“Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Ninth of Nine Articles

As the great translation theorist, Rosemary Arrojo, shared at a translation conference in Amherst, Massachusetts in 2010, translation is a way of living between and among languages and cultures. For Arrojo, translation is a position and movement at points of cultural intersection that is most similar to the Spanish and Portuguese word “entre,” which invokes ‘between’ and ‘among’ simultaneously. Continue reading ““Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Ninth of Nine Articles”

“Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Eighth of Nine Articles

It becomes apparent that I’m not able to write chronologically (nor in one language) about this word saudade because it takes me back in time, to the first experience hearing and learning the language in Bahia, to classrooms where I would talk about the word at the University of Massachusetts, to Salvador, all of the moments referring to each other. There are endless reflections and memories as the past translates itself into the present: Continue reading ““Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Eighth of Nine Articles”

“Idioma, Memória, e as Fronteiras da Saudade” | Sétimo de Nove Artigos

Na Bahia, onde estudei e trabalhei por um tempo, as pessoas sempre me perguntavam sobre a minha fascinação pela língua portuguesa. E eu sempre respondia o mesmo, “Quem não pode amar esta língua belíssima que tem o som do mar?” Verdade, respondiam, “mas por quê o Brasil então?” E também sempre respondia o mesmo, “foi a música, foi Clara Nunes e Gilberto Gil, foi o que eu ouvia na minha infância.” E era verdade: eu ouvia a música do Brasil bem novinho, na nossa casa de uma rua sem saída, de terra batida, de rio e ladeiras e mato.

Continue reading ““Idioma, Memória, e as Fronteiras da Saudade” | Sétimo de Nove Artigos”

“Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Sixth of Nine Articles

The word nostalgia comes from the Greek “nostos”: a return, which in turn implies a place and a time, perhaps a homeland. Nostalgia, in that way, can imply a homeland one is separated from, a lost land, a condition of exile, of (forced) movement. But, of course, it also can be a fleeting emotion that registers at various levels of the heart and spirit. Continue reading ““Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Sixth of Nine Articles”

Signage, Placas, Poder | Bilingual Encounters

Pensei em titular este post: “Conseguir, poder, abilities e poderes,” or something along the lines of ‘ways, abilities, and directional literacy.’ Maybe not that funny, though. No, definitely not funny. I need help with a title! Comments, comentários! Continue reading “Signage, Placas, Poder | Bilingual Encounters”

“Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Fifth of Nine Articles

For those of you just joining the series… I’m tracing the contours of the Portuguese word-universe saudade, remembering that particular word and how I came across it, and also  remembering (in bouts of nostalgia) my own childhood surrounded, though unknowingly, by the sound of Brazilian music. The word and experience of ‘saudade’ was in that music that crossed all types of boundaries, the luck of international recording deals, to arrive on my father’s record player in a very small town.


And there I am, probably around age six, on that dead end, dirt road in the middle of nowhere where I was partially raised by dogs, back to the sounds of my father’s record collection. You see, in a place like that, you travel through sound as a means of survival and to escape absolute boredom. Continue reading ““Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Fifth of Nine Articles”

“Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Fourth of Nine Articles

Certain smells carry me back to exact moments in time like very few things can. Memory sequences and even memories of dreams from years prior, perhaps because of the dog upbringing, are sharpest when activated by a familiar scent. Yet this particular word saudade, repeated across Lusofonia and used with such frequency that it was constantly visualized in my mind, became a kind of threshold or time travel device. It’s rhythm and cadence, at least that of Salvador which is the Portuguese I know, seems to carry me as far and as quickly as the smell of dendê cooking on the corners.

From the gorgeous woman I wanted to marry, to my friend who taught me the language of coconuts, to the language instructors in São Paulo and Bahia, to the fragments of sorrow and joy announcing themselves each time I heard the word saudade in Bahia’s streets, a rhythm was stirring in me. And the sound of that word itself conjures the movement of tides, undulating vowels opening and closing, the second ‘a’ seemingly locked between two consonants breathed like a wave crashing under a full moon. All of this suddenly transported me back in time, to childhood.


The melodies and words are tuning in as if I am readjusting a radio antenna, registering sound that was always being transmitted but that I was somehow not hearing. “Êta, samba, cai pra lá, cai pra cá, cai pra lá, cai pra cá,” to “Vai minha tristeza e diz a ela que sem ela não pode ser, diz-lhe numa prece que ela regresse porque eu não posso mais sofrer,” the remembered sound of the needle hitting the vinyl, settling between tracks, “são as águas de Março fehando o verão, é a promessa de vida,” the imagined sound of a dial moving, “Ninguém ouviu um soluçar de dor no canto do Brasil, um lamento triste sempre ecoou desde que o índio guerreiro foi pro cativeiro e de lá cantou…”

Continue reading ““Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Fourth of Nine Articles”

“Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Third of Nine Articles

I surmised, musing the statements of a possible inclusive saudade made by my friend and imagined wife and despite the declarations made by the guardians of language instruction, that there may be a key moment of metaphysics (a turning point, of sorts) in which, after years of living in Bahia, the Portuguese language soaks deeply enough into one’s psyche that the heart and soul of even a non-“native” speaker can feel saudade and live in that beautiful, expansive, nostalgic torment.

Continue reading ““Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Third of Nine Articles”

“Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Second of Nine Articles

When my friend said that word, saudade, my mind raced to the beautiful woman (who only in my mind became my wife) and then to the Portuguese classes I had taken in Brazil over a decade ago.

It was then that the instructor-guardians of language at USP and UFBA, along with others I had come across at bus stops, light conversation somehow always moving into the theme of saudade, made declarations in distinct iterations, unified only by their firm stance on the untranslatable: ‘saudade, or saudades in the plural form, is a word that only exists in Portuguese, it’s something only Brazilians can feel, there is no other word for saudade, nothing compares to it, there is no translation and no equivalent term in any other language.’

The decree had a nation (‘but wasn’t Portuguese one of the most-widely spoken languages on earth,’ I remember thinking, ‘didn’t Amália Rodrigues’s Casa Portuguesa and the Fado tradition embody it?’), but somehow answering those questions didn’t really matter to me. And somehow it also didn’t really matter to me that I may or may not have been included in this unique capacity to experience saudade.

One never knows, I certainly do not try to, and I, as a person, was far less interesting than this word saudade that represents something so deep inside of Brazilian (and perhaps human) experience that it resembles a kind of homeland and also a homeland with finite borders.
Written in English by Jacob Dyer Spiegel, this is the Second of Nine Articles on “Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade.” There are many more articles on language, culture, and translation themes on the SiroccoBlue Facebook Page. Please check it out and “Like” it!