Saturday, January 28, 2017

Linguistic interference

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Mixing and Merging Languages (Philip Jenkins).
One thing that makes me feel very much at home in Texas is the way people talk Spanish. To explain, I did not grow up in a Spanish speaking area, but the way Latino people navigate between languages reminds me so precisely of the sort-of bilingual environment in which I spent my childhood. Thinking about that world has taught me a lot about how people through history have operated in in such societies.

If I describe that Welsh context, you will see how many analogies there are with the contemporary US. I grew up in South Wales at a time when English was universally spoken, but lots of people still spoke Welsh, to some degree. I stress that qualification. Welsh is an ancient language of literature and scholarship, but few ordinary people actually spoke that cultured version. Rather, they knew a simplified vernacular that my father called Cymraeg y gegin, “kitchen Welsh.”

This doesn't initially sound like a promising topic for PaleoJudaica – not until you reach the end of the essay:
And to introduce a very large topic to which I will return in other posts, you see these processes very much at work in ancient languages and texts, including the New Testament. The Book of Revelation, above all, should be retitled the Book of Linguistic Interference.

I just speculate: if we could have heard the first generation of Christians actually speak, would they similarly have mixed and matched Greek and Aramaic, freely switching codes in informal conversation? They did in their liturgies. Or as we find in the Didache, from the early second century: “Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.
I look forward to future posts in this series. Cross-file under Philology.