Monday, 8 February 2010

On Language

“I love you” is expressed by “I want you” (te quiero) in Spanish, “(you) are (a) love(-source) (to me)” (suki da) in Japanese, “I love towards you” (aku cinta pada mu) in Indonesian, “I love a part of you” (!) (rakastan sinua) in Finnish, “I wish good (things to happen) to you” (ti voglio bene) in Italian, “to-me from-you love is” (mujhe tum-se pyar hê) in Hindi and many other languages spoken in India, “love I-have-you” (maite zaitut) in Basque, “to me you me-love-are” (me shen mi-kvar-khar) in Georgian (Georgia, southern Caucasus), “I I-you-love” (she ro-haihu) in Guarani (Paraguay).

Other affects and feelings are expressed in very rich, diverse and nuanced ways across languages, whatever the impact of technology in our lives. For example, shame is “seen,” or “eaten,” etc., in such languages as Swahili (Tanzania), Ewe (Ghana and Togo) or Mandarin Chinese; illness “has” me in Moore (Burkina Faso); hunger and fear are “on” me in Irish; “my friend is sick” or “she is happy” cannot be expressed in that way in Japanese, where one has to add a word meaning “apparently” or “allegedly,” because for speakers of this language, ego cannot refer to affects or feelings that s/he does not undergo him- or herself. “To be boring” or “to be bored” are expressed as “to have a millstone around the neck” in Dutch, “to get out from the elbow” in Hungarian, “to talk with one’s lice” in Subcarpathic Gypsy, “to hunt flies” in Moroccan Arabic, “to have one’s anus torn out” in Maithili (India), “to suck the marrow” in Yiddish.

The French linguist Claude Hagège in Q and A: The Death of Languages, The New York Times, 16 December 2009

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