Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: French

Midsummer rambles and rumbles

I spent the past few days visiting the brothers and sisters of the congregation at Roxton Falls, Quebec and worshipped with them last Sunday. The purpose of the trip was to wok on the editorial revision of a church history book recently translated into French.

The other three members of the French editorial committee are members of the Roxton Falls congregation. We have frequent on-line sessions but it boosts our productivity if we can get together once a year and actually sit around the same table. We did that last Friday and Saturday.

Nature produced some impressive sound and light shows while I have been away. My plane landed in Montreal last Thursday evening just as an impressive thunderstorm hit the area. Other planes delayed their takeoff until the storm abated, we sat on the tarmac for 15 minutes until our plane could move up to the loading ramp and we could disembark. A tornado associated with that storm system hit Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, north of Montreal, and caused major damages.

Late Sunday evening my wife informed me that a thunderstorm with strong winds that passed through our area and produced 18 mm of rain. Later, we heard that a plow wind from that storm system had earlier struck the town of Eston, about 150 km southwest of us, destroying the hangar at the local landing strip and one house and damaging many more. Still later, we heard that lightning had struck a shed on the yard of a cousin who lives west of Saskatoon.

Yesterday afternoon, before I arrived home, another thunderstorm went through this area and left as much rain as the one Sunday evening. No reports of damage this time. Despite the destruction caused to buildings by these storms there have been no people injured.

I’m taking a break

WestJet 737.jpg

Plans are that by the time this appears on line I will be sitting in a little church in Québec working on editing a book recently translated into French. Then I will stay to worship with the brethren there on Sunday and do a little visiting around before returning home.

I will return – to my home and to this blog by the middle of next week.

In the mood for a little subjunctive?

I made it through high school without ever encountering the subjunctive mood. Then I decided to learn French. I fought my way through the bewildering thicket of conjugations of regular and irregular verbs, then I was introduced to the subjunctive mood. My head hurt for weeks.

I didn’t seem to have any reference point in English to help me comprehend this way of expressing oneself, yet it seemed an essential part of French. Every English grammar book I looked at devoted about a paragraph to the subjunctive. They told me the subjunctive mood was on its deathbed in English and I would never have to worry about it.

Then an amazing thing happened: I finally got my head wrapped around the use of the subjunctive in French and I realized that it is still very much a part of English.  So here I go where most grammarians fear to tread.

Subjunctive, from French, originally from Latin, means subjoined. (That little bit of information does nothing to understand it.) The best definition is from Oxford via Fowler’s: a  verb form different from that of the indicative mood in order to denote an action or state as conceived (and not as a fact), and expressing a  wish, command, exhortation, or a contingent, hypothetical or prospective event.

goobye-3250201_640

Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

When used to express a wish, a phrase in the subjunctive mood normally begins with let or may, though they me be omitted. All greetings are subjunctive:
– May God bless you!
– May you have a good day / May you have a happy birthday (even when shortened to Good day or Happy birthday, they are subjunctive).
– Good-bye (drastically shortened form of May God be with you).

Commonly used expressions in the subjunctive:
– Come what may
– Be that as it may
– Far be it from me
– I wish it were over
– If he were here now
– I move that nominations cease
– I move that we elect a committee to . . .

The Sunday School lessons that are used in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite usually contain a sentence or two in the subjunctive mood; for example:
– Let us conduct ourselves accordingly
– May we never forget . . .

Examples of the subjunctive in the Bible:
– Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done (all three of these phrases in the Lord’s prayer are in the subjunctive mood).
– Let not your heart be troubled (let not  . . . is found in many places in the Bible, it always indicates the subjunctive mood).
– Let no man despise thy youth (1 Timothy 4:12, Paul is expressing the wish that Timothy’s conduct would be such that no one would find fault with him because of his age).
– James 5:13, 14: Let him pray / let him sing psalms / let him call for / let them pray (these are all exhortations).
– Genesis 1: Let there be light, etc. (The creation account has many examples of God expressing a wish for something that was not a reality at the moment the wish was made, but immediately became reality.)

