Guest Blog Posts

Playing Online With Synonyms, Homonyms and Multilingual Dictionaries – guest blog post by Kimberly Burnham, PhD


The use of a particular English word like “peace” varies over time. Some words become more popular while other drop in popularity.  On the Google Books Ngram Viewer we can look up the historical usage of “peace” in English, “paix” in French or “paz” in Spanish. We can also use Google translate to find words that mean the same thing in different languages but often they are not exactly the same. It is in the subtle space between languages where the nuanced synonyms and homonyms hide, waiting to surprise the poet. For example, look up “peace” in Icelandic and this is what you find.

Icelandic Peace

“Peace”, “calm”, “tranquil”
friður”, “rólegur”, “friðsæll”
but with the click of a button
the back translation appears
“peace”, “quiet”, “peaceful”

Looking at the words individually shows
“rólegur” can be “quiet” but also
two more adjectives
“calm” and “comfortable”
and the verb “sedate”

Are comfortable and sedate the same
they are in Icelandic
as translations gives us a new glimpse
into how the world thinks about our words
“peace” and “calm”

There are a number of multi-language sites where we can explore our words by translating them. One site is an online dictionary for eight different languages spoken on the Cooks Island.

Rarotongan Peace ‘Au

“'Au” peace in Rarotongan plus six more homonyms
1. Peaceful, peacefully settled, at peace,

2. You
as in you can be peacefully settled

And powerful
3. Ruling body, authority or power, realm

4. Period of authority, reign, tenure of office
as in a reign can only last as long as peace

and trees are planted and grow
5. Widespread hibiscus tree

6. Dew as in “Ka pakari te ‘au i teia poÌ„ noÌ„ te marino”
there will be heavy dew tonight because it’s calm

And finally after peace, power and watered trees, an edible fish
7. Name of a fish two feet long, blackish in deep water, a large wrasse

Three Homonyms of Hau

“Hau” in Penrhyn or Tongareva
spoken on the Cook Islands means peace
with three homonyms
1. Coconut husk or lashing
2. Hibiscus trees
3. To be peaceful, be in peace, be settled
definitions all of “hau”

On Webonary, another multi-lingual dictionary with a host of African and Asian languages, we can learn about words that are similar and different in languages that live side by side. Here is the word for peace in several African languages of Kenya and Tanzania.

Nourishing Peace in West Africa

“Omulembe kulia okundi”
peace nourishes on peace
a proverb by the Luhya people
of Western Kenya
peace nourishes on peace
but what first nourished peace
we have to “raka omulembe” plant peace
where ever we go

“Omorembe” is peace spoken in Ekegusii or Kisii
in the Nyanza province of Kenya
“omulembe” peace in Wanga
the language of the Abaluyia of Western Kenya
“kalyet” in Kalenjin
“Thayu” in Kikuyu
and “Amani” in Swahili

In neighboring Tanzania
“Omorembe” is peace in Ikizu
and “Omurembe” peace in Kabwa

The AbaWanga people of Western Kenya
have planted a tree of peace
locally called the “Omurembe” tree
or “Erythrina abyssinica” used in community
in peace ceremonies

All these words hold peace
and in Wanga “Okhuhotseresia” means all these things:
quiet, soothe, calm,
tame, pacify
and make peace

Sunset Calm Pregnancy

In Luwanga there is a word
describing the setting of the sun
“okhuyera” a verb meaning to alight or settle
to set the way the sun dips below the horizon
to calm down

“Inda” means stomach or abdomen
in this Kenyan language
put the two words together
you get something seemingly
quite different

“Okhuyera inda” a phrase that means to conceive a child
to become pregnant
as if with pregnancy the sun sets on a era of existence
only to rise on another
as we settle into a life with children

Panlex is another form of online dictionary putting words into a one to one translation but a little searching can turn up lots of synonyms. For example, the word “peace” is translated into several hundred languages but if you look to translate “peace” into English it lists (from computer translations) the following words as synonyms, which means some of these meanings are held in other languages which are then back translated into English:

“Peace” can mean … accord, adore, agreement, allayment, amity, armistice, assurance, be on good terms, be well, bliss, break, breather, bye, bye-bye, calm, calmness, celebration, ciao, comfort, compact, completeness, composure, compromise, conclude peace, concord, confidence, conformity, consensus, contentedness, coolness, coordination, dwelling, ease, equanimity, exhort, friendliness, friendship, good, good health, good luck, grace, happiness, harmonics, harmonious, harmoniousness, harmony, heartsease, hello, hush, inner peace, integrity, joy, justice, keeping, leisure, make peace, mild, mildly, order, pacification, peace and quiet, peace of mind, peace treaty, peaceful, peacefulness, peacetime, perfection, placid, placidity, pleasant, pleasantness, poise, preach, public security, quiet, quietism, quietness, quietude, rapprochement, reconciliation, relaxation, repose, residence, resignation, rest, safe, safety, sang-froid, satisfaction, security, sedateness, serenity, silence, silent, smoothness, still, stillness, tranquil, tranquility, truce, welfare, and well-being.

Imagine some computer crawling across the web finding all the places where words are written in dictionaries, on blogs, and in scholarly papers. The computer searches all the ways English words (with a few French and Italian words in common English usage) are defined. This dictionary makes for a great acrostic poem tool.

There are several other jam-packed dictionary sites specific to the languages of a particular region.

Native American Languages at First Voices

Smaller European Dialects and Languages at Lexilogos

Austronesian and Oceanic languages in the Austronesian Comparative Dictionary

Anteŋ Sweet and Peaceful as a Child

“AnteÅ‹” means still, calm and quiet
in Proto-Western-Malayo-Polynesian

In Malay (Jakarta) “anteÅ‹” is gentle and quiet
said of children who play without disturbing their elders

In Sundanese “anteÅ‹” is calm and peaceful
still or quiet, sweet as a child

In Old Javanese “anteÅ‹” is quiet, calm
or means to work steadily

In Madurese “anteÅ‹” is still, calm and quiet
as in one who is not speaking much

In Makasarese “antaÅ‹” is to be still
keep quiet, remain or reside

Side by side the words live near other languages, sometimes immigrating, sometimes barricading themselves within the borders of the life they have taken on, but always living in the hearts and minds of the ones who love them.

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See yourself in the pattern. As a 28-year-old photographer, Kimberly Burnham appreciated beauty. Then an ophthalmologist diagnosed her with a genetic eye condition saying, “Consider life, if you become blind.” She discovered a healing path with insight, magnificence, and vision. Today, a poet and neurosciences expert with a PhD in Integrative Medicine, Kimberly’s life mission is to change the global face of brain health. Using health coaching, Reiki, Matrix Energetics, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, and energy medicine, she supports people in their healing from nervous system and chronic pain issues. A current project is writing dictionary poems designed to enhance brain health, memory, creativity, and compassion. Her most recent book, Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, a Daily Brain Health Program is available at http://www.NerveWhisperer.Solutions.

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