Love in Translation

The month of February is upon us. The last winter month and shortest of the year, one can smell spring just around the corner. And this means – if it hasn’t already been shoved down your throat by card companies or nauseating “upworthy” posts – that the grip of St. Valentine’s is nearly upon us. What tells your love “I love you” more than the knowledge that you have both been pressured into it by absurd hegemonic structures put in place to make you spend money?! Tell your love that you love them everyday in every way not just on a cold, and usually drizzly, day slap bang in the middle of February. Fair enough he was the Patron Saint of Love, but he was also the Patron Saint of travellers, bee-keepers, and people with epilepsy amongst other things. Why don’t we go around keeping bees at this time of year (keep them and don’t let them get away!). Aren’t they dying out after all?! Maybe give your love some bees…show them that you’re buzzing mad about ‘em! (Insert collective groan here) OK rant over! As my arm has been twisted and love is on the agenda, I thought that I would explore how different languages express their love for each other – we are a language school after all. I thought I would come out of leftfield and start with Swahili:

(continue reading from Newsletter here:)


Let us start with some etymology (Boom! Yeah, boom!). A compound present-tense verb form made up of ni- (1st person singular subject marker) +‎ -na- (present tense) +‎ -ku- (2nd person singular object marker) +‎ penda (“to love”, verb stem). This form is a more colloquial way of saying the phrase. A more formal way to say it is nakupenda.

Swahili emerged as a result of trade between the East African coastal Bantu speaking tribes and traders from Arabia, Persia, Asia as well as Europe, specifically Portuguese. The language or people didn’t actually exist prior to the 1700s as a distinct entity. It is a daughter language of the Pokomo language which is also known as Kingozi. Approximately 30% of Swahili vocabulary is derived from Arabic, Persian, Hindustani, Portuguese, and Malay with Arabic contributing a majority of the foreign loan words in the Swahili language. The earliest known documents written in Swahili are letters written in Kilwa in 1711 in the Arabic script that were sent to the Portuguese of Mozambique and their local allies. Its name comes from Arabic: sāħil meaning “coast”, eventually landing on the word we know now: sawāħilï = “of coasts”.


Waan ku jeclahay

Next up is probably my favourite, taken from the Somali language. The phrase is so melodic and has a certain warmth to it (unlike our upcoming German affirmation of love). Your most poetic option in my humble opinion…beats a gushing card that has the same old tagline on it year in, year out.

Somali is an Afroasiatic language belonging to the Cushitic branch. It is spoken as a mother tongue by Somalis in Greater Somalia and the Somali diaspora. Somali is an official language of Somalia and its autonomous regions, a national language in Djibouti, and a working language in the Somali Region of Ethiopia as well as North Eastern Kenya.


Te amo

Let’s get back to the root cause of the Indo-European languages. I remember endless repetitions of love in the Latin room of my old dusty boarding school, trapped somewhere deep in the grey of England – “Amo, Amas, Amat, Amamus, Amatis, Amant”. It still rattles around inside my head. There is a certain pull towards the Latin languages – the romance languages after all! Romance languages are the continuation of what came to be known as “Vulgar Latin”, the popular and colloquial spin off, if you like, of the Latin spoken by soldiers, settlers, and merchants of the Roman Empire, as distinguished from the classical form of the language spoken by the Roman upper classes, the form in which the language was generally written. The expansion of the Roman Empire made Latin the dominant native language in continental Western Europe. Latin also exerted a strong influence in Great Britain, the Roman province of Africa, western Germany, and the whole of the Balkan region. So, if you really want to flex your “Romance” linguistic skills, what better way than to whip out the Latin.

Finally, we shall finish with German (we are in Germany after all):


Ich liebe dich

Not quite with the sexiness or poetry of its predecessors on the page above – the two syllables of “liebe” make for a slightly clunkier expression than its siblings of “Te amo” or “I love you”. Unlike the other languages above where the meaning of “I love you” can be expressed as an affirmation of love also to friends and family members (like in English), in German you can’t sprinkle this phrase quite so liberally throughout your conversation as you might in English. There are many different ways to tell people that you like or even love them. You only really say “Ich liebe dich” to somebody you really, really love—your long-term girlfriend/boyfriend, your wife/husband, or somebody you have very strong feelings for. Germans don’t say it rashly – unlike many other things that they do say rashly.

It is a West Germanic language, which constitutes the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The three most prevalent West Germanic languages are English, German, and Dutch. The family also includes other High and Low German languages including Afrikaans and Yiddish (which are daughter languages of Dutch and German, respectively).

So, there you have it a selection of different languages of love to be expressed to each other over your pizza that normally costs only €10 but now cost 20 as it’s the 14th. And hey if you don’t find yourself with date on that dreaded night (don’t let the pressure of it all get to you – see the first paragraph as a flipping of the bird to all this nonsense) you at least have a list of fun facts to share at parties. It’s not a trick is it? Knowledge. Big love to one and all.