The conventional wisdom is that the Portuguese term saudade doesn’t have an equivalent in any other language. But according to an entry in wikipedia, there are quasy-synonyms in several languages.
According to the Dicionário Houaiss da língua portuguesa, saudade can be described as follows (my translation):
“A somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived.”
Depending on the context, saudade can relate to the feeling of nostalgia or melancholy (melancolia in Portuguese), in which one feels an interior satisfaction because it is impossible to find something, but one never stops thinking that one is searching for it. It is an incompleteness that one unconsciously wants to never completely resolve.
I list the languages of the entry in wikipedia in alphabetical order, but a parental order among the languages would have been possible too (i.e. the Bosnian term is similar to an Arabic and Turkish term, but with different meainings. You’ll find them all listed separately).
In Albanian we can find a direct translation of saudade in the word mall. It encompasses feelings of passionate longing, sadness, and at the same time an undefined laughter from the same source. Other variations which give different nuances to this word are: përmallim, përmallje, etc.
In Arabic, the word وجد (wajd) means a state of transparent sadness caused by the memory of a loved one who is not near; it is widely used in ancient Arabic poetry to describe the state of the lover’s heart as he or she remembers the long-gone love. It is a mixed emotion of sadness for the loss, and happiness for having loved that person.
In Armenian, saudade is represented by “karot” (I’m sorry, I couldn’t find the right font to write the armenian term), which describes the deep feeling of missing of something or somebody.
The Bosnian language has a term for the same type of feeling, sevdah, which comes from the Turkish term sevda (‘love’) via Arabic sawda (‘black’), which in Turkish means “black bile.” In Bosnian language, the term sevdah represents pain and longing for a loved one. Sevdah or sevdalinke (pl) is also a genre of traditional music originating from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s a singing about bitterness, sadness, longing and love pain. These songs are very melancholic, emotionally charged and sung with passion and fervor.
In English, the verb “to pine” or ” to long” for somebody, something or some place that you miss deeply, to wish you could be there or have it again. It’s a nostalgic yearning for something that may no longer exist.
In the Finnish language the term kaiho seems to correspond very closely to saudade. It “means a state of involuntary solitude in which the subject feels incompleteness and yearns for something unattainable or extremely difficult and tedious to attain”. Curiously, the sentiment of kaiho is central to the Finnish tango. Kaiho has also religious connotations in Finland, “since the large Lutheran sect called the Awakening (Finnish herännäiset, or körttiläiset more familiarly) consider central to their faith a certain kaiho towards Zion”. Saudade does not involve tediousness. The feeling of saudade rather accentuates itself: “the more one thinks about the loved person or object, the more one feels saudade.”
Saudade relates to the French regret, in which one feels a hard sentiment, but in a nostalgic sense (cfr. in some dictionnaries saudade is described as “sentiment de nostalgie, du regret mélancolique“).
(La Mélancolie, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1532)
I would like to add another term to the wikipedia list. The Galician morriña. It describes a feeling towards the place/country we come from (“Heimweh” in German), which is very melancholic. This term entered into the Spanish language through the Gallego: “Se utiliza en español en general para describir un sentimiento de tristeza por la lejanía del lugar de donde procede uno y de aquellas cosas, objetos y situaciones que lo evocan.”
One translation of saudade into German is Wehmut (in Dutch weemoed), a form of nostalgia; or Weltschmerz, which is the “general pain caused by an imperfect state of being or state of the world”. Also Sehnsucht comes pretty close to the meaning of saudade. It’s generally translated with “yearning” or “craving” and describes a deep, bittersweet sense of something lost, missing, or unattainable. Sehnsucht can also have a more positive, goal-oriented connotation; “an “aspirational saudade” that may drive one to reclaim, pursue or define the absent something”.
The Greek word closest to saudade is νοσταλγία (“nostalgia”). Nostalgia also appears in the Portuguese language as in the many other languages with an Indo-European origin, bearing the same meaning of the Greek word νοσταλγία. There is yet another word that, like saudade, has no immediate translation in English: λαχτάρα (lakhtara). This word encompasses sadness, longing and hope, as does the term saudade.
In Hebrew, saudade can be translated by Ergah ערגה, which means yearning/longing/desire coupled with deep sadness.
The closest word to saudade in Indonesian is galau. It describes a sad feeling or mood that is felt when we miss someone. It is apparently used by the Indonesian youth today [it would be great to have some feedback about this, maybe with some context of its use] and, although the word itself may be caused by various things – such as failing an exam – the most common causes are love-related. The person feeling galau is nostalgic as well. “It can last for hours, but it is almost always temporary.”
