Vernaculars and Lingua Francas, Part Two: Translation Implications

I have already explained something about vernaculars and lingua francas. They are not two types of languages, but two uses of language, depending on whether or not the language is the mother tongue of the speakers or is an “other-than-mother-tongue” that speakers use to communicate with each other. I wouldn’t say that there is a contrast between vernaculars and lingua francas, but rather that there is a distinction that can be made between language as vernacular and language as lingua franca. The same language can be a vernacular in one context and a lingua franca in another.

So what does this have to do with literature and translation? Recently on this blog, an essay in the New York Review of Books by Tim Parks was referenced that brought the words “lingua franca” and “translation” together. Here, apparently, the term “lingua franca” was used as a sort of metaphor. Parks was drawing on an earlier article by Sheldon Pollock entitled “Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in History,” where instead of lingua franca, “cosmopolitan(ism)” is used in comparison and contrast with “vernacular.”

I like what Pollock has to say. He starts his article,

Few things seem to us as natural as the multiplicity of vernacular languages that different peoples use for making sense of life through texts, that is, for making literature. And few things seem as unnatural as their abandonment and gradual disappearance in the present. In fact, literary language loss is often viewed as part of a more general reduction of cultural diversity, one considered as dangerous as the reduction of biological diversity to which it is often compared. The homogenization of culture today, of which language loss is one aspect, seems without precedent in human history, at least for the scope, speed, and manner in which changes are taking place.

This common sense view of the world needs two important qualifications. First, the vernacular ways of being that we see vanishing everywhere were themselves created over time…. Second, by the very fact of their creation, the new vernaculars replaced a range of much older cultural practices. These earlier practices, which seemed to belong to everywhere in general and nowhere in particular, affiliated their users to a larger world rather than a smaller place. They were, in a sense to be argued out in this essay, cosmopolitan practices….

This quote agrees with my very democratic beliefs about languages (mother tongues/vernaculars) and my regrets that the major world languages like English might be crowding out the minority languages of the world, along with their associated literatures and views of the world.

Here is Tim Parks’ summary of Pollock: “We needn’t think about the spread of English as necessarily in conflict with the world’s vernaculars; he wants us to avoid thinking in terms of ‘either/or’ and work towards a relationship that is ‘both/and.’” That agrees with my disinclination toward structuralist approaches to language and my rejection of sharp dichotomies (if that is not a self contradiction).

So what does Parks say about vernacular vs. lingua franca in relation to translation? He makes an interesting observation, though it is not about approaches to translation. Rather, it is about original text authorship with translation in mind. Parks says that authors tend to write in a different style when they think of their language as a lingua franca than when they think of it as simply a vernacular. Or, to put it another way, if an author envisions his or her literary work being translated into other languages, that has a bearing on the writer’s style. Using a literary work written in Italian, for example, if the author’s intended audience is mother tongue speakers of Italian, the writing style will tend to take greater advantage of inwardly-turned, language-specific literary devices. However, if the author wants the work to be translated and brought to an international audience, then even if the work is written in Italian, it will be a different sort of Italian, a more easily-translated form of Italian that does not capitalize as much on language-specific literary devices. Awareness of translation and a desire to have one’s works understood as widely as possible will influence how someone writes.

Parks’ intuition (as he calls it) is that the contemporary writers he studied…

had already performed a translation within their own languages; they had discovered a lingua franca within their own vernacular, a particular straightforwardness, an agreed order for saying things and perceiving and reporting experience, that made translation easier and more effective. One might call it a simplification, or one might call it an alignment in different languages to an agreed way of going about things. Naturally, there was an impoverishment… but there was also a huge gain in communicability….

He observes that “there is a spirit abroad, especially in the world of fiction, that is seeking maximum communicability and that has fastened onto the world’s present lingua franca [viz., English] as something that can be absorbed and built into other vernaculars so that they can continue to exist while becoming more easily translated into each other.”

Parks’ essay was about the composition of original texts rather than the translation of those texts into other languages, except where he says, twice, that “the success of translation very largely depends on the levels of complexity in the original text.” His point was that as authors become aware of translation and a wider international audience, they tend to write in such a way as to make translation easier. A way of putting this is that the authors become aware of their language as being not just a vernacular, where the target audience is comprised of fellow speakers of the same language, but as a lingua franca, i.e., they are conscious of their language as a gateway for communication with speakers of other languages, through translation.

