link forwarded by Lisa Stevens
Here’s an interesting list of words from other languages that don’t exist in English (thanks for the link Lisa!):
When words refer to particular moods or culturally specific experiences as many of these do, it’s a wonder how they ever got translated in the first place, and perhaps the translations don’t fully do them justice.
Number 9 on the list, the Swedish word gökotta, is said to mean ‘to go outside early in the morning to hear the birds or appreciate nature’. This identifies an activity, but how much does it convey how the combined influences of history, climate, and particular uses create an experience that is peculiarly Swedish?
This has also got me thinking about the ‘gavagai’ problem, which I’ve been reading about in preparation for the level 2 language acquisition module.
The ‘gavagai’ problem was proposed by the American philosopher W.V.O Quine to illustrate the endless translation possibilities that there are for an utterance when there’s only the speaker’s gestures to go on. For example, in the scenario where a native speaker of an unknown language points at a rabbit and says ‘gavagai’, what is being referred to could be the rabbit, the class of rodents to which it belongs, its tail, the way it moves in a certain light, or any number of things.
How much do we really know about the meaning of speakers of other languages?