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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Words Wednesday - Canım ciğerim or hearts vs. lungs and livers and idioms

Wikipedia says that linguistically – “idioms are usually presumed to be figures of speech contradicting the principle of compositionality; yet the matter remains debated. John Saeed defines an “idiom” as words collocated that became affixed to each other until metamorphosing into a fossilised term. This collocation — words commonly used in a group — redefines each component word in the word-group and becomes an idiomatic expression. The words develop a specialized meaning as an entity, as an idiom. Moreover, an idiom is an expression, word, or phrase whose sense means something different from what the words literally imply. When a speaker uses an idiom, the listener might mistake its actual meaning, if he or she has not heard this figure of speech before. Idioms usually do not translate well; in some cases, when an idiom is translated into another language, either its meaning is changed or it is meaningless.”

An idiom is a group of words that lose their meaning if you look at the words individually or outside of its culture.  They are part of culture and not language since it is the culture that defines them and not the language.  An example would be American vs. English idioms or older idioms which are no longer commonly used.  I came across an unfamiliar idiom in some Georgette Heyer books– to stick your spoon in the wall - this idiom apparently means to die.  I was able to figure this out because of the context that this idiom was used in, and I confirmed it with my mother-in-law.  People used to ‘stick their spoon’ in the wall when they were done using them.

My first Turkish idiom came up in Tarkan’s song Öp - can ciğer kuzu sarması.  Taken word for word this would be something like soul stuffed lamb liver. Or as Google translate said - lamb liver stuffed life.  What?

Obviously something is going on here right?  I either have a copy of the original lyrics where something is spelled wrong, I am misunderstanding some combination of stem & suffix or it’s an idiom.  What is a totally clueless person who is trying to teach themselves Turkish to do?   Beat your head against the wall, double check spelling, look at different possibilities for stems and then Google the whole phrase of course!  Yes, I could have Googled the whole phrase first, but this is supposed to be a learning experience. . .

Can ciğer kuzu sarması is an idiom!  According to several sites ‘can ciğer’ means - intimate friend, very dear, nearest and dearest.  And ‘can ciğer kuzu sarması’ means as one website noted – intimate enough to share a toothpick.   I did some more research and found that some belly dance sites noted that when dancing and the music is talking about love many times the hand and arm movements are from the liver and not from the heart as they would be for an English speaker. 

Learning a new language makes you look at the world in a different way.  You have to think about how different cultures view different things, many things are not universal, common words do not necessarily translate the same into another language.   Do you turn on the light or open it?  Or in this case when you love someone does it come from the heart or somewhere else?

Take an English word, look it up in whatever language you want to learn, take the first couple of words and then look up the English meanings for those words, odds are you will find a good many words that you would not associate with your original word.  Maybe it is because you have limited your definition of the word, or the other language thinks differently, sees the world differently, or you are just not very familiar with the word.

Here is an example, using the English word – open and 3 Turkish words-

Open - Affording unobstructed entrance and exit; not shut or closed; having no protecting or concealing cover; completely obvious; blatant; carried on in full view; not sealed or tied; spread out; unfolded; free from limitations, boundaries, or restrictions

Açık – open, unobstructed, free, uncovered; naked, bare, exposed, empty, clear, unoccupied, spaced far apart, separated, light (shade of color), clear, easy to understand; not in cipher, cloudless, deficit, shortage

Serbest - free, unrestricted, open, unobstructed, unconstrained, at ease, freely, without hindrance

aşikar - manifest, evident, clear, open

Many times when we learn new languages we learn to associate words in a one to one relationship, open vs. açık, when we should be learning instead the idea, and concepts behind each word.   Words have many shades of meaning

How does this help with idioms?  By learning to look at things differently, by learning to expect concepts different from your native language you will be more open to seeing an idiom for that it is.  In learning words more thoroughly you learn not only the language but some of the culture that goes with the language and that is what idioms are all about.  Maybe you will also see and recognize sticking your spoon in the wall for what it is, and whether your love comes from your heart, liver or belly.

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