I hope this helps a little to understand the subjunctive mood, especially when it is encountered in the Bible. The translators did not drop in all those subjunctives to confuse us, they were subjunctive in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts; may they be less confusing to us as we recognize the subjunctive mood. 

To better understand English, learn a little French

In its grammatical structure, English belongs to the Low German language family, a group of languages that developed from a common early Germanic root. The group includes Flemish, Dutch, Frisian, Afrikaans (the Dutch that is spoken in South Africa), Plautdietsch, English and Scots (not Gaelic but the variety of old English spoken by the lowland Scots, such as the poet Robbie Burns).

However, something like 40% of English words come from French. Oftentimes meanings, spelling and pronunciation have shifted to the point that the French roots are almost invisible. Take geezer for instance. This is a word that was originally applied to someone who went about in a disguise, or more simply, in the guise of someone different from himself. Since guise is a word of French origin it was originally pronounced geez. Over a few hundred years the meaning of geezer shifted to where it is now used only for an older person who has become a little different in appearance and mannerisms.

In many other words the French roots are plainly visible, though often not understood by English speakers. Take grammar for instance, which is what I want to talk about in this article.

laptop-3087585_640

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

All English grammatical terms are French, beginning with grammar itself. Grammar comes from grammaire in French, which comes from a Greek word meaning the art of reading and writing. A noun is the name of a thing, chair for instance, and comes from the French word nom, meaning name. Most other grammatical terms are spelled the same, or almost the same, in English as in French: verbe, adverbe, adjectif or adjective, préposition, article, objet direct or indirect, conjonction, etc.

It may be helpful for English speakers to understand the roots of terms like tense and mood. Both are mispronunciations of French words, which led to misspellings, making them homonyms of English words with completely different meanings.

Tense comes from temps, which means time. Past, present and future should be called times, not tenses. Obvious, eh? But the French pronunciation of temps is something that is beyond the capacity of the vocal apparatus of someone who grew up speaking English, so it drifted over to become tense.

There are three basic past tenses: simple past, imperfect and pluperfect. Perfect is another word of French origin that we often misunderstand. It simply means finished or complete, or, in the case of people, grown up or mature. Neither in grammar nor in the Bible does it ever mean faultless. Imperfect means incomplete and refers to an action that began in the past and is not complete. Pluperfect (plus-que-parfait in French) means more than complete and refers to an action that was complete in the past before something else happened.

For instance: I had gone (pluperfect) into Tim Horton’s and was ordering (imperfect) a coffee when my cousin walked (simple past) in.

Mood comes from the French word mode and should be mode in English also. Once again, a native English speaker cannot really duplicate the sound of mode in French. Nevertheless, the grammatical term mood in English refers to a mode of expressing one’s meaning.

The indicative mood (mode) is used for an action that has actually happened, is happening, or that we know will happen. The conditional mood (mode) is used for actions that could, should or would happen if some other condition is met, had been met or will be met.

Examples: The plane will be landing in fifteen minutes (indicative).
The plane should be landing in fifteen minutes if it left Toronto on time (conditional).

And then there’s the subjunctive mood, but that is going to require a whole article of its own.

How many days until next Sunday?

Well, that’s a foolish question if there ever was one, everybody knows it’s eight days.

confused-2681507_640

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

But I’m writing to English-speaking people and most of you probably don’t know that. You probably count Monday to Sunday and come up with seven days. But today isn’t over with yet, how can you just ignore it, say it doesn’t count?
I used to think that way; it was as obvious as could be that a week is seven days and therefore it is seven days until next Sunday.

Then I learned French and discovered that they think differently. Partial days do count, you need to start with what’s left of today and count up to next Sunday, and voila! it comes to eight days. Once I could get my head around that, I discovered that this is the way that a whole lot of the world thinks.

