A look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.
Yahgan – 1? – Chile and Argentina (Tierra del Fuego)
Actually the gloss popularized is just one possible meaning. The form is analyzed as ma(m)- reciprocal, iləpi 'be ambivalent', -ən-at- 'get into a state', -aːpai dual.
The dictionary compiler (the Rev. Thomas Bridges, who was fluent in Yahgan) often simply put down possible usages as glosses, which later readers misinterpret as fixed definitions. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamihlapinatapai
Source: Yamana-English Dictionary (https://archive.org/details/YAMANA-ENGLISHA )
Credit: Jess Tauber
Take care of your own parents, in recognition of all the care they've given you in your younger years.
Mwotlap – 2,100 speakers – Vanuatu (Motalava Island, Banks Group)
The verb vakasteg alone means ‘take care of a weak person: a child, a person who is sick, disabled or elderly…’
By adding the suffix -lok ‘back, in return’, we get the meaning ‘take care of a weak person in return (for what they did for us in the past)’.
This is an important concept in Mwotlap culture: we should give back our respect and care to those who helped us when we needed it. This is how a society can hold together from generation to generation.
Source: François, Alexandre (2017). A Mwotlap-French-English Dictionary. Electronic files. Paris, LACITO-CNRS. (http://tiny.cc/Mtp-E-F-dict)
Credit: Alex François
A divorced or widowed woman who has remained independent despite still being of marriageable age.
Hausa – 40+ million speakers – Nigeria, Niger, and neighbouring countries.
This word is often translated as "free woman", "femme libre" or as "prostitute", "harlot" (Google Translate, R.C. Abraham, Dictionary of the Hausa Language.) These translations are either too vague, or too specific and derogatory.
Source: orthography: Roxana Ma Newman, A Hausa-English Dictionary. Yale University Press. 1990. IPA transcription and translation: personal field notes; transcription verified using Schuh & Yalwa "Hausa" in Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Credit: Will Leben
be reflected in, e.g. `Abac is reflected in her daughter'.
Shilluk – 175,000 speakers – Sudan and South Sudan
This verb is similar to English resemble, except the way we interpret subject and object is reversed: the subject is the source of the resemblance, not the reflection.
This can be seen from the following example, where Abac is the subject.
ábác ɲāaar-ɛ̄ á-càaal-ɛ̀
Abac daughter-3S PAST-be.reflected-3SG
'Abac is reflected in her daughter.'
As Fillmore (1977:74) said "Languages, and lexical items, differ in interesting ways in the options they present in taking particular perspectives on complex scenes."
Credit: Bert Remijsen and Otto Gwado Ayoker (field notes)
Tear something open with the foot.
Lakhota – 6,000 speakers – USA (North and South Dakota)
Lakota verbs have obligatory prefixes that specify the body part or motion that is responsible for the action.
Source: Rising Voices (0:20:45), Robert Rankin. 2005. Quapaw. In Native languages of the Southeastern United States, 454-498. University of Nebraska Press.
Credit: Steven Bird, David Rood
Powered by a monstrous supernatural porcupine-like creature.
Nuu-chah-nulth, Nootka – 130 speakers, Canada (Vancouver Island)
This word is made from two parts:
šiˑšaˑwiˑɬ: supernatural porcupine-like creature.
-taqyo: powered by, having shamanistic power derived from.
Source: Nootka texts; tales and ethnological narratives (Edward Sapir and Morris Swadesh, 1978) pages 253, 283, 329 (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001009910)
Credit: Anthony Woodbury
Someone who hasn't mastered the art of rolling over in a kayak.
Greenlandic, Kalaallisut – 57,000 speakers, Greenland, USA (Alaska), Canada
This word can be broken down as follows:
makittaq -a -nngit -soq
makittaq -qar -nngit -toq -0
rising -have -not -intrans -absolutive.singular
be unable to get upright
Source: Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1:04:58).
Credit: Steven Bird, Anthony Woodbury