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explain [contributions about non-Indo-European languages especially welcome]

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by ThomasK, Mar 19, 2008.

  1. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    'Explain'/ 'Elucidate' in other languages: root word/ metaphor ?

    You can see that in English two metaphors are being used:
    - unfolding, getting out of a mess (EX- = out) [a]
    - light (shed light on) (-LUCI-

    The funny thing is : the metaphors seem universal... I could illustrate it with words from Germanic and Romanic languages [mostly a AND b], I learnt the Chinese word 'explain' also refers to 'release', 'set free', that in Kinirwanda the word 'explain' refers to untying a knot , and in Russian there is a word like 'throwing sunlight on' for 'explaining' [a].

    More examples of translations (with the explanation of the root word(s) please) ?

    And: any language where a different metaphor is used ?

    tHANKS,
    JanG

    What are the words for explaining in your language - and what is their etymology (or the underlying metaphor) ?

    In Dutch we can translate explain in 3 kinds of ways (using two metaphors and another basic word) :

    - verklaren, verhelderen, toelichten are all referring to [LIGHT] (klaar/ clear, licht/ light)
    - uitleggen, uiteenzetten, .... refer to [TAKING APART]
    - verduidelijken [(explain) refer to (explaining) to the PEOPLE]

    You have the same metaphors in English :
    - make clear, elucidate, ... [LIGHT]
    - to explain, expound, .... [TAKE APART]

    And I heard about other languages using one of those metaphors:

    I was told a Russian verb refers to sunshine [LIGHT],
    a Chinese one to releasing (take apart), etc.
    a Rwandan one referring to untying a rope [TAKE APART]

    That's what I would love to find out in other languages: do you have the same metaphors - or even others ? THANKS !
     
  2. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    You mean, in Latin. Both those words are latinisms. Parallel forms to "elucidate" exist in all the other languages of western Europe:

    élucider in French
    elucidar in Spanish and Portuguese
    etc.

    I've read explanar in Portuguese, but it may be an anglicism. The most common word for "to explain" in these languages is a cognate of "to explicate":

    expliquer in French
    explicar in Spanish and Portuguese
    etc.
     
  3. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thank you ! Any special expressions perhaps ?

    We also have verduidelijken, which refers to (make clear to) the people ('diet' in Middle or Old Dutch).

    Well, in Dutch we have these really Dutch verbs containing references to metaphors:

    - verklaren, verhelderen, toelichten are all referring to [LIGHT] (klaar/ clear, licht/ light)
    - uitleggen, uiteenzetten, .... refer to [TAKING APART]
    - verduidelijken [(explain) refer to (explaining) to the PEOPLE]
     
  4. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In Portuguese, there's also the words esclarecer, "to clarify", "to explain", and esclarecimento, "clarification", from claro "clear", "light-colored":

    esclarecer = es + clar(o) + (e)cer​

    The meaning of the affixes es- and -(e)cer is a little difficult to explain, but basically the idea of the compound is "to make clear".

    esclarecimento = esclarec(er) (derived from the former by back-formation) + (i)mento (nominalizing suffix)
     
  5. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    The affix probably refers to the effect - like er- in German (ersetzen, erzielen, ...) Thanks.

    Nothing with taking apart, I guess... (E.g.: analyse refers to that)
     
  6. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    I doubt it.

    I didn't find it in German, Swedish or Finnish. I don't know enough Irish, Dutch, Basque or Greek, but I still doubt.

    What do you mean by "all the other languages of western Europe"?
     
  7. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I think Outsider might be right, Hakro. I have given examples in Dutch, and give others in English (make clear, clarify/ explain, expound ?)and French (éclaircir/ expliquer) and I really wonder about Swedish. In Norwegian : lag klar/ avklar (clear).

    Finnish or Hungarian: yes, would be interesting !
     
  8. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Oh, sorry. For me, Germany is already central Europe. I meant English, French, Italian, Spanish, etc. From Germany and Switzerland to the east and the north, or in eastern Europe in general, languages have less Greco-Latin influence.

    I also did not count minority languages such as Irish or Basque.
     
  9. Quelle

    Quelle Senior Member

    Deutschland Deutsch
    German:
    erhellen (hell=light, lucid); erklären (klar=clear, lucid)
    ausführen (aus= ex; führen=lead)
     
  10. DrWatson

    DrWatson Senior Member

    Finland (North)
    Finnish
    I think there are. The Swedish verb förklara "explain" seems to have been formed of the word klar, meaning "clear", "bright".

