Every Language We Learn, We Become One More Person
Over a drink at a friend’s backyard, Aurelie asked me to teach her an expression that I like from my language. 3younek al-7elween (عيونك الحلوين), I said, without thinking.
Back home, this would be the most obvious answer to any compliment one receives. It literally means, “Your eyes are beautiful”. But its true meaning goes beyond that to say, “Your eyes are so beautiful they can only see beautiful things.”
I’d never given it a second thought. You use it day in and day out until you barely remember what it means. But, right then, when I attempted to explain the meaning in English, it hit me. That illusive quality in how it conveys beauty in its most basic form, so subtle yet so magnificently poetic. What’s more beautiful than the Eyes?
Language, much more than God, works in subtle ways. I’d never realized how much I’d missed my mother tongue. The simplicity and warmth of familiar words, tones and images. The way laughter feels more radiating and gratifying in my mother tongue. Even your confessions of love, or your words of wrath feel more honest. That, I had always known.
That same day I learned a Russian expression for when you haven’t seen someone for a long time, Skol’ko let, skol’ko zim (Сколько лет, сколько зим). It roughly translates into, “How many summers! How many winters!”
It brought a warm smile to my face. For what more beautiful a way to say you’ve missed someone! Yet, alas, it can never be translated, nor imported. It’s exquisitely Russian, just as 3yonek al-7elween is exquisitely Arabic.
I’ve been learning Japanese for four years now. It’s a long and tiresome process, frustrating at best. The language, in a way an expression of the culture, is very frozen on the outside, yet once you dig deeper into the word; a world of subtle and hidden meanings is revealed. Nonetheless, part of the frustration is that that world is completely unfathomable for someone who’s yet to scratch the surface, much like me.
One of the most used words in the Japanese language is Ganbatte (頑張って). In its literal meaning it is asking someone to do his own best. But it’s used in all contexts as a lucky charm, a Good Luck of sorts. To do one’s best, is good luck. I can’t think of a word that is more telling of this culture. Ganbatte, is sympathetic yet unwavering, soothing yet at the same time provocative.
You barely think of these words before saying them, but I have no doubt they play times and times again in the back of your head. They bring poetry and a certain sense of intoxication to an otherwise uninspired daily existence.
Human emotions are beyond words, most of the time. But in the few instances where language catches up, it brings a thrilling feeling. Arabic’s grandest word for love is Hayam (هيام). Hayam is simply the thin line between love and insanity, where there’s no way of telling, which is which.
“Every language we learn, we become one more person,” – Abu Abu Fares.