Saturday, September 10, 2016

Live Long and Prosper -- in Ethiopic

A little something in honor of Star Trek's big anniversary.
What if when the crew of the Enterprise traveled back in time they ended up in late antique Aksum, rather than 1980s San Francisco? If they wanted to Vulcan salute the locals, how might they say that in Ge'ez/classical Ethiopic?

The original Vulcan expression is dif-tor heh smusma, expressed in English as "live long and prosper."  This gives us some opportunity to play around with the imperative, which "ist der Befehls-und Wunschmodus der 2. Person" (Tropper, 196). The imperative form can only be used for positive expressions. If you want to tell someone not to do something, you have to use a negated subjunctive form.  The imperative form reflects both gender and number, so the form is different if you're speaking to one male, one female, an all male/mixed group, or a group of women. So, if you're addressing the Vulcan salute to an individual male, it might sound like this:

ሕየው ፡ ጕንዱየ ፡ ወሥራሕ ። 
ḥeyaw gwenduya wašerāḥ   
Live a long time and prosper/be successful!  

But what does it really mean to prosper? Are the Vulcans the original supporters of the prosperity gospel? Another verb we could consider using is ጥዕየ which Leslau also glosses with "prosper," but it has the sense of being healthy.

ሕየው ፡ ጕንዱየ ፡ ወጠዐይ ።
ḥeyaw gwenduya waṭa'ay   
Live a long time and be healthy/prosper!

One of the things I learned watching the news here in Germany (which didn't let Star Trek's anniversary slip by without notice), is that the Germans translate "live long and prosper" as "Lebe lang und in Frieden", which means "live long and in peace." As a Mennonite I like that better, and for all I know, it might be a more accurate translation of dif-tor heh smusma (finding a class to learn Vulcan is harder than finding a class for Ge'ez).  So what might the German version look like in Ge'ez?

ሕየው ፡ ጕንዱየ ፡ ወበሰላም ።
ḥeyaw gwenduya wabasalām 
Live a long time and in peace!

I've been working on learning Italian, so I was curious how the Italians might translate this expression from vulcaniano into italiano? Come si dice "dif-tor heh smusma" in italiano? The most accepted translation seems to be: lunga vita e prosperità! The next time you're toasting with some Italian wine, consider using this expression.

Translating things like this into Ge'ez may seem silly, but I find it's a helpful way to learn old languages. Often when we learn "dead" languages it is a totally passive process. When you have to compose something in the language or translate something into the language it forces you to engage grammar and syntax in a more active way. How might you translate this into Ge'ez, or any other ancient or medieval (or modern!) language?

P.S. If you're interested in the Jewish origins of the Vulcan salute, here's an old post. 


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