Frank Bures compares words in other languages to icebergs:
The basic meaning is visible above the surface, but we can only guess at the shape of the vast chambers of meaning below. And every language has particularly hard-to-translate terms, such as the Portuguese saudade, or “the feeling of missing someone or something that is gone,” or the Japanese ichigo-ichie, meaning “the practice of treasuring each moment and trying to make it perfect.” Linguists refer to the distance between these words and their rough translations as a lacuna, which comes from the Latin word for “pool” or “lake.” There’s a space we need to swim across to reach the other side.
Not everyone feels this way:
A few years ago, a French businessman and thinker named Jean-Paul Nerriere noticed a trend among non-native English speakers he encountered at meetings: They were using a stripped-down version of the language, and they could communicate more easily with each other than with native English speakers. It was as if they had found a way to drain all the lacunas and meet on a tiny island where only the most utilitarian words would be needed.
Alex Ross points out that John Cage once defined music as “the art of listening to other people,” and there’s no better way to be. Language has always felt like that to me: when you’re listening to an unfamiliar language, there’s an art to it that isolates the absolutely concrete sounds so they emerge as essential. Like squinting at a piece of art. Or taking a piece through a crushing editorial process. Each has ways of closing up the lacunas.