UNTRANSLATABLE

There are close to 6,500 spoken languages in the world, roughly 600 of which are widely known, practised or learned. Each language has a unique culture attached to it, which is invariably expressed in its words. A culture has to allot enough importance to an experience to have a unique word for it, thus making them “untranslatable”.

This is an illustration project done for my graduation thesis, based on various words from several languages that have no one word equivalent in English and most other languages. In addition to that I also explored the etymology of said words to better understand their history and context.

1.KOMOREBI

/ˈko̞mo̞ɾe̞bʲi/

Japanese, Japan

noun.

The interplay of light caused by sunlight passing through the leaves, creating a pattern of light and shade.

komo.jpg

Written forms:
木漏れ日 or こもれ​び (hiragana script)

Komorebi is a compound word consisting of the following kanji/symbols
i. 木 (“ki”: tree, which had an ancient compound form “ko”)
ii. 漏れ (“mo-re” : leaking, coming through, where the first character is the root kanji “漏/mo”,leak/come through, and “れ/re” is added to make it the continuative form), and
iii. 日 (“hi”: sun, day, which is compounded to “bi”).

2.CAFUNE

/ˌka.fu.ˈnɛ/
Portuguese, Brazil
noun.
The act of fondling someone’s hair or scalp.

cafune.jpg

The word possibly originates from kifumate, a word from the Kimbundu language of Angola.

3.GUMUSSERVI

/ɟy.ˈmyʃ.sɛɾ.ˈvi/
Turkish, Turkey
noun.
The long reflecting pattern created by the moon shining on water.

gumusservi colour.jpg

Written forms:
Gümüşservi (Modern Turkish) or گوموش‌سلوی (Ottoman Turkish)

This word is made up of two words:
i. Gümüş : Silver, and
ii. Servi (or selvi) : cypress tree
It literally translates to “silver cypress”, relating to the long shining reflection cast by the moon on water.

 

4.SOBREMESA

/so.βɾeˈme.sa/
Spanish, Spain
noun.
The time spent chatting at the table after a hearty meal, usually while dessert is being served.

Sobremesa .jpg

The word is made up of two parts-
i. Sobre (from Latin “super”): over, above
ii. mesa (from Latin “mensa”): table

5.OBHIMAAN

/o.bʱi.ˈman/
Bengali, West Bengal, India
noun.
A soft feeling of hurt pride. It is often experienced due to the actions of a loved one, or a humbling outcome of a situation that one is attached to (like not winning a prize one thinks one deserves).

2.jpg

Written form:
অভিমান

This word has a Sanskrit root word “अभिमान” (Abhimana), which remains unchanged in Bengali, meaning pride and a sense of self, which is a compound of-
i. Abhi- (अभि- / অভি-): a prefix that can mean "towards; to, against; over; for, for the sake of; with regard to"
ii. Maan (मान / মান): pride

6.UITWAAIEN

/œy̯tˈʋaːi̯.ə(n)/
Dutch, the Netherlands
verb.
To take a refreshing walk outdoors in windy or breezy weather to clear one’s head.

IMG-0295.JPG

This is a compound word, consisting of:
i. Uit: out (which originates from Middle Dutch “uut”, “ute”, from Old Dutch “ūt”)
ii. Waaien: to blow (associated with wind)

7.ATVASARA

/atvasaɾa/
Latvian, Latvia
noun.
The last days in a year when it feels warm like summer, before winter starts, usually around September and October.

IMG_0120.JPG

The word has two parts:
i. At- : A prefix (from Middle English at-, et-, æt-, from Old English æt-) meaning “at, near, toward, beyond, away”
ii. Vasara: (from Proto-Balto-Slavic wasr, from Proto-Indo-European wósr̥) meaning summer.

8.MERAKI

/meˈɾaci/
Greek, Greece
noun.

The act of being intensely interested in something, especially an activity, so that one almost leaves a part of oneself in the work.

IMG-0189.JPG

Written form:
μεράκι

Meraki is speculated to have originated from the Turkish word “merak”, meaning passion, curiosity, wonder or even worry, depending on which Arabic root word it comes from. The evolution from Ottoman root مراق (maraq) which means an object of passion or a hobby, results in the meaning of merak which means interest or passion.
However in Turkish, merak can also mean extreme worry or melancholy, due to a different Arabic root word مرقّ  with a similar pronunciation that got clubbed together into the same word, merak, because Modern Turkish uses the Latin Script.

9.Tretår

/treːˌtoːr/
Swedish, Sweden
noun.

A second refill of coffee after one has already taken one refill, more popularly known as a “threefill”.

IMG-0426.JPG

The word is made up of two parts
i. Tre: three
ii. Tår: drop,
which literally translates to “three drops”, used mostly in the context of coffee.

10.Geborgenheit

/ɡəˈbɔʁɡn̩ˌhaɪ̯t/
German, Germany
noun.

An undeniable feeling of coziness, snugness, safety, and contentment.

IMG_0096.JPG

Geborgenheit is derived from bergen, which means to “store up” or “stash away” in German. Geborgen is bergen’s past participle and heit makes it a noun so literally, geborgenheit is the noun form of “to have saved.”

11.LLETRAFERIT

/ʎə.tɾə.fəˈɾit/ or /ʎe.tɾa.feˈɾit/
Catalan, Catalonia, Spain
adjective. masculine.
Someone who is so passionate about literature that it seems that they are in love with it.

IMG-0753.JPG

The word is made up of two units:
i. Lletra: letter
ii. Ferit: smitten/hurt,
literally translating the word to “smitten by the letter” or “hurt by the letter”.

12.MAMIHLAPINATAPAI

/mə.mi.ˈɬa.pi.ˈna.tə.ˈpai/
Yaghan, Tierra del Fuego, Chile
noun.
The silent look shared by two people who want to initiate something, but neither of them do. It indicates a private moment shared by two people who both understand and are in agreement with something, but are unwilling to act on it, often used in context with professing love where both people want to do so, but neither initiates.
Interestingly, this word is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "most succinct word".

IMG-0299.JPG

The word is a derived form of the verb ihlvpi /iɬəpi/, meaning "to feel awkward" or "to be at a loss for what to do" and is constructed as:
Ma[m] (dual) + ihlvpi + :n[a] (stative) + -at[a] (causative) + -a:pai (reflexive/reciprocal).
Its literal meaning is therefore roughly "to make each other feel awkward".

13.GOYAA

/ˈɣo.ja/

Urdu, India & Pakistan
adverb.
This world refers to the temporary suspension of disbelief employed in storytelling, loosely translating to a meaning similar to “as if” or “as though”.

IMG-0262.JPG

Written form:
گویا

This word originates from Persian.

14.HIRAETH

/hiraɪ̯θ/
Welsh, Wales
noun.

A feeling of wistfulness or longing for a place, time or person, that may or may not really exist.

IMG-0161.JPG

The word originates from Proto-Brythonic hiraɨθ, from Proto-Celtic sīr-axto-, similar to Gaulish siraxta, meaning “longing”.

15.TOSKA

/ˈtō-skə/

Russian, Russia

noun.

A feeling of emotional weariness, depression, boredom or melancholy. This word can be used to describe the entire spectrum of emotions encompassing these moods.

IMG-0639.JPG

Written form: тоска́

The word possibly originates from Proto-Slavic tъska: tightness, grief.

  • instagram2-01
  • black-and-white-twitter-logo-transparent
  • youtube-01
  • facebook-01
  • linkedin-01