Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: French

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.

Who let these people in?

There is a fine Christian lady doctor of our acquaintance who believes Canada is letting in way too many people from Asia and Africa. She is originally from South Africa, but left when black people were allowed to form the government. She fears for Canada’s future.

She’s wrong of course. The native people of Canada tell us the problem began when English-speaking people arrived over here. The first white people to arrive, those who spoke French, respected their elders and their women. The second white people, the ones who spoke English, respected neither their elders nor their women.

I am inclined to agree. Many French-speaking fur traders married Indian wives. Some of them brought their wives and children back to Montreal, which was the headquarters of the fur trade. Others settled down in the West with their wives and children. The English-speaking fur traders, mostly Scottish and fine upstanding Presbyterians, scorned such intermingling with non-white people.

Of course, many of them had summer wives in the West, as well as a Scottish wife in Montreal. What’s a man to do after all? Neither family was to know anything of the other. And when they retired, either back to Montreal or to Scotland, their western families were conveniently forgotten.

Other people of Scottish background came to Canada from Ulster, bringing with them their fierce Orange sympathies. The Orange men had a visceral hatred of anyone who was Roman Catholic, did not speak English, or did not have white skin. They did their utmost to make governments conform to their beliefs, leading to numerous riots, the burning of the parliament buildings and military action against the Métis in the West.

When the Canadian prairies were opened for settlement, many of the immigrants came from Eastern Europe and gradually the Orange sentiments became submerged in the new reality. Thousands of Chinese men came over to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway, then stayed to run Chines restaurants in every little prairie town. Eventually, Chinese women were allowed in too. Nowadays of course, Chinese immigrants have money and that makes them much more welcome.

A few years ago a small town in Scotland discovered that there was an Indian community in Saskatchewan whose people had the same last names as they did. After some investigation and a few visits it was found that they were indeed long lost cousins. Their ancestors never would have conceived that such a thing could be cause for celebration, but it was.

Some Christian denominations attempted to transform the Indians into Christians by forcing them into residential schools. That did not work out very well. Then they tried to force the government to make the whole country more Christian through prohibition. That didn’t work either. So now we content ourselves with sending missionaries to all the heathen lands and often express regrets that many countries won’t allow missionaries in.

In more recent years, people from all these countries begin to show up in our towns and cities. We worry about all these strangers in our midst and complain that we can hardly understand them when we encounter them as store and office clerks. We are afraid that they may bring with them much of the strife and animosity that exists in their home countries.

But they left their home countries because of that strife and animosity. We claim to have something better because we know the Prince of Peace. Why not share that acquaintanceship with these newcomers?

How long was Jesus in the tomb?

Matthew12:40 — For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Those are the words of Jesus, stating clearly that He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights. His crucifixion and burial took place on a Friday, the day before the Sabbath, and He rose early in the morning of Sunday, the first day of the week. How does that add up to three days and three nights?

Many people have wrestled with that question and concluded that the crucifixion and burial actually took place on a Thursday; I have even read some who claim it must have been Wednesday. These folks have done their calculations carefully and appear to have unassailable logic on their side. Obviously, the idea that Jesus died on Friday is just a figment of somebody’s imagination in the far distant past. Except . . .

Not everybody thinks like we do — not even in calculating the passage of time. When I began to learn French, I discovered that if I wanted to meet somebody a week from today I would have to say “in eight days.” If I said “in seven days” he would be there a day before I would. What is going on here? Well, I am writing this on a Wednesday and to the French mind it makes no sense to skip today when counting the days to next Wednesday. Today is not over yet, so I must count today and all the days up to and including next Wednesday. That makes eight days.

In the beginning that was incomprehensible, completely ridiculous, to my mind. Who ever heard of such a thing? Well, guess what? My way of thinking was equally baffling and harebrained to French-speaking people.

And French-speaking people aren’t the only ones who think like that — the writers of our Bible, Jews and Greeks, thought exactly the same way. For people who see things that way, it is perfectly logical that the period from late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning perfectly fulfills the prophecy of three days and three nights.

Someone might object that there were only two nights, Friday and Saturday. That again depends on how we look at things. We say last night was Tuesday night, but I got to bed just after midnight so all my sleep happened after it became Wednesday. If something newsworthy happened during the night, a French language newspaper, in order to be precise, would describe it as the night of Tuesday to Wednesday.

