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Like a Hug! For your Ears!


Like a Hug! For your Ears!

In addition to writing for TIA BELAU, I also work for 89.9 PWFM– Palau Wave Radio. I love working at the station because it let’s me listen to Palauan oldies for a better part of my day.

There’s something comforting about Palauan oldies, for me at least. Songs like “Bamboo Inn” and “Pearl Lounge” are like auditory hugs– they do for my ears what my favorite teddy bear does when I cuddle it and go to sleep. More than comfort, maybe it’s a security thing… The world will constantly change, people will come and go from my life– but Tatengelel will always sounds the same.

I wish I felt the same way about modern Palauan music, but sometimes it’s simply not possible. Palauan oldies were written in a different time and place– the lyrics so significantly different from lyrics today. The lyrics of old were stories with beautiful metaphors and similes that required the listener to think more and read between the lines. Modern lyrics require no guess-work. It takes the fun and artistry out of music, for me.

I just moved to Palau, and even though I have a decent grasp of the language– I’ve always relied on lyrics to teach me more about vocabulary. I learn Spanish by learning lyrics and translating them, and I apply the same technique to improving my Palauan. The problem with the method is that it doesn’t always work.

Some modern Palauan songs appear to be literal translations, from English to Palauan. In case no one sees the big problem here, let me explain: Idioms don’t always translate directly. Yes, sometimes it works beautifully and all is well with the world. But there are some words (phrases even!) that just don’t come out with the same meaning.

Try, for instance, translating “it’s raining cats and dogs”  into Palauan. In English, we can understand this to mean that it’s pouring down heavily. But when you’re discussing the weather with another Palauan and say “NG CHULL A KATUU MA BILIS” you’re going to get some raised eyebrows and confused looks.

You can imagine my confusion when I heard an otherwise nice Palauan song refer to someone’s voice as MEAIU. Per the dictionary, MEAIU is defined as “flat and smooth,” meaning it’s used to describe something tangible. So unless the singer was referring to someone’s vocal cords, I’m guessing this was a mistranslation. (They could have also meant the voice was smooth sounding, but they sing flat– but I’m pretty sure you’d use different words to describe that as well…)

I was equally confused when I heard another lyric say MECHEROAKL A RENGUK. I am, most definitely, a clumsy person. I trip on and run into everything. But I have never sprained my heart. And according to the dictionary, you can only sprain your ankle, if using the word MECHEROAKL. Defined as “(ankle) get twisted or sprained,” is pretty specific. So, again, I’m guessing this was another mistranslation from English.

So here I am, the Native Ex-Pat come home, and I’m still nose-deep in the dictionary.  I’m learning new words, even if I do say them with a ridiculously heavy American accent. I’m also listening to Kuiroy, Kiyoshi and Hideko singing “Kawaii Musume” while daydreaming of new songs that might also hug my ears.

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