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The 'untranslatable' emotions you never knew you had

Posted: Sat Feb 04, 2017 3:11 am
by Erik_Kowal
"Have you ever felt a little mbuki-mvuki – the irresistible urge to “shuck off your clothes as you dance”? Perhaps a little kilig – the jittery fluttering feeling as you talk to someone you fancy? How about uitwaaien – which encapsulates the revitalising effects of taking a walk in the wind?

These words – taken from Bantu, Tagalog, and Dutch – have no direct English equivalent, but they represent very precise emotional experiences that are neglected in our language. And if Tim Lomas at the University of East London has his way, they might soon become much more familiar.

Lomas’s Positive Lexicography Project aims to capture the many flavours of good feelings (some of which are distinctly bittersweet) found across the world, in the hope that we might start to incorporate them all into our daily lives. We have already borrowed many emotion words from other languages, after all – think “frisson”, from French, or “schadenfreude”, from German – but there are many more that have not yet wormed their way into our vocabulary. Lomas has found hundreds of these "untranslatable" experiences so far – and he’s only just begun.

Learning these words, he hopes, will offer us all a richer and more nuanced understanding of ourselves. “They offer a very different way of seeing the world".

Read the full story on the BBC's website.

Re: The 'untranslatable' emotions you never knew you had

Posted: Sat Feb 04, 2017 8:45 pm
by tony h
Thanks for posting that. I often wonder whether thought begets the words or vice versa. I like the idea of importing some words, especially if they are inspiring improved humour. What I do wonder is to what extent the words can be imported without their cultural or geographic context.

Re: The 'untranslatable' emotions you never knew you had

Posted: Mon Oct 01, 2018 12:22 pm
by Huskar
Actually I know a few words too :)

"Isa Isa" - Fijian.

Before leaving Castaway Island Fiji recently, I was surrounded by the resort staff who sang a beautiful song called Isa Lei whose lyrics start with the words "Isa Isa".

When I inquired about the English synonym[/url] of Isa Isa I got a rather puzzled look. "It's more an expression of a feeling than a word with a dictionary meaning" the spokesperson said. "It's something we say when we are deeply moved. It may be over love, joy, beauty, grief or sadness" he went on to say. "Today it's used as an expression of deep sorrow because you are leaving us".

Others explained that "Isa Isa" is a cry from the soul. It's the palpable, audible, anguish of great loss. For the romantics, it is the pain of separation so great, that lovers almost wish that they had never met. It's a longing so great that it is totally consuming. It is an uncontrollable expression when confronted with stunning beauty or when being overcome with debilitating joy.

I had to agree with the spokesperson for the singers ... we just don't have any word in the English language that even comes close to translating the Fijian expression "Isa Isa". And here is that hauntingly beautiful song ...

Re: The 'untranslatable' emotions you never knew you had

Posted: Mon Oct 01, 2018 9:44 pm
by tony h

I French friend of mine will often break from French into "bloody 'ell". Apparently there is no French phrase that conveys the same emotion.