Over the steamboat dinner in Hualian, I was talking to an interesting couple based in Japan – the male was from New Zealand and the lady, a Japanese. I don’t recall what got us onto this topic, but we started talking about the word – Ganbatte (頑張って) and how we can’t seem to find a satisfactory equivalent in English. It does have a perfect cousin in Chinese – Jiayou (加油), which is essentially a term of encouragement.
Our Taiwanese guide chimed in and said that he had posed this question to people before. Some said “do your best!”, some said “go, go go!” and his personal favourite was “keep it up!”.
I still wasn’t satisfied with these choices. They aren’t exactly wrong, but they lack the endearment factor and the “do know that I am rooting for you!” feeling which the Japanese and Chinese terms are able to convey. In addition, it also has the meaning of wishing one good luck in the endeavour which the other is taking on. So much meaning conveyed with just 1 phrase! Little wonder why till now, I still love and use it.
I came across another term today, Natsukashii (懐かしい) which has no specific equivalent in English. It conveys a sense of sweet nostalgia when encountering a place or experience which evokes certain memories and emotions. Recently I have been watching a lot of Hayao Miyazaki films and I feel a sense of natsukashii when I watch them. Perhaps its the simplicity of happy laughter by the child protagonists; perhaps its the hand-drawn animation which reminds me of my childhood days of watching Doraemon at 9 in the morning.
I find it fascinating how certain commonly used phrases in one culture have no equivalent in another language. Without phrases to convey the emotion, do people still experience the same feelings? If they did, wouldn’t they have found a simpler phrase to encapsulate it by now?
As the Chinese saying goes, it is a 耐人寻味 (thought-provoking) question.