My friend Sarah told me once about a list she saw of words, from a variety of languages, that have precise and evocative meanings which need to be explained by whole sentences in other languages. A well-known example is schadenfreude, a German word meaning to take joy in the suffering of others.
Well, I’ve recently been studying Kinyarwanda with a friend here by reading through traditional fables and proverbs. These have, as he says, “real, deep Kinyarwanda” so they’re a good way to learn the language (and also the traditional culture.)
It’s been really notable to me how many precise, very specific verbs Kinyarwanda has. We have to use whole sentences to express the same idea in English!
Here are some examples. I’ve highlighted my favorites:
- KUYOBERWA: to recognize someone but not remember where you know them from
- KWIRIRA: to eat all of something by yourself without sharing
- KURYAGAGURA: to eat repeatedly, to go from house to house eating many meals
- GUTERANYA: to cause conflict between two people by gossiping about them
- KWIKUBURA: to stand in preparation for leaving somewhere
- GUTABAMA: For a seed which has been planted not to sprout
- GUSHORA: for a root vegetable to grow down into the soil (not used of other types of vegetables)
- KURARA UBUSA: to go to bed without eating
- GUSAYAGURIKA: to walk through deep mud so that your feet keep sticking
- KWIKURUNGA: to fall while in the process of getting up from a previous fall
- GUCURAMA: to sleep with your head at the foot of the bed
- KUNYAGIRWA: to get wet from the rain (not used for getting wet from other sources of water)
I plan to write another blog post soon about some of the limitations of Kinyarwanda as compared with English so I think this is a good counterpoint to show the lexical richness of that Kinyarwanda does have. Kinyarwanda has never been an imperial language, like English; people have almost always learned it as a mother tongue. Because it is rarely learned as a second language, it has developed areas of great complexity and nuance which I think are fascinating and give good insight into the traditional culture.