    Also, the Finnish verb for "explain", selittää could be an allomorph of the verb selvittää which has the root word selvä, meaning inter alia "clear", "evident" and sometimes even "sober", but not so much "lucid" or "bright", however. Sometimes the verb valaista (meaning "illuminate", "give light". Comes from valo, "light") is also used more or less as a synonym for the former verb. Do note that this is just reasoning as I don't have a Finnish etymological dictionary at hand, but to me it seems likely we have similar metaphors for this conception. Whether it's Indo-European influence or not I can't comment on due to my lack of knowledge on the matter.
     
  11. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Great, Dr. Watson ! What you suggest regarding Finnish seems quite plausible to me: two verbs based on two different words referring to light (like 'clear' and 'light' itself).

    Mr/Ms Quelle: 'ausführen' ist schon interessant; hat das aber mit 'taking apart' zu tun?
    You might be right though, I am just wondering due to the adjective 'uitvoerig' ('extensive'), which does not imply take apart but having a broad scope. Just wondering...

    Thanks. Danke. Zikomo ;-)
     
  12. Quelle

    Quelle Senior Member

    Deutschland Deutsch
    Is 'uitvoerig' "ausführlich" in German? One synonym of "ausführlich" is "explizit" from the Latin "explicare" (explain).
     
  13. Zsanna

    Zsanna ModErrata

    Hungary
    Hungarian - Hungary
    In Hungarian it is very easy: the verb is magyaráz (explain) and just by its form you can see that it is connected to magyar (Hungarian).
    I read it somewhere (so it is not only my interpretation) that the connection is "one understands something if it is in Hungarian/ put into (plain) Hungarian".
    In other words, explain means something expressed in Hungarian.
     
  14. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The Hungarian derivation is quite interesting... "to put it in the people's language (=our language)"! :cool:

    The corresponding Spanish words, by the way, are aclarar ("to clarify", from Latin acclarare, according to the RAE's dictionary) and aclaración ("clarification").

    Portuguese has the cognate aclarar, but with a more literal meaning: to whiten, to bleach, etc.
     
  15. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Ciao Donna Szanna,

    'Magyaraz' is quite interesting: it reminds me of 'verduidelijken' in Dutch (and the word 'Dutch' itself): the root word is 'diet', people (which I had not realized until when I looked it up: the word diet is no longer in use, except to make something clear (diet) to someone), so I suppose that is quite the same as 'magyar' !

    I wonder whether there could be a similar verb in English (meaning 'making clear to the people'). I am not aware of it, but I am not a native speaker...

    Grazie !
    Thomas

    @Quelle: you are right ! You're pointing out something interesting I had not thought of: explicit/ explain. Funny thing is though: 'expliciet' in Dutch is only 'uitdrukkelijk', with us, 'audrüicklich' (doesn't exist, I think), something like 'emphatically'. In Dutch it has nothing to do with explaining. But I guess there is a link between 'ausführlich', extensively (right ?), and explaining but fairly coincidental, I think: the more one says about something, the clearer it gets. But extend and explicit have two different origins.

    This is getting complicated, I am sorry. I really wonder about this. The above are only guesses...
     
  16. Zsanna

    Zsanna ModErrata

    Hungary
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Thank you, ThomasK, for the interesting investigation+explanation about the Dutch equivalent!
    However, if I understood well, "diet" means "people" so maybe the idea was "to make it clear for a lot of people". Is that right?

    Meanwhile in Hungarian "magyar" is not used in the sense of people but in the sense of the adjective referring to the language (having the quality of...) so "to explain" is a sort of "to hungarianize" (= make it understandable in Hungarian) in our language.
    I wanted to avoid using the term "hungarianize" because its first meaning suggests another thing as opposed to what I mean. (It is not about changing something forcibly to fit a Hungarian set of expectations.)

    It is a similar idea to saying "... (i.e.) in English?"/ In English it would be...? /Can you explain it/put it in plain English? (Even if only English had been used, of course.)
    It also exists in French: En français (cela serait)...?
    (I don't know whether a similar construction is used in other languages.)

    I forgot to mention that elucidate, on the other hand, probably follows the Latin original because the verb (megvilágít) means (more or less) "to put a light on something in a successful way". (Meg = prefix, put before a verb to indicate that the action was completed, at least in most cases).

