There’s something English can’t touch. Amharic. That is the conclusion we – some fellow speakers and I – recently came to over the course of numerous, sporadic conversations on the topic. We had these conversations in English, of course – with sprinklings of Amharic thrown in when the Other tongue just wouldn’t do – because it wasn’t that we were saying that Amharic was the be all and end all, but that when it came to one specific context, it had it down: romance an’ sexiness.
The irony was that practically everyone involved in the discussion is either dating an English speaker or, even when the beloved is habesha, conducting their relationship 80% in English. That said, we all still had to give it to Amharic. Sure, we’d all at some point or another heard the usual: wetete mare, yitafital? or timechignalesh or amemesh? My personal favourite that I’ll never forget as long as I live, even though I have long forgotten where/from whose habesha mouth it fell forth, was this: something something dalewa siteremamess… The compliment wasn’t meant for me but regardless I nearly dropped to the floor and, once I pulled myself back together, swore to get straight to eating whatever would go directly to my thighs.
As we got to bowing at the perfumed feet of Amharic, we started to wonder, why? Why does it strike home so hard (forget Cupid’s arrow, we’re talking ye-arbegna sanja here) in that particular context? Why is it when we hear the turns of phrase, the terms of endearment, the erotic expressions, the sweet nothings that can only come from certain arrangements of the 300+ Amharic characters delivered in that mock-accusatory tone (as if the beloved is cruel to be so lovable) that the words hit us at a soul level the depth of which we didn’t know was possible until that moment? Why do we cringe and melt at the same time when things get amorous in Amharic, even when the words said are literal translations? Example: “I love you.” “Afekrishalehu.” Same idea, but effect as different as sun and moon, aramba ‘na kobo.
A theory was posited, which I re-posit here: It’s because Amharic is more than just a language to us. It’s the specific set of sounds through which we met the world. Not only that, but the first sounds that we came to associate with what pre-existed them: emotion; when we were babies, at our most vulnerable and feeling the purest love of all: that of a mother. (There’s a reason they don’t call it ‘father tongue’, nah mean?). So when we hear gedelshign, the vibrations of it reverberate in that primal pre-language part of us that felt love before it had identified it as such. The interpretation into meaning came later. Anything said in Amharic, we feel it before we understand it at the brain level. Whereas with every language that is learnt, we understand and then locate the associated feelings that go with it. Amharic, its sounds, just bypasses the detour, the never-ending construction site that is the brain, and shortcuts straight to the heart.
Folks will say this phenomenon is not unique to Amharic; it’s something every native speaker of any tongue can relate to. I guess the only way to know for sure is to be born again and again and never forget anything. This is all very unscientific, I know. I haven’t even used the word ‘Semitic’ once. For my money in this lifetime, I’m just going to go out insisting that there’s something spellbinding about the sounds of Amharic specifically, which someone who doesn’t understand it once described to me was like flowing water.
Aha, that’s why we be always “gasping” 😉