We asked our contributors for an endangered word or phrase that they felt was meaningful, evocative, or unique to the culture from it originates.
Faat sees ip̃op̃u raru p̃ur
A small stone can break a big canoe
‘This Nafsan saying, from the Efate island in central Vanuatu, reminds us that small impediments can stop large projects.’ - Nick Thieberger
yusa, wangsa, kyelsa, rasa
‘In Thangmi, the language of the Thami people in central eastern Nepal, there are four words that cover the English verb ‘to come’: yusa means to come from above, or down the mountain, as in rain; wangsa means to come from below or up the mountain, kyelsa is to come from level horizontal plane or around a natural obstacle; and rasa means to come from an unspecified or unknown direction.’ - Mark Turin
‘In Gorwaa, the word tsitsihhi means 'arrowhead', 'spear-tip', or any other piece of metal fastened to a handle and used to do work (axe blade, hoe, etc).
But tsitsihhi can also mean ‘human embryo’. So, in Gorwaa, every person starts out as a little arrowhead inside the womb.’ - Andrew Harvey
The person of my heart
‘In the Nigerian language of Olùkùmi, the word for ‘lover’ is ęnętędó. This means ‘the person of my heart.' - Bolanle Arokoyo
‘In Híɫzaqv/Háiɫzaqv, the language of the Heiltsuk Nation, the month corresponding to January is associated not with a newborn, but with the first born in a family, and is therefore called n̓úláǧṃi, or the ‘eldest’. The Heiltsuk are an indigenous community whose traditional homeland is Bella Bella, on the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada.’ - Heiltsuk Language and Culture Mobilization Partnership
Ahakoa iti, ākona, kōrerotia
Learn a little, use a little
‘In Māori, the word ako – used here in the passive form ākona – means to learn and teach. There is one word for both: we believe teaching is a process of learning, the only way to distinguish the two is by the context.’ - Hēmi Kelly
I need it
‘Kanyen’kéha uses a system of nominal and verb elements, known as roots, to construct words. Sometimes these roots are obvious and sometimes they are only an echo or a suggestion. The word tewakatonhwentsyó:ni includes the root word for earth/land. The combination of elements indicates that the earth is doing something for me. In our materialistic North American culture, using this word is a reminder that the only things one truly ‘needs’ come from what the earth provides.’ - Nathan Thanyehténhas Brinklow