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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Language of Love Rewritten

Also read: Language of Love | Language of Love Revisited

In Turkish, as with all languages, the word "love" conjures up several meanings. Each degree of love or meaning is associated with a different word, and often those words have different routes. A person can love a god, a person, parents, or family, and all these have corresponding words. But when a person falls in love, in Turkish it goes by the name "aşk".

Love is a Vine that Wraps Around You

In English we have three little words, in Turkish just three little letters can combine to make us swoon. The word is also common in other Turkic-speaking groups, such as Azerbaijanis (eşq), but the word is not Turkic in origin. It's believed to be derived from the Arabic word ʻIshq, used in Arabic as well as many other languages such as Persian, to mean "love".

That word is said to be rooted in the word ‘ashiqah, a vine: the common belief is that when love takes its root in the heart of a lover, everything other than the divine source is eliminated. In Islam's Sufi and mystic doctrine, it's a concept which refers to "divine love" or a living being's love for its creator.

Use Your Lips for Love

Am I preaching to the converted? Good. Let's take a closer look at the word, and how it speaks and sounds.

Three letters. Three separate sounds. Ah Sheh Ka. When you sound them separately, it can end up sounding like another Turkish word with Persian roots: aşikâr (used when something is so obvious it's as clear as day, or as plain as the nose on your face).

Let's use our lips as we sound out the word "aşk": pout your lips and make a shhh sound in the middle, and end the k sound as you would begin it in the word "kiss" - Ah shh k.

When this word is used for the personal feeling of being head-over-heels in love, the letter "i" is added, but its "head" is removed, and its sound becomes heavy: aşık. It sounds a bit like the Americanised reaction to flattery or compliment, "Aw shucks!" (not quite but you get the idea).

The Mystique of Love

The word for "being in love" was also given as the title Aşık to mystic minstrels. This usage gives a nod to the Persian spectrum of love (or being lovelorn) starting from the (physical) human and stemming to the (spiritual) divine, or possibly indicates the nature of a musical tradition given to the flattery of the public. The heroic folklore tradition of Turkish troubadours has been around for longer, but the Turkish word "ozan" became replaced by "aşık" over time. It worked its way into the Turkish psyche and has never left.

Turks today use this word for their loves in a romantic or sexual sense, continuing the literary tradition of the poets, but in modern times they sometimes use it to declare just how passionately they love someone. It indicates a huge infatuation, generally restricted to just one person. Possibly even people you wouldn't normally associate with such a love - for example, like a parent or a celebrity, to emphasise just how much love you have for them.

In such cases the expression is aşığım. Here the ğ remains silent. You lengthen the heavy sound of the headless "i" either side of it, instead, to sound over it. End with the Turkish suffix -ım, which stands for "my". Soundwise, as one ends so the other starts.

Ah shh uu m. The non-sound of the "ğ" is the silent thread here that joins the "i" sound either side of it into one word, rounded off by a "m" to denote ownership.

The Origins of Turkish Love?

Throughout the centuries, words, language and idioms have been developed thanks to talented poets and artists, and while this three-lettered lovely modern Turkish incarnation may have been phonetically fermented and forged by Persian folklore and Ottoman literature, the roots of the emotion itself go deeper than the word evolved to vocally express it.

Turks must have had a word to express what they were feeling before "aşk" came along with its exotic and spiritual roots.

There were many; originally pagan Turkic words were short, sharp, to the point, loaned from nature and visceral. They would be often be combined to make up new words, like the word "arkadaş", meaning friend. Some linguistic scholars suggest this was once the two words "arka" (back) and "daş" or "taş" (stone or rock). Thus it was believed that a friend should be as trustworthy as a stone you can lean protectively against in a fight (to have your back as it were) - and the word was born.

Even if it's lexicon legend, it makes for a good story. As does my preferred word for "love" from a Turkish source - "tutku".

In modern Turkish you won't use this word to say you are in love, but it would be one of the qualities of that love. If "aşk" is love's pronoun, then "tutku" is its adjective.

At first instance, when looked at with a biased eye, the word "tut" to us in English shows annoyance or disapproval of something. It represents the sound you make by putting your tongue in the position for a "T" and sucking air in.

In Turkish we have something similar, "tüh", but on the other hand "tut" (kind of like saying "toot" but going easy on the double vowel sound this time) means to hold. The addition of "ku" (think of cooing doves) immediately changes the nature of the hold.

Now the physical movement becomes a passionate emotion that surpasses all willpower, attitudes and prejudices.

One last thing to add to its colour of sounds: although Turkish words don't have "masculine" or "feminine" versions, the passionate connotations of "tutku" have become coupled with women - it's a given female name.

Sounds good to me.

Isn't that how love - and our loved ones - should take hold of us, after all?

End of Prologue | Part one | Part two | Part three

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