Monday, August 15, 2005

Lost in translation

I was deboning fresh salmon prior to baking it when Gabriel came and asked permission to feel the fish. I said OK, and he immediately washed his hands. As he was doing this, I said, “Just don't lamutak the fish.” The English term escaped me. (To my non-Tagalog speaking readers, this is pronounced la-mu-tak, not lay-moo-tahk.)

With some hand motions, I tried to show him what lamutak meant to make sure he got it.

I turned away briefly, and when I looked back, Gabriel was doing exactly what I told him not to do.

“No, no, no!” I exclaimed. “That’s lamutak! That’s lamutak!”

Gabriel took a flake of fish and left the kitchen. A few minutes later, he came back to return what looked like a small fish ball.

“No,” I said. “Don’t put that back. That’s already lamutak.”

How frustrating it was to be groping for the right word. It was not even close to the tip of my tongue. I asked Gabriel what lamutak might be in English.

“Squish?” he asked.

“Yeah,” but squish sounds a little lame. It’s probably closer to “mash”—with an attitude.

Gabriel learned one Tagalog word today, and I learned that if I wanted to say “mash” and evoke a sense of grossness, lamutak says it better. Save the finesse for later.


lhb said...

Searched for English-Tagalog online translators. Not too many available. One translator was based on Esperanto and was translating Tagalog to Esperanto to English! Whoa! Anyway, when I asked for a translation of lamutak, it came back with "utak" - brain. Oh, my simple brain hurts!

Too bad that Gabriel and Marcus do not seem to be learning Tagalog at home. My neighbors are Greek and I find it fascinating that the kids can answer their parents in Greek and switch quickly to English when talking to their friends. Remember when Mickey had to "ehh-back"? Wonder how Marcus would handle a similar situation. :)

lerryblossoms said...

I speak to them in Tagalog and they understand quite a bit. They just can't speak it. Gino is still fluent. Mickey is just re-discovering Tagalog and his Pinoy identity. With extended family, the 2 teens only speak in the native tongue.