<%-- Page Title--%> Reflections <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 137 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 9, 2004

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Of semantics
Tripping up in

Hasan Shaheed

In Bahasa Indonesia the words 'cinta' means love and 'prity', a male person, I am told. To the Malaysians these words may carry similar meanings, as there is a close affinity between the two languages. I am unlikely to feel comfortable being addressed 'prity' even by the fairest of the fairs. But this is what makes a language unique. I reckon one must not take a language in the light of ones own mother-tongue or the other languages known to him, but as a separate entity.

My initial encounter with the Turkish language was, to say the least, hair-raising. When I first moved into an apartment in a lovely hill-top city in Turkey, I was in immediate need of a few pieces of furniture. I had actually strolled around all known locations to buy those and sallied to places where these were manufactured. What prevented me from striking a deal was my inability to speak the tongue.

It so happened that during one of our routine meetings with the head of the institution where I was a foreign recruit, the 'Mudur', as the chief of an institution is called, asked me if he could do anything to make me more comfortable. I immediately seized upon the opportunity to seek his help in buying the furniture I needed. When asked if I had tried to procure those on my own, I replied that I had even ventured on a trip to a factory but failed.

"What is a factory? Asked my Mudur looking inquiringly at the Turkish English teacher who was interpreting for me.

The interpreter, one of my young colleagues, having failed to grasp the word requested me to repeat it, which I did and even volunteered to give him a lead with the Bangla word 'karkhana', which I believed might fit in. By then, I had learned that Turkish words like 'ayna', 'tahta' and 'ac(h)' were 'ayna', 'takta' and 'gach' ie mirror, plank and tree respectively in Bangla.

I therefore said that I had been to the 'karkhana' where these things were painted and polished.

“Things", he murmured. "Isn't it too early for you to pay a visit there?" said the Mudur with a nasty grin on his face.

Without understanding the drift of the question, I replied, "Oh! I made a mistake, I should have taken you along with me. You could have also appreciated all the pretty, elegant and fashionable collections there absolutely European in look and style." Oblivious of the aghast look on the face of the Mudur and the exchanges of glances among the women teachers present, I continued, "I simply fell in love with some of them, in fact I wanted to buy one of them, but alas!......."

"Where have you been to, Mr Shaheed?" The bewildered interpreter cut me short.

"To the factory where furniture are manufactured," I said in my innocence. Trying to be more explicit I explained, "A factory is an industry".

"But a 'kerhane' is a brothel," he explained.


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