Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: French language

What on earth does shamefacedness mean?

English is a mongrel language, developed by indiscriminate interbreeding of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Old Norse and French, with lesser contributions from Celtic, Arabic, Greek and other languages. This has created a language with a huge number of words, more than any other language.The grammatical structure puts it in the Low German language group, along with Dutch, Flemish, Frisian, Afrikaans, Plautdietsch and Braid Scots (which has no relationship to Gaelic). But 40% of English words are of French or Latin origin.

The great multitude of words makes it more difficult to write and speak clearly and eloquently in English. Often there are are two or three or five words that mean exactly the same thing. Which one should you choose?

Then there are words that are just plain weird, like shamefacedness. The only place one is apt to run across that word is in 1 Timothy 2:5 where the apostle Paul exhorts Christian women to shamefacedness and sobriety.

No, that word does not mean that Christian women should always be blushing in embrarrassment. The word actually has nothing to do with one’s face. Shamefaced started out in life as shamefast and over time was mispronounced and misspelled until the mistake became the standard. The fast part of the word came from the idea of being held fast, thus the original meaning was to be held back by shame. Makes a little more sense, doesn’t it?

The word used in French translations makes even more sense. In that language the apostle exhorts Christian women to pudeur et modestie. Modestie needs no introduction, it is the source of our English word modesty. Pudeur is the sense of embarrassment that a person experiences in hearing about or witnessing nudity or things of a sexual nature. Or, to put it another way, embarrassment before that which is forbidden by her sense of dignity.

What Paul is really trying to say is that Christian women should have a sense of decency and modesty.

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Hazards of cross-cultural ministry

At a worship service in Québec the visiting minister rose to begin his message. He had just heard us singing in an unfamiliar language but the melody was familiar and he felt he had found a common thread to connect  with the congregation. He began by referring to several words of the English hymn he thought he had heard.  The brother who was interpreting first explained in French that the minister was referring to an English hymn, then gamely tried to express his thoughts as clearly as he could in French.

As the minister continued with his message, he kept coming back to the words of the English hymn and the interpreter valiantly tried to create something coherent out of those thoughts in French. Those of us who were bilingual smiled inwardly, others listened in respectful bafflement.

That is a common stumbling block in cross-cultural ministry. Every major language has a number of hymns that are unique to that language. Some hymns have been translated into many languages. How Great Thou Art is a Swedish hymn that is familiar to people in many other languages. A Mighty Fortress is our God originated in German and is likewise known to many people in their own language. However, differences in grammatical structure and rhythm often make it  next to impossible to create an exact translation. Thus, new songs are written in other languages, expressing more or less the same thoughts.

More hazardous yet for a preacher venturing to speak to people through an interpreter, often a completely different hymn is set to a tune that is familiar to the speaker in his native language. That is what happened in the incident mentioned above. The words of the song we had been singing bore no resemblance at all to the words that had been playing in the preacher’s mind.

Just a little reminder that in cross-cultural ministry we first need to try to understand before we try to make ourselves understood.

It’s all my father’s fault

It seems that I’ve been trying to learn French all my life, always getting a little closer but never quite arriving. I can speak French, but with a wooden tongue (that’s a French expression for someone whose pronunciation is somewhat lacking). I fear that my ears may be made of the same material, for I often miss some little nuance of spoken French. And it’s all my father’s fault.

You see, my father grew up with a mother who spoke French – and he was embarrassed by it. I never knew my grandmother – my father was very close to his mother and didn’t go looking for a wife until his mother wasn’t there anymore. Grandma was Franco-American, descended from a man who grew up in the province of Lorraine and served in Napoleon’s army as a swordsman before emigrating to the USA with his family. The French language was preserved in the family for several generations, despite the American melting pot.

When my grandparents came to Canada in 1908, they settled on the south side of Old Wives Lake in southern Saskatchewan. They did their shopping in the general store in Courval, their closest town. The store was run by a French-Canadian family. Many of their neighbours had names like Tremblay, Marcil and Pelletier. Grandma was right at home among these people and my father found that embarrassing. He had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the belief that the world would be a better place if everyone spoke the same language, which of course would be English.

He even seemed to feel that it was not right for people to have complicated names that he couldn’t pronounce and I grew up being embarrassed by his stubborn mispronunciation of people’s names. I always felt that wasn’t very wise when one’s own family name was Goodnough, a name that people didn’t know how to pronounce when they saw it in print, nor how to spell if they heard it pronounced.

