For this newsletter, we’re thinking about language and translation. For Valentine’s Day, three of our magazine writers wrote about how to say “I love you” in different languages: Camille Beredjick tells us how to love in French; Zeyn Joukhadar explores love in Italian; and Edgar Gomez examines how to say "I love you" in Spanish. How do we show those around us our care and love? And how does that translate across languages? On language and writing, you’ll find a writing prompt for Mandarin speakers and an essay on translating trauma by Jenna Tang. Happy reading!
“‘I love you’ translates to ‘je t’aime,’ but family members don’t say that to each other. Hanging up the phone, you might say ‘je t’aime bien,’ which translates more closely to ‘I like you.’ More commonly, with family, you’d say ‘je t’embrasse’ or ‘bisous’—two ways to say you’re giving someone a kiss.” In this essay, Camille Beredjick reflects on her bicultural identity and how her French family expresses care, affection, and love. Read the full essay here.
Stuck in Italy during the pandemic, Zeyn Joukhadar learned how to speak Italian, and noticed that love and care went beyond what one says with words. “The irony is that those who stayed told me they loved me without words,” Zeyn writes. “Often they loved me in silence: walking with my partner and his family around their small Italian town, defying the glares of passersby with our laughter; … public bathrooms they accompany me into so I will never again be cornered and threatened in a stall.” Read the full essay here.
“You can start small and say ‘te quiero,’ which translates to ‘I like you.’ Though ‘I like you’ doesn’t sound very passionate in English, it is in Spanish, perhaps because quiero can also mean want. I couldn’t have told Pablo ‘te quiero’ that night at the Italian restaurant in Manhattan. Though I did like him and want him, it was too soon to be saying all that, not on a first date over a plate of spaghetti. We weren’t characters in a novela.” Read Edgar Gomez’s full essay here and learn how to say I love you in Spanish, the nuances of the language of affection, and how we can communicate our love to those closest to us.
“In the process of translating narratives swarmed by emotion, I often wonder how we navigate our word choices in translation and how we ensure that we convey the ‘right level’ of meaning without further inciting harmful narratives. Should we avoid ‘excessive’ violence? If violence and trauma coexist in the original narrative, doesn’t the violence help readers understand the actual impact of the trauma? What does it mean to bring the unspoken language of trauma to a wider audience?” Read Jenna Tang’s full essay here.
If you’re a bilingual writer, don’t miss this writing prompt from Catapult classes instructor and poet Chen Chen. While Chen’s prompt specifically interrogates the Mandarin word 疼, this prompt can be useful for writers who speak any languages other than English. What’s a phrase or word in a language you speak that carries emotional resonance different than a similar expression in English? Open up your associations with this word or phrase to write a short story, poem, or flash essay. Check out Chen’s prompt here.
We hope you enjoyed these selections on language, love, and translation!
Until next month, Don’t Write Alone