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The Power of Language

January 17th, 2009 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

I’m always amazed at the power of language and how certain words have the ability to convey certain messages.  Part of this stems from being bilingual, more so when I find words that can not be adequately translated between two languages.  The other part is from people who, for whatever reason, seem to ignore the meaning of the language when they either are bilingual, or only speak one language but choose to use words borrowed from another language as opposed to something in his/her native language that has much more meaning.


Hi/Hello are simple salutations in the English language.  Meaning wise, they are both pretty thin, but they are accepted as salutation.

Bye/Goodbye: Are simple bids of farewell in the English language.

If we turn to Arabic of Hebrew:

The Hebrew word Shalom(שָׁלוֹם), which can translate to peace, completeness, and welfare and the corresponding Arabic word Salaam (سلام ) which also can translate to peace, whole, safe, and intact.  Both Shalom and Salaam can either be used as a greeting/farewell bid on its own or a part of a longer phrase.

Another, Adios (Spanish) is the contraction of “a” (to) and “Dios” (God), from the old Spanish phrase “A Dios vais” (“You’re going to God”, meaning to the Kingdom of Heaven). It is roughly equivalent to the English phrase “Godspeed” or “Go with God” (“Vaya con Dios”).

The English language has a farewell bid that follows these same lines, but is rarely used these days.  Godspeed, as a word, is a wish for a prosperous journey, success, and good fortune.  Or: From Middle English God spede (you), may God prosper (you).

Why I believe this is important?  Language, in general, has very rich meaning.  When one studies old languages such as Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Greek, etc., one can find deep rooted meanings that can not be properly translated to other languages.  There are many words in Arabic/Hebrew that when translated, lose aspects of the meaning they contain in the words; native language.  Often times, a word of sufficient definition can not be found in other languages.

The other part that gets me is when people who speak a language that has deep rooted meaning in salutations/farewells and substitute that word or phrase for one that has no meaning.  A perfect example is Arab speaking people.  Regardless of religion, there are a number of greetings/farewell bidding that have meaning.  From what I’ve seen over time, many people in Arab speaking countries, as well as in non-native Arab speaking countries will ditch those greetings and instead use more general, internationally recognized words/phrases (hey, bye), which usually are meaningless.

Some might say that the richness of language has partially been forgotten, that people only respond with these meaningful words/phrases because that’s how he/she was taught.  In the end, whether or not you know what the word means, it still conveys a message and someone who understands it can/will appreciate it.

Tags: Random · Thoughts

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