Bir Elin Nesi Var, Iki Elin Sesi Var — Turkish Proverb

Main Piece: 

Bir elin nesi var, iki elin sesi var.


What’s wrong with one hand.

Full Translation: 

Informant: So all this means is um, it means that a person alone can’t do anything. Like one hand alone can’t make sound, but if you have two hands you can clap. And all that means is if you’re alone, you can’t do much, and you’ll need more people to help you with like, bigger, more daunting problems in life.

Collector (me): So is it like learning how to work together? Is that the gist of it?

Informant: I’d also say it’s about being more open and accepting, I guess. 


My informant is one of my friends from high school, and is of Turkish heritage. Growing up, he often remembered hearing various Turkish sayings and narrative stories from his parents and extended family. He told me that this was a saying often directed to him growing up, and while he couldn’t find the words to provide a full translation, he tried to explain the meaning behind the proverb. To him, this proverb means learning not to try and do everything on your own, which he admits has been something he’s fallen into the habit into as the semester carries on. 


This piece was provided by my informant when I was asking him about the kinds of Turkish folklore he grew up hearing. I listed various examples, and even mentioned the Turkish riddles that we studied in lecture, but he wasn’t familiar with them, and instead provided a saying that he knew of.


What immediately caught my attention to this proverb is that I’ve heard so many different versions of it— In Spanish, English, etc, and I think it speaks a lot to the way that folklore is composed of multiplicity and variation, even across entire cultures! I thought it was interesting how this version used the clapping gesture as a metaphor to explain what two people can accomplish if one person allows them to help. What I liked about the construction about this proverb is that the clapping sound could be representative of praise, or celebration— and since this saying is about allowing others to help you accomplish difficult tasks, I think it’s symbolizing the rewards you’ll get later in life after you learn to be accepting of help. During this time we’re going thorough, I think it’s especially important to keep in mind that we’re not going through these struggles on our own, and that things will get better if we let others lend a hand.