must go to the original. That's why pastors and teachers of God's Word are encouraged to study Hebrew or Greek, the original languages that the Biblical writers used. Knowing these languages is a valuable resource in unlocking the richness of God's revelation to man. 

In the Greek, for example, there are four kinds of love. Storge is natural, human love, as in "I love Robinson's Mall." Eros is a passionate love usually involving emotional and sexual arousal—hence, the word "erotic." Phileo is an affectionate love, almost like saying "I like you." Agape is unconditional love involving the pursuing of the highest good of another.

Now, a word on agape. It's interesting because prior to Christianity, this word had a very general meaning in Greek. The Christians, to describe God's love, did not want other theosophical baggage to interefere with their meaning. The word eventually went on to become the highest form of love. Agape is used in the Ephesians 2:4-9: 
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
That passage leaves me bursting with joy indescribable every time I read it.

Matador Abroad lists 20 "awesome" untranslatable words from around the world. The best way to remember words? Use them. That's how you expand your vocabulary. 

I'm going to do just that right now.

Mamihlapinatapei. Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start”

As in: We were about to light the bunsen burner, until we had a moment of mamihlapinatapei. And then we both failed chemistry.

Kyoikumama. Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement” 

As in: He grew up to be a lonely man with really thick glasses and without a girlfriend. He blames it all on his kyoikumama who wanted him to be a doctor, when all he wanted was to be a ballet dancer.

Tartle. Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.

As in: I often tartle, especially if I meet some of my Facebook friends I'm seeing in the flesh for the first time. Their profile pictures are usually of jumping people in the beach, with faces barely recognizable.

Prozvonit. Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.”

As in: Because my groupmates are not replying to my text, I'm going to prozvonit them. Like right now.

Cafuné. Brazilian Portuguese – “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”

As in: My mother used to cafuné me, until I had stress alopecia because of med school.

During a missions trip in Isabela in 2008, I learned the Ibanag word for joke: lafug. Right there I thought, "You have got to be lafugging me."

4 comments:

  1. We were about to light the bunsen burner, until we had a moment of mamihlapinatapei. And then we both failed chemistry. - panalo ito lance!

    jgg

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  2. This is great, Lance! Really funny! And I'm not lafugging!

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  3. Jeiel, you actually crossed my mind when I wrote that part. I knew you'd react. Haha.

    Pao, thank you! May part 2 na ba sa blog entry mo?

    Kuya John, you are such a lafugger—and thanks!

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