“Untranslatable” words (redux)

Six months ago I wrote an essay in my blog about “untranslatable” words. If you haven’t read it, you may want to do so now. The bottom line was that when someone claims that a word in some language is untranslatable, they’re wrong (because they always go on to tell you what it means); what they’re really saying is that the translation is a phrase, not a single word. I am reposting the cartoon below as an example of an “untranslatable” Finnish word.

Anyhow, a recent post in the Morph blog provides an international perspective on the untranslatability issue, so read that one too. I’ll settle for quoting three of their examples here, without their more complete explanations:

  • Süyinshi in Kazakh apparently means something like “something really great has happened to me and I want to share the good news with my friends.”
  • Un’I in Tungisic apparently means something like “to be upset because someone ate in your presence and did not offer to share the food.”
  • Čiõrmiǩ in Skolt Saami apparently means “a one-year-old reindeer.”

We’ve all heard of Kazakh (thanks to Sacha Baron Cohen), but I had never heard of Tungisic or Skolt Saami. Perhaps you have.


Categories: Linguistics