What is love?

On Valentine’s Day we usually prepare some materials for the children at the Winanga-Li Early Learning Centre in Gunnedah, so that they can incorporate Gamilaraay language into messages of love for their parents.

2020 poster, with children’s drawings of hearts

In the past we have gone with pink hearts. But the problem is that hearts are not traditionally associated with love in Gamilaraay and related languages. In fact, gii ‘heart’ is also ‘gallbladder’, ‘bitter’ (as well as ‘blueberry’), and may be the base of the word giyal, ‘frightened’, ‘afraid’.

Family-type love

The words for positive emotions in Gamilaraay are from bina ‘ear’, e.g. binaal ‘well-behaved’ and winanga-li ‘will hear, listen, know, think, love’; and winanga-y ‘will understand, remember, know, think, love’.

Romantic love

More romantic words are based on guwiirr ‘sweet’, e.g. guwiirra ‘sweetheart’ (also ‘eucalypt manna’, ‘mallee willow’), and guwirrnga-li ‘will love, be sweet on’. Another word for ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ is gambaay.

For the children, we want to focus on the first type of love, and this year I thought we could expand the poster to a sentence. But a ‘love heart’ is so much easier to draw than ears. In the end I found a picture of an ear that I could download for our poster.

2022 poster, with ears

I am not sure that ears have the impact of pink hearts, but feedback to the poster seems to have been quite positive.

I am left with wondering why English has only one word for love. It is not a European thing; after all, the ancient Greeks had eros (romantic/sexual), philia (friends), ludus (playful), storge (family), philautia (self), pragma (long-standing), agape (for everyone), mania (obsessive), and xenia (hospitality)!

Does having only one word strengthen the meaning, or dilute it?

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