So how do we who are concerned with translation make use of this information? While it is not correct to say that some languages are vernaculars and other languages are lingua francas (except in the case of pidgins, which, by definitions are only lingua francas and not vernaculars), I think there is indeed a connection, in that translators, like authors, have to be aware of their target audience and its needs. In fact, translators have to be aware both of the original audience of the original text and of the target audience for the translation. One of the basic principles for any kind of communication is to know your audience. One of the cardinal principles of translation is to identify the target audience for the translation. It is not reasonable or wise to consider all the speakers of a certain language as being the target audience, especially in the case of a language with so many dialects and registers as English. There are translations directed toward children, translations directed toward speakers of English as a second language, translations for educated people who want to get as close to the source language as possible, translations for educated people who want to see the scriptures communicated in contemporary language, translations for reading aloud, translations for liturgical use, translations for very average North Americans without a lot of theological sophistication. It is not a matter of one-size-fits-all. In the case of English, we have so many translations of the Bible to choose from, and different translations each have at least the potential of being valid for their target audience and stated purpose. Obviously, though, translators, when going through so much effort, and publishers, when investing so much, are going to be concerned about getting as large a market share as possible.

Even in the case of languages that don’t have the luxury of multiple translations, Bible translators have to pinpoint their target audience and dialectal variety.

Vernaculars and Lingua Francas, Part One: Foundations

I have an interest in lingua francas (or linguas franca, or linguae francae, or whatever). The phrase means, literally, “language of the Franks.” The explanation is that from an Arabic perspective, all Europeans were “Franks.” In the first half of the Second Millenium, there was a specific language form called Lingua Franca, a Romance-based pidgin spoken in the Mediterranean area. The term has come to be generalized to refer to any language used for communication among a group of people who do not have a mother tongue in common.

Recently on this very blog the matter was discussed of whether one can properly translate from a vernacular into a lingua franca or vice versa. Specifically, the issue seemed to be whether one can translate from a vernacular like ancient Hebrew into a lingua franca like English without compromising the accuracy and integrity of the foreign text. The implication seemed to be that translation of this sort was not really possible. I’ll tip you off to where I am going with this by saying that I don’t see any reason why this sort of thing ought to be problematic. Of course, you have to recognize that whatever languages you are dealing with—vernaculars or linguafrancas or whatever—there is always going to be some compromise in translation. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the Italian aphorism, “the translator is a traitor” or “translation is treason.” So it depends on what your purpose is. If the purpose in translating is to examine and appreciate every nuance of the source text, that is basically just impossible in translation. You would have to study the source text itself, and even then, if we are dealing with something as remote to us today as the Hebrew scriptures, we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ever fully recover all the information in, and surrounding, the text. But if our purpose is to treat the source text as a meaningful message to be shared—something that people need to hear, to bring a text to them that would be inaccessible to them because of linguistic and cultural differences—then translation certainly is possible, whether we are talking about vernaculars or lingua francas. What would be the status of the church today if the scriptures were not translated, because people thought it was not appropriate to do so? The history of Christianity is a history of translation. Some other time we could draw out some quotes from famous people like Jerome, Wycliffe, Erasmus, Luther, and Tyndale about the value of translating the Bible, or more contemporary figures like J.B. Phillips, Andrew Walls or Lamin Sanneh.

I will first explain my qualifications to discuss topics like lingua francas and translation into them. I’m a PhD linguist (1983) with a specialty in creole languages. When we’re discussing lingua francas, we are dealing in the area of contact languages and language contact (two slightly different things). The one language that I speak fluently other than English is St. Lucian French Creole. I speak some French and Spanish, too, and Gullah, but I speak French Creole better than I speak French. I regularly participate in conferences on pidgin and creole languages and have published some of these papers, on the topics of the grammar or the sociolinguistics of creole languages, and other papers I have presented are available in sort of a semi-published form. One of the topics I have dealt with is the translation of the Bible or other literature into creole languages, and I have presented papers like that to groups of creolists, groups of Bible translation scholars, and once as an invited lecture at the National Museum of Language. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will add that I am pretty well familiar with the basic literature on language contact, and personally know pretty much all the major players in that area, and they know me as colleague.

