(THE CULTURAL SPECIFICITY OF LANGUAGE)
Having excised highfalutin pleasantries that preceded the message, below is the transcript of what transpired on WhatsApp between my younger brother and I (he is actually my cousin: the Yoruba and some other ethnic extractions in Nigeria call everybody brother or sister, even when there is no blood – or paternal/maternal – homogeneity).
Incidentally, my brother has first degree in English (and a serving Corps Member) while my first degree is History/English. (I have since moved on to other areas though).
He wanted to know the English translation for these Yoruba pleasantries:
- 1. E ku inawo ana o
- 2. E kaabo ana o
- 3. E ku ise ana o
MY RESPONSE (MODIFIED):
First, you need to understand that certain words and/or usage are culture specific and may not have English equivalent. In addition, English has no elaborate greeting system, as is the case with Yoruba and most African cultures and languages.
For the above, there is no one-to-one correspondence in English language system; what we have are mere equivalents.
For instance, “E ku abo ana” will be ‘How was your journey yesterday’. It cannot be *Welcome for (or on) yesterday* which would have been the direct translation. (Even that ‘correct’ answer: ‘How was your journey yesterday’ is semantically incorrect as direct meaning of “E ku abo ana”).
While the patently wrong transliteration (i.e. *Welcome for (or on) yesterday*) looks more correct it is equally wrong because we will just be translation Yoruba language directly to English language.
“E ku ise ana o”, as another example has no direct English equivalent. You can say ‘You did well yesterday’ (if the person actually did well in a particular assignment or task) or ‘How was yesterday’s work?’ (if you are merely asking).
You must have observed that none of the above really captured your Yoruba meaning. That is because the two languages – English and Yoruba – have distinct lexico-semantic structures.
Besides, the Whites do not have elaborate greeting system. You will find this very unusual when you travel to the West.
PS: All are welcomed to add more, correct me if I am wrong or express their opinions on this.
Femi Olabisi is on Twitter: @Femiolas