The way we see things is so blindingly obvious to us that it never even occurs to us that other people might see things in a completely different way. A generation after the Vietnam war, Robert McNamara came to the stunning conclusion that “those people don’t think like we do.”

George W Bush led the USA into a war in Iraq, thinking that the people over there would be overjoyed that the USA had come to liberate them. France refused to join this adventure, knowing full well that the reaction of the people in Iraq would be much different than Mr. Bush expected. Things might have turned out better if the US had asked the advice of the French instead of vilifying them.

These profound differences in the way people view events around them are something we need to be aware of when we attempt to share the gospel. We have framed the gospel in terms that make sense according to the paradigms of our own culture. We should not be too quick to assume that people of another culture have understood what we told them and rejected it. In all likelihood, their first impression is that we are trying to convert them to our culture. That can serve as a roadblock to further attempts to share the gospel. It would be better to take the time to learn their way of thinking and frame the gospel in terms that fit their understanding.

Fur traders and Indians

The fur trade, in which millions of Canadian beaver gave their lives to provide felt top hats for European gentlemen, was the major impetus for the exploration and settlement of Canada.  The fur traders employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company were of French and Scottish origin.  They fanned out across the country, establishing trading posts to buy furs from the Indians in exchange for tools, weapons and other items.  One by-product of the fur trade was the maps and descriptions of the country which were sent back to headquarters and provided information for future settlement.

The fur traders were based out of Montreal, but  spent years at a time in the Canadian west where white women were loathe to go.  As a result, most of them took Indian wives.  There was a major difference in the approach of the French and the Scots.  When a French man took an Indian wife he considered himself to be married for life.  He would either settle down in the west permanently, or take his Indian wife and their children back to Montreal with him.  A  Scottish man generally had a Scottish wife in Montreal and an Indian country wife.  When he retired, he abandoned his family in the west and returned to his Scottish wife and family in Montreal.

The descendents of the French-Indian marriages became known as Métis and were themselves a potent force in the exploration and settlement of the Canadian West and established the first farming communities.

Some descendents of Scottish-Indian liaisons blended into Métis society, but most of them adopted the  Indian identity of their mothers.  Thus there are numerous Indian people today with names like McKay, McLaren, McDonald, etc.

A few years ago, folks in a small Scottish town discovered that there was an Indian band in Saskatchewan with the same last names as themselves.  After a little investigation, it was established that they were in fact related.  The Scottish fur traders who had given their names to these Indian families had come from this village in Scotland.  Thus began a round of visits where some of the Scots came to visit their long-lost Canadian cousins and the Canadians visited their Scottish cousins and were welcomed with much fanfare.

One thing that was never mentioned in news stories about this reunion is that there would be another group of cousins in Eastern Canada who most likely do not wish to be made aware of their Indian cousins in Saskatchewan.

The Indian people of Canada are known today as the First Nations.   There is a saying among them that goes like this: “The first white men who came respected our elders and our women; the second white men who came had no respect for either our elders or our women.”  Need I explain that the first white men were the French and the second white men were the Scots?

Yet when I was growing up, the general attitude was that all people of French background were good for nothing half-breeds and the Scots were all fine, upstanding Christian people.  Of such perceptions are prejudices born.

And the darkness comprehended it not

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5).  Here is a verse where the English language seems to lack a word to fully express what is meant.  Darkness, and English synonyms such as obscurity, shadows, blackness, all indicate the absence of light.  The word used in French in this place is ténèbres.  I believe that Bibles in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese also use forms of the same word.

Ténèbres indicates a darkness that has an independent existence, not just the absence of light, but something that is opposed to light.  It is a moral or spiritual darkness, the opposite of the light of God.  In Ephesians 2:2 where the apostle refers to“the rulers of the darkness of this world,” the wording in French is “the princes of this world of ténèbres.”

The apostle John tells us in another place that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19).  That is, the whole world is ruled by the powers of darkness.  Jesus came into this world as the embodiment of the light of God.  And the darkness pushed back.