    P.S. Unfortunately, I'm only connected to Italian by a personal enthusiasm for the people, the country, the culture aaand the language (of course!)... :)
     
  17. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Hi Zsanna,
    Thanks, and don't worry: I hardly know Italian but I love it.

    I jumped to conclusions again, so it seems, although it seems close to our meaning, doesn't it ? By hungaricizing, people can understand; that is the only point, isn't it ?

    The meg affix: interesting, that is similar to Dutch ver-, German er-.

    So you do not use the taking apart metaphor in order to render the meaning 'explain', not even in expressions ?

    No idea how we could Asians, Africans, Indians, Chinese, involved here ?

    Thanks !
    janG
     
  18. Zsanna

    Zsanna ModErrata

    Hungary
    Hungarian - Hungary
    The taking apart metaphor is used for example in the verb boncolgat (almost impossible to translate: something like making an autopsie with a lot of attention but at the same time in a light, "picking at it" sort of way, a little bit like a child when tearing a fly/ an insect into pieces to discover it in details)...
    But that is used metaphorically mainly to express to investigate in the sense of going into a topic and investigate it step by step, from 'point to point' to be able to 1) come to a conclusion about it or 2) explain it in details (or both at the same time).
    So it is not a clear cut case for "explain".
     
  19. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I see, that would be something like analysing, I guess, which often helps to explain. I do not think that is a coincidence...
     
  20. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    In Ancient Greek there is (apologies for lack of diacritics and IPA):

    δηλόω (dē-LO-ō): to make clear, explain (from δηλος, "clear")
    παρατίθημι (pa-ra-TI-thē-mi): to put/place/set forth, to lay before, to explain
    σημαίνω (sē-MAI-nō): to make a sign, to signify, to interpret, to explain (from σημα, "sign")

    There are lots more words for "to explain," like δείκνυμι (lit., "to show"), but I don't think they relate to your expressions. I'll see if I can think of more interesting expressions...
     
  21. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thank you, ArchimOdes !
    Would you agree that there is only a clear reference to the light metaphor ?

    The idea of putting before oneself (in whichever way) might lead towards a different path. I suspect we have this in Dutch as well although 'voorstellen' is like 'propose' or 'present', which are not quite the same as 'explain'. On the other hand: I guess you are explaining if you are 'presenting' weel, but I consider that a non-accidental coincidence ;-) (but some kind of coincidence, not synonymity. 'Signify' is way too 'broad', I think.

    By the way: if anyone is interested, the late Cornelis Verhoeven, a Dutch philosopher, who wrote fascinating things about words and concepts, and the links between them. In fact he was the one who got me on this track, I think. I am now simply 'exploring' how universal these metaphors are.

    Anyone able to get far-away continents on this track ?
     
  22. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In Portuguese, you can expor (expose) an idea or thesis, meaning "explain it in detail", "lecture". Exposição (exposition) can also mean "denunciation" :)

    Replies from more faraway continents would be welcome indeed.
     
  23. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Sorry, I don't understand the question. :confused:

    I assume you're referring to παρατίθημι ("to put/place/set forth, to lay before, to explain"), right? Although in Greek the παρα prefix gives τίθημι that extra "explain" meaning, the fact that it doesn't do that in, say, Dutch doesn't mean that we might be led down a different path. :) Perhaps some other languages use a similar, or even a different, prepositional prefix to render the same idea; and at the very least, it's still interesting to note how words based on the same linguistic "pieces" have different meanings. I don't know about Dutch, but in German, looking at "vorstellen" is interesting because it does normally mean "to introduce, present, etc."; but as a reflexive, "sich vorstellen" means to "imagine."

    Point being: prefixes often don't translate "literally" to the meanings of the words they go with. For example, "to impose" ("to place on") makes some sense, but does "to suppose" ("to place under")?
     
  24. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    The question, Brian: I thought/ meant to say I opnly recognize one metaphor in Greek.

    I certainly agree: the preposition or prefix issue is a dangerous one - and I do tend to generalize starting from some observations in some Germanic languages and disregard some shades of meaning. But my main issue is here: do the Greek verbs (if you think them related to 'explain') reveal a new kind of metaphor ? I do not think so, but you might know better..
     
  25. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
  26. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Something new, reminding me of 'explaining to the people' (verduidelijken in Dutch, and the Hungarian equivalent (or ...)) : in Dutch we have the word 'vulgariseren' and 'populariseren'. it is not quite the same as explaining, but at least it means making it accessible to the people (even in too easy a way), and that requires some explanation, I think.

