one of the joys (well, also perils) of learning a new language is that the semantic covering or network of meanings that a given word or phrase has in the new language doesn’t neatly correspond with a word in languages one already knows. here, i’m not merely referring to the sort of urban legend sort of evidence for linguistic relativism, such as the often heard claim about inuit and words for snow. rather, i am interested in matters that have to do more with connotation or pragmatics: the way that language use depends on a variety of habits of language use and, of course, the social effects of using particular words in particular contexts. these sorts of linguistic difference don’t get easily sorted out in dictionaries, and i had a recent run-in with an example yesterday…

and so it was that i heard a few elderly people here talk, with much concern, about those who had been “thrown out” or “cast aside” by young people

falahan no kaemangay

for those of you who know a bit about austronesian languages, the awkwardness of my english translation derives from the construction in sowal no ‘amis, in which the verb is nominalized: a literal translation would be more like “the young people’s thrown-out-something.” it is very different than the passive voice in sowal no ‘amis in its appropriate contexts of usage. here, the sense was that they were being treated like garbage.

the elderly people continued to talk about recent community politics, and one of them, known usually to side with young people in generational conflict, said

wawarwaren naira ko pinangan no niyaro’

the youth wanted to warwar the community and its customs. i didn’t understand warwar and had to ask someone sitting beside me–a man in his early 50s, so a bit closer to my age cohort–to fill me in. “warwar? it means to overturn everything, like turning over a table. it means to overturn something and disturb it, to put it out of order.” i should add that the mandarin word i translate as “disturb” here, 搗亂, means from a literal reading of the characters to place upside down and to make chaotic. it sounded like an entirely negative evaluation of the youth’s actions. and yet, this particular elder added statements about how “the times have changed, we need to think of new ways of doing things, even if we cherish our tradition.”

later, i asked someone about warwar. namoh rata’s wonderful reference dictionary told me that it could mean both to overturn and to incite to riot; my friend said, warwar is a deep word. we might also use it to refer to turning soil or turning over a compost heap. maybe, he said, there is something in your house that has been sitting there too long, mold and who else knows what has grown under there. so you turn it over and let the light shine on it. it could mean upsetting and disturbing something, but sometimes things need to get disturbed to remain healthy

so wawarwaren naira could mean the youths wanted to shake things up in a positive way and not just a negative one? one could put that spin on it…

my friend added that hengheng was similar; one needed the violent rushing waves to clear the ocean. and there needs to be hengheng before anything can settle evenly

and then there is todong, which in various constructions can mean an image, an equivalence, adequate, an adequate remuneration, to imitate, or to have responsibility. it can also mean fair, or to be just. not to mention one’s rights. one might be tempted to think of todong as a good translation for “icon/ic” but one wonders how the notion of responsibility enters here. i hadn’t thought of “the responsible party” in terms of resemblance or adequation, and so now realize that i had missed out on the meaning of something i had wanted to translate previously

there is still much for me to learn (for one, i’m still getting the hang of how to use constructions like falahan no kaemangay properly!). so i am headed from the blog back to listening, with occasional visits home to check my dictionaries