A few posts ago, I remarked that English isn’t well suited to Christian communication, but upon further reflection, I may have been a bit too tough on our Germanic-Celtic-French-Latin Frankentongue.
Most of our many, many homophones and homonyms are distracting and confusing when it comes to faith, but some are downright revelatory. And as someone who doesn’t believe in coincidences, I have to think God made it that way.
Or, at least, I like to think He likes it that way.
Let the Son Shine In
For example, in English, the word for ‘male offspring’ sounds exactly like the word for ‘that giant, glowing ball of gas around which our planet revolves.’ Consequently, while some cultures in the world worship the Sun, we Christians worship the Son (Try that transcendent little pun in any other language, folks. Can’t be done).
Linguistically, there’s very little difference between those two sentences, but …
Viva la difference!
One Bible story that seems tailor-made for English is the Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matthew 25:14-30) – but only if you use a slightly more archaic translation (the Parable of the Talents.)
In any other language, this is a parable that’s just about money, and we have to flex our symbology muscles a bit (although not much) to apply it to other resources at our disposal. But armed with my preferred translation, this story in English points directly and literally to both material wealth and the skills and abilities we should use to serve God. We don’t have to say ‘time, talents and treasures,’ we can say ‘time, talents and talents.’ Or even, ‘talents, squared – plus time.’
Armed with exactly zero expertise in any other language, it almost feels to me like this story is only fully revealed in English – a spine-tingling intersection of what appears to be random and coincidental like the one I referred to in February’s Three Sixteen Intersection (https://robpetkau.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/three-sixteen-intersection/) entry. Now, I’ve never heard a preacher point this little coincidence out before, so I’m either clever or stupid here [It’s a fine line, right, Nigel?].
Meanwhile, I think it’s pretty nifty that Saul of Tarsus is also known as Paul of Tarsus, and I think the story of his life and conversion would be less impactful for me if his two monikers didn’t rhyme. That the names are so similar but yet so different (there’s that Viva La Difference thing again) makes the contrast between the two phases of his life that much more pronounced.
Most other languages seem to pronounce and spell Saul similarly to English, but Paul can be Pablo, Pavel, Baoluo or Pavao, to name a few. Those poor Spanish, Czech, Chinese and Finnish-speakers don’t know what they’re missing!
To be fair, the mythical TV show known as the Rhyme Time Name Game with Paul and Saul is not unique to English – Dutch, German and French speakers also use a similar pronunciation for both names. But at least we Anglophones aren’t missing out this time.
Tower of Babble?
I could be wrong about this, but I think English is the only language where Babel –
the spot where God ‘confused the language of the whole world,’ (Genesis 11:9, NIV) after we tried to build a tower reaching heavenly heights – is a homophone for babble. And how apropos, that at Babel, human language was turned to babble.
(Now it should be noted that, even in English, some people pronounce it bay-ble, not bab-ble, but according to some, Babel is associated with Babylon, which is pronounced in English with a short a sound, so I say babble. And in the immortal words of Mr. Ragetti in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 – who argued with his friend Pintel over the pronunciation of the word kraken, ‘it’s a mythological creature, I can calls it what I likes.’)
Incidentally, as many of you probably know, this Sunday is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came and – among other things – enabled the Apostles to speak and preach in foreign languages they’d never spoken before. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for that event!) I’ve heard this moment described as the reversal — or maybe even the redemption — of the story of the Tower of Babel, and that’s something that deserves a response. Therefore, I’m really looking forward to church this week.
So to all my friends from Holy Trinity, I hope to see you on Sonday!
Peace be with you.