A sub-editor wrote the following headline in the Daily Nation of June 12: ‘Former ‘pregnancies court’ now cherished monument’. It so impressed the layout sub-editor that he or she displayed it extraordinarily prominently. Indeed, members of the desk were so taken in by the wording that they displayed the heading extraordinarily.
The problem was that the words former pregnancies might have caused a bothersome question mark in the reader’s mind. What on our earth is a “former pregnancy”? Possibly, it is one that has resulted in a baby.
But I am not familiar with any language which refers to its babies as “former pregnancies”.
Among my Luo people (of Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda) a pregnancy is simply ich (pronounced like the English verb to itch and somewhat like the German pronoun ich (for “I”).
In my mother tongue, Dholuo, however, ich is the word for both a “stomach” and a pregnancy. In Dholuo, then, ich is etymologically related to iye, which translates as “inside” or “within”.
But in writing, the Luo word ich might strike a German simply as “I” whenever the German is visiting Nyanza, the land of Kenya’s Dholuo speakers. Yet, in general, whenever a woman becomes visibly protuberant in the middle, the Luo are likely to quip with profound admiration: Omako ich.
I say “quip” because, although the Luo infinitive verb mako ich translates into English as “to become pregnant”, the literal English translation of mako ich is “to catch a belly”.
Mako ich is, namely, a woman’s performance of the miracle of developing a new life inside herself. Referring to a woman, then, mako ich is to begin to show a belly which swells more and more each day that the sun rises above the horizon.
Thus the Luo phrase mako ich means — referring to a woman — to begin to show a tummy that becomes more and more protuberant every day that the sun rises.
Supposedly, such a miracle happens only in women. How, however, would a new arrival in Kenya — whatever the gender — interpret the midriffs of our parliamentarians and other politicians?
That is to say that ich — which a wag might deliberately translate from Dholuo, my mother tongue, as insideness — is, as the natives of England are wont to put it, a kind of “heaviness”, namely, with the added weight of a separate new life, a baby inside the womb. For the Luo, then, ich is stomachiness, namely, pregnancy.
None the least, phenomenally speaking among Kenya’s class that the French would call nouveaux riches (a class notorious for consumer indulgences which know no bounds), the English verb to itch, the German pronoun ich and the Luo noun ich are practically the same word in the ear.
Yet such a sameness in languages that exist as far apart from one another as Dholuo from German is one of the proofs that the two linguistic systems belong to the same species, namely, human beings.
Indeed, that is the reason that, in principle, every human language can be translated quite closely into every other human language.
It is thus that Dholuo, my mother language, can be translated quite satisfactorily into any of the Red Indian languages existing all over North America.
Mr Ochieng is a veteran journalist; [email protected]