This contribution to the blog series “Vigipedia” concerns the Akkadian verb ḫarādu, which may be defined as ‘to be(come) awake’ but also as ‘to be(come) alert, vigilant’, and its derived adjective ḫardu and abstract noun ḫarduttu. At the same time, this entry also aims to encourage people to contribute expressions and references to this or related concepts (vigilance, surveillance, attention, etc.) from other languages and cultures to the blog.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire existed for some 300 years between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE. Its heartland was located in what is now northern Iraq and, at its greatest extent, it controlled much of the Middle East. The administration of the empire was carried out primarily in the Assyrian dialect of Akkadian, a Semitic language. Akkadian was recorded using the cuneiform script, a writing system that used wedge-shaped characters to represent words and syllables. Many of these ancient texts, inscribed on clay tablets or stone objects, have survived until the present day.
1. Semantic range (lexicographic)
The semantic range of the Akkadian verb ḫarādu is fairly broad, and, depending on context, may be translated as – so the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary– ‘to wake up, to be alert, to keep watch’1. These definitions pertain to the Grundstamm (G-stem) or ‘basic stem’ of the verb. As is typical in the Semitic languages, of which Akkadian is one, other derived stems of the verb are attested. In the case of ḫarādu, the verb is also used in the D-stem, the infinitive of which has a doubled middle radical, ḫurrudu, and in the N-stem, whose infinitive has a prefixed n, naḫrudu. The D-stem is often factitive in meaning, while the N-stem is often passive in meaning. This holds true for ḫarādu, with the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary defining the D-stem ḫurrudu as ‘to put on the alert’ and the N-stem naḫrudu as ‘to be alerted’.
(Click here for a Burmese translation. Translator: Nu Nu Lusan.)
The opening scenes of Burma Spring 21 are deafening. They show citizens and residents of Burma protesting the February 2021 coup d’état by banging pots and pans from their windows and on the streets. Since the 1830s, when opponents of Louis Philippe I of France banged pots against his regime, it has become a key form of political protest across the world. In Burma, as commentators have pointed out, it is also a “traditional ritual way” to ward off evil spirits. “Let’s bang pans and pots tomorrow to drive away the evil dictatorship,” urged the anti-coup Civil Disobedience Movement on July 3, 2021, the birthday of the Junta’s chief General Min Aung Hlaing. In the Burmese news website The Irrawaddy’s analysis, banging pots and pans in Burma has had, in this regard, “a mystical as well as a political purpose.” But there is a purpose thereof that has been largely neglected by scholars, pundits, and political commentators. The “new sound” of the Burmese protests has served to alert one’s fellow neighbors of the arrival of policemen and soldiers often in the dead of the night.
“You have to stay trucha in Tijuana,” the tour guide explains while taking a group — all holders of privileged passports — South on a day tour across the border from San Diego. What if someone stole your passport and later committed a crime on US soil? You’d be in trouble for the rest of your life.
Why would the Anglophone guide say trucha, Spanish for “trout”, in his cautionary advice? Global media coverage has made one example of trucha used in this sense quite famous: the name of a multinational street gang originating in Central America, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). Interpreted as a standard Spanish expression, the attribute salvatrucha may be mistaken as meaning “saving trout” (with salva meaning ‘save’ and trucha meaning ‘trout’). In Mesoamerican colloquial speech, however, the intended label “shrewd Salvadorians” is relatively clear, not least because trucha in its usage as an adjective is an everyday term in regional Spanish.
Hybrid English-Spanish expressions like “staying trucha” or “being trucha”, which are common among the Chicano/a population in the US, indicate that the meaning of the loan element trucha doesn’t have an adequate semantic counterpart in English. Loosely translatable as “alert, shrewd, sharp, vigilant, watchful, on one’s toes”, trucha operates on several levels of meaning: an individual’s momentary stance, an individual’s behavior of constant watchfulness, as well as a habitus and even a collective cultural trait. As Alberto Pulido, professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of San Diego, asserts: “Being trucha is a way of life” (interview Feb 19th, 2020). A look at different contexts of the use of trucha may help shed some light on this claim.