DOES the word ``peace'' mean the same thing to an American, a Russian, or a Nigerian? When speakers of various languages were asked about their respective words for ``peace,'' they gave some surprising answers. When Russians say ``mir,'' they are using a word that also means ``village,'' ``community,'' ``world,'' and ``universe.'' It enters into the hopeful expression, ``Peace will triumph over war.'' The word evokes universality and oneness to a greater degree than does its English counterpart. One native professor of Russian puts it this way: ``I think the Russian word has deep Eastern connections which Western civilization does not comprehend. Whether the Russians recognize this is another matte r.''
In Swahili, ``salama'' means ``without harm to soul or body,'' and is used to say not only ``Go in peace,'' but ``Sleep in peace.'' Korean has not only ``Go in peace,'' but also ``Stay in peace.''
The German word is ``der Friede,'' which one native professor of German sees as enlivened by its phonetic resemblance to ``Freude'' (joy) and to the long vowel in the English word. As in many Western cultures, the word often occurs in a religious context and, more recently, it has become embodied in the Peace Movement (Friedens-bewegung ). Germans still use an expression which English encounters only in religious liturgies -- ``Friede sei mit dir/euch'' M DUL (Peace be with you). And they sometimes do something ``um des lieben Friedens willen'' (for the sake of peace).
The Chinese ``h'e ping'' breaks into ``harmony'' (h'e ) and ``the absence of strife'' (ping ). Like Chinese, the language Malay often combines ``aman'' (no wars) with ``damai'' (harmony), ``aman-damai'' signifying a state of peace and harmony among nations or individuals.
Arabs greet each other with ``As-salaam,'' the most frequently heard word in the language. It may be accompanied by a raised hand in different gestures for situations. Its variations in form are interesting in themselves: ``As-silm'' is peace contrasted with war; ``As-salaama'' is security; and the very word for Islam is ``Al-islaam,'' which means ``pacifying.''
Speakers of Thai and Hungarian also use their respective words for peace in greetings. The former have ``San-ti'' and ``San-ti-parp.'' Hungarian yields a number of beautiful phrases like ``asend es beke'' (silence and peace) and ``a beke homa'' (the home of peace, i.e., heaven). Moreover, Hungarians have retained their old greetings ``beke veled'' (Peace be with you) and ``Menj bekevek'' (Go with peace), as well as ``Bekeneges
jo estet'' (Peaceful good evening). They have a special form (Bekesseg ) for poetry and literature.
The Japanese word ``hei-wa'' has a curious relatively brief history. It is never used as a greeting nor to describe nature. In daily living, it denotes a state of harmonious relations marked by unity and calm applied to one's thinking and to family, community, and nations. It is incorporated in the ringing slogan ``Sekai no heiwa no tome ni wo shimashou'' (Let's do it for world peace).
Hawaiians have not only several words for the concept (maluhia, ku'i kahi, mahie, and lai, among others), they dance it in the hula. It is seen especially in nature, when things are in harmony with each other. The dance has a number of gestures for peace but no separate symbol: The same gesture represents the calming of a raging sea, love, and people at peace. At all times, the word contains the notion of happiness with one's self. The language has produced a saying that brings u s back to fundamentals: ``It is well to be united in thought that all may have peace.''
The Spanish language resounds with occurrences of ``paz,'' the meaning sometimes assuming a particular coloration according to circumstance. For example, a saddened, freedom-loving Chilean recently defined it not only as tranquillity and quiet but ``the right to lead your own life as it pleases you.'' Another respondent recalled ``the old times,'' when a father from a Spanish village might address a departing son with ``Ve en paz'' (Go in peace).
The language has generated expressions like ``dar paz'' (to give peace), ``venir en son de paz'' (to come with peaceful intentions), ``decir con paz'' (to say something without insulting), and the ancient blessing, ``la paz sea en esta casa'' (May peace be upon this house). It enters into numerous noun and adjective phrases like ``gente de paz,'' (friendly people) and ``amante de la paz'' (peace-loving). There is the humorous idiom ``no dar paz a la lengua'' (not to give one's tongue any peace) for someone who can't stop talking, as well as the proverb, ``El respeto al dercho ajeno es la paz'' (The respect of others' rights brings peace). Finally, in many parts of Latin America, when someone has paid off a debt, the person, in a show of relief, raises the right hand and utters, ``Estamos en paz'' (We are at a peace, we are quits).
Edith Levy, a linguist and survivor of the Holocaust, says that ``the word `Shalom' is an integral part of modern Hebrew. It reflects the yearning of a people who have not known any real peace in a homeland for two millennia. It therefore permeates all facets of life itself, and its usage can be found as much in the home, at the marketplace, and at play as during prayer or in the study of ancient biblical texts.''
``The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary,'' by Reuben Alcalay, lists approximately 80 idiomatic expressions using the word ``Shalom'' in its direct or derived form. It is found in a whole series of greetings like ``Shalom leche'' (Peace unto you), ``Mah Shlomche? (How are you?), ``Lech l'shalom'' (Go in peace), and ``Tsehtcha d'shalom'' (Bon voyage). It is the jewel in certain biblical quotations like ``Shalom, shalom, v'ain shalom!'' M DNM(Peace, peace, when there is no peace!'' -- Jer. 6:14).
The human heart yearns for peace and talks about that aspiration in different ways. On rare occasions hearts and languages meet as when, at the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin proclaimed, ``No more wars, no more bloodshed. Peace unto you. Shalom, salaam, forever.''
Let us cling to a thought so beautifully expressed in Yoruba, ``Alafia lo ju ohun gbogbo lo'' -- Peace is the greatest virtue. Our leaders would do well to ponder the Malay proverb, ``Negara aman, rakyet makmur'' -- a peaceful country gives its people a good happy life.
Joseph A. Murphy is a professor of language education at West Virginia University.