Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Linguistics of Love Part III: Developing Dialects

Gary Chapman, an American pastor, witnessed plenty of confrontations in his family counseling practice. Couples came to him on the precipice of divorce, bitter because they still loved each other and angry because they thought that love should have been enough.

From observing these families, each a Tower of Babel unto themselves, he wrote a book The Five Love Languages which identifies five different "languages" people express and understand love: words of affirmation, touch, gifts, quality time, and acts of service. Basically, if you love someone, but you do not love them in their language, they won't understand your message and will feel suffocated without love, like a plant in a dark pantry. Conversely, if you feel suffocated, but you know that person loves you, maybe you're just not recognizing the love language they're speaking.

This point of view helped me love my friends better (not more, because I can't love them more), as I knew instantly what their love languages are. Because I like languages, I'm trying to be fluent in all five.

This understanding helped me make smarter matches, too, for myself and for others. Someone that needs words of affirmation, however, should not be fixed up with the strong silent type. I express love in acts of service, and that's great, because that's how my Beloved understands love. Lucky for me, he is very organized, so once he learned that quality time is what I need, he was able to make time together a priority even though his natural instinct is to give gifts.

He learned another love language being with me just as he perfected English in his studies in America. We've developed our own dialect with euphemisms and idiomatic expressions and gestures of love, just as my parents spoke a Vietnamese dialect borne of their inter-regional marriage, a linguistic manifestation of the compromises and shared experience that tie all couples together over time. (To my linguists: when we have kids, we'll have our own speech community.)

Love can be expressed in many ways, and that’s part of the fun. Be open to any expression.

“I love you” is expressed by “I want you” (te quiero) in Spanish, “(you) are (a) love(-source) (to me)” (suki da) in Japanese, “I love towards you” (aku cinta pada mu) in Indonesian, “I love a part of you” (!) (rakastan sinua) in Finnish, “I wish good (things to happen) to you” (ti voglio bene) in Italian, “to-me from-you love is” (mujhe tum-se pyar hê) in Hindi and many other languages spoken in India, “love I-have-you” (maite zaitut) in Basque, “to me you me-love-are” (me shen mi-kvar-khar) in Georgian (Georgia, southern Caucasus), “I I-you-love” (she ro-haihu) in Guarani (Paraguay). -A Language-Lover’s Dictionary of Languages (French edition: Paris, Plon, 2009) by linguist Claude Hagège

Love is not a prescribed set of actions. How boring would that be? It's a practice at understanding, an act as colorful, varied, surprising, and irregular as language.

Previously: Linguistics of Love Part I: Confusing the Language
Linguistics of Love Part II: Learning Another’s Language


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. An ex-girlfriend never used any of the five love languages but she said she loved me (hmm, maybe words of affirmation?). Does that mean she was lying? Maybe I am the type that thinks actions speak louder than words.

  3. She should have read this first:

  4. Maybe she fell out of love because I couldn't bring myself to fart in her face.



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