The time came that Satan and the rulers of darkness thought they had succeeded in forever snuffing out the light of God from this world.  Then the light burst forth again with a brilliance that told them that they had forever lost.  The forces of darkness will never again be seen in heaven; the place reserved for them is called “outer darkness.”

Nevertheless, their fury against God, and their hatred of the light, drives them to take as many others with them as they can.  The forces of darkness are very real and they are constantly at work to ensnare people into their darkness.

The apostle Paul tells us that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  He sends his messengers to us, speaking as the voice of sweet reason and offering us a counterfeit of the light.  However, the more we listen to the “light” they are offering us, the darker the pathway before us becomes.

The only way that we can push this darkness back is to allow God’s light to illuminate our hearts and minds and to inform our attitudes and actions.  We are called individually to walk in the light.  One little light all alone is good, but it is better if those lights are gathered together in homes and congregations so that the light shines farther in this dark world.  As we walk together in God’s light, we are the light of the world and we are doing our little part to drive back the darkness that has so engulfed this world.

Excuses

Faithful readers of this blog will have noticed that I was absent for almost a week.  I want to sincerely thank everyone who continued to check out the posts on this blog, even while nothing new was being added.

No, I did not leave home on an extended trip, but other things came up which hindered me from being able to write for this blog.  Here is my list of excuses:

1. My keyboard died.  Because I do some translating and writing in French, I use a French-Canadian keyboard which has  extra characters and a couple of extra keys.  I have been using the same keyboard for 20 years.  We have moved seven times in those years and I have lost track of how many computers I have used it with.  It has performed faultlessly until the other day when I think I finally managed to jar something loose inside and it ceased to function.  I stole the keyboard from my wife’s computer.  I knew that would make life difficult around here if it continued, but it gave me time to buy another keyboard on eBay.  For some reason, all the French-Canadian keyboards listed on eBay are located in Texas, so it will take a little time to get here.  Meanwhile, a friend helped to salvage peace in our home by offering me an old keyboard that he wasn’t using.

2. I am planning major changes in my bookkeeping practice.  This requires getting a website up and running and learning two new software programs.  I am knee-deep in webinars for these programs.

3. I am having lengthy long distance phone calls regarding corrections to the proofs of a book that I translated.

4. I was asked to write an article for a school paper published by the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the deadline is approaching.

5. I received a request to write a Sunday School lesson.

6. I received an invitation to give a talk to the annual meeting of the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan.  That meeting is still four months away, but it reminds me that I need to do more research for a booklet I want to write on the beginnings of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Saskatchewan.

7. Our internet was down for 24 hours.

8. I need to get caught up with my bookkeeping work.

9. Winter is approaching and there is still outdoor work that needs to be done.

10. We are experiencing an invasion of maple bugs (aka box elder beetles) of almost biblical proportions.

11. I seem to have a special talent for procrastination.

Things they didn’t teach us in school: W is a vowel

Most of the time w is used as a vowel.  They didn’t teach me this in school; I’m not sure it’s being taught in school even now.  Consider the following:

Fawn / faun:  aw has exactly the same sound as au.  Can you think of any words in which aw is not a vowel sound?

Blew / blueew has exactly the same sound as ue.  I can’t think of many words in which ew does not have this sound.  Ewe (pronounced you) would be one exception.

Flow / floe: same thing, ow in this and many other words has the same sound as oe, or oa.

Town / mound: in another group of  words ow has the same sound as ou.

In all of these instances, w functions as a vowel.  But what about when w is used at the beginning of a word?

In French, the w sound at the beginning of a word is represented by ou, as in ouest, the French form of west, pronounced the same way.  W is not found in any native French words, but is used in words imported from other languages.  This w or ou sound at the beginning of a word is called a semi-consonant in French.  In English it is called a semi-vowel.

In some cases the w at the beginning of words imported into French  is sounded like a w in English, in other words it is given a v sound.  Wagon is the word used in French for a rail car and is pronounced vagon.

You see, in English we call W a double-u and use it as a vowel or semi-vowel.  In French it is called a double-v and is considered to be a consonant or a semi-consonant.

One of the first things I was taught in school was that the vowels are a e i o u and sometimes y.  This is correct, as far as it goes.  Why didn’t they tell me that w is used as a vowel as least as often as y?

Why didn’t I figure it out for myself before I got into my sixties?

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