Teʂekkür. The word twisted my tongue (it sounds t’sh’k’r) but sweetened the Turkish smile of Ozgür, a newfound friend I met in my recent travel in the Cordillera, Northern Philippines. He taught me the word a few nights after we had a small chat about our respective cultures. He helped me again to recall the word, which I tried to pronounce after he did me a favor over a kitchen work. Then, without any struggle, he fluidly pronounced its Tagalog counterpart: Salamat po! “I love to learn thank you in other languages,” I told Ozgür. “That’s the best word to learn,” he said. Yes, it struck me – Thank you is the best word, the most beautiful phrase to learn in other languages.
I often use “thank you” as an example to illustrate how our differences come from the same source and share the same essence. To say kamsahamnida (or komapsumnida) to Koreans, or matur suksma to Balinese, or arigato to Japanese, there seems to be a resonance of response: they share the same smile, the same friendliness, the same warmth, the same beauty of presence. These words and phrases often sound gibberish to nonspeakers, but they are not just survival phrases. They share a sacred meaning, a universal key to the spirit of every human being despite the varieties in language. Thank you has its meaning way beyond languages, found deeper in the level of the soul where language is never a barrier.
I was in a hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I talked to a small young woman who was about to fix my room. I was requesting her for a bottle of water. She smiled at me with a gentle grimace, trying to figure out what I mean. So I thought she didn’t understand any English word. After a minute of trying to communicate through gestures, I told her akunn, the first Khmer word I learned from my Cambodian friends. She grinned and her eyes grew rounder and nodded to me about three times. I knew right there that though we could not understand each other, her word for thank you is enough to connect.
Thank you connects us even deeper when we read and speak it in our own language. We Filipinos say salamat and never asked how the word came into being. We might never have an official etymology dictionary, but the Arabic word salam is too obvious to ignore. Every moment Muslims meet, they greet each other as-salamu alaykum, something that most Catholics only say in every Sunday Mass. Salam is peace, but not just peace; it is the peace of God. For every utterance of salamat, and for so much of it (maraming salamat), there we share this divine peace, this unseen but real and fully present human spirit.
Thank you has its meaning way beyond languages, found deeper in the level of the soul where language is never a barrier.
A few meanings of thank you in other Filipino languages are as exact as they are spoken. Ilocanos’ agyamanak has a literal root word, right in the middle of the phrase: yaman. Richness and wealth are often its English equivalent, but for Ilocanos the word is an affirmation of being enriched by someone’s effort and presence. Bicolanos say Dios mabalos, a phrase which means “God will repay”, a sense of gratitude that acknowledges the gift and kindness of others as divine, and only a divine return can equal.
These meanings are quite camouflaged by the familiarity of the phrases; they are almost hidden to us. Sadly, we are oblivious to them, for when we say thank you, in whatever language we choose, we just intend to be polite, courteous or formal. We even switch our old folk phrases for the too familiar English, making thank you as a Filipino vernacular. We don’t even bother to notice that the words thank and think have the same origins. To thank someone is to think about that person but not in a cognitive or intellectual way. It once meant a feeling, a shared feeling – a thought and thoughtfulness, to care for another, like the Bahasa terima kasih (literally: to receive care). Connecting these meanings that we have long been unaware can somehow make us appreciate the magic of this phrase that brings out our true nature: to think, feel and care for each other in our own unique, human way.
Spanish people say gracias, while Italians say grazie, words born from their Latin mother, gratia. They are close relatives of English grace, gratitude and grateful. They all evoke us more than just canned phrases that are parcels of platitudes and formalities. Catholic monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, in fact, finds new insights and redefines the word gratefulness as Great Fullness. It is the gratitude, of saying thank you from the heart that brings great fullness of life, abundance, and blessings that we graciously share and receive. It brings us to our greatness (Sanskrit: maha, great), which is Love (Tagalog: mahal, Love). It is no coincidence that even as we speak different languages, all these phrases have rooted from one great meaning that makes our lives miraculous: to say thank you, to act with gratitude, is always a great way to Love.
Thank you so much and Happy 2014!