How you do introduce the untranslatable?
In our highly connected and communicative world, we have more ways than ever to express ourselves, to tell others how we feel, and to explain the importance or insignificance of our days. The speed and frequency of our exchanges leave just enough room for misunderstandings, though, and now perhaps more than ever before, what we actually mean to say gets lost in translation. The ability to communicate more frequently and faster hasn't eliminated the potential for leaving gaps between meaning and interpretation, and emotions and intentions are misread all too often.
The words in this book may be answers to questions you didn't even know to ask, and perhaps some you did. They might pinpoint emotions and experiences that seemed elusive and indescribable, or they may cause you to remember a person you'd long forgotten. If you take something away from this book other than some brilliant conversation starters, let it be the realization (or affirmation) that you are human, that you are fundamentally, intrinsically bound to every single person on the planet with language and with feelings.
As much as we like to differentiate ourselves, to feel like individuals and rave on about expression and freedom and the experiences that are unique to each one of us, we are all made of the same stuff. We laugh and cry in much the same way, we learn words and then forget them, we meet people from places and cultures different from our own and yet somehow we understand the lives they are living. Language wraps its understanding and punctuation around us all, tempting us to cross boundaries and helping us to comprehend the impossibly difficult questions that life relentlessly throws at us.
Languages aren't unchanging, though they can sometimes hold a false sense of permanence. They do evolve and occasionally die, and whether you speak a few words of one or a thousand words of many, they help to shape us—they give us the ability to voice an opinion, to express love or frustration, to change someone's mind.
For me, making this book has been more than a creative process. It's caused me to look at human nature in an entirely new way, and I find myself recognizing these nouns, adjectives, and verbs in the people I walk by on the street. I see boketto in the eyes of an old man sitting at the ocean's edge, and the resfeber that has taken over the hearts of friends as they prepare to journey across the world to an unknown culture.
I hope this book helps you find a few long-lost parts of yourself, that it brings to mind fond memories, or that it helps put into words thoughts and feelings that you could never clearly express before. Perhaps you'll find the word that perfectly describes your second cousin once removed, the way you felt two summers ago that you were never able to fully describe, or the look in the eyes of the person sitting across from you right now.
Eckhart Tolle wrote, "Words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp, which isn't very much." I'm hesitant to agree. Words allow us to grasp and hold onto an extraordinary amount. Sure, all languages can be picked apart and reduced to just a few vowels or symbols or sounds, but the ability that language gives us is incredibly complex. There may be some small essential gaps in your mother tongue, but never fear: you can look to other languages to define what you're feeling, and these pages are your starting point.
So go and get lost in translation.
Copyright © 2014 by Ella Frances Sanders. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.