The_Empty_Tomb004

Including the people of Jesus’ day. It was no stretch to them to call it three days when Jesus was in the tomb from just before sundown on Friday to just after dawn on Sunday. That was obviously three days.

But I have read carefully thought out dissertations by aspiring Bible scholars who proved to their own satisfaction that Jesus could not possibly have been crucified on a Friday. If He was three days in the tomb, He had to have been crucified on Thursday. I even saw one some years ago that argued for Wednesday. That just goes to show that if you don’t know something, you can’t know that you don’t know it.

One of the gospel accounts says three days and three nights. How does one account for that when it was in fact only Friday night and Saturday night?

Let me answer that question with a few others. At 2:00 am this morning was it Saturday night? But Saturday ended at midnight. Was it Sunday night? We say that night follows day, it doesn’t precede it. Then was it Sunday morning? But it was still night.

The French solution is to say that last night was the night of Saturday to Sunday. No possibility of confusion there.

I think the simplest way to understand three days and three nights is to say that Jesus was in the tomb three days and the portions of night associated with those three days.

Who am I?

It was in a little church near St Marys, Ontario, that my wife and I were baptized and became members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. After the service, the minister who had baptized us advised us to “Just be yourselves.”

That was a very kind and generous welcome, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t really know who I was. I have spent the forty years since that day sifting through the baggage I have picked up along the road of life and trying to discern which of those things have a place in defining who I am.

road-sign-63983_640

My mother’s ethnic and religious heritage is not part of who I am. Her mother tongue was Plautdietsch and her second language German, the language of the church her family attended and which she joined in her youth. After some years she realized that German was the faith of the church and the things she had learned in the catechism were only decoration. This church had no message for anyone who didn’t know German, including Mom’s eight younger siblings.
She left that church and married my father, a very determined step away from her background. My grandmother sent me a German primer once, I suppose in the hope that I would learn German so I could be a Christian. I mean no disrespect to my grandmother, I loved her, but that was how she had been trained to think. I was intrigued by that German primer, but Mom showed no enthusiasm for teaching me German. If I asked questions she would answer them, but that was all. I soon stopped asking questions. I have no interest in cultural Christianity. That is part of who I am.

My father was from the USA, of Puritan descent but Wesleyan Methodist by faith. That denomination got swallowed up in the social gospel and church union movement. My father had no use for anything to do with the social gospel, in religion, politics or business (the co-operative movement). I have no interest in Christianity as a social movement. That is part of who I am.

My father’s mother spoke French. Dad had some pride in his French heritage but found it embarrassing that his mother actually spoke the language. He wished everyone would speak one language, namely English. Mom talked about how her father had wished that he had learned French when he had the opportunity in his younger days and wished that she could have had the opportunity to learn French. I listened to Mom more than Dad.

I have had allergy problems since I was a baby. That has limited the type of work that I can do. Little by little I have learned what I can do and what I can’t do and am coping quite well, but allergy awareness is still very much part of me. I am a vegetarian, but not because of any religious or philosophical persuasion. I really don’t know why, but I quit eating meat 65 years ago. Maybe it had something to do with my allergies. Maybe it had more to do with the butcherings I saw as a boy.

When we were away from home my father would go up to complete strangers and ask: “What do you think of Jesus?” It embarrassed me terribly when I was young, now I wish I could be more like that. I’m not as bold as my father, but then neither am I as argumentative. Those who know me might wonder about that last statement, but trust me, it’s true. You didn’t know my Dad.

English was Mom’s third language. She had a large dictionary that she had been studying for years and spoke English with no trace of accent. I come by my love of dictionaries honestly. I learned to read when I was four years old and have never stopped. I have been putting my thoughts into writing for a long time now and a desire to communicate is very much part of who I am.

