Before you read on, I want to ask you: How many languages do you know?
Mukadderat. Sortable. Tu’burni. Jabali. Mellifluous. Sombremesa.
Every one of these words (phonetically spelt) come from a different language. Each one has a meaning so specific it cannot be translated accurately.
Mukadderat (Turkish): the fate/fatality of divine timing.
Sortable (French): someone you can take anywhere without being embarrassed.
Tu’burni (Arabic): bury me with your love.
Jabali (Swahili): strong as rock.
Mellifluous (English): a sound that is pleasing to hear.
Sombremesa (Spanish): the time you spend talking at the table after finishing a meal.
For the intrigue of it all, you now know approximately six new words you maybe did not before, and you technically now know six languages.
I’ve always been able to pick up on languages relatively quickly, falling in love with words I could not translate because they fit the exact strange description of what I was feeling. Words and languages have always fascinated me, like a source of magic. On one hand, a translation is inaccurate and undermines the truth of the passage, because not everything can be translated correctly. But on the flip side, two people who do not speak the same language can find common ground elsewhere, and still understand each other through gestures or miming or expression, or whatever other creative means. Written or spoken words are often a means to an end in our day to day lives that we just kind of glide through to interact with others or express ourselves.
But if you stop to think about it, words are also the most powerful tool at our disposal. A perfectly strung sentence of words can move a person to tears, or break someone’s heart when placed together intentionally, and changing even a word or execution can impact our reactions. Different languages give us the ability to express more than we think we can, different words in different languages can open up more emotions so specifically, that we did not know we could name. Words give us the power to move mountains, taste the rain, and create complete movements in society.
Poet Ali says in his TED talk, “sometimes we think language is about understanding the meaning of a word, but I believe language is about making a word meaningful for yourself.”. Spoken words are not our only source of applying meaning to something, but merely a description or definition, which carries the weight of our emotion. For instance, two people who were displaced during childhood share experiences, or how a group of people who are all die-hard Harry Potter fans know terms that Muggles will never understand.
Language lies in our experiences, how we carry ourselves through the world and how we understand it. Our language is in our body, our perspective, our silences, how we express ourselves, and our mannerisms. It brings people together who can speak the same language, not necessarily literally. What words do is strengthen our ability to explain our experiences to others in a broader, and even more powerful way however that presents itself.
So I ask you again, how many languages do you know?