    I am still hoping for some input from Arabic, or Asian, African, native languages... Anyone able to help ? The point is: how is 'explain' translated in all those languages ? What word/ metaphor is used ?


    Could you please tell me how you translate the verb 'explain' in your (non-Indo-European) language ?

    And could you add a little comment on the basic word in it (a metaphor or another word) ?

    [This is some kind of summary]
    So far three metaphors or words have turned up
    - light (make clear, erhellen, verklaren, lag klar, ...)
    - taking apart (expound, auseinandersetzen, uitleggen, ...)
    - explaining to the people (verdeutlichen, verduidelijken, magyaraz, ...)
    [There may be some spelling errors, forgive me]

    So, some of the elements (metaphors seem universal)...

    I learnt
    - the Chinese word 'explain' also refers to 'release', 'set free',
    - that in Kinirwanda the word 'explain' refers to untying a knot ,
    - in Russian there is a word like 'throwing sunlight on' for 'explaining' [a]

    tHANKS,
    ThomasK

    For those interested in more:

    DUTCH
    - verklaren, verhelderen, toelichten are all referring to [LIGHT] (klaar/ clear, licht/ light)
    - uitleggen, uiteenzetten, .... refer to [TAKING APART]
    - verduidelijken [(explain) refer to (explaining) to the PEOPLE]

    ENGLISH :
    - make clear, elucidate, ... [LIGHT]
    - to explain, expound, .... [TAKE APART]
     
  27. בעל-חלומות Senior Member

    ישראל, עברית
    There are several in Hebrew.

    The usual is להסביר (lehasbir) which comes from the root ס.ב.ר which is connected to "expression", or "how something looks".

    There is also להבהיר (lehavhir) whose root, ב.ה.ר, means "light", as in "not dark" (en françaisclaire”, paslumière). This one seems just like what you were looking for.

    These two are in a "conjugation group" (בניין) that usually means "to make something do/be something". So להבהיר literally means "to make something light".

    Another one is לברר (levarer) which does not exatly means "to explain", but it's close enough. This one, aside from "explaining" is also related to "purifing" and "cleaning" (and according to my dictionary, also "distinguishing between good and evil", but I have never seen it used like that).

    There is also לבאר which might be related to אור (orr - light, this time the noun), but I am not sure.
     
  28. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thank you !
    So indeed, light turns up again. The third one reminds me very much of taking apart (purifying, doing away with confusion, and therefore distinguishing between right and wrong.
    Could the first one refer to revealing (showing what something really looks like) or to making something clear to the people ?
     
  29. Mr Punch Junior Member

    Saitama, Japan
    England, British English
    While there are parallels within all of the European languages for words meaning 'explain' there are so many synonyms as to make any serious relationship inconclusive. Anyway, there are only so many ways the human mind would probably 'shed light' on the subject!

    Anyway, in Japanese, it's:

    説明する (setsumei suru): 'setsu' means 'theory' and 'mei' means 'to lighten' which is completely synonymous with 'make clear/make obvious'.
     
  30. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    U.S.A.
    Greek Greece
    Well, the most common word for "explain" in modern Greek is "εξηγώ" from "ἐξηγοῦμαι" (from where the word "exegesis" is derived) and means "lead out" as in "I am extracting the meaning" more or less.

    The only modern Greek one I can think of that carries the meaning of "shed light" is διαφωτίζω (spread light) but I cannot tell you how old it is since I cannot currently either remember or check any of my dictionaries

    Αs for ancient Greek there's also the verb "φαίνω" ("I shine, bring light to something") that is also used as "explain" (in modern Greek it's "descendant" "φαίνομαι" means "appear" however)

    (by the way, δηλώνω (from δηλόω) 's :D main meaning is "to state" something in MG, παραθέτω (from παρατίθημι) appose, set out, and "σημαίνω" mean and indicate)
     
  31. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thanks, both of you. Let's hope for some more now.

    My other message must have been deleted, but I just want to say: consider this as exploring the topic, that's all. It is simply interesting what kind of metaphors are being used. And some speculation about the whys is also interesting, but need not be conclusive. I just think it is interesting to explore this world of words, and sometimes food for thought. A Dutch philosopher discovered some kind of presuppositions included in words and especially verbs in Dutch. They may not have been meant as such, but there they are; his theory seems to make sense.
     