So let’s start by defining our terms. A vernacular language is a language that people grow up speaking as a mother tongue and as the language they are most comfortable with. It’s not a tricky thing to explain. Whether or not something is a vernacular language doesn’t depend on its internal make-up, but rather what use it is put to. English—or rather a specific dialect of Engilsh—is my vernacular. What is a lingua franca? Whenever I hear the term “lingua franca,” I automatically mentally paraphrase it as “trade language.” That is, it is a language that is not the mother tongue of a set of interlocutors, but which they use as a medium of communication. Again, the term “lingua franca” does not describe what a language is like, internally, but rather the use to which it is put.

Here is an important point: A particular language can be both a vernacular and a lingua franca. In fact, that is quite often the case. For me, English is my vernacular, but for other people, English might be a language that they use to communicate with, but it is not their mother tongue. Here’s an example. Once when I was in East Germany (you can tell this was a while back), giving a paper at an International Congress of Linguists, I went on a bus tour to Dresden at the end of the conference and sat next to a woman from Japan. She didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Japanese, but I figured out that she was a French professor back in Japan, and I speak some French. So we carried on a sort of conversation in French. For many people, French is their vernacular, but in this case, when I was talking with a Japanese woman in Germany, French was our lingua franca.

I pulled a standard reference book off my shelf entitled Pidgins and Creoles (1989, Cambridge University Press), written by my friend John Holm, and found this definition on p. 607: “Lingua Franca is the earliest known European-based pidgin: the term lingua franca (uncapitalized, often with the English plural form lingua francas) has come to mean any vehicular language used as a means of communication between two or more groups with no other language in common.” Terms like vernacular and lingua franca do not describe types of languages, but rather uses to which languages are put. English is a vernacular to many, many people, especially in North America, the U.K., and Australia, but it is also becoming increasingly a lingua franca for scholarly work, business, politics, etc.

There are two main types of lingua francas: some are languages that are used as vernaculars in other contexts, like the English and French examples I gave, and then there are pidgins, which by definition are nobody’s mother tongue. A pidgin is a language form that is not fully developed as a normal language and has no native speakers but is used as a medium of communication between groups that do not have a language in common. Note that there are some languages that have “pidgin” in the name but which are no longer pidgins, but rather have become creoles, in that over time they have become mother tongues and the language of a community. Examples are Hawaiian Pidgin or New Guinea Pidgin English. A creole language is a vernacular language that has its origin as a pidgin.

When I say there are two main kinds of lingua francas—languages that also serve as vernaculars in other contexts, on the one hand, and pidgins, on the other—I should acknowledge that there are a few exceptions that I don’t think are relevant here. An exception would be artificially created languages like Esperanto, which are not pidgins, and are not, as far as I know, anyone’s mother tongue. A creole language, however, despite its origin as a pidgin, is by definition a vernacular. As I said, creoles are my professional specialty, including translation into creoles.

I’m afraid I’m being too pedantic here, but one point is that vernacular and lingua francas are not two different types of languages, but rather two different uses to which language types are put. Any language can be a vernacular as long as it has native speakers, but it could at the same time be a lingua franca in other contexts, for other sets of people. A pidgin is a particular kind of lingua franca that does not have native speakers. Pidgins, as a specific type of lingua franca, are typologically distinctive. I could teach a graduate level course on this stuff, or give a lecture, or, in this case, try to boil it down to a short, comprehesible blog post.

There is nothing about a lingua franca that would disqualify it from being a language that you could legitimately translate into or out of. However, I will leave that discussion for part two, to follow.

When the waters don’t stop

This blog tends towards the academic and the theoretical. We critique Bibles but rarely post about them devotionally.

But let us not forget why we do this – why we bother running blogs like this, why we spend much longer studying the Bible personally, and why some of us have even dedicated our working lives to translating the Bible for those who otherwise would never have it.

We do these things because we believe that God’s word, as contained in the Bible, are the most important words we will ever hear. It is God’s message to the world, and to us individually.

My home town Brisbane is currently flooded, with waters reaching up to 19.5 meters in some areas. Here are some pictures. I’m away right now, but my family is there. Thankfully they are safe, it’s very unlikely that the waters will reach them, and they even still have power. But thousands have had to evacuate their homes, or are without power. Many supermarkets have no food to sell. Even parts of the CBD are now under water. If that’s not extreme enough, three quarters of the rest of the state has been declared a disaster zone. Flood waters cover or have covered an area greater than the size of France and Germany combined. Once the waters eventually clear life will continue to be hard as the clean up begins, while the loss of crops will drive up food prices around the world.