I lived on a farm in the hills of the Missouri Coteau in southeastern Saskatchewan until I was almost 10. There are scenes in my memory from that time that seem almost like heaven. I have lived many other places since then: five provinces, rural areas, towns, villages and cities large and small. I am living on an acreage at this time, but would really prefer to live in a city where there are people around.

I went to a small town school and had read every book in the school library before I finished high school. I learned something important in that reading: two historians can write about the same events and refer to the same dates, the same people, yet come up with different versions of what had really been going on. In my school days, history was taught from the point of view of the Orange Order. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but that point of view has had a negative effect on relations between English and French, Protestant and Catholic, white and nonwhite people in Canada. I am not one who thinks that Christians would be better off not knowing anything about history. I believe that we can’t really understand what is going on today if we don’t know anything about history and the biases created by different perceptions in the past.

I have worked in occupations that encouraged my natural tendency to be detail conscious: like grain buyer, quality assurance and bookkeeper. I probably tend to overdo it at times.

In addition to my parents, I have been influenced by my wife, my daughter, her husband, our grandchildren, brothers and sisters in the faith, preachers, teachers, co-workers. Everybody I have ever met has probably left some small trace on my character.

So who am I? I am a born-again Christian and a Mennonite, not by heritage, culture, language or philosophy, but by the call of God and my response to that call. I am a Canadian, by birth, by education, by life experience. I am a native of Saskatchewan, it is home to me but I have been able to feel at home almost anywhere in this country. I speak both of Canada’s official languages and no others, but occasionally make a stab at learning Italian. I see myself more as an urbanite than as a countryman. And I am a writer. I’ve hesitated for years to admit it, especially to myself, but writing is what motivates me more than anything else.

The genius of French

Yesterday’s word from Mot du Jour, a French word of the day app, was adulescent. It is one letter short of adult, one vowel different from adolescent and describes a young adult who behaves like a teenager. Another word used in the description was quincados, which means people in their fifties who try to appear much younger. Ado is the French equivalent of teenager.

I have met people like that, haven’t you? It must be a hard life, always trying to avoid confronting the reality of who you really are.

At 76 I am still very much alive, but I am not young. Seventeen was a long time ago and I don’t wish to go back. I have lived all those years, I don’t regret any of them, at least not the lessons they have taught me, but I have no longing to relive them.

That quality of being at peace with who you are is described in French as being bien dans son peau, comfortable in one’s own skin. Mine has a few wrinkles, that’s just part of being 76.

Leaving on a jet plane

I used to get butterflies at the thought of climbing into a pressurized metal tube and being blasted through the skies at 700 kph at an altitude of 12 km. Those butterflies didn’t show up last weekend as I flew to Montréal and back. Maybe I’m beginning to enjoy air travel. Four hours on a jet plane is much more relaxing than three days of driving.

WestJet 737.jpg

The four of us on the French editing committee decided that we might get more done by spending two days together than we do in months of three hour Saturday night conference calls. Since the other three are members of the Roxton Falls congregation in Québec and I am the outlier, way out here in Saskatchewan, it was more economical for me to fly out there.

Thus I boarded a WestJet plane to Montréal on Thursday and Ronald, Philippe, Hugues and I spent the next two days editing a book that has recently been translated from English. Even considering the amount of time we spent hashing over plans for the future of our work, we got enough done that it appears that even when the cost of my ticket is included the amount of work done per hour is no more costly than when we do it by conference call. This trip worked out so well that we are talking about doing it again some time, if our individual schedules can be aligned. Ronald and I are semi-retired and more flexible but Philippe and Hugues have to find a time that does not conflict with their employment.

I very much enjoyed the time I spent in Québec. I have corresponded with Hugues by email, talked with him on the phone, but hadn’t seen him since he was nine years old. He is 24 now and it was good to see and work with him face to face. It was good to see Philippe again, he has married since I saw him three years ago and has a five-month-old son.

