Babel fish. German. Hindi. Tamil

19 Jun

I wish I could have a babel fish or whatever they did in Farscape *, then I would be able to understand every language on the planet! Speaking a new language is making more friends and it would make a lot of things so much easier, for example, ordering a burger at McDonalds in an entirely different country.

I am married to a German and lived in Germany for 12 years- I speak German as well as anyone, who is not born German, can speak. And anyone who says German language is not, say, romantic-sounding as French or Italian, I have one word for you

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” which means “law for the delegation of monitoring of beef labelling”

Okay, okay, its not romantic but by the Gods, its expressive! German is every child’s dream- you can put any number of nouns together and make up any number of words you want, and some of them even make sense and can be profound! Amazing, isn’t it?

German also has simpler words that can mean many things! Take ‘doch’ for example – it could mean anything starting with a simple ‘yes’, to ‘I-told-you-so-but-you-thought-you-were-too-clever-to-admit-that‘. Germans can have an entire conversation just with this one word’doch’, especially kids. When my daughter screams a ‘doch’, I know the argument is at an end. You cannot have a reasonable comeback for a ‘doch’.

Exactly the same way, you cannot translate ‘Schnulze’ – tear-jerker just doesn’t cut it. It evokes a barrage of imagery when you say ‘Schnulze’ – its your heart-warming, hand-wringing, head-shaking tear-jerker which will turn your brain into a mush. Say that in one word now…

German language, as I have come to appreciate, is a language made for precision and aerodynamics – just like German cars. The Indian languages, I speak on the other hand, are more meandering and poetic. There are times I wish I could explain the joke to my husband but things just get Lost in Translation. There was this hindi dialogue from ‘Yeh Jawaani hai Diwaani’, Ranbir looks at Deepika and says :”Samalke rakun ja bindass flirt karoon” – how do you explain the word Bindass?!? Casually shameless is what I can come up with. But it sounds much cooler and roughish in Hindi.

Then there is my native language ‘Tamil’ – the written form and the spoken form has so less in common with each other that children learning the language are completely confused even though they have been speaking it since they could speak and have been listening to it since they could hear. There is so much beauty in the language that I do not know where to even start. One word that comes to my mind is ‘Ezhil’ – means gracefully beautiful. How can that not evoke a picture in your mind? I used to sing lullabys for my children in Tamil and they would ask me”mama, what does that word aararo mean?”. It has no meaning but it is the sound tamil children associate with warmth and comfort, a cuddle and safety. It means, everything is going to be alright, so close your eyes.

I am sure all languages in the world have such words that bring pictures to your mind or words that mean something profound and philosophical, words that move you to tears of joy or sorrow. I just wish Google Translate would grow up and become the babel fish we all need to enjoy and appreciate each other’s language and culture.

Wouldn’t that be a beautiful world?

*you haven’t seen Farscape, what the frell?

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One Response to “Babel fish. German. Hindi. Tamil”

  1. ankitasarawagi July 1, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I agree so much with this post! Being a native-Hindi speaker, when my friends hear me have a conversation with my parents or other friends, they want to know what certain words mean, but there’s just no possible way of explaining it.

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