But God has spoken to us about this. In Genesis 9 he made a covenant with every living creature on the earth not to destroy the earth with a flood. As bad as these current floods may be, God has promised to set limits on them. The rainbows in the sky are there to remind him of this – so I know that he is keeping careful watch over all the people afflicted by these floods. But he has also promised that one day he will judge the earth again, in fire. We live in the “end times” and the days of suffering are nearing an end. Despite the worst things that happen to us we can know that God has planned for it to end. We can know because of his word. Even though we may not fully understand his wisdom, he cared enough to write to us so that we could have at least some confidence in him.

If you trust in this same God, I along with innumerable others here, would of course appreciate your prayer.

And if you know the value of being able to hear God’s message in your own language, please consider supporting those who are working to translate the Bible into minority languages.

Because disasters don’t happen only to those who already have the comfort and confidence found in God’s word.

Unreached People Groups Everywhere Rejoice over New NIV Translation

There’s a wonderful satirical post at Tominthebox: Unreached People Groups Everywhere Rejoice over New NIV Translation.

“From the deepest recesses of South American Jungles to the coldest corners of Siberia, native people groups everywhere are rejoicing over the latest announcement that the English-speaking world will be spending millions of dollars for yet another English translation of the Bible. The excitement erupted after Zondervan Publishers announced that it would be making a major revision and update to its New International Version, first released in 1978.”

HT: Eddie Arthur

It seems wrong that those who already have the Bible should be given more while those who have little… wait, this sounds like something I’ve heard before:

“For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matt. 25:29, NIV)

Sated yet thirsty As much as I support Bible translations for minority languages, I don’t think we can redress the inequities by taking resources away from the more developed language communities. Churchill’s words come to mind here: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” In other words, just because capitalism has resulted in an over-abundance of Bible translations for the few doesn’t mean that some sort of redistribution of resources is going to solve the problem of lack of access to God’s Word.

A wealthy translation project like the NIV revision is one way of getting a Bible done. The Bible Society model which is essentially a donor-driven aid program is another. I’m wondering if open-source translations might be the rising wave. High-quality translations in languages of wider communication are increasingly becoming available: NET, WEB, and WBTC are examples in English. Thanks to programs like Adapt It, mother-tongue translators can base their translation on a well-established translation and then adapt it to their own language. We actually used this method for several years to adapt the Chichewa translation into a first draft for Nyungwe.

Living water

I read a tantalizing quote in an article on the Wycliffe Bible Translators website. A woman in Papua New Guinea said, “Having the Bible only in English is like holding a cold glass of water that we can’t drink.” I feel compassion for such a person but at the same time I also feel slightly jealous. You see, I sit here at my desk surrounded by cold glasses of water. I can drink from any of a dozen Bible translations. Yet my soul is very often thirsty. Perhaps, the thirst that woman experiences is a good thing. Maybe it’s the prerequisite to a vernacular translation of the Bible being produced by a local church. And maybe my thirst will not be filled by the NIV revision or the Common English Bible or yet another study Bible. Maybe the Word is not the water. Instead a Bible translation might simply be the vessel for God’s life-changing message. In Psalm 42, the psalmist’s soul is thirsty for God. In the Beatitudes those who are blessed thirst for God’s justice.

With so many Bibles, why are we still thirsty?

Different Languages Wear Different Formal Attire

Perhaps a couple of formal pictures should go with this posting: A Three-piece Suit, a Grand Boubou, a Hakama. They are all radically different–foreign to one another. And yet they all mean about the same thing.

Structured text has form. And ancient languages utilize forms that are quite foreign to us. Just like a foreign word is not understood by someone, larger linguistic structures are also not understood. Or, sometimes, it’s worse. Sometimes they are misunderstood.

We use indentation and space between our paragraph units. It’s the form we use. People who lived and breathed the original languages were different. They used no space—even between words. They tie their paragraphing more tightly to the semantics of the paragraph. We rely more heavily on syntax. One such paragraphing technique they used was the chiasmus. I’ll use this specific formal structure to illustrate a point in just a moment.

Rarely do our translations translate these forms. They leave the larger formal structures largely untouched. When dealing at the word level, translations replace the original forms with ones appropriate to the destination language. But with the larger linguistic structures, at best, we do this replacement poorly.

