Untranslatable words

23 July 2004

Open Democracy have an interesting few articles on language, and how many seem to have words that simply cannot be translated into other languages. It is actually surprising to think how much we are shaped because of our language, or dis our language evolve because our culture was a certain way.

In Irish for example, there is no way to say Yes or No, you just answer the question asked. If someone says did you? or were you? or Is it? you would answer with I did, or I did not; I was, I wasn’t; It is, it isn’t.

This has changed and many use Sea for yes, but in reality that is a contraction of Is ea, or it is. And Níl has come to mean No, again though that word is generally used in a sentence to indicate it is negative, rather than meaning no in and of itself

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