We all know how to say it in our mother tongue and some of us can even say it in multiple different languages. Even today, I have uttered this word numerous times, to my family, friends and to the lady in the next door shop. I’m referring to the casual everyday greeting of ‘Hello’.
You might be thinking, what is so special about the word ‘hello’? Isn’t this just a dull word?
Well, you might be surprised!
Words we use today have made a long journey through history to reach us. Just like people, they survived wars and falls of the greatest Empires. Every word is special, with its own unique history and it shapes the way we see the world. Even the simplest and more typical words like ‘hello’.
You don’t believe me? Well, here are some interesting facts about the English word ‘Hello’:
• November 21st was World Hello Day.
• Brian and Michael McCormack created World Hello Day as a response to the Yom Kippur War.
• ‘Hello’ comes to us from Old High German, ‘halâ, holâ’.
• Thomas Edison, the famous inventor, is guilty of using the word ‘hello’. Apparently, he misheard ‘hullo’ over the phone. After that, it was used exclusively for answering the phone.
You see, every word has an interesting background.
So let’s now move on to Japan.
Japan is the home of the Ainu language which is endangered. The Ainu people are today mostly concentrated in Hokkaidō, but large diaspora groups are also present outside of the island, for example in Tokyo. They are perceived as enigmatic people, surrounded with many misconceptions.
Traditionally, Ainu people do not have many ways to greet each other. There are no such things as “good morning” or “good afternoon”. The word ‘irankarapte’ is used as a way to say “hello” to people and it can be used in the morning as well as in the afternoon or in the evening. This greeting literally means something close to “let me touch your spirit”.
And what about other languages?
Bear with me, I have more examples for you. Like the Gangte language.
Gangte is an indigenous language spoken in the verdant hills of Manipur, a northeastern state referred to by Indians as The Jewel of India. Gangtes have official tribal status in Manipur, but the language is also spoken in Assam, Meghalaya, and across the border in Myanmar. In total, it is spoken by approximately 15,000 people. Although its numbers may be relatively small, it is still very much alive in the 37 villages that are officially Gangte-speaking.
So, how do we say ‘hello’ in Gangte? The answer is ‘Chibai’. Literally, it means ‘handshake’.
Lastly, I have one more example for you. Have you ever heard of the Eyak language? It’s spoken in Alaska, and in 2008, the last fluent speaker, Mary Smith Jones, died in her home in Anchorage. During her life, she worked on preserving her native tongue.
In 2001 Mary gave an interview to Dr. Michael Krauss, where, among other things, she explained the Eyak greeting ‘iishuh’.
According to Mary, ‘iishuh’ is a ‘hello’ to one person and it literally means ‘Is that you’? (You can watch the video of her explaining this: Eyak Language-Mary Smith Jones)
Now it’s your turn: tell us in the comments below, how you say ‘hello’ in your language!