MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

6 untranslatable words about community April 12, 2012

Words about community

As I’m working on the World Words app, that will teach you one life-affirming word a day, I enjoy finding words that show us how diverse cultures view community. Here are some of my favorite words about community. To hear the pronunciation, you’ll have to download the app when it becomes available!

  • Ubuntu: Zulu, Xhosa, South Africa. “I am because we are.” Find your identity in the relationships you treasure. Nurture a sense of belonging.
  • Wantok: Tok Pisin, Papaua New Guinea. The community where I find belonging: we speak the same language and are responsible for each other.
  • Yuimaru: Japanese. The practice of sharing and helping each other. This is Japanese cultural legacy from the time of small rural villages, when people depended on each other.
  • Inati: Tokelauan, Tokelau (a territory of New Zealand). A communal fishing practice where resources are gathered and shared amongst all, securing the wellbeing of young and old.
  • Nam-jai: Thai. It literally means “water of the heart”, and describes the willingness to sacrifice for friends and extend hospitality to strangers.
  • Minga: Quechua, a family of South American languages. “Carry one another.” Community members gather to accomplish a task that benefits all. A good example of a Minga would be an Amish barn raising. In our community, we have a Women’s Service Day, where over a hundred women get together to help local non-profits by painting, gardening, building, fixing.

Maybe we can learn from each other. Actually, I’m sure we can learn from each other! How do you shape your own communities according to your values?


5 untranslatable words about friendship February 9, 2012

In time for Valentine’s Day, here are 5 more “untranslatable” words, describing our friendships and non-romantic relationships. My friend Justine Ickes from the blog “Culture Every Day” wrote about untranslatable words describing our romantic relationships. It seems people all over the world express their relationships in different ways!

Untranslatable words for friendship

In La ‘Kesh – Mayan:
“We are different faces of each other” or “I am another you”. These words are spoken with deep reverance as recognition of the divine within another person – similar to the phrase Namaste.

Nakama – Japanese:
Nakama is used to refer to friends who one considers family. Your “crowd” or group of friends will stand by you no matter what.

Szimpatikus – Hungarian:
You know the feeling you get when you meet a person for the first time and your intuition tells you she/he is a good person? You say this person is “szimpatikus”. You get a ‘good vibe’ from such a person.

Mate – Australian:
You probably know this one well. It provides a key to the Australian spirit. You spend a lot of time with your mates, doing things together, giving mutual support in good fortune and in bad fortune.

Anam ċara – Gaelic:
Your anam ċara is your “soul-friend,” your true friend, a lovingly stern companion to whom you can, in stringent honesty, unburden your heart.

Enjoy Valentine’s Day with your anam ċara! And may you get to spend time with your nakama!


5 untranslatable words about nature January 26, 2012

I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open for unique words. I love “untranslatable” words – words that can’t be translated into only one English word, but that needs a whole phrase or paragraph to explain it. Linguists generally don’t like these words, since they are so difficult to translate, but I don’t have to translate literally when I design MotherTongues t-shirts. I can use poetic license, so I say the more untranslatable, the better!

These are 5 untranslatable words about nature, and our relationship with the earth, that I recently came across:

Tenalach (Irish): A word used in the hills and mountains in the west of Ireland. It points to a relationship one has with the land/air/water, a deep connection that allows one to literally hear the earth sing…

Hear the earth sing

Komorebi (Japanese): The scattered, dappled light effect when sunlight shines through tree leaves.

Gökotta (Swedish): To wake up early in the morning with the purpose of going outside to hear the first birds of spring sing.

Aloha aina (Hawaiian): This phrase means “love of the land.”  Hawaiians are the land, in the sense that the land provides food, water, clothing, and shelter. Showing care for the land, while visiting, is a wonderful way to show care and respect to the people of Hawaii.

Dadirri (Aboriginal Australian): An ancient word that combines contemplation, deep inner listening, and quiet still awareness of creation and the Creator, Dadirri is like a crystal clear water hole that calls us to be replenished and revitalized. To embody Dadirri, is to be at peace with yourself, with others, in nature, and with the Creator. Be patient with yourself, with your neighbor, and wait upon the seasons. Become aware of the sacredness that surrounds you. Hear creation breathe and follow her rhythm.

Do you have any words to add?


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