  32. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    francais-France
    I' d like to confirm what you said about Chinese . Usually verbs ( as most words ) are made up of two words, one of them specifying or strengthening the meaning of the second ; here are some verbs which mean « to explain » :

    阐明 chǎn míng ( to explain /to set out ) is made up of chǎn to clarify ) and ( bright, light )

    chǎn shì is made up of and ( to release )

    说明 shuo míng or 讲明 jiǎng míng is made up of or to talk, to speak and
    (to speak/talk + bright, light )

    申明 shēn míng to declare ( shēn to declare, to expound and )

    jiě shì means explanation; to explain; to interpret; to resolve ( jiě to separate; to divide; to break up; to loosen, to untie and shì to release )

    讲解 jiǎng jiě ( to talk and to loosen )

    So to express the verb “to explain” Chinese uses a compound made up of two words meaning either “ to talk” or “to light” or “to release”.

    In Burmese the usual verb is [FONT=Wwin_Burmese1]&Sif; [FONT=Wwin_Burmese1] jy [/FONT] ‘shiN bya’built up like in Chinese of two simple verbswith one syllabe : the first means to be cleared out, to be free ; the second is "to show ". The first is used to describe a mind, a reasoning, a style ( as "clear") , but not as the contrary of dark[FONT=Wwin_Burmese1][/FONT][/FONT]













     
  33. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London
    English - England
    I suppose the English synonyms for explain, gathered from a quick look at an on-line thesaurus, can be grouped by original meaning as follows
    - Record, put into words or numbers account for, annotate, describe, diagram, tell
    - Cut up analyze, break down
    - uncover bring out, demonstrate, expound, illustrate, manifest, disclose, reveal
    - Light, transparency clarify, clear up, illustrate, elucidate
    - Build construe
    - Translation and Code cracking decipher interpret, paraphrase, read, spell out, translate
    - Impose limits define
    - set right excuse, justify, set right
    - unfolding, disentangling explicate, unfold, unravel, untangle
    - move get across, put across, render
    - flatten explain, make plain (I suppose you can see further in a flat landscape than a hilly one)
    - Direct attention to point out
    - Investigation the chain of causation rationalize
    - Purify refine
    - Release solve, resolve
    - teach
     
  34. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    francais-France

    It's the same in Arabic for one the verbs meaning " to explain ".
    وضّح waDDaHa is a derived verb ( Form II ) meaning "to make something clear" and it comes from وضح wadaHa (Form I )( to be or to become bright / shining )
     
  35. בעל-חלומות Senior Member

    ישראל, עברית
    ^
    From the same root, there is a phrase in Hebrew, "לשון צחה" ( lashon TSaHa - a clean/shiny tongue) which means "speaking clearly and exactly with no mistakes". This can also be a sort of explaining.

    Probably, yes.
     
  36. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thanks for your contributions, all of you.
     
  37. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thanks, this is very interesting indeed.

    - Record, put into words or numbers account for, annotate, describe, diagram, tell
    - Cut up analyze, break down


    - uncover bring out, demonstrate, expound, illustrate, manifest, disclose, reveal
    - Light, transparency clarify, clear up, illustrate, elucidate
    - Build construe
    - Translation and Code cracking decipher interpret, paraphrase, read, spell out, translate
    - Impose limits define
    - set right excuse, justify, set right
    - unfolding, disentangling explicate, unfold, unravel, untangle
    - move get across, put across, render
    - flatten explain, make plain (I suppose you can see further in a flat landscape than a hilly one)
    - Direct attention to point out
    - Investigation the chain of causation rationalize
    - Purify refine
    - Release solve, resolve
    - teach[/quote]

    Good Lord, I have just lost half an hour's work, but here is a summary.

    I think there are a lot of variations of taking apart in Teddy's list (as appears from prefixes such as dis, un, ex, or words like out).

    I also think some verbs are not real synonyms or even kind of equivalents of explaining. There is a non-accidental link betweeen translating and explaining, but I think there are not synonyms.

    Although the paraphrase/translate idea made me wonder: it is some form of explaining but by adding things, so it seems, or by taking them into some other code. I cannot find the right wording, but there is something interesting about it. It reminds me of magyar-as and our verduidelijken in Dutch (it might refer to another language).

    Plain- is quite, quite interesting to me: the idea of levelling, smoothing, seems new. I tend to consider it a form of disentangling: hills are disturbances, not allowing an overview. But I am 'thinking too far'.

    Thanks,
    janG
     

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