Language Is A Funny Thing

Language Is A Funny Thing:

2013 Trip to Israel

I was teaching a lesson last night, and some of the words I was sharing just sort of hit me funny… I began to ask questions, to myself, and realized how little I know about the origination of language…

Where did language come from? How was it invented? Why are there so many different ones? Did they develop at the same time? Are any of them related in history? Which was the first one? If humanity migrated from a single source location, and language originated with them, how and why did language morph into so many? Of course, the Tower of Babel might be the reason for this…

Of course, it was probably spoken long before it was written, so the alphabet is totally different between each! The number of letters, the stylized writing, and the pronunciation of the sounds associated with each – when you learn a new language, you are learning definitions, letters, sounds, usage, rules of communication, tones… A ton of information is needed in order to communicate effectively.

“There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. However, about 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers. The most popular language in the world is Mandarin Chinese. There are 1,213,000,000 people in the world that speak that language.” [Source]

Over a billion people speak Mandarin Chinese!
And this from a country that has hundreds of dialects!
Language is a funny thing!

Words may be spelled the same across languages, but they do not mean the same. It depends on their roots. Where did the particular word come from, how was it pronounced, and what context was it used in? Imagine some of our four letter curse words not being curse words in another language! They may use the word all day along simply be asking someone to “Pass the salt.”

And the funny thing about it all? Language is constantly evolving. New words are added, meanings are changed, and some fall out of vogue. Rapidly. A time traveler from the 1600’s, even the early 1900’s, would be lost in modern New York! It’s dangerous to get stuck in language from a prior century and try to use it in modern times. It’s possible you will be totally misunderstood. And highly probable you will think everyone is speaking a foreign language. AND…words have meanings different today than back then!

I’ve called customer service that is supported by English speakers in another country. They are not trained in our idioms, and their use of the language is stilted, almost as if it were learned only from a book, and not from daily use. Their accent is native to them, but foreign to me. I’ve apologized to them, “I’m sorry. I cannot understand you. It’s my fault. Would you please transfer me back to the states? Thank you!” Do this often enough and surely we will force jobs to come back to our fair shores!

But then we would have similar problems here. Our dialects, culture and idiomatic use is so different from coast to coast! I know. I’m from Texas and understand the use of words that would be foreign to someone from New Jersey…

Traveling to other countries that speak a version of my language is almost as difficult as traveling to a country that speaks a totally different language! Except, at least, I can read their version English and understand what I may not comprehend with my ears. The brogue of Scotland was difficult to understand… Just saying. A Georgia Peach may be just as difficult to comprehend!

We were in Germany and a friend who was living there was escorting us around. My brothers and I had taken dad to an old posting from his military days. My friend asked me to go into the tourist bureau and ask for directions. “They will speak enough English.” Of course, they didn’t. In the meantime, my friend snuck in and did not come to my rescue! He left me floundering. It was not a pretty sight! Eventually we made it to the old posting location…but not because my English and their German was not a barrier!

Traveling through airports in other countries, for the most part, English is spoken by those providing directions and I’ve never felt the loss of not being able to communicate. Unless the destination is a “tourist” location, English is not used much on the street.

In some countries that support multiple languages, signs will be presented in several language. If you are smart, you will start learning the other languages from those signs! Those will be common words that everyone will understand, but learning the alphabet will be the real challenge…

Here’s my thought. When we read something that was translated from another language, we have to trust that the translators used words in our language that accurately reflect the intent of the original language, knowing that their may be many different meanings for each word being translated. In the original language, and in the translated language. In fact, they word in the translated language may have never been intended to mean what the original language stated. Let me share a portion of my notes from last night.

What is Sin?

Dictionaries may describe it as (noun) an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law, or (verb) to commit a transgression against divine law….

  • In old English, the word “sin” comes from originally used words with similar spellings, but they essentially meant “Guilty”
  • In Spanish, the word “sin” essentially means “without” (And in other languages it may mean something totally different.)
  • But when you go to the original language, “sin” is not found in the Bible.
    • In Latin, and other languages based from this root (Spanish, Italian, etc.) the word translated in our English bible as “sin” often shows up as “peccartum”, or some such variable.
    • In Hebrew, the English word sin comes from a number of different words that mean:
      • (חטּאת, ḥaṭṭā’th, “a missing,” עון, ‘wōn, “perversity” פּשׁע, pesh‛, “transgression,” רע, r‛, “evil,” etc.; ἁμαρτανα, hamartano, “miss the mark,” παράβασις, parábasis, “transgressionwith a suggestion of violence, ἀδικία, adikı́a, “injustice,” “unrighteousness”)
    • In Greek or Aramaic, there are different source words used to translate into the English word “sin” and for the most part, they simply mean “offense” with associated “penalty“.

I simply like to say, “Sin is being ‘at odds with God’”…

So, when I use the word “sin” in English, we will probably all have a comfortable feel for it’s meaning, even though a version of this word originally meant “guilty”. Is that not okay? Because “sin” is being “guilty”. Or, if we are using Spanish, then “sin” is being “without”, and that is okay, because “sin” is being “without” (or outside) the framework of God.

Language is a funny thing…and an amazing step of intelligence. Learn a new language and have some fun!