Wednesday Word: Deny

This week’s blog will be a bit negative. I don’t deny it.

There is a figure of speech called litotes. You all use it without realizing it. Every time you say something like, “Not too shabby!” or, “That’s not the last place in the world I would want to live,” you are using litotes: negating the opposite. So you’re saying the opposite of what you really mean, usually for rhetorical effect.

As a translator, when I’m trying to communicate a concept into a different language, I will often run into a situation where litotes is actually necessary. The target language may not have a way to express the concept without negating the opposite.

This happens in Palawano, for example. There is no positive (non-negated) word or phrase which is equivalent to the English word “patient.” The way to express that concept in Palawano is to say that someone “does not give up easily” or “does not get exasperated quickly,” etc. “Sober” becomes “not drunk.”

On the  other hand where English has “like” and the negated “dislike,” Palawano has two different words: ireg (like) and mendi (dislike). English can double negate and say, “Well, I don’t exactly dislike him,” but Palawano cannot negate mendi.

I ran into a challenging instance of this when translating the word “deny” into Palawano. In English someone can deny that they know you, or they can not deny it. But in Palawano, to deny is expressed by diki ekuen, i.e. “not acknowledge.” It’s litotes, and there is no other option. So how can you translate the negative, that someone “should not deny” a person. Palawano will not allow the double negative, to “not not acknowledge” any more than English would.

So how would you try to do it?

It was a tough one, I don’t deny it…

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About Bill Davis

Writer, speaker and translation and language learning consultant. I write technical articles, poetry and humor, and I am working on my first novel which is set on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
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10 Responses to Wednesday Word: Deny

  1. Marilou says:

    Interesting article. I’m from the Philippines and I don’t even know Palawano. Well, I’m a language major as well (English), I just didn’t finish. LOL!! More power to you and hope to hear more from you.

    • Bill Davis says:

      Thanks, Marilou. Glad you enjoyed it. More posts coming soon. If you think of any word of language feature you would like to see on the blog, let me know!

  2. Marilou says:

    I sure will let you know. It just tickles me to be able to speak with a Linguist. I really have a deep appreciation with people who can write (spelling wise, grammar wise).

  3. Marilou says:

    I’m gonna try to find some time to read all of your posts. I am working so I don’t have a lot of idle time.

  4. Very interesting post (I’am a translator too). Is this negative marker “diki” in Palawano similiar to “tidak” in Indonesian? I mean, “tidak” is used to negate adjectives and verbs, bur not to negate nouns (in which case “bukan” must be used). Is “diki” used in the some way? Thanks in advance.

  5. Bill Davis says:

    Great question, Gonçalo!
    Yes, in Palawano, ‘Diki’ negates verbs and adjectives, like Indonesian ‘tidak.’ To negate a noun (e.g. “that’s NOT a chicken”)’ we use ‘sala’ (final stress, final glottal). As for Indonesian ‘bukan,’ where we would use ‘sala’ in our region, Central Palawano uses ‘beken’ ( being like a schwa.) sounds like ‘bukan’ and ‘beken’ are related.

  6. Thanks for your reply.

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