The results are many: general misunderstanding of what the text says, a sense the text has a special, even secret, meaning, an unfounded assumption that the reason the text can be trusted is because it sounds special (in a novel way), the reader is not impacted by the text because he or she simply can’t understand it, the reader deems the text as irrelevant, they are frustrated, or they may even feel guilty. I think we could come up with more unwanted results.

The text of John 3:31 illustrates this. I’ve explicitly formatted it to show the original, formal structure.

GNT:

ὁ ἄνωθεν ἐρχόμενος ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν

ὁ ὢν ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐστιν

καὶ

ἐκ τῆς γῆς λαλεῖ

ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐρχόμενος ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν

ASV (I pick this translation since it provides for easier analysis to the English reader):

He that cometh from above is above all:

he that is of the earth is of the earth,

and

of the earth he speaketh:

he that cometh from heaven is above all.

As many of our readers will readily see, the structure is a chiasmus. Even those who do not know Greek, with a little effort, can pick out the repetition of various phrases. I’ll also point out that each Greek line ends with a verb. This is a very structured text. It reads quite nicely if you put in your Greek brain. It’s even quite amenable to analysis, even in literal English translation. However, to the English mind, it doesn’t read well.

While English has a form of chiastic structure, it is more stylistic than semantic. In the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Bible the authors use chiasm to convey characteristics of meaning such as emphasis, contrast, conjunction, and even to explicitly state the topic of a paragraph (or larger) unit of text. They utilize the symmetry to convey meaning. I’ve seen cases where the main referent of a paragraph can be easily seen in the central, hinge-point of the chiasmus which formed the immediately preceding paragraph. It’s as if the apex of the paragraph forms the jumping off point for the next paragraph. With our more linear processing of the Biblical text, I think we too often miss these observations. The English formal structures don’t use symmetry for semantic effect. So, we quite naturally don’t “see” the semantics of the larger text.

In the above example, as it folds around the middle, we can see that οὐρανός (“heaven”) makes more explicit the ἄνωθεν (“from above”). The first and last clauses form a strong and explicit statement that there is someone who has come from heaven. The folding of the text is as if the repeated text overlaps the text it repeats, and it therefore becomes bold.

The middle clause—in fact, two clauses joined with the conjunction καὶ (“and”)—appear to be in contrast to its wrapper. This contrast becomes much clearer when the bolded “from heaven” statement is placed along side the truism in the text: “that which is from the earth from the earth is.”

This structure forms a common chiasm with its semantic symmetry, in this case, a contrast. The semantic symmetry focuses the attention on the meaning intended by the author. In this case, the paragraph talks about one person who is both from heaven and from earth, but the one from earth speaks. The formal structure intertwines the contrastive concepts into one holistic statement. A statement which is both coherent and dialectic at the same time. It’s clever how John has formed it–even elegant.

Recently, I was somewhat surprised by the incarnational meaning of the text. I hadn’t seen it before. A small group of us men were going over the above text. And I saw the chiasmus. When that happened the incarnation jumped from the page. I suddenly realized that the next sentence, when connected with the chiasm just read, should be understood as saying, “What He [the one who is of the earth] has seen and heard [which can only be seen and heard by one who is from heaven], of that [these heavenly things] He testifies; and no one [on the earth] receives His testimony” (NASB). So, it turns out that John 3:31-36 is a recapitulation of John 3:11-18 and also, somewhat more abstractly, to John 1:1-18 and John 1:51. And note that the first “he” naturally refers back to the subject at the center of the chaismus–“he, the of-the-earth one” is the one who testifies.

Why was I surprised? I hadn’t seen it before, that’s why. You would think the meaning would have been obvious. In fact, I’m now a bit embarrassed to admit I hadn’t seen it before. And yet, that is unfair of me to judge myself like that. The formal structure in all of our translations is not an English form. How could I readily understand it? It takes quite a bit of processing until one arrives at the obvious. And then I went through this halting, second-guessing routine since the formal structure sounds so special. Well, it is special to the English mind–it’s Greek, it’s not English. The syntax sounded profound. But it’s the semantics which was (indeed, is) profound. Something that is so profound can’t sound simple! Can it? Sure it can!