In Japan, saudade expresses a concept similar to the Japanese word natsukashii. Although commonly translated as “dear, beloved, or sweet,” “in modern conversational Japanese natsukashii can be used to express a longing for the past.” “It connotes both happiness for the fondness of that memory and goodness of that time, as well as sadness that it is no longer. It is an adjective for which there is no fitting English translation. It can also mean “sentimental,” and is a wistful emotion. The character used to write natsukashii can also be read as futokoro 懐 [ふところ] and means “bosom,” referring to the depth and intensity of this emotion that can even be experienced as a physical feeling or pang in one’s chest—a broken heart or a heart feeling moved.”
In Korean, keurium (그리움) is probably closest to saudade. “It reflects a yearning for anything that has left a deep impression in the heart—a memory, a place, a person, etc.”
In Mongolian, betgerekh (бэтгэрэх) is closest to saudade as it describes the feeling of missing something or someone very deeply. It seems that this term is also used to determine a mental illness.
In the Romanian language, the word dor bears a close meaning to saudade. It means “longing, desire, wanting something” and can also stand for “love” or “desire”, “having a derivation in the noun dorinţă and the verb dori, both of them being translated usually by “wish” and “to wish”.”
The Slovenian language has many words espressing the feeling of “longing”: hrepeneti, koprneti, pogrešati (literally “to miss someone”), nostalgija, melanholija. The verb koprneti (“to long, yearn or languish for someone or something”) and thereof derived noun koprnenje (“yearning”) are the closest translations to saudade.
Saudade is often related to the Spanish añorar, which is defined by the Real Academia Española as “remembering [or feeling] with sadness the absence, deprivation or loss of someone or something loved”.
Llamamos saudade a un sentimiento de melancolía motivado por la ausencia de alguien o de alguna cosa, de la lejanía de un lugar, o de la falta de ciertas experiencias ya vividas. Frecuentemente en plural, la palabra se usa en varias situaciones:
– estar com saudades de alguém que vive longe (echar en falta a alguien que vive lejos)
– sentir saudades das ruas da cidade natal(echar en falta las calles de la ciudad natal)
– sentir saudades dos tempos de faculdade (echar en falta los tiempos de la universidad)
The term can also translate into the Spanish expression echar de menos, or extrañar—roughly equivalent to the Portuguese ter saudades: “missing something or someone”: ter saudades de comer uma boa feijoada (echar en falta comer una buena feijoada)
In wikipedia we can find that “in Tamil, a similar feeling of love-sickness is expressed by the word pasalai.” But I found this description of the term pasalai: Female hysteria (!) “includes symptoms of faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and “a tendency to cause trouble”.“
It would be great to have some feedback about the meaning and the use of this term in modern (and ancient) Tamil.
In Turkish, the feeling of saudade is somewhat similar to hüzün, which describe a melancholic feeling popular in art and culture “following the fall of a great empire”. However, hüzün is closer to melancholy and depression in that it is associated with a sense of failure in life and lack of initiative.
Saudade is said to be the only exact equivalent of the Welsh hiraeth and the Cornish hireth. It connotes “homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed”. It is the mix of the longing/yearning/nostalgia/wistfulness feeling.
In wikipedia is also mentioned the Torlak dialect of Bulgarian, “spoken today in the easternmost part of Serbia and the remote southern mountains of Kosovo”. “There is an expression which corresponds more closely to the Japanese and Greek examples, but can be compared to saudade in the broader sense of longing for the past. It is жал за младос(т) / žal za mlados(t) i.e., “yearning for one’s youth.” [Since the dialect has not been standardised as a written language it has various forms]. The term and the concept have been popularised in standard Serbian through short prose and plays by the fin-de-siècle writer Borisav Stanković born in Vranje .
Finally, it is interesting to see that saudade can be found also in Esperanto. It borrows the word directly, changing the spelling to accommodate Esperanto grammar, as saŭdado.
I presume that there are more languages and dialects to be added to this list and all the terms would need a proper linguistical explanation (context of use etc.). I’m not proficient in (all) the languages listed, therefore I would be very thankful for any comment at the end of the post that could help to know more about those terms in the different languages. – Thank you very much in advance!
What I found very interesting in this tour d’horizon is, that the feeling of saudade, expressed by other terms, inspires musicians in several cultures and that it’s closely related to the general sentiment of fin-de-siècle (but this will be the topic for another post).
- Saudade in literature and music (expatsincebirth.com)
- Saudade (edwardpitt.me)
- ‘Saudade’, the untranslatable word for missing something or someone… (3rdculturechildren.com)
- Saudade (forfreepsychology.wordpress.com)
- Saudade (roldeschulte.wordpress.com)