Thursday, February 05, 2015

Pondering language and blessings.

Last night I spoke with my eldest son about a talk he had given earlier in the evening on the idea of linguistics: how the words we use and how we name things, has an actual influence in the ways we can think about and act in the world. For instance, did you know that in Chinese there is no future tense? They have present and present-progressive tenses, but no true future tense. Some people feel the problem the Chinese have with an apparent inability to save money for the future is that they have no category to talk about the future. He also shared the idea that perhaps women's suffrage started in English-speaking nations first because we never had gender categories for nouns in our language, and thus had no inherent categories to keep feminine/masculine separate in the way that other languages did.

Our discussion called to mind a recent read of mine.  The novel Lila by Marilynne Robinson is a first-person narrative of the life of a brilliant and resilient woman raised in ignorance and poverty.  It begs this question: if a person is raised without the vocabulary of categories and words to express feelings, how much does that affect her abilities to think about and process her life?

It also reminded me of a study I heard about a few years back, when someone tried to measure the theological understanding of young church-going teens.  What that study found was that the teens did not have sufficient theological vocabulary to express their beliefs, so their understanding was significantly stunted.

These ideas about language fascinate me.  We are hard-wired for language.  It provides richness and depth to our lives, and is a tremendous gift of God to us; something to be nourished and cherished. That really is why I love teaching-- to try to inspire the same love, fascination, and thanksgiving for language.

As I discussed these ideas with Ben, grappling with his linguistic theory which was quite over my head, he said something else.  He said, "You know mom, I first started asking questions about this sort of thing long ago in our Worldviews class.  That is where I first got the idea that how I thought about something would alter its reality for me.  Thanks for that." Suddenly all my highfalutin ideas were forgotten.  I asked him, "Are you rising up and calling me blessed?"  "Why yes, yes I am." he laughed.

What a blessing. Oh, the power of words...

 Her children rise up and call her blessed...    
~Proverbs 31: 28a