Why does profound truth have to sound like I can’t understand it? What if profound truth really is simple? What if the profound beauty of heaven can be stated in simple “of this earth” language? Following Christ as our example, I think it not only must be done, but it can be done. That’s Jesus’ point, isn’t it? He speaks plain, human language and people just don’t get the concepts. There’s something profoundly broken about we human beings when we miss the concepts plainly stated. But what if our translations obscure the meaning by using non-English forms? Should we not make the profound clear?

So, how should we translate this text? Why don’t we replace the original form with a form suitable for the English reader?

I think the chiasmus needs unwrapped in order to bring it over into English. The formal structure of the original needs replaced with an English formal structure which accurately conveys the meaning. The meaning needs gently lifted from the original and masterfully molded into English.

I make no claims of master craftsmanship; but, might I suggest something like:

Even though the one who comes from above is from heaven and is above all, he is also of the earth and so speaks as one from the earth.

What a beautifully simple verse! And such power! The one who is from heaven speaks to me as if he were from earth. He takes what is beyond and packages it for me here. He speaks human.

Shouldn’t a good translation be characterized by the same?

Bible translations unto the pain of their translators

Each day I check on BBB hoping to see a new post by one of the other bloggers. I’ve been busy lately, not the least part of my busyness has been wrestling with a kidney stone for 1 1/2 weeks. I even got to take my first ride in an ambulance to go to an ER to lower my pain. I’ve never had pain that bad before. And if I weren’t taking pain pills, the pain would still be intense. We men are told that if we want to know what the pain of childbirth is like, get a kidney stone. But taking pain pills can decrease one’s ability to think as clearly as one would like!

Well, by now, many of you may be glad that I haven’t posted any other BBB essays recently! This is going to be one of those “throwaway” posts, done when I feel the necessity for a post but my brain isn’t working well enough (it’s hard to multitask with pain or fuzzy brain) to write something more interesting. But at least maybe I can write something which can tweak your interest a bit.

Was there any word in the title of this blog post which stood out to you as not being a word that you commonly use? If so, I suspect it was the word “unto.” We can all spell “unto.” Perhaps we can even recite some memorable phrase from the past which contains the word “unto.” But I suspect that it has been several years since most of us have read or written any sentence with the word “unto” in it.

I suggest that words like “unto” which are not commonly used by people who we hope to use our Bible translation should not be used in our translation. Such words may be accurate, if we determine accuracy by dictionary definitions without regard to usage. They may have been used commonly at some time in the past. But use of even a word as short and simple as “unto” can communicate to users of a translation a message that we may or may not intend to communicate, namely, that the message of the Bible itself is out-dated, irrelevant for issues we face today, that the Bible itself is a piece of classical literature, not intended to be written with words which are used by most elements of a society. Now at this point, let’s not get sidetracked by a common detour that often comes up at this point in many BBB blog posts that have to do with word usage in Bible versions. Please note that I am not suggesting that we avoid all “educated” or more difficult words of a language; I am now only addressing the issue of whether or not a word is used and understood by all levels of a society for whom we intend a translation to be used.

When is the last time that you composed a sentence with the word “unto”?

What are some words besides “unto” which are used in some English Bibles which you believe are not used by enough elements of English-speaking society to justify their use in a Bible version?

The ever-renewing endurance of the vernacular

As I was recently visiting a Christian college, a book in the bookstore caught my eye (not exactly unusual). The title is “Translating the Message, The Missionary Impact on Culture”, written by Lamin Sanneh.

A paragraph stands alone, in more ways than one, at the very beginning of the book. It not only convicts the many historians who have, with incredulous blindness to the obvious, missed how Christianity has shone on the human face of this world, but it shows unequaled perception into how the Lord Jesus has used the common language of people to carry the so freely offered message along that very pathway of history.

Here’s the quote–read it slowly, since it’s packed with keen insight.

The issue that frequently escapes the dragnet of the historian is the cumulative capital Christianity has derived from the common language of ordinary people. To the secular historian this fact has only political significance as a force for incitement; to the economic and social historian it is a fact that creates social mobility, and perhaps social tension. Yet to a Christian the confident adoption of vernacular speech as consecrated vessel places it squarely at the heart of religious change, and thus at the heart of historical consciousness. The central and enduring character of Christian history is the rendering of God’s eternal counsels into terms of everyday speech. By that path believers have come to stand before their God.


To the phrase, “vernacular speech as consecrated vessel,” I say, “Amen.”