It was good to be in a place where the lawns are green, the trees tall, and the crops flourishing. (It has been a dry year here at home; I mowed the lawn once in each of the last three months. The grass is still more or less green and the crop yields only a little under the average, but it hasn’t been a year of abundance.)

I worshipped with the brothers and sisters in Roxton Falls on Sunday morning. I know most of them, some of them for many years, but some I met for the first time. That is a good thing, the congregation is growing.

Monday morning when I awoke it was 22° and humid. It was 30° by dinner time and then it began to pour rain. When I got into Saskatoon in the evening, it was 12° and still dry and dusty. But all the family was there to meet me and welcome me home.

The name of God

LORD, in upper case letters, appears 6,510 times in the English Old Testament. This is not a translation of some Hebrew word meaning Lord, but of YHWH, the name of God.

This name was first revealed to Moses in the account of the burning bush Exodus chapter 3. God tells Moses that His name is I AM. When this was written out in the Scripture it was written YHWH in Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew alphabet is only 22 letters, all consonants. Apparently this is not as much of a problem in Hebrew as it would be in English or French, due to a lesser number of vowel sounds.

Hundreds of years later vowel points were added to Hebrew, but in the meantime the pronunciation of YHWH was lost as it was thought to be a sin to pronounce the name of God. This came from the desire to avoid violating the commandment which says “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.”

Rather than pronounce YHWH the Hebrew people would substitue another word, most often Adonai, which means Lord. Whe vowel points were added to the Hebrew alphabet the voels of Adonai were inserted in YHWH, which gave Yahovah. This is undoubtedly the wrong pronunciation. To be true to the origin of YHWH in the Hebrew word for I AM, the name needs to be pronounced Yahweh (or Yahveh).

I think many readers of the Bible misunderstand the meaning of LORD in the Old Testament. It does not mean that the name of God means Lord, but simpply follows the Jewish practice of substituting Lord for the name of God. Many Jews today will not pronounce God in English and write it as G-D, omitting the vowel.

In French Bibles YHWH is translated as l’Éternel (the Eternal) which nicely captures the meaning of I AM as the name of God. But then in the New Testament French Bibles use Seigneur (Lord) just like English Bibles use Lord. The substitution of Lord for YHWH was so thoroughly entrenched by that time that New Testament writers used kurios, the Greek word for Lord to refer to God.

Two keys

I have two keys that, to my eyes at least, appear to be identical. One was made with a state of the art key cutting machine; the other was made by an elderly gentleman using a grinding wheel. Guess which one works?

The machine-made key goes into the keyhole just a little bit roughly and will not turn. The man-made key slides in smooth as silk and turns to open the lock. This guy obviously knows about keys.

Years ago an acquaintance of mine decided to visit Québec. He didn’t know French but he was filled with confidence and enthusiasm because he had this marvelous hand held phrase translator. All he would have to do was find the phrase or question he wanted, press a button and the little electronic marvel would speak it in French. Then he was supposed to hand the device to the French-speaking person who would find the right phrase in French, press the button and it would be spoken aloud in English.

I probably don’t have to tell you that my friend’s enthusiasm took a severe hit when he tried to actually use the marvelous little gizmo. I believe it remained in the bottom of his suitcase after the first day.

I have used computer translation programs off and on over the years. I figured the first ones were about 40% accurate. Google translate has doubled that figure; it puts out readable text, but still doesn’t quite get it. Words in every language have a range of nuances and shades of meaning and to expect a machine to pick a matching word in another language with exactly the same shade of meaning is not realistic. Sometimes such a word does not exist in the other language. People don’t think the same in one language as they do in another. You are not fully bilingual until you understand the way of thinking and expressing oneself of both languages.

Some folks think about Chrisianity as a matter of learning to conform to an outward pattern. The pattern can range from dour conservatism in life and attitude all the way to pertetual joyous enthusiasm. Neither of those keys will unlock the door to heaven, unless they are accompanied by a genuine personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.

%d bloggers like this: