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Filipino words that can not be directly translated into english. Login/Join
 
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here's two from the Filipino language.

There are certain words that can't be directly translated into english and some i think are pretty interesting.

Asa- one simple Filipino word that means 'you can try but don't think you'll get anywhere' and is commonly used as a form of provocation to a person the speaker particularly dislikes.

Sigurista- A person who particualarly ensures that everything will go as planned. This kind of person will not initiate a particular action unless he is 100% sure that the desired results would be obtained.

I copy-pasted since it seems the post would fit this thread more.
 
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But... you've just translated them into English.
 
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you've just translated them into English

I have come to think what is meant by the "there is no word for X in language Y" trope is that there is no one word in Y that translates X (from language Z). In this sense, it is true of most words in most languages. (We will leave aside the problems of meaning, sense, denotation, connotation, etc.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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But sofatyrant han't been privy to all of our previous discussions of this subject. As was suggested by many people at the start of our many discussions, I suspect that what sofatyrant (btw are you male or female?) means is that theey are words for which we have no direct single word correspondence.

All words, as we've said before are translatable, not all are as succinct in the target language.
 
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But sofatyrant han't been privy to all of our previous discussions of this subject.

Well, they are a matter of public record, and can be found (among other places) in the sticky topic heading this forum. I think goofy was trying to point out the meaning of the word translate. I, for my part, was trying to summarize my views on the "no word X in Y" meme. Having said that, I meant no disrespect to sofatyrant, or you BobHale, just trying to add to an old thread under a new moniker. Welcome aboard, sofatryant, and I hope to have many discussions with you in the future.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Originally posted by zmježd:
I think goofy was trying to point out the meaning of the word translate.


I was, but not very friendlily. I meant no disrespect to sofatryant. I assume that sigurista is borrowed from Spanish? This dictionary translates "asa" as "hope for, expect". Is this the same word?

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Asa- one simple Filipino word that means 'you can try but don't think you'll get anywhere' and is commonly used as a form of provocation

Lovejoy?


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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I have come to think what is meant by the "there is no word for X in language Y" trope is that there is no one word in Y that translates X (from language Z)
I am no expert in linguistics, unlike goofy and z. However, one experience leads me to believe there are some words that just can't be accurately translated into English. My Chinese friend (we love talking about language, and I've tried to get her to post here) has told me about words that she tries to translate, but acknowledges that she just doesn't do the words justice. She is certainly fluent in English, and Chinese is her first language, so she should know.
 
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Originally posted by BobHale:
But sofatyrant han't been privy to all of our previous discussions of this subject. As was suggested by many people at the start of our many discussions, I suspect that what sofatyrant (btw are you male or female?) means is that theey are words for which we have no direct single word correspondence.

All words, as we've said before are translatable, not all are as succinct in the target language.


Yes i meant that they don't have single direct word correspondence.

And I am male
 
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Originally posted by goofy:
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Originally posted by zmježd:
I think goofy was trying to point out the meaning of the word translate.


I was, but not very friendlily. I meant to resrespect to sofatryant. I assume that sigurista is borrowed from Spanish? This dictionary translates "asa" as "hope for, expect". Is this the same word?


Yes actually but when one says asa by itself with no other words attached to it, it has an entirely different meaning.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
I am no expert in linguistics, unlike goofy and z. However, one experience leads me to believe there are some words that just can't be accurately translated into English. My Chinese friend (we love talking about language, and I've tried to get her to post here) has told me about words that she tries to translate, but acknowledges that she just doesn't do the words justice. She is certainly fluent in English, and Chinese is her first language, so she should know.


I'm afraid that one person's opinion that certain words can't be accurately translated isn't enough evidence for me. Is your friend a professional translator? Has she tried looking up these words in a Chinese-English dictionary?
 
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My Chinese friend (we love talking about language, and I've tried to get her to post here) has told me about words that she tries to translate, but acknowledges that she just doesn't do the words justice. She is certainly fluent in English, and Chinese is her first language, so she should know.

If she's fluent in English, she should be able to translate anything from Chinese to English. People have been doing it for years. It's a bit of a waffle from untranslatable to not doing a word justice. Sometimes, when a word has no single English equivalent, the Chinese word is sometimes used (either anglicized or left in the original). Take the word tofu. Is it a word in Chinese? Well, at best it's a compound of two other words: one for bean and the other for curd. In English tofu is unanalyzable, except to those who known the etymology, and is seen as a single word. yet, the term bean curd would be seen as two or a compound. Now, both terms (in Chinese and English) pretty much have the same denotation, but I'm sure the connotations of the words is different. If you're translating a cook book or a government report, I'm sure the words provide little difficulty in the translation process. But if you're translating a poem or a novel, they might be connotations in either language that you'd have difficulty replicating by the use of simple, single words or compounds. That is why translation is a difficult task. Anyway, let's choose a stranger word: guānxì (trad. 關係, simpl. 关系, link). Literally, it means 'relations, connections', but ask a Chinese person to translate it into English and though they may give you the superficial meaning I quoted above in English, I am sure they will tell you the word is impossible to translate into English. Even though I doubt that any English speaker would have difficulty understand what the term means basically. After all we have words like pull, influence, etc. that approximate guanxi. Ask your friend to come up with two or three untranslatable Chinese words (give the characters, too) and I'll run them by some of my Chinese speaking friends and see what we come up with.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Is your friend a professional translator? Has she tried looking up these words in a Chinese-English dictionary?
She is not a professional translator, though she is way beyond needing a Chinese-English dictionary. She publishes and presents research results, using very technical language nationally and internationally. She has an excellent grasp of the English language, and she still speaks and writes Chinese to her parents and friends in Beijing.
quote:
It's a bit of a waffle from untranslatable to not doing a word justice.
I think what you're saying is that it may be semantics. Perhaps.
quote:
Ask your friend to come up with two or three untranslatable Chinese words (give the characters, too) and I'll run them by some of my Chinese speaking friends and see what we come up with.
Good idea, z. I will. She no longer works in my office, but I will contact her and ask her.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
She is not a professional translator, though she is way beyond needing a Chinese-English dictionary. She publishes and presents research results, using very technical language nationally and internationally. She has an excellent grasp of the English language, and she still speaks and writes Chinese to her parents and friends in Beijing.


I'm not suggesting that she needs a dictionary. I mean that it could be useful to compare how she translates the words with how the professionals translate them.
 
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she is way beyond needing a Chinese-English dictionary

I am fluent in English, but I still need and use a dictionary on occasion. The vocabularies of English and Chinese are both immense.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Alright. That's an example of how posting can limit the conversation. I wasn't clear on what you had meant, goofy. Yes, I use a dictionary a lot to more fully explain nuances of words. Yes, she could compare the words to how "professionals" translate them, and yet, as you can see from her email below, I don't think she'd agree with the translation by "professionals."

z, this is her answer when I asked for some examples. I will ask her again for a specific word example:

"Many words in Chinese especially the hidden meaning of those words cannot be translated into English. For example, a Chinese classic masterpiece novel, A Dream of Red Mansion, contains many words/poems that have two meanings, one literal and other hidden. Although this work has been translated into English, I don’t think the beauty of that work can ever, ever be fully translated into a different language. Knowing the sophistication of Chinese language and its rigid poem structures, I don’t think a different language can fully capture subtle hints that left traces in every phrase of that work. The meaning of words exist in context. Translating a word out of its context may not be useful. For example, in this novel, a word “Xiuo in Chinese Character” is a person’s name but it pronounces the same as the Chinese character “snow”. So snow was used in many places to mean the person, either to make fun of her or refer to her indirectly. How do you translate this into English? I have not read the English version of this book, but below is a comment about the English version:"


"75 of 85 people found the following review helpful:

1.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Novel Ruined by a Poor Translation, June 15, 2003

By

Brendan O'Kane "bokane"http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/x-locale/common/carrot._V47081519_.gif

