Home » Culture & society, Language & identity

The L-Word

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on November 14, 2008 No Comment

What’s your favorite word in another language? Why?” asks a prompt on this site. English being an “another language” for me, here’s my favorite word: “Love.” My linguistic history with the word has been a long one, probably going back two and a half decades, though I did not ever utter it to another person until I was in my mid-teens. Growing up in a traditional but progressive family in India, where Bengali was the language of the home, Hindi the language to be used with friends, and “love” an emotion felt, acted out, and expressed, but never in words, I had no reason to use the word “love” in my everyday life. I have never told my parents or my sister I love them in any language, and I never will, for not only is not a custom, but I have been brought up to believe it goes too deep within for words. And “love,” a “foreign” word, came late to me, and I doubt I have yet fully made it my own. At some level, the word is alien to me, or is it I who am alien to it?

In the last few years, I have indulgently told my nieces a thousand times that I love them, in English (our interactions tend to be a hodge podge of Bengali and English), though, never to my sister, their mother. I have spoken the words “Ami tomake bhalobashi” (Bengali); “Main tumse pyar karti hoon” (Hindi); “Je t’aime,” (French); “I chinta kamu” (colloquial Bahasa Indonesia); “Ich habe dich lieb” (German), all variations of “I love you,” too many times to enumerate; but the English phrase “I love you,” for some reason, stands out as this enigma, embedded with this incredibly versatile word that has no exact equivalent in any language I know. I don’t mean the same things when I say “I love you” in different languages. When I say it in English, it somehow has a different taste; it is too clearly articulated for me, yet it is my only option to express my feelings for those who cannot speak my tongue(s), or do not understand my own background in a culture that doesn’t value its articulation as much as it does its expression in other ways. This cultural enigma that the word “love” represents for me, makes it ever more special.

The only circumstances in which I use the word are in the context of friendship or romance. As far as close platonic relationships go, it’s a word that rolls off my tongue with ease that amazes me. It is in that context where I do not wonder too much about it. In a romantic context, the word becomes inadequate, even if it is the closest English approximation of what I feel. I can feel the pull of my Indian upbringing, where it wasn’t the verbalization of that emotion that was as stressed as making it known through every act of life. Regardless of how much a mystery this word is still to me-and how much it is a question of trying to grapple with semantics in a language not intrinsically my own and how much life experience contributes to this I cannot answer-I find magic in this most amazing of four letter words.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Digg this!Add to del.icio.us!Stumble this!Add to Techorati!Share on Facebook!Seed Newsvine!Reddit!

Leave a Reply:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  Copyright ©2009 Found in Translation, All rights reserved.| Powered by WordPress| WPElegance2Col theme by Techblissonline.com