Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: French & English

You don’t know what you don’t know

There’s a deep meaning in that short statement, but if you’ve never heard it before it probably sounds like childish babbling. Let me unpack it for you. What this statement tells me is that if I don’t know something, I don’t even know that there is a gap in my knowledge.

Like the time when I was learning French grammar and we got to the subjunctive mood. It made no sense to me, there is nothing like it in English but it seemed terribly important in French. My head hurt for weeks as I struggled to grasp the significance of this foreign way of speech. One day the fog and the cobwebs disappeared from my brain, at least from one little corner of my brain, and I understood the subjunctive mood.

And I realized that it was not foreign to English. I’d been hearing it, reading it, using it most of my life since I learned to speak, without knowing it. Every tine I said “Have a good day,” or “If I were in your shoes,” I was using the subjunctive. The Bible is stuffed with examples, from the third verse of the Bible when God said “Let there be light,” to the Lord’s prayer, which begins with “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” It is a means of expressing a wish. Back in Genesis, whenever God expressed a wish it instantly became reality.

There is a difference in the way dogs and cats communicate. When a dog wags his tail, he’s saying “Let’s be friends.” When a cat’s tail makes similar motions, she is getting ready to pounce on something. Therein lies the potential of a lifelong crisis of communication.

Even a simple word like college can be the source of miscommunication. When people in the US speak of a college education, they mean what we in Canada call a university education. In Canada a college provides post-secondary vocational or general education that does not lead to a degree. And in France, where the word originated, college is middle school, coming between elementary school and the lycée, or high school.

In our own country we assume that everyone else has the same set of references for understanding words, gestures and actions that we do. When people of a different background react to our words or actions in unexpected ways, we tend to think they are a bit daft. They probably think the same of us.

Most likely the real problem is that we don’t know that we don’t know. If we can open our minds to that thought, we can receive new information to stretch our minds and make us better able to understand other people.

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