The Yangs' translation of "A Dream of Red Mansions" is extremely accurate. That's about the best thing to be said about it.
Unlike David Hawkes and John Minford's masterful translation, which can stand on its own as a work of literature, this edition reads like...well, like a translation. The prose is flat, the puns of the original are translated literally, rather than being approximated as in the Hawkes-Minford version, and on the whole, the flavour of the original Chinese text is missing.
A person trying to read the original Chinese text of "A Dream of Red Mansions" might find this translation useful to keep at hand for a side-by-side comparison; it reads like a translator's crib. The Yangs of this edition take fewer liberties with jokes, puns, and poems than do Hawkes and Minford. (I should stress that when Hawkes and Minford deviate from the original text, it is only in minor and inconsequential ways, and is always in service of the text.) The Yangs failed to realise, apparently, that being faithful to the precise words of a book isn't necessarily the same as being faithful to the spirit, and their translation is no fun at all to read."
 
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Kalleh's friend: "Many words in Chinese especially the hidden meaning of those words cannot be translated into English. For example, a Chinese classic masterpiece novel, A Dream of Red Mansion, contains many words/poems that have two meanings, one literal and other hidden. Although this work has been translated into English, I don’t think the beauty of that work can never, ever be fully translated into a different language. Knowing the sophistication of Chinese language and its rigid poem structures, I don’t think a different language can fully capture subtle hints that left traces in every phrases of that work. The meaning of words exist in context. Translating a word out of its context may not be useful. For example, in this novel, a word “Xiuo in Chinese Character” is a person’s name but it pronounces the same as the Chinese character “snow”. So snow was used in many places to mean the person, either to make fun of her or refer to her indirectly. How do you translate this into English? I have not read the English version of this book, but below is a comment about the English version:

Kalleh: one experience leads me to believe there are some words that just can't be accurately translated into English. My Chinese friend (we love talking about language, and I've tried to get her to post here) has told me about words that she tries to translate, but acknowledges that she just doesn't do the words justice. She is certainly fluent in English, and Chinese is her first language, so she should know.

So, the original context was that there are some words that cannot be translated. Now we have moved the discussion to some poems that will not connote that same thing in their original Chinese and English translation(s). I think that your friend did a fine job of explaining a problem with the character Xue Baochai ('Precious Hairpin', whose surname is a homonym for another character that translates as 'snow'). Again, this is a problem of capturing the full range of meanings of a passage of text, or a poem, when translating it into a foreign language. I'd say that you cannot ever capture this deeper meaning in any translation. In that sense, translation is impossible, because all words are untranslatable. That, of course, is absurd. All sorts of texts get translated ever day and are understood. Some translators try to help the foreign reader with footnotes or some other apparatus. When I read (an earlier translation of) The Dream of the Red Chamber, I was aware that I was not getting the full benefit out of a translation, but I wonder how much of the subtlety and richness of text is accessible to a modern-day Chinese reader. After all the novel was written in the 18th century (during the Qing dynasty) and both Chinese culture and language have changed greatly between then and today. The same thing is true today when reading say the novels of Richardson which date from the same period. Recourse to a dictionary or special literary apparatus is necessary, if the person reading the book is to understand all the nuances that an 18th century Englishman could have been expected to.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Her argument seems to be that Chinese is a special language where words have more than one meaning. But this is true for all languages. English prose and poetry plays with the multiple meanings of words, and I'd guess that literature in many languages does the same. This is why translation is so difficult. I think it certainly is possible to convey the subtle hints she's talking about. It might take a lot of digressions, a lot of footnotes, but it is theoretically possible. A concept that can be expressed in one language can be expressed in all languages. But whether such a translation would ever capture the beauty of the original is a matter of opinion.

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We are talking here about two different kinds of translation. The first is translating the meaning of something and the second is translating the spirit of it. I'd argue that with regard to a person whose name sounds like the Chinese word for "snow", it is perfectly possible though hardly elegant.

I haven't read the book so I'll make up a sentence.

Snow (who was so nicknamed because Xiuo, his real name, had the same sound as the chinese word for snow) came into the room.

Not pretty, not elegant but translating the pun for those who can't read Chinese.

Anyone translating literature faces this problem - do you translate the words literally with footnotes explaining these odd linguistic aspects, or do you play fast and loose with the accuracy in attempt to maintain the sound and rhythm - the beauty and spirit - of the original?
 
