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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Language of Love

The Kiss: 1889 marble sculpture by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin
Also read: Language of Love Revisited | Language of Love Rewritten

The main purpose of romantic poetry is seduction, to evoke feelings of love in another person.

It is also used as a medium to try and understand ourselves and the world in which we live though love, but this type of poetry at its core has been written for seduction, ever since Sappho took up her pen.

As love can sometimes be the affectation as well as the antidote, poetry has also been used as therapy to the heal the scars love can leave.

It is a paradox that is echoed in the written word. We cannot fit the description of love to one page, yet in every language around the world we label the emotion with one small word.

Love the Word
The Art of Turkish Calligraphy, the name of GodMy love of words brings out some interesting research regarding the Turkish word for love, "aşk" (pronounced ahshk). In retracing its history, it might be possible to see how humans have interacted with love across the ages. The theory is that this word resulted from Ottoman poetry, which was used as a form of seduction.

Some background information is useful to help understand the journey the word "aşk" might have taken.

Turkish comes from a language group that in 1999 had over 120 million speakers and outside of its family branch ranks in the top twenty of most spoken languages in the world.

However, Ottoman Turkish is different from the modern Turkish language it is connected to, and has to be studied separately by interested scholars. Due to trade and military ties with the West, it has also contributed to the lexicon of other languages, including the English language.

Ottoman Turkish developed away from its Turkic roots and runic writing, by adopting a different written language. After the fall of the Empire, the language evolved again, replacing the adopted Arabic script with Latin letters, and also returning to a fresher form of its original language group(s). Subsequently, most modern Turks cannot read or write, or even understand, Ottoman Turkish.

Yet it is in this archaic language that the origins of the word "aşk" may be found. The answer could rest in the very early verses of the Ottomans, where poetry was written by poets and sultans alike.

Divan poetry from the Ottoman poets discussed love at great length. These poets were interested in the power of numbers and symbols. A poet exploring the mysteries of sex would use its numerical value in his writing. For example, there was a method of using the total number of pleasure points on a man and woman as a regular rhythmic pattern or scheme in the verses.

Sex, love and words all rolled into one poem.

Poetry differs from prose in that every word is picked specially for use, and less can mean more. To the Ottoman poet, the physical shape of certain letters would symbolise the curve of a lover's eye, or a lock of hair curled against a loved one's ear, and they would use the sound of that letter to describe the person they loved, instead of giving a long description.

Over time and after continous usage, that letter and the sound it made became synomynous with the meaning the poets bestowed upon it.

For example the poets likened the Arabic symbol "elif" as love's arrow, or as a cut made by love into the chest to get to the heart, but most commonly for the slender figure of a woman. It was used so much, that the sole word "elif" now conjures up images of such a woman. The symbol "he" was used to denote lips or a mouth because of its shape.

It seems that the sound from these two symbols offers the beginning of the word "aşk", giving it the "ah" sound. This sound is also used as an exclamation of emotion, like "oh" - which can express bliss or misery. The combination of the sounds can also be heard more clearly in the Turkish word "ilaç" (pronounced ilahch), which means medicine in Turkish.

It seems the Ottomans also believed that love was an antidote, too.

I am not suggesting the letters or the sounds have any connection at all, but one strange co-incidence is that the two symbols "elif" and "he" resemble the first two Latin letters of the English would for love. The sounds are completely different, but the shapes are similar.

Love can make moves across boundaries, too.

In language and action, we define love and we make love and in turn love defines and makes us. Where one begins and the other ends, I cannot say, but it makes for interesting reading for Valentine's Day.

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