What can we learn from "peace" in other languages? What does "World Peace" look like to you and is it influenced by the language you speak? There are over 7000 different languages and each has one or more words for the concept "peace." Our language, what we say, as well as, the language of the words we use to speak, influences our brains and cultural perspective. With perhaps more than 10,000 words to describe the concept of peace influencing brains from Alaska to Zimbabwe there is bound to be a lot of neurodiversity or very different ways to think about the concept of peace. It is why research supports the idea that learning a new language after age 50 can delay or prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Language learning affects the brain and with it the way we think and respond to the world around us.
The World Peace Flame organization recommends a meditation, "Light a World Peace candle and relax. Sit comfortably for a few moments and focus on your breathing. Take three deep breaths. On the next inhalation think, "I am peace." As you exhale quietly think, "I give peace." Repeat as often as you want. Relax into the vastness of peace you have created." How does it feel if you substitute the word "paz" peace in Spanish or "paix" in French or even тыныслыҡ (tınıslıķ) peace in Bashkir spoken in the Ural mountains of Central Asia? Or perhaps feel how the word cánti rolls off the tongue of the Rohingya people in Burma. This word is related to the Bengali word শান্তি or śanti from the Sanscrit shanti.
People who just know one language tend to think that different languages are just different words for the same thing but anyone who is fluent or at least familiar with two or three languages knows that there can be words that are translated from one language to another but the nuance or sometimes the whole meaning is completely different and the effect on the brain can also be dissimilar.
Through the Language Glass
In his book, Through the Language Glass, Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, Guy Deutscher describes the relationship between the words for a certain concept and the physical ability to "see" the concept. He described the eyesight and use of color word among the native people of Murray Island on the coast of Australia. "The old men agreed that their own proper word for blue was golegole (black). Violet was also mostly called golegole. The vocabulary of the Murray Islanders was clearly "defective" but what about their eyesight?"
Deutscher goes on to explain W.H. Rivers' work, "the differences in color vocabulary have nothing to do with biological factors' [eyesight or the ability to distinguish black from blue or violet]. Deutscher notes, "Our deepest instincts and guttest of feelings yell at us that blue and black are really separate colors, as are green and blue, whereas navy blue and sky blue , for instance are really just different shades of the same color." He concludes the chapter by saying, "The ancients could see colors just as well as we do, and the differences in color vocabulary reflect purely cultural developments [nurture], not biological [nature] ones." His research begs the question, "If we are born into a peaceful society with lots of words to describe peace will we think about and experience peace differently than if we are born into a culture at war with no words to describe peace?" Is our ability to live peace-filled lives with inner peace more influenced by our biology or by our culture?
It is interesting that the people of the islands in the Torres Straits of Australia and the adjacent coast of Papua New Guinea seem not to have differentiated the words black, blue, and violet and yet there are lots of words for peace.
Peace is Paud or Mamui or Mapodan in the languages of the Torres Straits and Warika or Warega in the Mirimal or Maiemal language of the Moie people on Murray Island. Paud can be translated peace or quietness. Does peace and quiet feel like the same thing? Mapodan means peace as well as harmless. To me, peace and harmless seem different but I can understand how one is carried in the nuance of the other.
Panda lag is a peaceable village and paudau garka or mabaeg (peaceable man) while mamui kosimi is the verb to make peace. In the Kiwai language auo miro mere means "very peaceful men." What kind of image does this conjure? Are "auo miro mere" tall or short, laughing or crying, wearing black or blue or violet shirts?
Among the neighboring Kaa and Minaiao people who are said to understand neither Kiwai nor Maipua (Narnau) the word for peace is miro, but miro is also the Kiwai word, which they seem not to understand. It is also similar to the Russian word for peace, mir.
In a different part of the Torres Straits magisio seemed to mean peace in the dialects of the Upper Fly. In a Paupuan language ipi tairu means to cause of peace. It is not a passive endeavor, someone is causing peace.
Of the language at Ketekerua on Dyke Acland Bay, only the words ela or ena (peace) and yabia (sago plant) are recorded. Ena is a word so precious that is was recorded so that it can survive long after the language and culture of the Ketekeruans is lost. Half of the languages of the word are in danger of extinction and with them will go half of the ways to think about peace.
Nearby, Papua New Guinea is one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth with some 850 of the world's 7000 languages. Gutpela taim is the word for peace in the widely spoken, Tok Pisin, an English-based Creole and serves as the country's lingua franca. One of the Papu New Guinea languages, Iduma has a dozen or more words for the concept of peace.
Translated as peace in Iduna are nuwayamumu, veyao, nuwami, aseniwalova, waniwalovina, and kukuya. Iduna includes other words with peace included: Lutubatuba means to perpetuate with words or fists, a quarrel when other person wants peace. Continuing this theme, ihoyahoya and debala -yeweyewena are also to quarrel when other person wants peace.
Consider for a moment lutubatuba. What does this person, who would continue a quarrel when the other person wants peace look like? Are they male or female, soft and round or reed thin? What do they feel like when you meet them, speak with them, or eat dinner with them? We have a whole phrase to describe them and their quarrelsome ways. In Iduna there is one word that takes in the whole feeling.
Kukuyedi means to calm someone down, be a peacemaker, and stop a fight. Miyakuyakuya is to live in peace without fighting and sickness. Mull over the relationship between peace or not fighting and health. Tokukuya and toveyao are other Iduna words for peacemaker.
A Still Liver
Niwalova is also described as peace or stillness or calm as in a season without wind. Nuwayamumu rolls three words together—pleasure, happiness, and peace. Vebonayafa is to make peace but also holds the meaning to be reconciled. Can there be peace without reconciliation or is that a different kind of peace?
Veniwalova is to become still or calm, in other words, to make peace while veyao is a container for friendship, peace, reconciliation, agreement, and ... covenant. Veyaoyena is also to make peace with or reconcile.
A different Iduna word is kiveniwalovina translated as to give peace to. Coming back to health metafors, another way to translate this word is "to cause the liver to be still." Feel in your body. What is the feeling of the liver being still? In Traditional Chinese Medicine the liver and gallbladder are associated with the emotion of anger and the color green. Perhaps the Chinese, who say heping for peace, would agree with the Iduna that a calm still liver is peaceful.
Peace is Cool
In several African languages a feeling of peace is associated with a sense of coolness, as in colder temperatures. No one likes to be too cold but too hot especially hot-headed is not good either, which is evidenced in the practice of fanning men who are starting to argue or telling them to cool down.
How do you cool down? In the Ewe language of Ghana and Togo, the term cool or cold often has a positive connotation and is equated with pleasant and quiet. In Sango, the word for peace, siriri, also refers to coolness and equated with a balanced heart as in the saying "My heart is calm, I have peace and no problems."
May you breath, be cool and still and calm, and find peace in this beautiful world where we can take a journey and change our perspective with a single word, like kurhula (peace) in Tsonga or kagiso (peace) in Tswan.
About the Author
A busy Integrative Medicine practitioner finding solutions for people with Parkinson’s, eyesight issues, diabetes and more, Kimberly Burnham, PhD is The Nerve Whisperer. She is the award winning author of a messenger mini-book,Our Fractal Nature, a Journey of Self-Discovery and Connection as well as, The Eyes Observing Your World, a featured chapter in Christine Kloser’s Pebbles in the Pond, Transforming the World One Person at a Time. Her goal is to change the face of brain health, foster hope, and help you experiences this incredible world. Read more about Kimberly.