Tuesday April 17, 2012
Comings and goings
BY FADZILAH AMIN
Send does not really mean hantar, nor does follow really mean ikut. There are different nuances which don’t always translate well, so beware!
HOW would a young man ask his beloved to go and live with him amidst the bucolic greenery of his kampung? Might he draw inspiration from this poem?
“Come live with me and be my love, /And we will all the pleasures prove/ That valleys, groves, hills, and fields, /Woods or steepy mountain yields”. The shepherd is inviting his beloved to “Come live with me”, and the word “come” is used in its meaning of moving towards the speaker in order to enjoy the simple country life with the speaker. Here’s a link to the full poem: http://www.bartleby.com/106/5.html.
The poem is by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) and is titled The Passionate Shepherd To His Love. I quoted it to show how the words “come” and “go” are used in them.
You may say to a friend: “I am walking to the bookshop down the road. Would you like to come with me?” She answers: “Yes, I’d love to come with you.” It will then be quite natural for you to respond with: “Let’s go, then.” So when do we say “come” and when do we say “go”? This is the question a reader, Mary, asked me.
One is tempted to think that the answer is simple. “Coming” expresses a movement towards someone or something, and “going” expresses a movement away from someone or something. But it is not always as simple as that.
Your friend may be sitting in the same room as you when you ask her the question, and would not have to move towards you. But it is still more natural to use “come” rather than “go” in your question to her.
Let us consult a dictionary, then. The online Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus (CALD) seems the most helpful. Its first definition of “come” is “to move or travel towards the speaker or with the speaker”. In this case, your question uses “come” to ask whether your friend would like to walk with you to the bookshop. Her answer also uses “come” because it is “with you”.
However, when you say “Let’s go, then.”, you are indicating a movement away from where you both are, towards another place, which is one of the definitions of the verb “go” in the same dictionary. Let me quote that definition: “to leave a place, especially in order to travel to somewhere else.” In the sentence “Let’s go, then.”, the two of you are one unit, “us”, and no longer “you” coming with “me”.
I hope I have answered Mary’s first question indirectly, although both her questions involve phone conversations. Her second question is about the correct answer to “Are you coming home now?” This question can only be asked by someone who shares a home with the listener, perhaps her father, mother, sibling, or husband. And the word “coming” would mean “moving towards the speaker.” Of the two alternative answers Mary provides, I would have to choose “No, I am coming home later.” and NOT “No, I am going home later.” as the correct answer.
However, if the listener were at a party, someone (perhaps a dashing young man) may ask her: “Are you going home now?” This means “Are you leaving this party to go back to your house now?” And the listener may then answer: “No, I am going home later.” Dashing young man smiles!
Here’s another poem by Edmund Waller (1606–1687) which opens thus: “Go, lovely rose— /Tell her that wastes her time and me, /That now she knows, /When I resemble her to thee, /How sweet and fair she seems to be.”
Here the poet asks the rose (which is presented as a human being, or “personified”) to be his messenger to the girl whom he admires but who seems very shy. He wants the rose, itself an emblem of beauty, to tell the girl that she is sweeter and more beautiful than the rose. What is relevant to our discussion here is the poet’s use of the word “go” to tell the rose flower to leave its plant and travel to where the girl is. This is of course impossible in real life, but it is the poet’s indirect way of addressing the girl. Here’s a link to the poem: http://bartleby.com/101/305.html.
While I am on this subject of “moving towards” and “moving away from”, let me also talk about two verbs indicating movements of people that Malaysians often get wrong.
We often hear, in this country, someone saying: “I send my children to school every morning.” What he means is that he “drives” his children to school or “takes” his children to school. When we “send” someone or something somewhere, we don’t travel with the person or thing.
For example when someone “sends” his daughter to a university in Australia, it means he pays for his daughter’s fees, travel expenses, etc, while his daughter is studying at that university. But it doesn’t mean that he travelled with his daughter to the university. If he did that as well, we would say that he “accompanied” his daughter when she first enrolled at the university. He could, however “send” her a present for her birthday while she’s there, with the parcel travelling by post and not accompanied by the sender!
Perhaps many Malaysians use the word “send” inaccurately because they think it has exactly the same meaning as the BM word “hantar”, which it hasn’t. Similarly many Malaysians use the word “follow” when they mean “go with”, because they think “follow” has exactly the same meaning as the BM word “ikut”. To “follow” someone is to go after or behind someone.
Whenever a Malaysian says something like: “When my father goes to town, my mother and little sister always follow him.”, the picture conjured up in my mind is that of a man walking to town, followed at a respectful distance by a meek-looking wife and little girl. That was not an uncommon sight in the 1940s when I was a little girl myself and marriages were mostly arranged. But nowadays couples usually walk together; in other words, the wife “goes with” her husband and does not “follow” him.
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