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An example of this "untranslatability" occurs to me.
In the Lord Peter Wimsey novels the full name of the title character is "Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey".
Several books have plays on words because of the "Death" (which Wimsey pronounces Dee-Ath).

Now say you are trying to translate this into German. What do you do with the name? If you leave it as it is then those plays on words won't work except for people who speak English. If you try to translate the name, for example to get Herr Peter Tod Bredon Spleen (Tod being German for Death, Spleen being German for "Whimsy" - I'm applying a little pun of my own) - if you make that translation, first of all you get a very unlikely name but then you have to try to find a way to replace the punning references to it with ones that are also Puns in German.

In this sense, as zm suggested above, all translation is impossible.

But for some fun with translation, look here.
 
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I think Bob's said it very well.
 
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Now we have moved the discussion to some poems that will not connote that same thing in their original Chinese and English translation(s).
Alright, alright...whoa, guys.

As I had said, my Chinese friend no longer works with me, so I had to email her. That was her email response, which I realize is different from the original question (i.e., translating words, and not poems). I have emailed her again and asked for specific words with the Chinese characters. We had discussed individual words, as well. Hopefully she'll give me some examples of what she considers untranslatable Chinese words.

Even so, I suspect the answer here will be that we can translate them "good enough" (or is it "well?") I think that's probably the real question, and people just vary on what they think is "good enough." Bob, goofy and zmj would probably be on one side, with my friend on the other.
 
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My friend hasn't gotten back to me yet, but just today I heard about another. Those of you who know German can chime in. We were talking about realist evaluations, and one speaker, who often integrates etymology into his talks, said that verstehen, a German word, cannot be adequately translated into English. The best they can do, he said, is to translate it as "understanding." Indeed, my online translator says it means "understand." He called it an "emic perspective."
 
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He called the perspective that some words can't be adequately translated an emic perspective? I guess that makes sense.
 
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said that verstehen, a German word, cannot be adequately translated into English

The expression, "verstehen sie?" is one I often use when I am trying to communicate in German. I was told by my German teacher that it means "Do you understand?".

I hope it doesn't have some hidden and more esoteric meaning!


Richard English
 
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"Understand" (regardless of the German) is a good example of how people seem to get all wound up about what they see as subtleties in another language and entirely miss the subtleties in their own.

What does "understand" mean? You understand instinctively what it means but spend some time thinking about it.

Let's look at some examples.

Let's start with

"I understand what you are saying."

Depending entirely on the context this could have all sorts of subtly different meanings.

At its most superficial it means what it says. You said something. I understand it.

I doubt that that is ever what it means though. More usually it means "I understand what you think you mean but YOU ARE WRONG."

What about

"I understand Japanese."

Usually this would mean that if someone is speaking the language I can get the essential meaning from the words. It may or may not mean that I am fluent. It may or may not mean that I am literate.

What about,

"I understand cars"?

This usually means something like "I am mechanically reasonably competent but I am not a professional mechanic."

-------------

As for "verstehen" it's the infinitive form of the verb and means "to understand" but ONLY in the sense of "comprehend".

A good example from German is the trio of verbs kennen, wissen and kennenlernen.

All of them mean "to know".

The easy one to isolate is "kennenlernen" because that can be translated as "to get to know".

"kennen" and "wissen" are slightly more problematic. Just to be sure here let me consult a German/English dictionary.

kennen: know, be acquainted with, understand,be aware of
wissen: know,

(I haven't included any of the idiomatic usages or the kennen/ wissen + pronoun usages that change the meaning)

So how would you choose? From my German knowledge I'd say "kennen" is more concrete knowledge and "wissen" is more abstract knowledge but I'd be hard pressed to pin it down. I'd choose by which one sounded right to me. I get it right most of the time.

Now if someone can explain the difference between "machen" and "tun" to me, I' be greatful. I always use "machen" because I can never figure out when "tun" is approriate.

(Incidentally I had to look up "emic perspective" but having done so, I'd say that it's really a rather trivial observation, isn't it?)
 
