Friday, June 29, 2012

Falling into the gap

Recently, after being asked a question I was unable to answer immediately, that old commercial went running through my head. You know, the one that goes fall into the gap. Why? It's not because I wanted to go to GAP. Nor did I want to go shopping. I had once again stumbled into territory that even professional translators dread. I had fallen into a lexical gap.

If you are wondering what the term lexical gap refers to, the Online Dictionary of Language Terminolgy offers this simple meaning:

The phenomenon where a word that exists in language A does not exist in language B.
For example, Romanian lacks the word shallow. Therefore, the English phrase shallow waters has to be translated with something like ape puţin adânci, not so deep waters, or apă mică, small water. 

I turned to my friend and replied, "Gemütlichkeit in English? There isn't a one word equivalent." She eyed me suspiciously to determine if I was pulling her leg or not. "Wirklich!" I said. "In Englisch gibt's es wirklich nicht." She sighed, knowing that the only way to translate a lexical gap is to explain it. That's not always an easy task, because many of them describe feelings or states of being. One needs to use several words, phrases, or even examples to convey the actual meaning.

Let's take the word Brückentag as an example.Brücke means bridge. Tag, as you might already be familar with from the expression Guten Tag!, means day. Translated literally, Brückentag would be bridge day. That makes one think of a holiday were people celebrate their local bridges. Why not? We already have Mühlentag in German. Mühle means  mills and on this day we celebrate our historical oil/water mills. However, a Brückentag has nothing to do with bridges.

winter day at Herrenmühle
Then what is a Brückentag? you might ask. These are days that extend a weekend if a holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday. Therefore, if you take off work on Monday or Friday, you now have a four day weekend. The Monday or Friday off serves as a "bridge" over the weekend to the holiday. In America, Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday. However, the next day is not a holiday. But taking the Friday as a Brückentag, you have just extended your weekend. Four day weekends are perfect for visiting out-of-town friends or family or enjoying short trips by car or plane. 

Another word that if difficult to translate is Gemütlichkeit. Though some describe this as togetherness and the sharing of moments with friends that is only part of it. Gemütlichkeit is actually a state of being. It is the mood/atmosphere/comfortable feeling one has while doing it. There isn't an English word that wraps all these things into one. Even "hanging with friends" or "having a good time" falls greatly short of the actual meaning. Beyond that, there isn't any more than I can say to help define it. Come visit me. We'll go to a Fest and you can experience German Gemütlichkeit first-hand. Experiencing is understanding.

There is nothing better than time with friends. On Tuesday evening I spent the evening with three other woman. We were sharing funny travel stories. One of them starting telling a tale about her mother's weekend bus trip many years ago. Another implied, "Oh, war es ein Werbefahrt?" Oh, was it a...a....Werbefahrt.  

Werben as a verb means to advertise. Werbe as a noun obviously means advertisement (or in British English an advert). An advertisement trip? This is something my husband's grandmother (Oma) took part in often. The Dictionary of Travel and Tourism defines a Werbefahrt as: sales tour - has a specific meaning in Germany and some other European countries. An inclusive tour or short holiday package where the focus of the trip is selling something, such as art. Oma had pots and pans and all sorts of things from these trips and most were top quality products. Usually the first morning she was required to attend a conference where the products were introduced and one could purchase them at a discount price. Many times products were given away free as part of the package. The rest of the trip could be spent as one pleased in the vacation spot. These trips provided a cheap and easy alternative form of travel for many seniors at one time. I haven't heard much talk of them lately but maybe when I am a senior, I'll "be in the know".

And now you are in the know. You know what a lexical gap is and several examples. Here's one last one: Feierabend. Feierabend can be used to mean the time at which one leaves work and/or the time at night when one decides they are finished doing all the things that need to be done and now it is time to relax and do only the things they want to do. And somehow "quitting time" and "time to relax" don't seem to be adequate translations. Think of that inner peace and feeling one gets while talking with neighbors and friends while sipping fine wine, when enjoying an uninterrupted candlelight bubble bath, or when "chillin" in front of the tube without a care. That is Feierabend at it's best.

It's almost 9 PM in Germany right now. I've washed and ironed, cooked, cleaned. I've written this blog post for the Language/Place Blog Carnival. Now, it is Feierabend. I am going to enjoy the company of my husband and a chilled cocktail outside in our garden while the birds sing their evening songs. The only gap I'll be falling into this evening will be the indentation in my pillow.


becca said...

wow great post i actually learned something new here

E.J. Wesley said...

You just blew my mind! :) I think vocabulary variances in different languages is such a fascinating thing. Especially the ones that translate to emotion and expression of feelings. You think you know every single way to express happiness, sadness, etc. and then you find some Chinese expression or word that translates to a completely unknown (to you) sentiment. Makes you feel very small, in a good way. :)

Susie Clevenger said...

I love to learn and learn I did from your piece. I can speak a little Spanish which is so foolish since I am surrounded by people who speak it. I think as a poet/writer I am always searching for the right word to express what I mean. I guess we all experience a lexical gap.

Crafty Green Poet said...

what an interesting post! I speak German too and I'm convinced the language exists in a parallel universe, because it can seem so impossible to get exact translations of German words!

roseh400 said...

Ah but we have a Brückentag here (in Mexico) too. It's called a "puente" = bridge. "Puente" is also something you can say when you have an agreement with someone, or relate to what they are saying: "puente." (A bridge, understanding, between two people.)
Hi Linda! I miss you now I am not on fb. Hope you are well. :)

Linda H. said...

Hi Rose! I'm feeling better and very busy lately. So glad you stopped by. And thanks for the Mexican info.

Thanks to all who have read this and left comments. I appreciate it.

toomuchaugust said...

this is the best!:

Experiencing is understanding.

good to read you again!


Sandra Davies said...

So clearly written and explained and although I am familiar with mch of what you describe, having done a couple of years German in school and now having a daughter who lives in Germany, I always benefit from seeing things in writing. Thank you.

jkdavies said...

& I love the Brückentage we have here, especially in May & June :)

I once tried to watch Gone With the Wind with a German soundtrack & subtitles to improve my limited German; and Feierabend was the phrase they chose to translate the first words, the slaves cry of "Quitting time"...

Love that the same concept is used in México too :)

Dorothee Lang said...

so interesting. it also made me think of the German words that sometimes pop up in English texts: Zeitgeist, Wanderlust, Teenage Angst - and probably found their way into English as there isn't an exact English term for them. Brückentag!