תרגום ולשון

Exploring the space between Hebrew and English

Birds Chirp, Rats Squeak

Written By: merav - Apr• 03•14

And in Hebrew, שניהם מצייצים

In Hebrew they do the same thing, same verb, chirp, sort of, a word that itself sounds like a chirp. Certainly it is not as ugly as the squeak in English.

If I’m being honest, this is the first blog entry that deals directly with the space between Hebrew and English, the interesting differences in language that reflect differences in thought. This is a reflection of how nuances in English are lost in Hebrew.

Hebrew does not dwell on nuance. In fact, there is no word for “nuance” in Hebrew. Modern Hebrew has unapologetically directly imported the English word “nuance” and – when used – it is most often used to describe food or other sensory matters (or in academia, a terrain heavily influenced by English). Nor does Hebrew have a word for “subtlety” yet there is great celebration of subtlety in food: therefore the need to import a word like “nuance.”

Nuance in language becomes a Hebrew specialty when it comes to matters of holiness. In my experience there are about 20 or so Hebrew words that translate into English as “praise” (as anyone who has recited the Kaddish knows, even if they don’t know) – all are versions of the verb “praise” but differentiated by nuance. Praise by raising, praise by embellishing, praise by adorning, praise by… oh hell (oops, wrong sentiment), I’ve run out of words. And yet everyone who recites the Kaddish knowing Hebrew can explain the emotional difference, whether or not they believe in God, whether their God be the Jealous God of the Stiff-Necked Jews in the Desert, or the ever-accepting God of today’s concept of universality. The Hebrew word for praise has so many colors and shapes and meanings and nuances, even though Hebrew does not have a word for nuance or any other example of nuance.

This is just one example of the differences between Hebrew and English and the reason that this space deserves exploration.

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One Comment

  1. Gail says:

    This should be reread regularly–it’s important to recognize the complexity of expression in different languages and how they reflect their culture of origin.