Psychic Phenomena and the Hazards of Translation

Language is not an appendage of existence. It is but the most profound biological structure from which behavior, including speech is derived.

Y.T. Rakhawy

Language is not an appendage of existence. It is but the most profound biological structure from which behavior, including speech is derived. While psychic phenomena are lived profoundly in direct relation to the basic language structure, the psychological and psychiatric scientific studies used to use translated expressions, which carry a risk of reductionism and alienation from our actual existence.

Taking emotions as an example, we used to import rather than translate a word from a different language where it carries a specific definition and connotation. We also proceed using a structured imported methodology, which sometimes results in redundant alienating conclusions.

Sooner or later this foreign body-imported data become more and more imprinted and remodeled, and ultimately invade our deeper biologic (language) structure. In other words, we become reduced to fit the limitations of the foreign word instead of branching to actualize our endless open potentials.

If we are to avoid such hazards, we have to rearrange matters in a trial to re-put the horse in front of the cart. We need to start from our very language structure impregnated in our history, and coded and programmed in our constitutional biology. Then, and only then, we have to proceed with the appropriate tool to uncover and discover what lies beyond.

For instance, starting from an Arabic word like WIJDAN we notice that its meaning changes enormously according to the preposition preceding or following it. It has been believed that this word is the proper translation of the English word “affect”. This is the least true. The Arabic word “WIGDAN” could mean to “find”. It also refers to “sadness”, “anger”, “love” and “hate.” It is still related to the verbs to “create” and to “enrich or “to enlarge.” In other word, “WIGDAN” seems to include connotations having affective, motivating and cognitive implications at the same time.

So, starting from our language structure and considering what the word “WIGDAN” could refer to, we would have been able to approach a complex phenomenon where cognitive, affective and creative aspects are included. 

This is also true when we consider another Arabic word describing sadness and related phenomena. For instance, the English word “depression” has been translated for some reason or another to the Arabic word “IKTIAAB”. The more inclusive mother Arabic word “HOZN” has its positive active aspect, as well as its painful handicapping bearings. It is also related to another word “HAMM” which is in turn partly related to certain volitional inclinations. All such aspects are not included in the currently used word “depression”.

However, the restrictions and complications imposed by the use of some narrow concepts are not the least confined to the scientific or professional language. Unfortunately, they have also invaded our everyday life, which endangers, beyond doubt, our deep language (emotional, existential, etc.) structure.

To conclude, we need to start from our language’s inspiration, which represents our deepest biological structure. Accordingly, we can construct the appropriate research tool to ultimately discover and promote our own existence with consideration, appreciation and respect of the others’ existences. As such, we can go parallel to and not separate from the others’ objective efforts and creative activities and existence.


Y.T. El-Rakhawy

Egypt. J. Psychiat. (1987) 10: 9-10

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