He did know a few French words, mostly the words for common foods. He liked to tell how the USA would never have existed if it hadn’t been for the help of General Lafayette and countless other French soldiers during the revolutionary war. But he had no interest in learning the language. His attitude was, if you want to talk to me you have to speak my language.

My mother, on the other hand, spoke only Plautdietsch until she started school. Sometime in her youth she acquired a large English dictionary and studied it assiduously. By the time I came along she was speaking English with no trace of an accent. She often told about how her father had learned English from working with English-speaking people in his younger years. There had also been French-speaking people in the part of Manitoba where he grew up and he had often expressed his regret at not learning that language. To which Mom would add: “And if he had, I would have too.”

Thus I had the moral support of my mother, if not my father, when I began making my first steps to try to learn French. I have worked at it off and on for many years. I have no problem reading French and not much in writing. But I still long to be able to speak it like a true native speaker.

To be fair to my father, his attitude was shaped by the era and the place where he grew up. He maintained a lifelong friendship with many of his French-Canadian neighbours. After he retired and moved to Moose Jaw, he would often encounter the owner of the Courval general store, also retired and living in Moose Jaw. He called him Mister Pippin. It wasn’t until I read his obituary that I realized that Mister Pippin had actually been Monsieur Pépin.

Grace for daily life

We have gone hurtling through the sky in a series of hollow metal tubes and are now safely home. We left a week ago today, flying by WestJet from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Montréal and came home two days ago by the same airline, flying Montréal to Toronto and Toronto to Saskatoon. We were seven or eight miles up in the sky and saw nothing but fluffy white stuff below us, except over Saskatchewan. Both going and returning we could see the ground beneath us as we flew over our home province. It was nice to watch the ground below, but worrisome, too. Clouds would be welcome here; we need rain. There have been a couple of little showers since we got home, but serious rain is needed. Québec, on the other hand, is a lush, dark, green. We had forgotten how beautiful it is.

This trip, the planning and the trip itself, was a whole series of grace moments. I was invited to come to a meeting in Quebec of the Publication Board of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the French Editing and Proofreading Committee, of which I am a member. It had been many years since we had visited Quebec and I was enthused, but I wanted my wife to come, too. She was unwilling at first, fearing it would be too tiring (she is coping with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). After a few days, Chris said she would come.

Then it was announced that there would be revival meetings in our congregation during the days we planned to be gone. The day before we left, it was announced that one of the ministers who planned to come to our congregation couldn’t make it and the meetings were postponed until further notice.

So we left, feeling the Lord was blessing our trip already. The meeting on Friday was a pleasant surprise, we found the Publication Board to be more enthusiastic about our work than we had expected. They are pushing for more books to be translated and prepared for publication. Perhaps pushing is too strong a word, we did not feel that they were being pushy, but they certainly weren’t wanting to apply the brakes. They see the need and said there was money available for more publications.

Then the visiting began. We had no definite plans before leaving home, but everything fell into place once we were there. There are congregations in Montréal and Roxton Falls. We last visited Roxton Falls 10 years ago and hadn’t been in Montreal for 18 years. We lived in Québec for five years and many of the members are old friends. Others we knew only by name. I had never met two of the members of our committee. Their voices were familiar from conference calls, and I had formed pictures of them in my mind. They didn’t look anything like I had imagined.

I considered it a special grace that this was the weekend when the Montreal congregation had an evening service and that we received an invitation to ride along with one of the Roxton Falls ministers and his family to that service. Thus we were in church at Roxton Falls in the morning and in Montréal in the evening and got to meet practically all the members. One couple is in the process of moving from Montréal to Roxton Falls and we missed seeing them.

Chris enjoyed the trip as much as I did and was no more tired than I was when we got home. It was altogether a blessed time, possibly more of a revival than if we had stayed home and the planned revivals had happened.

Why learn French?

The World Almanac says that there are only 70 million French-speaking people in the world. That’s not very significant, why should I bother learning it?

Not so fast! If you look closely, the World Almanac is giving the estimated number of people for whom French is their mother tongue (even at that it is questionable, but I will get to that later). Beside that number is the number of countries in which French is spoken by a significant number of people. That number is 60, making French the second most widely spoken language in the world, after English.

More realistic estimates of the number of people who speak French vary somewhat, Wikipedia says 340 million. At present there are about equal numbers of French-speaking people in Europe and in Africa, but that is rapidly changing. As education becomes more and more accessible to the people of the francophone countries of Africa, French is rapidly replacing tribal languages. Thus estimates which assume that all Africans have tribal languages as their mother tongue are becoming less and less realistic. It is estimated that by 2050 there could be 500 million, or more, French-speaking people in Africa alone.

