Friday, 29 March 2013

What's your favourite word as a linguist? Mine is "saudade".

I am currently reading On the Map by Simon Garfield - a mind-expanding exploration of the way the world looks - and I am loving it. It reminds me of how much I love travelling. To my mind, maps are the fuel of wanderlust

One of the best travelling experiences I have ever had was in Lisbon, Portugal. I love Portugal because it is a country of travellers and explorers. Perched over the Atlantic ocean, the Portuguese felt, early on, the need to explore what was on the other side of the world; what laid across the Atlantic. Their wanderlust led them to making two major discoveries both in the west (Brazil) and the East (Goa, Macau, East Timor, etc.). Although Portugal and Spain signed a treaty to divide the Atlantic ocean (and that was more or less the entire world) in the middle, I feel much greater awe for the Portuguese, despite the fact that Spain takes all the credit for discovering America (thanks to an Italian!)

Portugal is an exotic fusion of 3 continents (South America, Africa and East Asia) and this sense of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism is very much obvious even today. It lingers in the atmosphere and it stares you in the face right from the moment you step your foot at Lisbon Portela airport.

This is why the word saudade was invented, I think. I read somewhere that you have to be a real Portuguese to grasp the meaning of the word. Is it because everyone in Portugal feels saudade today? Or is it because you have to come from a travelling country to really understand what it means? But what is saudade, anyway? For me, saudade is a deep longing, a bittersweet sentiment, about things you left behind; people, countries, feelings.

Wikipedia describes it as: "Saudade was once described as "the love that remains" or "the love that stays" after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being and which now trigger the senses and make one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one's children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) should be there in a particular moment, but is missing, and the individual feels this absence."

Saudade can also be used to describe a yearning for something that does not exist or is unattainable. In Brazil, it is celebrated on January 30th.

I think the Greeks have a very beautiful word too to describe that lingering feeling called nostalgia but in essence, if we want to be quite literal,  this word should only be used to refer to the longing one feels for their own country, as it comes from the word 'nostos' (= homecoming) and 'algos' ( = pain). A very Homeric word indeed.

A different site says that saudade is not nostalgia though, because whereas nostalgia is a mixed happy and sad feeling for something that will never return, saudade secretly lives with the hope that what is being long for might return.

As for the history of the word, this blogger explains it very well: "According to some historians, this  word came to life in the 15th c. when Portuguese ships sailed to Africa and Asia. A sadness was felt for those who departed in the long journeys to the unknown seas and disappeared in shipwrecks, died in battle or simply never returned. Those who stayed behind - the women, children and old folks - deeply suffered from their absence. There was the constant feeling of absence, the sadness of something that was missing, the yearning for the presence of the loved ones who had sailed."

It is quite strange that one of my favourite words -probably my favourite - comes from a language I do not speak. 

What's your favourite word? 

Natali Lekka is an EN & FR into EL freelance translator and the owner of Worlds of Words   She tweets at @worlds_of_words 

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