Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Yes I can: Soul steps in Ottoman English


I am learning Turkish phrases that I find full of Old World charm, colorful, and sometimes wildly funny. Because Turkish is quite unlike any other language I know, I often find that I remember a rather literal English version better than the original. This is fun, because I find that - even if taxi drivers and waiters don't often grasp what I am trying to say in Turkish - English speakers are entertained when I come up with some specimens of what I have taken to calling Ottoman English. For example 

May your road be open. Yolun açık olsun

May your day be filled with light. Günaydın. This is what you literally say when you use this most common Turkish term for "Good morning".

May what you do be easy. Kolay gelsun.

There are many ways to be super-nice to people who have helped you:

May it bring you abundance. Bereket versin. A waiter or shopkeeper may say this to you when giving change.

The health of your soul. Caninin sağliği. When asked if you want anything else, for example in a restaurant or store, you might say this.

May your hand be healthy. Eline sağlik. You might say this to a person who cooks for you, before, during or after a meal. Or to someone who has written or crafted something you like.

There are wonderful phrases evoking what is going on when feeling demons - spirits of rage or jealousy - are loose.

My jinns gathered around my head. Cinlerim tepeme üşüştü. You might say this to explain how you lost your temper.

To become an ifrit, Ifrit olmak. (An ifrit is much scarier than a jinn). Someone in this condition has lost it big-time and let something crazy bad take over the house.

Of a clever and crafty person, you can say, "Forty foxes are wandering in his head." Kafasinda kirk tilki dolasiyor.

Let's talk about can. I am stirred and delighted by all the Turkish expressions that speak of soul. The word for soul is can, pronounced "jahn" (the Turkish letter C, without the cedilla, is always pronounced as J.) I know of no language where "soul" is so widely mentioned in everyday expressions. An ambulance is a "soul saver." When you first water a new plant in the garden, you are giving it "soul water". Your true friends are "soul company." Built into the language is the shamanic recognition - derived from the early ancestors of the Turkic peoples - that soul can be lost and reclaimed. If you have been deeply hurt, you say "a piece of my soul left". If you are returning to health and balance, you say, "my soul is coming back to its place."   
     There is the "soul friend", can dostu. When "soul is taking place" (can alici yer) it means you have come to the most sensitive point in a situation.  Can evi, the "soul's home" is the heart and also the heart of the matter. If you are "taking and giving away soul" (can alip can vermek) you are in great pain. When your "soul is beating for" (can atmak) something, you have a great desire for it. When something moves you, it "touches your soul". If something turns you off, it "bores your soul."A state of well being is "soul health" (c
an sağlığı). 

Your soul has a place on my head. Can baş üstüne. When you say this, you mean you will so whatever has been asked of you with great pleasure.

To step on the soul's vein. Can damarına basmak. Careful: This can mean either to touch the heart of a matter, or to push someone's buttons - or both.

To hit the soul's home. Can evinden vurmak To hurt someone where he is most sensitive.

To have no soul left. Can kalmamak. Exhausted, completely beat.

Add more soul. Cana can katmak To energize and enliven)

His soul is in his pocket. Can cebinde. Weak person.

His soul is strong. Ceni pek. Strong person.

To burn someone's soul. Can yakmak. To torment or cause pain.

The soul's longing is canı çekmek. Built into the Turkish language is the recognition, native to the shamanic ancestors of the Turkic peoples, that soul can be lost and regained. It can be driven away by fear or pain, or estranged by a life style that does not recognize its longings. Thus 

A piece of my soul left. Canımdan can gitti. Used to describe great pain or  fear experiences at a certain time. Turkish people say, "A piece of my soul left because of...[at such a time and place]"

The soul market. Can pazari. This is a  dangerous time when everyone is out for himself..

Soul is coming back to its place. Cani yerine  gelmek. Regaining health and vitality.

Turkish food is great, so perhaps it is no surprise that the Turks say "soul comes through the throat"  (can boğazdan gelir), encouragement to eat well.

Gardeners will love the Turkish phrase for the first water given to a new plant in the garden. It is called can suyu, "soul water."

If I want to tell you that you did good, or you are the best, I might say to you, Canina rahmet! "Grace to your soul!"

My favorite everyday blessing in Turkish is this:

May your soul be alive! Canın sağ olsun! Don't worry!

Image: Butterfly mural at Taksim metro station (c) Robert Moss


Hannah Rappaport said...

It sounds like the language of generous prayer. prayer for others in all encounters.

Tam said...

I was just going to say what Hannah said. It's beautiful. And your journey sounds fascinating.

GKR said...

Very nice article! I'm turkish and i teach to french people. I'll share your article with them. In our mother tongue, we don't always duely appreiate the meaning of expressions. An external look helps sometimes.Thanks forthis lovely article.