Whorfian tourism

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We've often seen how pop-Whorfian depictions of linguistic difference rely on the facile "no word for X" trope — see our long list of examples here. Frequently the trope imagines a vast cultural gap between Western modernity and various exotic Others. The latest entry comes via Ron Stack, who points us to this television commercial from the Aruba Tourism Authority (reported by MediaPost). In the commercial, Ian Wright, the British host of the adventure tourism show "Globe Trekker," learns from an Aruban fisherman that the local creole language, Papiamento, has no word for "work-related stress."

Needless to say, English doesn't seem to have a single word for "work-related stress" either, and a Papiamento translation-equivalent would no doubt form a similarly unremarkable noun phrase. But that's beside the point for the purposes of luring stressed-out Western tourists to the "happy island" of Aruba. I'd wager that Aruba is in fact as stress-free as, say, Fiji is pollutant-free.


  1. groki said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 11:32 am

    English doesn't seem to have a single word for "work-related stress"

    better get ready for a deluge of Aruban tourists!

  2. Daniel Ezra Johnson said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 11:49 am

    In recent years Aruba is most famous for a murder, so I'd agree with you.

  3. Faldone said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 11:52 am

    English doesn't seem to have a single word for "work-related stress"

    I bet Japanese does. If we're going to prepare ourselves for a deluge of tourists they'll probably be Japanese.

  4. richard howland-bolton said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    Bit OT, but has anyone commented on the Worfian significance of the word 'Whorfian' residing (no doubt rather nervously) between 'whoreson' and 'whoring' in the OED?

  5. David said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

    I'd still pick Aruba over any NE US destination as a place to relax.

  6. Toma said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

    Not a single word, but we do have "a case of the Mondays." Otherwise, "malaise" works for me on a Thursday afternoon.

  7. Randall said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

    This post made me think along the same lines as Faldone: Japanese has a word for "working oneself to death," right? While English doesn't? Does that mean that we English-speakers can't imagine the concept?

  8. Dan Lufkin said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

    I'm off to Bonaire, two islands east of Aruba, for a little diving next week. Both the water and the Papiamentu are purer on Bonaire and I can't recall anybody ever getting murdered.

    I'll check with my informants, but I think that ansiedat de trabou would get the idea across. (100% Spanish behind the island spelling.) What makes Papiamentu interesting isn't its vocabulary, it's the pared-down grammar — typical Creole. I have a hard time applying Whorf to grammar.

  9. Jonathan said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

    @ Dan Lufkin
    No murder on Bonaire? Better not read about Marlies van der Kouwe, killed on Bonaire in Sep 2008! Story here

  10. Geraint Jennings said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    @Toma: English doesn't seem to have a single word for "malaise" :-)

  11. Rubrick said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    The video seems to be set to auto-play, which is a tad impolite.

    [(bgz) Sorry about that — changed it to "click to play."]

  12. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

    Here the invocation of the no-word-for-X cliche almost seems like an editing glitch in the script. The tourist first learns how to say "one happy island," but certainly does not seem surprised that it should be a three-word NP in Papiamento, just as it is in English. Then he asks how to say work-related stress — and you'd think in context he'd be willing to accept an NP rather than insist on a single word. The subsequent "there must be a word for it" seems like a bit of a non sequitur.

    Although for the phenomenon in the opposite direction, the low-stress activity or lack thereof called "liming" in West Indian versions of English typically requires a multi-word paraphrase in more northerly dialects.

  13. tudza said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

    I was watching History Detectives on PBS and some lady claimed there is no word in one or more or all, unclear which she meant, Native American languages for "art".

    Comments on that?

  14. Mark F. said,

    September 23, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

    I know I repeat myself, but it's only Whorfian if you think "they can't entertain the concept because they don't have a word for it." I doubt that most users of the "No words for Y" snowclone are really claiming that. I think they mean "those people must not talk about Y as much as we do or else they'd have a word for it." (And of course it generally turns out that the people in question really do have a word for Y. It takes real rhetorical clumsiness to use the expression in a case where English doesn't have a word for it.)

  15. H.B.B Noizzz! said,

    September 24, 2010 @ 1:49 am

    @ Faldone

    There's even a nice short one for 'death from overwork' – 過労死(か・ろう・し / ka – rou – shi).

  16. fs said,

    September 24, 2010 @ 4:34 am

    But Japanese is highly agglutinative, so that's pretty unremarkable. In fact, I can break it down into its three morphemes for you: 過 = excess, 労 = labour, 死 = death. Other words ending with the same morpheme: 相対死 double suicide, 圧死 death by being crushed, 安楽死 death by euthanasia, 縊死 death by hanging, 餓死 death by starvation, 討死 being killed in action, 煙死 death by vaporous suffocation, 怪死 mysterious death, 客死 dying abroad, 仮死 asphyxiation, 渇死 death by thirst, 感電死 death by electrocution, 狂死 death while insane, 擬死 feigned death, 業務上過失致死 death by professional negligence, 恋死 dying of love, 獄死 death in imprisonment, 自然死 natural death, 出血死 death by exsanguination, etc. – the list goes on and on (these are taken from JMdict).

  17. S. Norman said,

    September 24, 2010 @ 9:45 am

    >English doesn't seem to have a single word for "work-related stress"


  18. Dan Lufkin said,

    September 24, 2010 @ 11:25 am

    FWIW, Papiamentu usually doesn't distinguish between "slave" and "captive": katibu. (And Middle English assumed that slaves were Slavs.)

  19. H.B.B. Noizzz said,

    September 28, 2010 @ 11:13 pm

    @ fs – I know that, just giving an example for Mr. Faldone. No need to break it down for me. That being said, that feature is one of my favorite shortcuts in Japanese. Don't know a word? Stick some kanji with the appropriate meanings together and use the on'yomi, and you're probably there.

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