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"Understand" (regardless of the German) is a good example of how people seem to get all wound up about what they see as subtleties in another language and entirely miss the subtleties in their own.
I have been thinking about your response, Bob. Of course there are subtleties in our own language. However, they aren't necessarily the same ones as in other languages and therein lies the difficulty.

I have decided that it all boils down to the translation being "good enough." While some people, like the speaker at our conference, just don't think a word is adequately translated, others think the (in this case "understand") translation is "good enough."
 
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z gave me an idea on the chat today. I am going to read the book, "A Dream of Red Mansions," my friend talks about. If anyone would like to join me in that, it would be great.
 
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I think that's a wonderful idea. I see that the unabridged, David Hawkes (first 80 chapters) and John Minford (last 40 chapters) translation, published by Penguin, is five volumes, called The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin and Gao E: 1. Golden Days, 2. The Crab-Flower Club, 3. The Warning Voice, 4. The Debt of Tears, and 5. The Dreamer Wakes. There are other translations, some in the public domain and online. Professor Minford is a British sinologist (from Birmingham) who teaches atthe Australian National University. I'll take a look at one of the big chain book stores and see if it's still available.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Five volumes? Seems rather a long commitment at the moment given I'm having so much trouble finishing the various books I have "on the go" at the moment.
 
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I see that the unabridged, David Hawkes (first 80 chapters) and John Minford (last 40 chapters) translation, published by Penguin, is five volumes,
I have been looking online for the Hawkes and Minford translations because, in the email above from my colleague, that seems to be the best translation.

Yes, 5 volumes is a commitment, I agree, Bob. I hadn't realized that when I first posted this. However, I am pumped now to read it because I've been reading about it online. It has been described as one of the four great classical novels from China. The others are:

1) Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Chinese: 三國演義; pinyin: sān guó yǎn yì) (14th century) (more recently translated as, simply, Three Kingdoms)
2) Water Margin (Chinese: 水滸傳; pinyin: shuǐ hǔ zhuàn) (also known as Outlaws of the Marsh) (14th century),
3) Journey to the West (Chinese: 西遊記; pinyin: xī yóu jì) (16th century) also known as Monkey King

I just have to find it first. I would prefer not to read the Yang translations, which seem to be easier to find.
 
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1. Golden Days, ISBN 0-14-044293-6
2. The Crab-Flower Club, ISBN 0-14-044326-6
3. The Warning Voice, ISBN 0-14-044370-3
4. The Debt of Tears, ISBN 0-14-044371-1
5. The Dreamer Wakes, ISBN 0-14-044372-X

Or try bookfinder.com or abebooks.com. Or your local library .
 
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Romance of the Three Kingdoms

A friend brought back a copy of this classic for me (five volumes) from China. It is a blingual edition in Chinese and English.

[Fixed off-by-one error.]

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Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Oh, you're so lucky!

Thanks, Tinman. I'll look at the library because neither Borders nor Barnes has them, and I really didn't want the volumes for sale on Amazon.

Perhaps I should learn Chinese, and then I could read my friend's copies!
 
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I am thinking about ordering online Volume I and IV that are listed here. Volume I is translated by Hawkes and Volume IV by Minford, which should be good translations.
 
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This blog post deals with the idea that Chinese characters have a precision and poetry that get lost in romanization.
 
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Goofy, that is a wonderful discussion and really refutes a lot of what my Chinese friend has said. I forwarded the link to my friend and am interested to see what she has to say about it. Thank you for posting it!
 
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the idea that Chinese characters have a precision and poetry that get lost in romanization.

Yes, pretty good blog entry. To correct one bit of misinformation in the commentary, the Vietnamese alphabet (Chữ Quốc Ngữ) was based on Portuguese orthography not French.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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My Chinese friend hasn't responded to the Blog link. I think she is not wavering that Chinese can't be adequately translated into English and is getting tired of my challenging her on that. Oh well.
 
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I can't believe how long ago it was that we've talked about this! Heck, z hardly even posts with us anymore. However, I had dinner tonight with my Chinese friend, and she has promised to join our discussion board and tell us about her thoughts on this. We had a wonderful discussion about it, but she has experienced both our cultures so she has a unique view.
 
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