The numbers of people who know French in some other countries may surprise you: more than 10 million in both Germany and the UK, almost 3 million in Egypt, more than 2 million in the USA, around half a million in each of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand, and so on.

There are more than 10 million French-speaking people in Canada, it is one of our official languages. Many parents, even here in Saskatchewan, are sending their children to French immersion schools because they believe that knowing both French and English will be a tremendous asset for their children.

There are many rural communities scattered across Saskatchewan that were settled by French-speaking people from Québec, France and Belgium. (Even from the USA; my grandparents were born in upstate New York and my grandmother spoke French. Unfortunately, that knowledge of French skipped a generation — my father only learned a few words from his mother.) French is dying out in some of those communities, but not all.

Many French-speaking people have migrated to the cities where their numbers have been augmented by French-speaking immigrants. There is a francophone school division that operates schools in a few small towns and most of our cities. Young families are maintaining the language. When I overhear people speaking French in Saskatoon they are almost always from the younger generation. Many immigrants who have neither English nor French as their mother tongue want their children to be fluent in both languages.

With a burgeoning francophone population in the world, the opportunities for mission outreach are also increasing. We here in Canada are ideally placed to learn French to meet that need. The internet gives us access to Christian reading material in French plus opportunities to learn about the culture of other countries. I am a member of the French proofreading committee of our church, so I will suggest a website that contains some of the tracts that we have worked on:  http://gospeltract.ca/fr/index.php

Canada Day trivia

Who was the first Prime Minister of Canada?  This is a tricky question.  The first Prime Minister after Confederation in 1867 was John A McDonald.  But the Act of Union of 1841 merged Upper Canada and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Québec) into the United Province of Canada.  The first elected leader of the United Province of Canada was Robert Baldwin, with Louis Lafontaine as his lieutenant.

The union of Upper and Lower Canada was the results of the rebellions in 1837.  The one in Upper Canada was led by William Lyon Mackenzie and the one in Lower Canada by Louis Joseph Papineau.  The grievances were the same: a colonial administration that was deaf to the aspirations of the populace.

Confederation in 1867 added the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to Canada and established the new nation as entirely self-governing.  The remaining five provinces were added from 1870 to 1949.

Montréal was named the capital of the United Province in 1843.  In 1849 the elected government passed the Rebellion Losses Bill to compensate property owners who had suffered losses during the rebellions.  An angry English-speaking mob torched the legislature.  They thought it was OK to compensate English-speaking property owners, but not those who were French-speaking.

French and English are the official languages of Canada and people anywhere in Canada can deal with the Federal government in either language.  Eight provinces are officially English-speaking, Québec’s official language is French and New Brunswick is the only province that is officially bilingual, providing equal services in both languages.  All the other provinces provide some services in the non official language: especially education.

Fifty years ago the population of the USA was ten times as much as Canada’s.  Now it is only nine times as much: Canada 35 million; USA 315 million.

Québec City was founded in 1608 and is the oldest city in Canada.  The old part of the city is the only walled city north of Mexico.

The original French explorers and settlers (Jacques Cartier, Samuel Champlain, Marc Lescarbot, Pierre Esprit Radisson, Médard Chouart de Groseillères, for example) were Protestants trying to escape religious troubles in France.

Canadians you may not have heard of:

Jonathan Goforth of southwestern Ontario was one of the most active and effective missionaries to China (1888-1935).

William Featherstone of Montréal wrote the words of My Jesus I Love Thee before his seventeenth birthday.

Josiah Henson of Dresden, Ontario, an escaped slave, established an institute to teach agriculture and trades to fellow escaped slaves.  Harriet Beecher Stowe visited him and used the things he told her as the basis for Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Laura Secord of Queenston, Ontario.  During the war of 1812 she overheard American soldiers talking of their plan to ambush the troops at Beaver Dam.  She walked twenty miles through the bush to warn Lieutenant James FitzGibbon.  Two days later the Americans were ambushed by a party of 400 Indians and the American colonel, with 462 men, surrendered to Lieutenant FitzGibbon and his 30 soldiers.

Charles Saunders, the developer of Marquis wheat.  Red Fife wheat was the main variety grown in eastern Canada, but when the prairies began to open up for farming, Red Fife often froze before it was mature.  Dr. Saunders crossed Red Fife with Hard Red Calcutta and selected plants that were early maturing, high yielding, had stiff straw and whose kernels had the best milling and baking qualities.  Marquis began to be distributed to farmers in 1912 and by 1918 was grown on 20 million acres from southern Nebraska to northern Saskatchewan.  This was the wheat that made the Canadian prairies a bread basket for the world.

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