For May 19, 2013: Pentecost

The Reading            Genesis 11:1-9

The first reading today, from the book of Genesis, explains how human beings created by the one God of Israel have come to speak so many different languages: they imagined that they could work and scheme their way to heaven, but God had other plans.  As we will see later, however, the story does not end here.

The Response            Psalm 104:25-35, 37b

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! in wisdom you have made them all.”

The Epistle            Acts 2:1-21

The story of the first Pentecost in the book of Acts is even more familiar than the story of the tower of Babel. The Pentecost story also involves people and languages. During today’s reading, if all goes according to plan, we will hear Acts 2:4 read in Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Samoan, Choctaw, Russian, Croatian, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Norwegian, Dutch, and Old English, and later we will hear the Lord’s Prayer in all of those languages. God’s grace through Jesus works not for division but for unity, and our differences cease to divide us.

The Gospel            John 14:8-17 (25-27)

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.”

 

In lieu of further thoughts, I offer the language texts that we read today and some comments on the languages.

The language texts that follow are renderings of Acts 2:4—“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”—in various languages; for most languages that are not written in a Roman alphabet I have found, devised, or begged transliterations. Within language families I have underlined cognates—related words—to show the commonalities within the differences.

1. The Semitic language family includes Arabic, Hebrew, and the ancient Phoenician language. Semitic word roots typically have three consonants; vowel patterns work like inflections to signal grammatical information, so in classical Arabic the aaa pattern gives a verb (kataba ‘he wrote’, malaka ‘he owned/seized/ ruled’, nazala ‘he dismounted’, lamasa ‘he touched’); the ā-i pattern, a doer of the action (kātib ‘writer’, mālik ‘owner’); the i-ā pattern, a result of the action (kitāb ‘book’, nizāl ‘lining up for battle where one dismounted’); ma‑Ø-a-/i- a place where something is done (maktab ‘office’, manzil ‘stopping place’, malmas ‘place touched’, mamlaka ‘kingdom’), and so on. The transliterations here differ somewhat, but ‘holy’ is q-d-s or q-d-sh and ‘spirit’ is r-w-ḥ orr-w-ch.

Arabic: (transliterated)

wametla aljamey‘ min alruwḥ alqudus wābetdawa yatakalamuwna biilsinah ākhrā kamā ā‘khṭāhumu alruwḥu ān yanṭiquwā

Hebrew: (transliterated: credit to the Rev. Andy Welch)

Vekullâm nimleû rûach haqadôsh veheiheilû ledabeir bilshônôt acheirôt kefî shenâtenâ lâhem hârûach ledabeir.

2. The linguistic classification of Japanese is somewhat subject to dispute; the Japonic language family is not very closely related to other languages, though a relationship to Korean is possible and some scholars place these languages in the larger Altaic family. Even though Japanese is written partly in Chinese characters, it is not related to Chinese: unlike Mandarin, Japanese is not a tone language and it is highly inflected. Seirei is ‘Holy Spirit’.

Japanese: (transliterated)

Suruto, ichidō wa seirei ni mitasare, mitama ga kataraseru mama ni, iroiro no takoku no kotoba de kataridashi ta.

3. Choctaw is a Muskogean language originally spoken in and near modern Mississippi; the ancestors of most speakers were relocated to Oklahoma in the 1830s. Choctaw is closely related to Chickasaw and may be very distantly related to Kumeyaay or Diegueño, though the evidence is not strong. The letter v is used to write a vowel that is something like the first vowel in English about. Shilombish is ‘spirit’ and holitopa is ‘holy’.

Choctaw:

yvmohmi na, moyumvt Shilombish Holitopa yvt isht anukfokvt alota ma, anumpa inla puta anumpula he a, Shilombish vt apelahanchi na, okla anumpulit ishtia tok oke.

4. The Karen or Kayin languages, spoken in Burma (Myanmar), are members of the Tibeto-Burman grouping along with several languages of China (though neither Mandarin nor Cantonese). Karen languages, like many other languages of eastern Asia, are tone languages: not only are words distinguished by different vowels and consonants, they are also distinguished by six distinct tones or pitch contours. စီဆ is ‘holy’ and သး ‘spirit’.

Sgaw: (Myanmar Bible, original script)

ဒီးပှၤခဲ လၢာ်လၢထီၣ်ပှဲၤထီၣ်ဒီးသးစီဆှံ, ဒီးကတိၤတၢ်လၢအ ပျ့ၤအဂၤတဖၣ်, ဒ်သးန့ၣ်ဒုးကတိၤအီၤအသိးလီၤ.

5. The Austronesian language family probably originated in or near the island of Taiwan, off the coast of China. The Greek root nesos means ‘island’: most Austronesian languages are spoken on islands, from Madagascar off the east coast of Africa to the Easter Islands off the west coast of South America. The Polynesian languages of the South Pacific include Hawaiian, Fijian, and Samoan, all languages with relatively few consonants and simple consonant-vowel syllables. In Samoan, Agaga is ‘Spirit’ and Pa‘ia is ‘Holy Spirit’.

Samoan:

‘Ua fa‘atūtūmuina fo‘i i latou uma i le Agaga Pa‘ia, ma ‘ua amata loa ‘ona tautalatala i gagana ‘ese‘ese, e pei lava ‘ona faia e le Agaga ‘ua mafai ai e i latou ‘ona tautala atu.

6. The Indo-European language grouping has members spread across the globe. It includes the Slavic, Hellenic, Romance, and Germanic families and more.

a. The Slavic language family includes Russian and a number of languages spoken in Eastern Europe, such as Czech and Polish. Many but not all Slavic languages are written in Cyrillic characters; Croatian and Polish are among the languages that are written in roman script.  Dukh- and Duh- are ‘Spirit’; svyato- and sveto- are ‘holy’. Croatian and Serbian are essentially the same language.

Russian: (transliterated)

I ispolnilis’ vsye Dukha Svyatogo, i nachali govorit’ na inykh yazykakh, kak Dukh daval im provyeshchyevat’.

Croatian:

Svi se napuniše Duha Svetoga i počeše govoriti drugim jezicima, kako im već Duh davaše zboriti.

b. Greek is the sole surviving member of the Hellenic family. The Greek alphabet is descended from the Phoenician alphabet, though the Greeks converted a number of Phoenician consonant signs to symbols for vowels. Pneuma- is ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’; agiou, as in the Hagia Sophia, is ‘holy’.

Greek: (transliterated)

kai eplēsthēsan pantes pneumatos agiou kai ērxanto lalein eterais glōssais kathōs to pneuma edidou apophthengesthai autois

c. The founding member of the Romance language family is Latin, the language of the Romans. It is no longer in use as an everyday language, except in the Vatican, but its traces are strong in not only in the Romance languages but in English. Among its modern descendants are Italian, Spanish, and French. Latin –pl– as in repleti ‘filled up, replete’ often shows up in Italian as –pi-, as in ripieni ‘filled’ and in Spanish as –ll-, as in llenos ‘filled’ (so chiles relleños are quite literally filled-up or replete chilis). ‘Spirit’ is Spiritus/Espíritu/Esprit, and ‘holy’ is sanct-/santo/saint.

Latin:

et repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sancto et coeperunt loqui aliis linguis prout Spiritus Sanctus dabat eloqui illis

Italian:

Cosí furono tutti ripieni di Spirito Santo e cominciarono a parlare in altre lingue, secondo che lo Spirito dava loro di esprimersi.

Spanish:

Todos fueron llenos del Espíritu Santo y comenzaron a hablar en diferentes lenguas, según el Espíritu les concedía expresarse.

French:

Aussitôt, ils furent tous remplis du Saint-Esprit et commencèrent à parler dans différentes langues, chacun s’exprimant comme le Saint-Esprit lui donnait de le faire.

d. The Germanic language family has three main subgroups: Northern Germanic (Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic, but not Finnish, which is closely related to Hungarian), East Germanic (all of the languages of which are extinct), and West Germanic (including German, Dutch and English). Heilig-, hellig, and halg– are cognates of Modern English ‘holy’. Geest and gast mean ‘spirit’, though Modern English ghost now means specifically ‘spirit of a dead person’. The Northern Germanic languages instead have ånd or ande, from a Proto-Germanic word meaning ‘breath or spirit’ which is cognate with an Old English word meaning ‘malice, envy, hatred’ (that is, bad spirits) and with Latin anima ‘breath or soul’.

Norwegian:

Da blev de alle fylt med den Hellige Ånd, og de begynte å tale med andre tunger, alt efter som Ånden gav dem å tale.

Dutch:

En zij werden allen vervuld met den Heiligen Geest, en begonnen te spreken met andere talen, zoals de Geest hun gaf uit te spreken.

Old English:

and hi wurdon ða ealle gefyllede mid þam Halgum Gaste, and ongunnon to sprecenne mid mislicum gereordum, be ðam þe se Halga Gast him tæhte.

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